Working at a Startup

Just like our Fellows, no two startup jobs are alike—but they do tend to have a few things in common.

On the Job

Fellows work as full-time, salaried employees at hundreds of startups around the country. These companies vary in size, industry and product, but what they do tend to have in common is the kind of experiences they provide our Fellows.

As a Fellow, you’re going to work hard, your team is going to have high expectations, and sometimes you’ll have to figure things out on your own. At the end of the Fellowship, you’ll find you’ve grown as a professional, conquered challenges you couldn’t have predicted, and successfully taken on more responsibility than you thought you could.

Some of the Things Fellows Do at Work

Building the Product

Depending on the company, an engineering, programming or design job could mean coding a new app, building a prototype, or creating the 3D models. These roles always mean you’ll be building the product, whether digital or physical, that your company sells or relies on.

Our Fellows in these roles typically majored in these fields in college and come to their startups with solid experience to support the academics.

Though these skills are highly coveted, the vast majority – 75% – of VFA Fellows do not end up in technical roles. You do not have to know how to code to be a Fellow.

Bringing in the Money

In a sales-focused role, Fellows take direct responsibility for bringing in and retaining customers. They typically have aggressive goals to hit and get excited about helping the company’s revenues grow. Day-to-day, they may be cold calling prospective clients, heading out to pitch meetings or managing the relationships to keep current customers happy and coming back to the business.

There’s no one background that leads to success in a sales role. Fellows who thrive here tend to like connecting with other people, solving problems and have the thick skin that comes from being repeatedly told no.

Creating Compelling Stories

Fellows who have a gift for communication often find themselves in marketing, social media, or content creation roles. What these all have in common is figuring out a customer pain point, then telling a story that shows how the customer how the company’s product can help solve it.

That may mean running an email marketing campaign, connecting with influencers to create fresh content on social media, or reaching out to press to get editorial coverage. These roles are well suited for our Fellows who write & speak well and enjoy using those skills to drive new business.

Getting Things Done

Daily life in an operations or project management role can vary widely. Sometimes it means working with a client; other times it can be figuring out a better way for the team to work together.

The one thing our Fellows in these roles always do is use their organizational & communication skills to come up with plans, rally the teams and get things done. Logical thinkers who love to dig into details tend to do well in these roles.

Engineering, Programming, or Design

Building the Product

Depending on the company, an engineering, programming or design job could mean coding a new app, building a prototype, or creating the 3D models. These roles always mean you’ll be building the product, whether digital or physical, that your company sells or relies on.

Our Fellows in these roles typically majored in these fields in college and come to their startups with solid experience to support the academics.

Though these skills are highly coveted, the vast majority – 75% – of VFA Fellows do not end up in technical roles. You do not have to know how to code to be a Fellow.

Sales, Business Development, Account Management

Bringing in the Money

In a sales-focused role, Fellows take direct responsibility for bringing in and retaining customers. They typically have aggressive goals to hit and get excited about helping the company’s revenues grow. Day-to-day, they may be cold calling prospective clients, heading out to pitch meetings or managing the relationships to keep current customers happy and coming back to the business.

There’s no one background that leads to success in a sales role. Fellows who thrive here tend to like connecting with other people, solving problems and have the thick skin that comes from being repeatedly told no.

Marketing, Social Media or Content Creation

Creating Compelling Stories

Fellows who have a gift for communication often find themselves in marketing, social media, or content creation roles. What these all have in common is figuring out a customer pain point, then telling a story that shows how the customer how the company’s product can help solve it.

That may mean running an email marketing campaign, connecting with influencers to create fresh content on social media, or reaching out to press to get editorial coverage. These roles are well suited for our Fellows who write & speak well and enjoy using those skills to drive new business.

Operations & Project Management

Getting Things Done

Daily life in an operations or project management role can vary widely. Sometimes it means working with a client; other times it can be figuring out a better way for the team to work together.

The one thing our Fellows in these roles always do is use their organizational & communication skills to come up with plans, rally the teams and get things done. Logical thinkers who love to dig into details tend to do well in these roles.

I stepped into a role that I knew little about and now feel like I have changed the trajectory of a company for the better. It just feels great to feel like you have actually had an impact on the company in a way that will not go away.

– John Wetzel, Class of 2016

Your Professional Development

Fellows are full-time, salaried employees of the startups where they work. Beyond just your paycheck, working at a fast-paced startup can help you grow at an accelerated pace as a professional.

