Our Latest Thinking

by The Garage Group
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It’s been a big, bold year for The Garage Group. Since this time last year, we’ve hired on nine new full-time employees and built a strong connection with a handful of talented contractors to help us solve our clients’ tough innovation and growth challenges. Needless to say, between the increasingly crowded team meetings, amazing client engagements and other gatherings at TGG HQ, we realized that we needed to find more space–and fast!–as elbow room grew scarce in our cozy, 1600-square-foot office. Luckily, a space opened up just down the hall from us in Suite 333 of historic Longworth Hall that was perfect for our needs. We’d love for you to check out the new digs for yourself at our open house on Thursday, October 27th, from 4-7pm. (Please RSVP and see the invite for details.) Here are a few behind-the-scenes progress shots:

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Front cafe area: before

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Front cafe area: let there be light!

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Conference room: before

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Conference room: before

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Hallway: before

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Rec room: before

The growth we’ve been so fortunate to experience hasn’t stopped with the physical size of our team. We’ve improved our approaches, built new capabilities and expanded into new industries like Financial Services, Insurance, QSR and new business challenges like omni-channel marketing and other growth strategy challenges. And, we’ve continued to build depth and breadth in our Innovation & Growth work in CPG, food & beverage, retail and apparel categories across the Global Fortune 2000.

Simultaneously, we’ve been pushing our branding forward in order to best reflect our mission and the character of The Garage Group. We’re thrilled with the work that Hyperquake and Nicholas Moegly have done to help us evolve and bring to life an expanded brand toolkit that really makes a statement about who we are and where we’re going.

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Hyperquake helped us land on a brand new set of brand colors!

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Cafe mural in progress

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Conference room mural in progress

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Hallway mural in progress

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Rec room mural in progress

And after:

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New front door logo stamp

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Cafe: after

Cafe: after

Cafe: after

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Cafe mural: after

Nick putting the finishing touches on our conference room name stamp. (All of our rooms are named after the garages of entrepreneurs we admire.)

Nick putting the finishing touches on our conference room name stamp. (All of our rooms are named after the garages of entrepreneurs we admire.)

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Conference room: after

Another finished door decal

Another finished door decal

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Hallway: after

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Rec room: after

We can’t wait to catch up and and share our new space with you! Come join us in Cincinnati on Thursday, October 27th, from 4-7pm to celebrate. Please RSVP and see the invite for details.

Cheers to another great year ahead!

by The Garage Group
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innovate-like-a-startup-panel

The Garage Group and our friends at KnowledgeHound are excited to come together to host and organize an upcoming panel in Chicago focused on innovating like a startup. (You can register here!)

Every large organization claims that innovation and growth is critical to their DNA, yet most are criticized for their lack of disruptive product launches and slow decision-making process. While many large companies struggle to get ahead, we are seeing a surge of entrepreneurial spirit and significant start-up activity in the industries that many brands compete in.

The killer question is this: how do large (vendor or client) companies keep up with the innovation and pace of startups, and how can they replicate the same creativity and rapid success within their organizations? Specifically, what is the role and responsibility of marketing, innovation, insights and business leaders for bringing these entrepreneurial approaches to our brands and industries? What are the new skills needed for leaders to think more entrepreneurially and to enable organizations to make decisions with more speed and agility?

We will be answering these questions and more in our “Innovate Like a Startup” panel discussion with our own Jason Hauer (Cofounder, The Garage Group), David VanHimbergen (CEO/Cofounder, P&G’s Tide Spin), Penny Wilson (Senior Leader, Abbott Labs IT Innovation Center) and Kristi Zuhlke (CEO & Founder, KnowledgeHound). We anticipate a great conversation, held at WeWork Fulton Market in Chicago, IL on Wednesday, October 5th at 6pm. Learn more and register here!

by The Garage Group
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It’s always rewarding to to soak up knowledge from a great thought leader (or six!). Here are some of The Garage Group team’s favorite new books about innovation, entrepreneurism, leadership and more. There’s still time to tack these onto the end of your summer reading list!

meerkatThat’s Not How We Do It Here!
James Kotter and Holger Rathgeber
This meaningful read leverages the story of a meerkat clan to demonstrate how research and innovation can come from outside the executive team. The book focuses on Nadia, a frontline member of her clan of meerkats, who recognizes the need for change in order to stay alive in the quickly-growing predator world. She ventures out and explores the values and practices of other clans in order to make a strong case for creating a stronger, more effective and sustainable clan culture of her own.

