I recently finished my MBA summer internship at AppWorks and wanted to write a quick summary and reflection for those MBA students who are considering applying or joining. I received a return offer and accepted.
Background on me and my first-year recruiting
I’m Columbia Business School ’20, an “ABC” (American-Born Chinese) and spent my pre-MBA career at IBM as an analytics consultant building predictive models. I did my undergrad at Ohio State and majored in math. I applied early decision to CBS and spent the year before CBS in China studying Mandarin full-time. I went into recruiting with the goal of working in China or Taiwan full-time and did not consider positions in the US. My plan B for the summer if I couldn’t find anything there was Hong Kong, Singapore and other Asian cities. So my recruiting was not industry-specific but region-specific. Most of the positions I recruited for were consulting, big tech, or enterprise. AppWorks was the only VC position I saw by December. I finished my interviews with them and accepted the offer before on-campus interviews started because for me it was a perfect fit in terms of industry, location, and the people I spoke with during the interviews.
Structure of internship
The formal summer associate program is still pretty new but for me the internship was divided into three parts:
- Perform due diligence on deals (qualitative, quantitative, financial modeling, having calls with founders)
- Sit in on investment committee meetings and offer your perspective on deal team presentations
- No deal sourcing (unless you have an interest in it)
- Sit in on interviews for accelerator applicants and offer your opinion on the quality of the founder
- Lead interviews yourself for accelerator applicants (do extensive research on their background and company, and do most of the questioning for 20 minutes)
- Help with recruiting applicants (finding potential startups, potentially flying to somewhere in SEA to recruit them, attending conferences to network with startup founders)
Startup project (10%)
- Identify a startup or two that you are interested in helping part-time for 3–4 weeks and see how you can help (scope varies by project)
- I helped a travel startup with their content marketing strategy, but other interns worked on financial modeling or developing KPIs. This is a good way to experience working on a startup if you don’t have startup experience.
You are also encouraged to blog to build up your internet presence. I wrote four blog articles over the course of the ten weeks (you can see them in my medium profile).
I was assigned a mentor (one of the partners) with whom I had weekly 1:1 meetings to discuss anything and everything. There were frequent team dinners or lunches (formal and informal) as well as outings (to the beach, hiking, night market, KTV, etc). You will not be bored and will have many opportunities to get to know your co-workers better.
My internship cohort
There were 3 of us total. Besides me there was an Indonesian guy from Yale SOM and a Taiwanese guy from Ross. Their internship structures were the same as mine. We didn’t work with each other on anything and had our own mentors and projects, but we hung out or got food often.
My own experience
I had an amazing time and learned a lot. What made me accept the return offer was:
- The people. There is a very stringent fit requirement and it shows. Everyone has a great personality and is super warm and friendly. I was never the smartest person in the room and I learned a lot. People know how to get stuff done during the workday and then just be real people after the workday is over.
- The culture. The partners treat you like adults and don’t micro-manage, but also hold you directly accountable if you don’t do something the right way. But nothing is personal. There is a flat hierarchy where analysts can question associates or partners on their logic or decisions and this type of open discussion is highly encouraged. It’s a culture that will bring out the best version of your work self.
- The work. VC is super interesting work but what surprised me is how much I enjoyed the accelerator admission interviews. Both the VC and accelerator offer something interesting.
- The variety. No one workweek looks the same. There are different deals, different accelerator activities/startups, ad-hoc projects, and conferences every week.
- The city. I found Taipei very enjoyable to live in. I had been twice before on short visits but had never lived there before.
AppWorks is and is not for…
- AppWorks summer associates are treated like full-time associates. This means you have an opportunity to learn a lot and be thrown into the fire. It also means expectations are very high early on — you should be comfortable contributing to a meeting, talking with founders, and representing AppWorks at networking events or conferences. Expect mentorship and plenty of assistance but not hand-holding.
- You should not come to AppWorks if you have zero intention of staying in Taiwan or working on Greater Southeast-Asia related projects. Much of the knowledge and network you get here is region-specific and will not be useful if you plan on re-recruiting for full time positions in the US. It would be better to wait out recruiting and not settle for something that will be irrelevant to your career or personal goals. AppWorks has a great brand in Asia but is a “no-name VC” in the US.
- You should come to AppWorks if you are active and known in your MBA program (happy hours, school clubs, conferences, raising your hand in class). To excel in VC in general you should be able to network and be sociable. AppWorks in particular cares a lot about team fit and culture, and the culture of the associates/analysts is very tight-knit — if you typically like to go into the office, get your work done, and go home at 5, an associate role at AppWorks might not be for you. People like each other and sometimes get dinner after work or occasionally hang out on the weekends.
- AppWorks is not for people who only care about making money. A lot of the work is not driven by profit, but by a mission to help the region build more homegrown digital champions. You should care about building out the technological capabilities of Taiwan, HK, Southeast Asia or Asia in general. You might be asked to work a few extra hours on a side project that, to a person that does not care about helping the region, will seem totally inane. If this is you, your work will suffer and you will get frustrated.
- You should come to AppWorks if you are coachable, humble, and take direct feedback well. Coming from a top US MBA program you might think you have all the answers for AppWorks. But you actually probably know less than you think and the partners at AppWorks are extremely smart, experienced, and talented. Take the opportunity to go in and learn as much as you can. You will get direct feedback and if you take these things personally, you will definitely not succeed.
- If you only want to do VC and are not interested in the accelerator, AppWorks is not for you. I only spent 25% of my internship on the accelerator but full-time associates do more recruiting on the ground (in different countries) and they spend more time on it during peak accelerator season. The summertime is the time between batches so I was not there for peak accelerator time when most of the startups are actually on site. Join AppWorks only if you are willing to spend a significant portion of your time on the accelerator as a full-time associate.
I hope that was helpful. Good luck with recruiting and remember to pursue what you want, rather than get caught up with what other people want or what looks prestigious.