I joined a Lancs student start-up at uni and this is what it is like
Here are all the reasons you should consider joining a start-up whilst at uni
Over lockdown, I found myself utterly bored. With second-year essays finished and exams cancelled, I found myself missing something. (Of course with third-year deadlines coming out of my ears, I have to admit I hate past-me for not enjoying the freedom of having nothing to do.) My brain functions best when my life is run on deadlines, routine, and to-do lists. With nothing to do, naturally, my to-do lists were looking kind of sparse.
Luckily, I was given an amazing opportunity to join a start-up company. They were in the early stages of creating a multipurpose buying and selling app designed for the use of university students all over the UK. It is crazy how before lockdown started, the term ‘Unizapper’ would have meant as little to me as it does to you now, but now it seems such a regular part of my vernacular.
After a few different interviews, a form to sign here and there, I felt so lucky to be offered a place in their team. When I joined the team, there were around nine of us. Since then, we have grown to about 17.
Due to the context of covid, I still haven’t met most of the team in real life, which I think is so crazy. But Zoom was our best friend in those really hot days of June and July when we sat fanning ourselves and chatting about the brand. But we definitely had the advantage of time on our hands, and although the online university experience does have many similar tropes to being part of an online start-up, balancing it all whilst at uni has been a very interesting experience.
To start with, the personal growth I felt from just a few weeks in was really amazing to me. The feeling of being part of something that was completely out of my depth was intimidating but exciting. Prior to joining the team, I had minimal (if any) knowledge of the business world. For me, it was like a murky, scary, forest full of rich white men ready to trip you up at any moment. Of course, I am sure I will still encounter many of these in my life, but my general understanding of business has increased tenfold. Before, I literally couldn’t tell you anything about user and privacy policies, app design, marketing techniques, the list goes on. Now I feel I have a firm grasp on the basics of business, something I never dreamed I would achieve throughout university. It seems like a small accomplishment, but the sense of clarity you get from finally understanding something that you’ve been struggling to understand for years is incomparable – something that I am sure many students will relate to.
My confidence has also definitely improved, something which has undoubtedly helped me as I have got used to the new online learning template of this academic year. I can tell a difference in my willingness to participate, not worrying if I get something completely wrong, and understanding that struggling to grasp a topic at first is completely okay.
Balancing third year is almost impossible without good time management skills. As soon as you throw in societies, social time, drinking and generally bad decisions, it is made even harder. Start-ups are really fast-paced and often stressful. Most of us are experiencing this for the first time, and we aren’t used to it, so keeping up a good standard of work whilst also trying to learn the lingo on the job can be difficult. This is where it is really similar to the university experience, it always feels like you’re just faking it till you make it. But I think we have learnt that this is just how adult life is, and gaining some perspective about how normal it is to struggle, has really helped me at uni. In a way, observing other people struggle their way through to a result that they should be really proud of has really helped my confidence. It has shown that the end result can still be worth the extra effort even if the journey to get there isn’t completely smooth sailing. Currently hoping my dissertation follows the same trajectory.
Being part of a society is a really common university experience, and even living with housemates has a sort of community spirit that is incomparable to anything else. The social side of Uni is really important and something which is really unique. Especially with Covid, being able to say that I am a part of a team, that are working together to create something we are all really proud of, has filled me with a sense of purpose I don’t think I have experienced. Knowing I am putting the work in for the benefit of my team is really fulfilling, and also means we can be proud together when things go well.
We sometimes have team quiz nights which are a great way to keep it all fun and informal. I think the social side of a university start-up is really unique as everyone is in the same age group and stage in their life. It’s rare in life to be able to work alongside people at exactly the same point of life, where everyone has the same issues, similar senses of humour and understand each other’s priorities. This makes the social side of being part of a start-up both really fun and really unique.
Sense of achievement!
Seeing the physical result of months of hard work will never cease to fill me with such a sense of achievement. Even the parts I didn’t have any input with makes me feel proud. Working hard to complete a tangible aim, whether that is a physical product or a technology app like Unizapper, there is definitely something a bit difference between this and submitting an essay.
The past months have been crazy and stressful, but also really fun and fulfilling. We just hope you like the app as much as we do when we finally launch (which will soon so keep your eyes peeled…)