Biggest Takeaway:
Leadership and management are not separate; they have to work together and can be found at all levels of any company. Team members should empower and enable each other to lead according to their strengths. Overall, we create value and build more effective organizations by eschewing the belief that only upper-level management can make decisions for everyone.

startupgameThe Startup Game: Inside the Partnership Between Venture Capitalists and Entrepreneurs
William Henry Draper III
This book offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into the genesis of venture capital and angel investors. The story is told from the perspective of three generations of venture capitalists (the author is the second generation). Draper’s keen ability to draw from all perspectives of the Draper empire is what sets this story apart from any other. Draper was alive to see Silicon Valley become what it is today, and he shares that wealth of knowledge in this book, illustrating his past successes and failures by revealing the details of some of his biggest business deals. The book helps to explain just what venture capitalism is, how it got started and where it is today.

Biggest Takeaway:
It pays to do your homework when it comes to research. Throughout his narrative, Draper demonstrates through many examples of successful companies that the more time and energy that was spent on research, the better the product and/or company did overall.

The Lean Product Playbook: How to Innovate with Minimum Viable Products and Rapid Customer Feedback
Dan Olsen
Olsen’s book is often featured in lists of the top 10 startup books, and for good reason. It’s a practical how-to review of techniques and case study applications, with lots of emphasis on customer feedback. Startup customer feedback techniques like those outlined by Olsen remind us of ways that we can take smart shortcuts in our research practices, compared to traditional market research thinking.

Biggest Takeaway:

Our favorite quote from the book is: “The main reason products fail is because they don’t meet customer needs in a way that’s better than other alternatives.” A direct application of this caution is to be sure to continue asking, “What difference would this make in your life?” when concept testing. If customers can’t come up with a meaningful answer, then we need to keep pushing the envelope on innovation.

gritGrit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Angela Duckworth
Relentless drive, persistence and passion can be far more effective than raw talent; yet, as a society, we tend to “prefer our excellence fully-formed,” placing more of a natural bias toward people who have natural aptitude for certain skills. Through Duckworth’s study of grit (determination + direction), she discovers commonalities among people who pick one thing and stick with it over time. In a world where enthusiasm runs rampant, endurance is a more rare trait that must be equally embraced in order to get the important things done. Duckworth explores how paragons of grit (from child contestants at the National Spelling Bee, to world-class athletes and cadets in boot camp) approach and succeed tough, marathon challenges–and gives us actionable steps to build grit in our own lives.

Biggest Takeaway:
Enthusiasm is common, but endurance is rare. Grit is simply enthusiasm + the direction to guide it. Major paragons of grit who Duckworth studied had four psychological assets in common: interest in a particular topic, capacity to practice, purpose, and hope. For successful ongoing practice and cultivation of a grittier attitude, we must start with a clearly-defined stretch goal, give full concentration and effort, get immediate and informative feedback and repeat with reflection and refinement.

egoEgo Is the Enemy
Ryan Holiday
Although it seems like many “geniuses” or success stories are egomaniacs (Steve Jobs, Kanye West, etc.), Holiday argues that correlation does not necessarily equal causation; a bloated sense of self is not in and of itself a factor of success. Some of the most brilliant thinkers and doers have gone through life with a level head and a quiet purpose. Though most of us don’t realize it, the ego is a quiet force that can make or break our careers, personal lives and more. Drawing on tenets of Stoic philosophy, this book heroes humility and confidence while explaining how to be realistic about aspirations, graciously maneuver successes, take failures in stride, and to ultimately take back the power of our own egos.

