Intern Sushi's tagline is "be picky" - something you think that most interns looking to break into the hot fields of design, fashion, film, television and other tough industries would expect of their employers. However, the tagline is really aimed at interns finding the right opportunity. Read on for a Q&A with CEO Shara Senderoff and learn how Intern Sushi is revolutionizing the intern hiring process.
Melissa Zieger: I wish Intern Sushi had been around when I was in college. What drove you to create your company?
Shara Senderoff: I had a lot of internships in college in the film industry. One promised I would get lots of on-set experience, and all I did was build Ikea cabinets and clean the walls with Formula 409. They had no intent to use me in a beneficial way at all.
Then I had an internship with a huge producer, and I really had the internship I wanted. Later, I had to hire interns at the Mark Gordon Company. What I found was that the storytelling process we do in film is just what I could do with Intern Sushi. So, I pitched the idea to Mark about 18 months ago, and he became my partner for Intern Sushi as I developed it part-time. I’ve now been doing Intern Sushi full time for about eight months.
Intern Sushi focuses on hard-to-break-into industries – fields that are inaccessible, where you feel like you need a connection. We change the focus to be on the intern talents, not on who they know. Because it is not only about who you know. Some people don’t agree with that. But I think people will look at the intern videos and see this talent that is young and passionate and they will want to hire them because of what they can do.
Melissa Zieger: I have to ask - how did you come up with the name?
Shara Senderoff: After the “409 wall cleaning” internship, I knew I needed to be picky. I was thinking about things that are picky, and it dawned on me that you never see a sloppy plate of sushi. My partner Mark wanted to test the name, but I just went with it. It has skyrocketed us – it unique, just like us.
Melissa Zieger: Why did you choose to be an entrepreneur?
Shara Senderoff: I wanted to be a film producer to solve problems, and that is what I do now. Management, putting systems in place, development, efficiency and storytelling is what I do in film and it all transitions easily to Intern Sushi. It is a constant journey and it isn’t for everyone, but I love the blank slate of my day-to-day work!
Melissa Zieger: How are you growing your business?
Shara Senderoff: We built a unique brand, and that focus was our secret. We have pushed the philosophy of being picky and making smart choices, and the companies who work with us follow it. They are super selective about their talent, and our interns want the best opportunities. Our digital profile requires work, which separates the lazy kids from the motivated ones because they have to be creative to showcase their references.
We target our intern candidates with college campus brand ambassadors that we hand-select for our 11 industries. We work with a handful of schools as “feeders” for talent and the brand ambassadors are paid to recruit them. The competition to be the best candidate spurs everyone to create better submissions. And the submissions are not one size fits all. You can do a voiceover, an animated video – you don’t even have to be on camera. (Check out this profile, for example.)
Melissa Zieger: Who is your target audience?
Shara Senderoff: We say it is the influencers and anyone who is smarter than them. For our ambassadors, we train them all via Google hangouts. We interview them, we look at their clubs, we watch them on social media and we teach them our philosophy. We only bring on the kids that are leaders. In order to get paid, they have to recruit someone who completes a profile. Luckily for them, more than 75 percent of our applicants complete a profile.
Melissa Zieger: How does technology play a role in the growth of your company?
Shara Senderoff: We are the model for technology-driven companies. We produce our videos in a way that is as creative as possible and that challenges the usual resume process. Everyone who works here needs to know how to shoot with a camera, use lenses, use filters, use Instagram, include music – the works. Technology is embedded in everything we do.
Melissa Zieger: What’s next for your company? Any major achievements or hurdles on the horizon?
Shara Senderoff: We are about to launch with schools nationwide on October 15. Until now, we have been focused on 15 cities and 11 industries. We are about to expand to 15 industries and nationwide. That is a lot of companies and schools to canvas.
To enable this, we are about to launch a big VC fundraising round. I have VCs coming after me, which is exciting. We did two other rounds privately, so this is sort of scary! With the investment, we’d like to expand our offerings. We’d make it a full career program available to all schools in the U.S., where interns would use our content to bone up on the industry. The platform will enable the whole lifecycle: get the job, get prepared for the job, and fly ahead of everyone else on the job. You can’t learn about these industries in a classroom – and I studied film in school, so I know this.
We’ve been doing a lot of testing of features to launch and hopefully we can launch “Career Sushi” in 2013 as an expanded product. We have a lot of plans for brands to bridge off of the “Be picky” tagline.
Melissa Zieger: What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
Shara Senderoff: You can’t be afraid to be vulnerable. This also applies to people who use our site. You have to be able to speak your mind, or else you will not stand out. Only one in eight land an internship on Intern Sushi. So, how do you stand out? Internships are the new entry level job and applicants need to be transparent because everyone will figure out they really are in the end anyway.
Melissa Zieger: What are some of the most important business lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Shara Senderoff: I think people should pay attention to everyone else’s mistakes. That is why interning is less about what you can learn about a task or an industry and more about being able to watch your colleagues screw up so you don’t do the same thing. Interning is a great window into others’ mistakes.
Intern Sushi is running a sweepstakes to encourage using technology to showcase your talents and giving away an HP Envy 14 Spectre to help one lucky person do just that. Enter on their facebook page:facebook.com/internsushi.