Embracing Uncertainty: Zach Steele ’15 on His Startup Internship Experience

Especially in the midst of interview season for summer internships, others’ experiences often provide a wealth of knowledge. Though many students tend to be entrepreneurial-minded, they tend to be hesitant about interning for start-ups as uncertainty plays a large role in their decision-making. Below are comments from Zach Steele ’15 on his internship experience at a start-up, SWAN Medical, last summer.

Zach SteeleThis past summer I worked at a small startup named SWAN Medical in the Bay Area. They work with smart organizations to help their people sleep well at night to increase organizational health, productivity, and resiliency.

It’s scary to move far from home and work for a burgeoning startup. The experience is an onslaught of maddening uncertainty. Uncertainty about living in a new city and making new friends. Uncertainty about your self worth and the true extent of your skills. Uncertainty about how much you’ll have to learn to succeed and how quickly. Uncertain about what work will come your way. Uncertain about the fate of the startup. Uncertain if you can handle the uncertainty.

But it’s best to look at this uncertainty in the face when you’re younger and have less to lose. And so I did. And now I’m more prepared for the future than I would be otherwise.

Getting In

To land the internship, I put my foot in the door after hunting around AngelList. I found SWAN and messaged the company, identifying common ground. I had taken Professor Maas’s Psych 1101 class and learned a lot about sleep, so I asked if I could learn more. I prepared about a dozen questions and had a 2-hour chat with the CEO. At the end of the chat, I asked to do some work for the company. For two weeks, I took any assignment they gave me, including research, lead generation, and cold calling. At last I sent over an assignment and, at the end of the email, asked to work full-time in the summer. The rest is history.


I was officially responsible for lead generation. I identified health-savvy organizations we could work with and reached out to their management. If I did my job well, I got an organization interested in working with us. I created more opportunities for myself beyond sales work, too. I got knee deep in product development, corporate strategy, data analysis, and marketing communications.


The most challenging part of my job this summer was balancing analysis and research with action. On one hand, I had to inform my actions with good reasoning and logic. On the other, there was so much to do that I could not spend too much time preparing. For example, when I began cold calling companies, I was having trouble getting people on the phone. I was having some success, but was mostly getting to people’s voicemails. I had to decide to reduce my calling volume to make more time to do research on cold calling techniques. I had to learn fast, manage my uncertainty in my actions, and make iterative improvements to get the timely results the CEO wanted.


My startup experience was diverse, hectic, and wrought with uncertainty. But the skills I picked up and my successful embrace of uncertainty landed me another startup job in San Francisco for next summer.

I’m happy to chat with anybody about their experience, thoughts, or fears working in startups. Because the more people we Cornell entrepreneurs chat and share with, the better off we all are.

To contact Zach with any questions or concerns, feel free to email him at zds5@cornell.edu.

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EaC Summer Internship Program

Entrepreneurship at Cornell‘s thriving summer internship program connects students with small to mid-sized employers throughout the U.S. and abroad. These paid internships provide practical experience for more than 50 students every summer, from every school and college at Cornell. The experiences help prepare our next generation of Cornell business leaders, innovators, creators and entrepreneurs.

Want to learn more? Whether you are a business owner or Cornell student, visit http://eship.cornell.edu/internships/# for further information and a simple application!