Biggest Takeaway:
Ego hurts us in different ways when it comes to aspiration, success, and failure. Ego can become a hurdle to aspiration in that we think we already know everything and refuse to learn more to become better. When we finally do reach success, it makes us act entitled and big-headed. In failure, it can stop us from getting back up and trying again. We can stop ego from hindering our efforts with a strong sense of purpose, dignity and persistent curiosity.

leanstartupBonus: The Lean Startup
Eric Ries
A classic “oldie but goodie,” there is always something new to take away from Eric Ries’ foundational book on how to use continuous innovation to drive business. This book gets down to the nitty-gritty on how to quickly identify what’s working and what’s not for innovation within any company.

Biggest Takeaway:
Steer the car; don’t just tune the engine. It’s entirely possible to “achieve failure” by perfectly executing the wrong strategy, and the majority of Lean Startup is focused on helping entrepreneurs avoid this pitfall. Companies need to routinely evaluate their destination and route, and oftentimes this is doable without even needing to build the car.

 


The Garage Group helps corporates innovate and grow like startups.

by The Garage Group
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Breaking through to bigger ideas can only happen when we examine problems with a fresh perspective. Too often, brands stay within the safe walls of their go-to ideas and processes, leaving valuable alternative views on the table that could potentially shift their thinking in a whole new way. Here are some ways to leverage external perspective to get brand teams to sprint forward faster.

  • Involve consumers at every step of ideation and idea development. Gone are the days where consumers only come in to offer feedback during one focus group after initial idea development. In order to truly target consumers in a meaningful way, they need to be involved from start to finish. There are many different ways to do this, whether in person or virtual; multiple touch points across in-person and virtual mediums are key for successful learning. For example:
      • Tap into consumer conversations, needs and insights around jobs to be done via social media and digital ethnography research.
      • Use a digital idea-generation platform to enable consumers to vote and comment on initial ideas as clients are developing them.
      • Video chat with target consumers on iPad in real time during ideation sessions to build out and refine raw ideas.
      • Validate ideas using a prediction market where consumers can vote on which ideas they believe will be successful.

    It is crucial to have constant consumer input during every step of idea development to get a full picture of the needs and wants of your target audience–and so you don’t waste money developing ideas that don’t meet a real consumer need. And, you don’t need as many external opinions as you think you do; the Sprint team at Google Ventures posits that just five consumer opinions are enough to start seeing trends and patterns in answers.

  • Study adjacent trends and analogs from outside categories. Once you’re clear on the need or problem you’re solving for, it can be difficult to nail down how to address it. Learning how other categories and contexts have solved for similar needs is an effective way to spark associative thinking by giving your team a fresh collection of inspiration to pull from to form new ideas. Some of the greatest innovations and discoveries have come from looking at a problem through a slightly different lens in this way. For example, scientists have studied woodpeckers to prevent head injuries, and the subscription box model has been recycled over and over again for many different applications, from recipe kits to razors. Who knows–the latest engineering feat from NASA just might inspire a new line of snacks.
  • Bring in fresh perspectives. Sometimes, it takes a person completely outside your project to help bring in ideas you might not have considered. If your ideation has gotten stale, bring in people who haven’t been in your category or are not familiar with your challenge. For our sessions, we like to bring in not just experts, but also entrepreneurs and creative people who have adjacent category knowledge and are skillful at connecting dots. New eyes and ears on a project are always valuable.
  • Learn via immersive experiences. It’s one thing to read a case study of how a company has successfully implemented a strategy that you’re seeking to master, but it’s another thing to experience it. Marketing and innovation teams should physically try products or services they’d like to emulate or elevate, or visit stores that have mastered a strategy they’re attempting to pursue. Looking to implement an omnichannel or future of retail strategy? Visit a retailer that already has seamless integration (like Sephora), and attempt to make purchases in-store and via mobile. Generating a new business model? Explore as many different options relevant to your potential strategic directions as possible; then, use what works and learn from what doesn’t. An example of how we’ve implemented this strategy in our work is by leveraging “tasting menus” and “mystery boxes” of high volumes of snack items for food and beverage brands to help spark inspiration. These types of immersive experiences help drive home what great strategy looks and feels like, and the more examples that are pulled from, the better. Maximizing the number of experiences across your team will help give everyone a large number of possibilities to pull from as they’re forming new strategies and ideas.
  • Leverage canvases and time pressure to apply and iterate. Once teams have gathered inspiration and external perspective, focus and time pressure have a way of forcing teams to quickly turn those new insights into meaningful value propositions and initiatives. In our work, we’ve found it helpful to employ sprint loops over the course of a day or week to enable platform or idea development. Teams leverage cross functional, consumer and expert feedback along the way to drive meaningful iteration to help build their initial seed of an idea into a well developed and thought through initiative plan. Learning and failing fast against a focused direction is an effective way to break through to bigger ideas and faster results.

