For the past three summers, I designed and taught my own economics and physics courses to underprivileged students in Hong Kong as part of a summer teaching residency called Summerbridge Hong Kong. It was similar to an academic summer camp; in addition to teaching classes, we organized special events for the students such as Spirit Day and Talent Show. I absolutely love Summerbridge and had the most life-changing summers at the program. Summerbridge inspired me to become a high school teacher and devote my life to empowering students through education.
"So why didn't you go back to Summerbridge this summer?" friends keep asking me.
Well, I felt that after three summers, it was time for me to try something new. Why startups? Because after some years teaching full-time, I plan to found my own educational program or startup and/or continue working on my current startup, VAL Labs.
Although education and entrepreneurship may seem like vastly different fields, there's actually a lot of overlap, as I've realized after interning for a month at Woveon. What have I learned from Summerbridge that has helped me with my foray into the startup world? Well, here are
5 Things I've Carried Over from Summerbridge to Woveon
My favorite Steve Jobs quote of all time is: "Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become." He elaborated, "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it."
One very important life lesson that I've learned from Summerbridge and Woveon is that for my future career, 1) I have to love what I'm doing, and 2) I have to love the people I'm working with.
The Summerbridge Director is, in my opinion, an embodiment of passion. Steve Jobs has been one of my role models ever since I was young, and I'd always read and heard about how passionate and driven he was. But he was like a distant hero, and it was difficult to fully and concretely wrap my mind around his level of passion.
The Summerbridge Director is an incredibly loving, cheerful, and resilient role model for me. Even when times are tough, when there may be serious issues involving students and teachers, when she has to stay up all night and rarely eat lunch during the summer, she strives extra hard to be optimistic and makes sacrifices herself for the betterment of the program. Her positivity as a leader really trickles down to everyone around her. She works at Summerbridge not for external factors like money or fame or power, but for far more meaningful reasons like love, passion, and community service.
Summerbridge has truly inspired me to engage in meaningful work that I'm passionate about and that contributes to society. For me, once I'm passionate about something, I never stop talking about it (all my friends are sick of hearing me talk about Summerbridge). It's what gets me up in the morning and keeps me awake at night. It's what keeps me going even if I'm doing a lot of work that might not be the most interesting, such as checking 600 student evaluations every week.
I can draw parallels with the entrepreneurship space, where entrepreneurs are driven by their passion to solve the world's problems. It's the passion and belief in themselves and their company that keep them going through challenging times like having little funding or few customers, where there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Passion is what it takes for entrepreneurs to work on their startups on top of their full-time jobs or quit their full-time jobs and take huge pay cuts.
2. Working in a small team
In 2016, I had the most rewarding summer experience of my life as an administrator at Summerbridge. In a small team of seven admins, we collaborated to run the entire program for 150 students and 44 teachers. I absolutely loved every single one of the admins and enjoyed working in an informal environment with such a tight-knit team and a flat structure. We cared for each other’s personal growth and mental health as much as the success of the program.
Working at Woveon now has been quite similar. It was essential at Summerbridge for all the admins to be on the same page to coordinate logistics and communicate with teachers. Along the same lines, it's crucial for everyone at Woveon to be on the same page to communicate the same message to investors, customers, mentors, and the general public. Being on the same page is also very valuable for working together effectively and integrating others' work into your own work. For example, it would be helpful for the Co-Founders to know that someone on our team has done research on customer service stats so that they could include these stats in their presentations.
Delegation of work is also different in a small team with a flat structure compared to a large, structured team. In a structured team, you might only report to one supervisor or boss who assigns you work, but in a team with a flat structure, many people could delegate you work. Flexibility and versatility are key. I've had all three Co-Founders and the Strategy Analyst assign me work at the same time, and I've needed to adapt to different situations and prioritize my tasks by thinking about which ones are the most urgent.
