My Internship Experience: A Summer at Pixlee
Editor's note: this is a guest post from Lorenzo Siy, who joined the Pixlee team as an intern this summer for ten weeks. Reminisce over summer 2018 with us as we celebrate his growth story, and wish him well in his future endeavors.
For ten weeks, I was an intern at Pixlee – a San Francisco-based startup that helps brands build more authentic interactions with their customers using user-generated content (UGC). As the summer comes to a close, I took some time to reflect on the many things I’ve learned and my experiences during my time in the Bay Area. While articulating these many thoughts wasn’t easy, I hope I was able to do them justice.
The Pixlee Experience
If you aren’t too familiar with UGC, don’t worry – before learning about Pixlee, I wasn’t either.
UGC marketing deals with leveraging content put out by users – usually photos, videos, tweets, or reviews – to power a brand’s different marketing initiatives. This can range from a simple picture of someone with their favorite brand's sneakers to more elaborate pieces like a wedding video at a big-name resort.
Creating more authentic brand experiences has become essential for both marketing and brand-building in general – many people no longer resonate with traditional ads, much less trust them to inform their purchase decisions; rather, people trust other people – everyday users of the product, just like themselves – and look to others’ experiences with the product or service as a deciding factor when choosing whether or not to spend their money.
The Pixlee platform makes it easy for brands to collect content published across online channels including Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook, curate them using specific filters and metrics to find the most “on-brand” content, and finally push them (with the owners’ permission of course!) to all relevant touchpoints ranging from social media accounts and brand home pages to product detail pages and more. Engagement and conversion analytics are also integrated into these interfaces to help inform marketing strategy and optimize content moving forward.
Given that there was no formal non-software engineering internship program at Pixlee, most of the responsibility fell on me to decide how my summer would go. Having gone through the experience over the past couple of months, I was able to distill three main takeaways from my time at the office.
Never stop learning
Coming into an internship - particularly one at a startup where roles are so fluid and cross-functional - can be daunting. School definitely helps train you to do certain things well, but the reality is that, more often than not, you won’t be as prepared for your role as you would prefer.
This fact was made abundantly clear to me in the work I did across both product and marketing roles. Taking the lead on projects involving evaluating potential feature additions and putting together comprehensive competitive analysis resources required me to understand our platform at a granular level; I needed to quickly develop a deep awareness of its technicalities, product-market fit, and ultimately the implications an action would have on the different stakeholders involved. I was nervous, and rightfully so – this was a new role, industry, and technology where I hadn’t had too much prior experience.
And that was alright! I recognized that I had to learn a lot, fast, and took it upon myself to do so. Reading the documentation, playing around with the platform on my own time, reaching out to colleagues who are much more experienced than myself – it was a challenge. But given all the resources available in this day and age, there really isn’t any excuse not to succeed. Preparation is key, (really, do your homework before starting), but recognize that you will likely have to pick a lot of things up on the job regardless of your previous knowledge or experiences. Learn to be comfortable with uncertainty, but not content with it: after all, starting out a little lacking is normal, but staying that way is a choice.
Culture is key
One of the things I used to discount while applying for jobs and internships was company culture. It’s easy to get caught up in the allure of name-brands and the status that comes with nabbing a highly coveted role, but what is ultimately more important is that you put yourself in an environment where you can be your best self and grow to your full potential. These conditions may vary from person to person – some people work better in a more traditional setting while others thrive under one that’s more independent and free-flowing.
What I personally loved about my time at Pixlee was the freedom and culture of humble achievement. While my colleagues were all highly capable and dedicated to the craft, attitudes were kept light and devoid of ego. Micromanaging was minimal (if present at all), as people were simply trusted to meet the expectations set of them, and the feeling in the office was very open. Everyone - from a C-level executive to a fresh hire – was so incredibly helpful and easy to talk to; people were genuinely happy to work and spend time with each other.
A saying we would often bring up, sometimes jokingly, is “one team, one dream”; however, it’s actually quite an accurate descriptor of the feeling around the office. Despite having three separate offices scattered across San Francisco, New York, and Toronto (along with colleagues in Korea and the United Kingdom), the company has been able to balance professionalism with familiarity to become both high-achieving and closely-knit. Being excited to go into work every day made it so much easier to put in the hours alongside everyone else. Like a family, we grinded at the office, celebrated big wins, suffered through Barry’s Bootcamp, and religiously made the lunchtime pilgrimage to Rooster and Rice -- together.
Work beyond your job description
One of the things I loved about working at a startup was the necessary cross-functionality that it offered. The unstructured environment could be chaotic at times, but it was also a great opportunity for me to come in and accelerate my growth.
Given the flexibility of the role, I was able to explore the company’s various functions. From working on product and marketing projects to sitting in on client meetings and learning more about our sales workflow over break time chats, I found it incredibly interesting to see how all the individual components came together to drive the company forward. Through developing a deeper understanding of the entire operation, I was able to look at things through a more holistic lens and put myself in the position to be useful whenever my number was called.
It’s sometimes too easy to stay in your lane and forget that there’s more to the company beyond your role, but by taking the time to learn about every role in the company, you’re able to truly create value on a broader scale. In other words, don’t be afraid to reach out to other departments to chat, learn, or offer help – chances are you’ll gain valuable perspective through it.
Life in the Bay
Beyond work, having the chance to live in San Francisco was amazing. As a city, it had something for everyone – good food, a few beaches, cool weather, and natural sites all just a short drive away. Being able to spend afternoons in Golden Gate or Dolores Park, go rafting after a road trip to Auburn, or even enjoy a double scoop of Garden Creamery’s Ube Pandan ice cream with friends was such a great experience. Given the chance, I would love to do it all again.
More broadly, the Bay Area is still genuinely the place to be if you were ever interested in getting into tech. While there are certainly other places growing their tech scenes all over America and the world, I believe there’s still no place that offers the same perfect combination of tech, talent, and resources, quite like the Bay Area. Opportunities to meet smart, interesting people are both available and easily accessible; it doesn’t get any easier than that.
As excited as I am to get back onto campus and start taking classes again, I’m similarly sad to say goodbye to such an enjoyable chapter of my life filled with fun, learning, and growth. I am incredibly thankful to Awad, Kyle, and the rest of the team for giving me a chance to work at their amazing company and hope to keep in touch. I can confidently say that I am much more well-equipped walking out of this experience than I was coming into it.
So here’s to wrapping up the summer of 2018, my last one as an undergraduate. Pixlee, here’s a little UGC for you – hope you get to put it to good use!
Does this sound like your cup of tea? Take a look at our current openings, we're always looking for talented, high-potential individuals to join us.