Culture of a Startup

The Bad Advice of College Career Offices

Punchbowl hires a few interns every year, and the candidates usually come from job postings we’ve circulated through local college career centers. Our requirements aren’t crazy – we want someone who is thoughtful, a good writer, has some personality and wants to pursue a career in Marketing or Public Relations. However, the process of finding a person is often tedious. Most of the candidates that apply don’t get the basics right. And for this, I mostly blame college career services. Time and time again, we see ill-prepared students who don’t seem to put any thought into the culture of Punchbowl and how they might fit in. Punchbowl is a tech start-up, not a stuffy financial institution. The old-fashioned college career system just doesn’t seem to “get” how to prep their students for this kind of environment.

Danger Bad Advice AheadIntern candidates, listen up: If you’re applying for an internship at a tech start-up, don’t listen to this bad advice:

Bad Advice #1: Apply to everything While it may seem efficient to apply to every single internship posted posted, don’t do it. Every position is different and a generic response won’t get you very far with the company. Research the companies that are most interesting to you, and try those first. Focus on positions that will accentuate your strengths or seem really interesting for one reason or another. If you apply to everything, it’s more likely you’ll make a mistake and forget to update the company name, hiring manager, or some other embarrassing tidbit in your intro email. I’ve seen it too often.

Bad Advice #2: Send a cover letter  With the advent of email, the need for a traditional cover letter has been eliminated. No one types up all their strengths and attributes on a pretty piece of paper and mails it to the human resources department anymore. When you send your resume for an internship, include a nice (but short) email introducing yourself, with a few sentences on why you are interested in the position. It’s also helpful to include something that differentiates you from your peers. Give us your two cents about Punchbowl, make a joke, or send us a picture. Keep it personal, and help us remember why you are different.

Bad Advice #3: Include your GPA and a transcript Trust me, we’ll know if you’re smart within the first few minutes of speaking with you. There’s not much that sharing your grades or classes will do to increase the odds of getting the job. These days, your understanding of the marketplace and how our company fits into the overall ecosystem is much more important than your GPA. So don’t include it unless we explicitly ask.

Bad Advice #4: Put everything you’ve ever done on your resume For all positions at Punchbowl, we ask for a one-page resume. Why? Because we think it’s important to have the ability to boil down lots of information into something more digestible. We don’t care how many jobs you’ve held, we care about the real substance of your experience. Rather than a long resume, spend time beefing up your LinkedIn profile or make a website about yourself. By the way: it’s almost a sure thing that we’ll Google you, so make sure there aren’t any embarrassing pictures out there on the Internet for us to find.

Bad Advice #5: Prepare for an in-person interview We always prefer to meet intern candidates in-person but it’s not always possible to meet face-to-face. Given our schedules (and the schedules of busy students) most of our interviews take place over Skype or FaceTime. Preparing for a video interview is a lot different than in-person. First, make sure you know how to Skype/FaceTime, and test it with a friend. Be sure we’re going to be able to see AND hear you, and don’t waste our time with computer/phone problems. Second, make sure the background of the room you’re sitting in is appropriate. If we see empty beer bottles behind you, it doesn’t make the best first impression. Lastly, dress for the occasion. We are a casual company, and wear jeans and t-shirts. Even though it’s a video interview, be sure to be dressed appropriately (yes, that means no pajamas).

SWAMI SAYS: Applying for an internship at a tech startup is very different than at a bank or consulting company. Students: be selective when you apply, and learn the culture of the organization so that you can make the best first impression possible. Oh, and Punchbowl is hiring an intern for the fall semester. Get in touch!


Change one word and improve your conversations

A very wise person taught me an important lesson several years ago:

Rather than saying “but”, try saying “and” instead.


I remember when I first heard this advice, my first reaction was that this was another one of those trite phrases that people like to say sometimes. However, I really trust the person who shared his wisdom with me, so I took the time to carefully listen to his perspective. (more…)

The 24 hour challenge for job candidates

Matt Douglas is the Founder & CEO of Follow @mattdouglas on Twitter. For every new follower this year, Matt is donating $0.25 to

Every month, I spend a significant amount of time interviewing candidates. At Punchbowl, we hire full-time employees, independent contractors, and interns. Regardless of the position, all of us work together as a close team. So it’s critical that we hire people that fit the culture and vibe.