As a Mentor Teacher at Summerbridge, my role was not strictly defined, and the Director later explained that because I was a new admin, she was observing how I was transitioning from being a teacher to being an admin and determining what my role would be as the program progressed. As a result, I needed to be proactive and take initiative to try to contribute wherever possible and make the most of the experience.
On the same note, at Woveon, because of the flexible structure and work schedule with few deadlines, I've also needed to seek out extra work and sometimes work outside of normal hours, such as late at night and on weekends. When the Co-Founders have been away during weekdays, I've needed to exercise self-discipline. Woveon even initially offered me to work remotely, which would've required even more initiative and self-discipline.
One of many challenges of being an admin at Summerbridge for me was stepping out of the spotlight and taking less credit for my work. Our main job as admins was to empower the students and teachers to shine in the spotlight and have amazing experiences while we, as admins, may make sacrifices on our end. Instead of starting cheers ourselves or standing in the middle during a performance, we encouraged teachers and students to start cheers and stood toward the sides. Since much of my work was behind the scenes and many students and teachers weren't aware of the details of my role as an admin, I learned to become more selfless, demonstrate sacrificial love, and realize that my work was still important even though it was difficult for me not to take credit for it.
At a startup like Woveon, a lot of work is done behind the scenes that we might not always take credit for during presentations to investors and customers. For instance, when pitching to investors under time constraints, the Co-Founders are likely not going to have time to specifically mention the contributions of each team member. The important thing for us is to work together as a team and recognize that everyone contributes to the group as a whole. Taking personal credit is less important.
5. Presentation skills
How do you effectively engage your audience, whether it be students, investors, or customers? Summerbridge heavily emphasized interactive, hands-on activities that were student-centered rather than teacher-centered. We even aimed to encourage students to speak for 90% of the time while only speaking 10% of the time ourselves. We learned that we all learn best by doing and speaking, as shown in Dale's Cone of Experience below.
As an admin, preparing teaching workshops alongside the Director and Dean of Faculty and planning logistics for a large site helped me learn ways of giving instructions more clearly to large groups, thoroughly thinking through the details of every activity, and organizing the different steps logically. A specific, practical method that I learned was what we called the "One Voice Policy," where if one admin was facilitating a workshop or discussion, the other admins should try not to jump in or interrupt. Otherwise, it would come across as confusing and disorganized to a large group of teachers. "Too many cooks spoil the broth." It's better to have one person in charge of giving instructions in the front instead of having all 7 admins in the front trying to give instructions at the same time.
This particularly applies to the pitching aspect of entrepreneurship. Teaching has helped me figure out ways of communicating content so that it's engaging and easily understandable for my audience. I always try to put as much passion in my voice as possible and tell stories that appeal to the audience's emotions. It's also more effective for only 1-2 people to present and not have the entire team go up to the front.
Also, as the Campus Recruiter for Summerbridge, I've gained marketing and communications experience through regularly distributing marketing materials, making promotional announcements, managing an official Facebook page, and communicating with full-time recruitment staff. These experiences have directly translated to the marketing department at Woveon as I've been producing marketing content such as blogs and managing social media.
I've already learned a lot in my time at Woveon, and I'm excited about further carrying over my Summerbridge experiences and gaining new skills for the rest of the summer!
Ever wanted to get into the minds of your customers and figure out how they think? Ever wanted to know the best methods to convince someone to do something? As the study of the human mind and behavior, psychology has answers to what you're looking for. Stay tuned for 12 Ways You Can Use Psychology in Your Marketing.
Woveon is an easy-to-use online application that provides businesses a centralized location to manage their customer channels, such as social media and phone calls. Using machine learning, social listening, a wide breadth of data, and a clean user interface, Woveon helps prioritize inquiries, identify valuable customers, and suggest personalized content. It levels the playing field for small businesses to complete with larger social media teams and helps enterprises visualize customer journeys. It simplifies online customer relations and makes businesses more efficient in managing the touch points they have with customers. Customer service is in our DNA. We strive to ensure businesses can scale and respond back to all their customer inquiries.