3 Things Tech Companies Can Learn from The Internship

Last Monday, to start off another great week of solving the world’s problems with mobile solutions, the Interapt team and I decided to kick back, relax, and enjoy a movie at a co-worker’s home.  We chose The Internship, starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.  While that may not sound like a very productive way to start off the work week, it ended up being a very engaging and educational experience for me.  As an MBA student working as an intern at a high tech company like Interapt, I have been faced with many new experiences, challenges, and situations that undergraduate studies did not (and to be fair, could not) fully prepare me for.  We all know there are many things one simply cannot learn from a textbook, and I believe this was illustrated perfectly by The Internship.

While the kids in this movie had technical skill and academic expertise, what they lacked were soft skills (or as I like to call them, “people smarts”). This is where Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were able to fill in the gaps for their techie co-workers and bring added value to Google’s products. Now you may be thinking, “How could you possibly add more value to Google?”  Very good question, hypothetical question asker!  And while Google is currently valued at more than $334 billion, with stock prices exceeding $1,000/share, does Google even need help from non-technical people?

The kids in this movie (I say “kids” but they are most likely my age) were placed into teams to compete in a series of challenges.  Most of these challenges (except for the quidditch tournament) required deep subject matter expertise and technical prowess, and the winning team would be offered jobs at Google.  However, when it came to the Final Challenge, the kids were ill-equipped to deliver.  What was the final challenge?  To SELL!  That’s when it hit me: This movie is a parallel to my own real-world situation.  I was even able to identify similar characteristics of my team members in each of the film’s characters.  And I believe there are three main lessons that high-tech companies can take away from this movie:

Lesson 1: You can have the best product in the world that no one knows about.

Although Google doesn’t seem to have a problem with product positioning of SEO (for obvious reasons), there are still people out there that don’t know about many of Google’s products. This was evident with “Sal,” the character painted as the guy we all know who owns the pizza joint down the street.  High-tech companies need to be able to show business owners like Sal what their services are capable of, and use metrics to prove it, such as when one programmer asks Sal “Did you know that there are almost as many people searching for Sal’s in Los Gatos as in Paulo Alto?”

Lesson 2: You can have the best product in the world and have no one see it as valuable.

This was another dilemma faced by the interns in the movie. They knew their products well, but how do you turn features into benefits?  “Don’t worry, Uncle Billy keeps a spare key under the mat.” Vince Vaughn quipped this phrase to a call-in customer while taking tech support calls for the Google Help line during another challenge.  Although companies like Google may have great products, customers also want excellent service and use out of these products, and the 24/7 Google help line is a great example of that. If something goes wrong, Google is able to add value through their support line and keep customers loyal and happy.

Lesson 3: You can have the best product in the world and still not know how to sell it.

This is another struggle that the young interns faced during their final sales challenge; they lacked those “people smarts” that I spoke of earlier.  They were failing to do the one thing necessary of any company trying to provide value: Meet the customer where they are. Sal was very cost-conscious, and was too busy with the day-to-day operations of the store to think big-picture.  It wasn’t until Owen and Vince showed up and asked him a great question: “Sure, you’re doing fine. But don’t you want to be doing great?” Business owners especially want to know one thing: Will this solution bring in more revenue?  If high-tech companies can prove this, then they have already won half the battle.

Don’t misunderstand me about the benefit of school and academia versus real-world knowledge and application.  I’m really enjoying my time in class at UofL.  However, I’ve learned many things about business during the last couple months while working at Interapt that never came up in the classroom. And unexpectedly, a lot of those lessons were a result of this social event planned by our very own “Social Committee” (a.k.a. Interapt’s lead designer, Alicia Reeves).  The Internship taught me that technical chops and people skills are not mutually exclusive, but must go hand-in-hand if tech companies are to remain competitive. It has even inspired my manager Aaron and myself to create and listen to our very own “get psyched mix” on our way to sales meetings.  I still have a lot to learn, but I’m glad that I am a part of a company that is focused on innovation, creativity, and building solutions that make business sense.

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