I’m fond of saying that ‘good’ people are relatively easy to find: place an ad in Craigslist or and you can find educated, experienced, and talented people within days. But finding truly GREAT people is really hard — how do you find people with superb communication skills, a strong work ethic, excellent personal traits, combined with a willingness to join a small company? And how do you make sure that the skill set and mindset of this new person will be additive to the team you already have in place? I can tell you from experience: hiring great people is very hard.

Over the years, I’ve developed a sequence to my hiring process to find great people. My goal is to learn about the person as much as possible before offering a position. I want to know how they think and what makes them tick. One part of my process is something I call the “24-hour challenge.” (more…)

5 reasons you must repeat your strategy

Every great company or organization should have a high-level strategy that can be explained in two minutes or less. A company’s strategy is the blueprint to success, and a great strategy helps connect every single employee to the vision of the company’s growth.

A strategy is not a mission statement. A strategy is a clearly-defined path to growth and financial success over a set period of time. Your strategy should explain how you acquire customers, how you monetize them, and the key differentiators of your business. In short, your strategy is the reason that you’ll be successful in the market. (more…)

5 Advantages of Starting a Company in Metrowest

This article first appeared on on August 1, 2013 as a guest post. Matt Douglas is the Founder & CEO of Follow @mattdouglas on Twitter. For every new follower this year, Matt is donating $0.25 to

If you’re starting a tech company in Boston, most people assume that you’re thinking about locating your office in either Cambridge or in downtown Boston. The argument is that those areas are the tech hubs of the city, and you would be a fool to plant your company anywhere else.

In Silicon Valley (where I lived in the late 90s), there are companies both inside and way outside of both San Francisco and San Jose. Lots of people live in places like Palo Alto or Redwood City and commute to either city — and vice versa. The whole area is considered part of Silicon Valley. But here in the Boston area, unless your company is located in Cambridge or in downtown, it’s considered way outside of the major tech area. We need to change that perception. (more…)

How to manage your startup without fear

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago, and he was telling me about the culture at his job. Apparently, one of the employees was getting reprimanded for spending time on non work-related sites during the day. How did they know? Apparently, they actually monitor your internet usage during the day. Yep, big brother is watching.

And that’s not all… at the same office, one of the employees got a call from daycare that her kid was sick. Although it was 3:30pm, she left to go pick up her child. When she told her boss that she was leaving early, her boss told her that her pay that day would be cut by two hours for leaving early. How compassionate!

These two examples remind me of how ineffective it is to manage your employees using fear. I’ve worked for bosses where it felt like they were watching my every move. In my opinion, a few things happen when you manage this way: (more…)

Don’t hire a new employee until you feel the pain

When you are starting a company and raising capital, it’s natural to think about your hiring plan. As you create financials, you’ll try to predict how many hires you need at each stage of the company and try to show a reasonable ramp of building your team. But as practical matter, how do you make the decision of when to hire for a position? Just because your plan says that you should hire a Marketing person in September of year 2, does that mean you should? I don’t think so. (more…)

University of Rochester Stingers: my first start-up

Note: This is the first in a series about the University of Rochester Stingers — a group I founded in the fall of 1994. 

Part I: How I founded the Stingers

In the fall of 1994, I came back to the University of Rochester campus as a Junior with the goal of joining one of the popular a cappella singing groups on campus. So I tried out for the YellowJackets and then Swingshot (now called AfterHours). I didn’t get into either. After the initial disappointment, I decided to start my own group. As a trombone player and music major, I decided to create the first ever a cappella trombone group. I wanted to create a group in the style of the YellowJackets: we would play modern, popular music and throw in our own humor and style. This wasn’t going to be a chamber group or some boring ensemble: we were going to wear shades and play rock ‘n roll (yes, on trombones!) (more…)

How to prepare for an interview at an Internet company

As anyone who has started a company will tell you, the people you hire into your company are *critical* to the long-term success of the business. The employees set the tone and vibe, and a single bad apple can put a strain on the whole team. So, like most startups, we strive to hire the best people we’ve ever worked with. I take hiring very seriously, and I’ve never regretted spending more time to find a great hire.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been interviewing a lot of candidates (in fact, I made two hires this past week). One thing I’ve been struck with are the vast differences between those who prepare for an interview and those who don’t. It’s very disappointing to sit across the table from someone who says “I didn’t have time to prepare.” I always think, “Really? Well I don’t have time to waste with you.” And usually I end those interviews very fast (seriously, one time i ended an interview after just four minutes. The walk to the front door was very awkward). (more…)