Are interns and startups a perfect match? Latch thinks so

Unpaid internships have come under close scrutiny in recent months as experts debate new restrictions on positions without pay. But if you look at all of the cases where an intern/business relationship has gone sour, you’ll see that most of them involve large corporates who have standard internship programmes, not startups or SME’s.

Latch Digital, a development company in Auckland, has brought on two new interns, and they’ve found that the arrangement they have is hugely beneficial to both the students and the business.

David Roper, Business Director at Latch, said that the company didn’t actively go out looking for interns – it all just fell into place by sheer fluke. Mark Smith, Creative Director and co-founder of Latch, was in their local cafe grabbing some lunch when the guy behind the counter asked what Mark did for work.

“Oh I work upstairs and run a little digital agency,” Mark replied. This was overheard by another patron who then approached Mark and said “Well I’m an intern coordinator from Boston Uni, how would you guys like to have someone come help you out?” The rest is history.

Elizabeth Emmert, or Liz as her workmates call her, is in her fourth year of a creative advertising degree at Boston University. When she saw that Auckland was one of the study abroad destinations BU offered, she immediately knew that she had to study here.

“So far, it’s been exceeding my expectations,” says Liz, who has has been placed seamlessly into the creative and development team where she’s helping with some of the design elements associated with Latch’s services.

“I’m really into graphic design and recently took an app and web design class,” Liz said, “so Latch seemed like the perfect place to get the experience I want.

“It also made sense to work for a smaller company rather than a big advertising agency because I can actually help out with projects instead of just getting coffee and doing paperwork. I would love to sit in at meetings, help out with app design, and learn more about coding, and it seems like working with Mark and Franky will really be beneficial to achieving these goals.”

The vibe at Latch is also distinctly different to what one might expect at a big corporate agency, as Liz has noticed. The perks of working at an innovative startup rather than a company with many managers is that everyone knows each other intimately, which is perfect environment for someone who is just entering the workforce.

“Everyone is incredibly friendly, fun, and welcoming, and the music playing while working is a plus,” Liz adds. “Although everyone can be serious about their work, the aura of the room is always carefree. I get excited waking up in the morning knowing that I’m going to work at such a great place.”

Latch’s second intern, Li Qian, moved to Boston from her hometown of Shanghai to major in economics, but when the University presented Li with the opportunity to study abroad for one semester at the University of Auckland, she quickly took it. Along with weekly classes, students that elect to study abroad are placed in an internship in a local company.

“Luckily enough I was suited with Latch Digital,” Li said.

“Given that my native language isn’t English, I was a little worried about working for a Kiwi company. However, understanding my situation, Mark and Dave were still willing to offer me a business assistant role at Latch.

“I was interested in the position because I would get to work closely with Dave each day. Taking the advantage of applying what I have learned in school, I want to know more about how business works in the real world before graduating.”

Li is relishing the opportunity she has been given to learn how to run a team and understand the importance of communication with clients and business partners within a digital company. 

“The company’s culture is the best thing I’ve noticed so far,” Li continued. “People at Latch are kind, open minded, and easy going. The working environment is cozy, bright, free and open. We can freely listen to music while working.”

“The whole style of the company makes me feel comfortable and always puts me in a good mood. I get excited on my way to work each day,” Li added.

One of the other goals of the exchange programme is to allow young people to to learn more about the countries they’re placed in. Li says that before she came to New Zealand, her knowledge of this country was limited, but by the time she leaves, she wants to have seen and experienced as much of it as she can.

From Latch’s point of view, they couldn’t be happier. The intern coordinator matched the company with people who have the right skills to join the team.

“We have ended with with two great additions to the team, Liz majoring in creative advertising, and Li majoring in Econ and Business,” David said.

Most intern/business relationships end badly because one of the two parties feel like they’re not getting equal or greater value. This isn’t a problem with Latch’s arrangement as the interns have chosen to come here with a student visa, which means they are not supposed to get paid for work they do.

“The real value for them is getting that hands of experience but we’ll give them a few extra perks along the way,” David adds.

This is the first time the two entrepreneurs behind Latch Digital have taken on interns, so there’s definitely a distinct learning curve, David says. 

“As long as people are willing to work as a team, give anything a crack and ask for help when they need it, they’re an asset. Interns are definitely a great way to bring another pair of hands into your business.

“One thing you have to be careful of is not just to take them on as a luxury. You need to plan work advance that they can pick up quickly and run with.”

Few people realise how attractive a high-growth startup is to interns and students. Getting placements in an innovative company while they’re still at university can do wonders for a graduate’s CV. It’s important that the relationship remains positive, but this is more easily accomplished in the close-knit environment you’ll find at a startup.

Latch plans to continue taking on interns, and the company is in discussion with several promising individuals from the Yoobee School of Design.

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