This kind of environment will teach you to be proactive, ask the right questions, and always find a way to move your company forward—the same skills you’ll need to launch something of your own. As an entry level employee on a small team, you’re going to be expected to do it all—and you’re also going to see the impact you have from the very beginning.

VFA provides continuous professional development opportunities for Fellows. Beyond Training Camp, there are webinars and online courses exclusively available to Fellows. Locally in our cities, we host regular events and collectives amongst the cohort to make sure every Fellow is learning, growing, and getting the best possible experience.

 

I’ve grown a lot because there isn’t always someone to tell me what to do. I’ve learned how to take initiative and take responsibility head-on. I've also learned management skills that I never would have learned at the age of 22, if I wasn't thrown into the situation where I had to manage people.

– Cathryn Woodruff, Class of 2015
Joining the startup community in your city

Joining the startup community in your city

There’s a tight-knit, growing entrepreneurial community in every VFA city. You’re going to meet people who have invested their time, money, and energy into making the city a great place to live—by attracting talent, incentivizing businesses to move (or stay), and launching programs that serve local communities. If you want to make an impact or start something of your own outside of work, you can learn from the people who have been there, working to solve the problems they know well—the support you need is likely just a meeting or a few phone calls away.

Stay connected to the VFA community

Stay connected to the VFA community

As you get down to work in your city, you’ll have the support of the wider VFA network behind you. You’ll have access to our network of mentors to ask one-off questions or form longer relationships, and the VFA team will be there to talk you through challenging situations. You’ll also find that your fellow Fellows and alumni are an incredible resource, too.

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FAQs

How does VFA choose its company partners?

Our dedicated Company Partnerships team develops relationships with each company, usually through on-site visits and referrals from local partners. We prioritize leadership, relative financial stability, and a high-potential working and learning environment. That said, these are startups, and things change quickly.

What kind of role will I have at my company?

Fellows fill entry-level startup roles. The actual jobs, responsibilities, and skills of an entry-level employee can often evolve based on the company’s changing needs and direction. Roles include account management, content production, marketing, web development, engineering, data analysis, social media management, sales and business development, operations, or often, some combination of these. No matter the  job title, at many startups, team members end up working on a variety of projects and functions, and what Fellows work on in the first several months may not be what they’re working on several months later. When you’re interviewing for different roles, we’ll encourage you to ask the right questions to figure out what your job will be and opportunities for growth.

What type of salary can I expect?

Fellows can typically expect a starting salary of at least $38,000 per year, with some companies offering equity/options. Most Fellows will receive their first paycheck between late August and late September, depending on the payroll practices of their startup. From there, many Fellows earn raises once they prove themselves and add real value to their team—provided they’re excelling and the company is growing.

What happens if the startup I’m working for closes?

These are startups, and these things happen. It’s always difficult to recover from the loss of your company, and the transition is rarely smooth. Most Fellows in this situation have been able to find another job in a number of weeks with some hustle, networking, and a little help from VFA — but mostly hustle. It’s never quick or painless. If it happens to you, get ready to put your hard hat on and think to yourself, “At least I’m getting this experience while I’m young.” Our founder Andrew’s company failed and he swears it was one of the best, and most miserable, experiences of his life.

How long can I stay with my company?

There’s no established “end date” to your tenure with your employer, but you’re committing to two years at a VFA partner company in order to maintain your Fellowship status. If your company has grown and you’ve earned more responsibility, you may be well-served to stick around and continue to expand into a bigger role, as many of our alumni have done before.

Does VFA offer any student loan assistance?

Right now, we offer moderate loan assistance for a limited number of applicants. It’s not as much as we’d like, and increasing the amount of assistance we can offer is a major priority for us.

Thanks to the generosity of the Leon Lowenstein Foundation, VFA is pleased to offer the VFA Opportunity Award. Candidates are selected for the award on the basis of financial need and other criteria in an effort to make VFA an attractive opportunity for candidates of all backgrounds. The application to apply becomes available at the beginning of the Fellowship, prior to Training Camp in June. This will make it easier for at least a few people.

VFA also refers Fellows to available programs that may help with loan payments. Income-Based Repayment (IBR) is a way to make your monthly federal student loan payments more manageable. IBR is available to federal student loan borrowers in both the Direct and Guaranteed (or FFEL) loan programs, and covers most types of federal loans made to students. To qualify for IBR, you must have a partial financial hardship. You have a partial financial hardship if the monthly amount you would be required to pay on your IBR-eligible loans under a Standard Repayment Plan with a 10-year repayment period is higher than the monthly amount you would be required to repay under IBR.

 

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