#Asia Students, here are 3 reasons why you should never intern at a startup


You are guaranteed insights and lessons each day you go to work. But please be warned, the side effects include immense stress, migraines, and a severe lack of rest

Heard of Facebook, Airbnb, Spotify? Or our local heroes Carousell or Zalora? The rise of Silicon Valley tech companies, along with their chic offices and fun-loving culture has drawn many job seekers to the startup ecosystem. Yet, the foray into the magical world of startups, where unicorns prance in a forest of failed companies, often begins with an internship.

But, is a startup internship truly the best decision for everyone?

1. It’s not all fun and games

The startup life has been glorified and misrepresented by the media, making it synonymous with coolness and fun. If flexible working hours and cool office amenities come to mind when you think of an internship, you’ve got only half the story.

It’s true, that on most days, you get to stroll into office at 11am and no one will berate you for that. It’s true, that startup offices are the most fitting modern representation of an adult playground with game consoles and table tennis tables for staff to indulge in.

However, all these come at a price.

Flexible working hours mean non-stop hustling and frequent overtimes. Don’t ever expect to knock off before the sun sets. Also, loads of fun and games mean you play hard, but you work harder.

Nevertheless, all these hustling and hard work are necessary because unlike corporations, startups live on borrowed time. Every passing day, startups burn through limited cash — cash that would only last them for the foreseeable future. Hence, it is important everyone work hard together to help their startup reach goals that would help them turn a profit or raise their next round of funding.

Also read: 4 lessons I learnt from interning at 2 startups

However, what you take home would be the priceless satisfaction when you know that your hard work has moved the needle for the company.

At a corporation, you are just a drop in the ocean, At a startup, you are an ocean in a drop.

2. Be prepared for endless piles of work

More often than not, you will find yourself typing away on the computer endlessly, or cracking your head to find a cheaper, better, and faster way to get things done.

As startups do not possess vast resources that many large corporations do, you’ll need to wear many hats and shoulder many responsibilities, which at times, could be too much to handle.

Do not be fooled when you think you have signed up for a certain department. Your job scope is as arbitrary as the phrase “ad hoc duties”.

Expect vague instructions when tasks are being assigned to you. Rest assured that it was not done so intentionally but because at a startup, change is the only constant. There is no one-size-fits-all formula that can be applied to all problems. Hence, no one can provide you with clear instructions on how to complete a task.

Sounds scary?

Nevertheless, it is in these challenges where you become wiser, and learn lessons that no author, teacher or speaker can ever teach you. It is in these challenges that you gain and internalize skills and insights that provide you your competitive advantage.

3. Your hopes and dreams will be crushed

All aspiring entrepreneurs should beware: Your hopes and dreams will be crushed.

An internship at a startup is a sobering experience that wakes you up from the dream of becoming the next Zuckerberg. There is no honeymoon period.

The moment your internship begins, you’re exposed to the harsh reality of startup life. Seeing a startup from within will expose the challenges, threats, and risks an entrepreneur faces beneath the veneer of vanity metrics like funding rounds. Approaching these challenges from within is the most accurate and effective way to empathise with an entrepreneur.

Throughout the internship, you will frequently find yourself feeling stressed, fatigued, and depressed — something no book or workshop can effectively demonstrate.

Also read: 4 ways to cope with the pressures of leadership

The high intensity and fast pace only intensifies these feelings; sometimes even forcing you to question whether entrepreneurship is the right path. It is in these challenges where your passion for entrepreneurship is tested and where you’ll know if you can take on the mercenary and harsh world of startup survival.

Still unsure whether an internship at a startup sounds right for you?

Let me summarise it for you. You are guaranteed insights and lessons each day you go to work. But please be warned, the side effects include immense stress, migraines, and a severe lack of rest. If that sounds disastrous to you, please stay away from the startup life.


The NUS Entrepreneurship Society (NES) will be organizing a Startup Internship and Career Fair on May 9 2017 from 12pm to 7pm. Do join us if you are keen to embark on a startup experience!

For more details, visit our Eventbrite page at goo.gl/lchg5m.

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The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your post here.

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