The Garage Group helps corporates innovate and grow like startups through approaches grounded in speed, iteration and external perspective.

by The Garage Group
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In The Inevitable: 12 Technological Forces that will Shape our Future, Kevin Kelly paints a futuristic picture of 12 macro certainties coming together to completely reshape how we live, work and play in the next 15-30 years. Rather than delving into how these forces will materialize (which is less known), he focuses on the forces themselves; noting that while the concept of the internet was inevitable, the kind of internet we chose (public vs. closed, profit vs. nonprofit, national vs. international) was not. His book not only reinforces the importance of brands continually figuring out how to stay relevant, but the excitement that comes with being a part of one of the best times in our history to innovate.

Here’s a brief summary of the 12 forces that Kelly highlights:

werk1Photo credit: Unsplash user Bethany Legg

Becoming: With current technologies consistently upgrading and a significant increase in new technologies to emerge over the next 30 years, we will be in a constant “newbie” state. Kelly notes that this protopia (a constant state of always improving) will be less noted in our everyday lives since it’s much more about marginal improvements over time. This constant state of becoming is partly why today is the best moment in history to create a startup.

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Cognifying: Similar to when we took any non-electric item and added electricity, the same will be true with artificial intelligence. There will be a boom in businesses that revolve around taking a dumb item and making it smarter with AI, leading to many types of AI all with different capabilities. For example, before electricity, we washed clothes by hand. After electricity, we used a washer and dryer. In the future, clothes will tell the washing machines how to be washed, and the wash cycle will adjust as directed by the clothes. Consider this force in healthcare, where patients outfitted with sensors that track their bio markers 24 hours a day can generate highly personalized treatments that are adjusted and refined daily. While AI can be thought of as scary (as it will replace many jobs), it will realistically help us define which human activities are indispensable. According to Kelly, “The greatest benefit of the arrival of artificial intelligence is that AIs will help define humanity. We need AIs to tell us who we are.”

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Flowing: Much of our world today is built on copies of an original (think of viral videos, digital music, etc.) which are entirely free. This free flow of copies will continue to expand on a greater scale. While people have tried to stop the free flow, they have not been successful (e.g., Taylor Swift refusing to distribute her music through Spotify has not stopped the success of the subscription service). The implication is not to try and stop the free flow of copies, but rather to find our unique advantage on why our offering is better than free.

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Screening: Today we think of screens in the capacity of our TVs, phones, tablets and computers. The number of screens in our lives will continue to increase, and they will become significantly better at interacting with us via virtual and augmented reality. Consider this scenario: “In the morning, I begin my screening while still in bed. I check the screen on my wrist for the time, my wake-up alarm, and also to see what urgent news and weather scrolls by… As I eat my cereal, I query the screen on the box to see if it’s still fresh and whether the cereal has the genetic markers a friend said it did… At my son’s school, I check one of the public wall displays in the side hallway. I raise my palm and the screen recognizes me. It switches to my personal interface. I can screen my messages if I don’t mind the lack of privacy in the hall.”

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Accessing: “Possession is not as important as it once was. Accessing is more important than ever.” The world continues to move away from ownership and toward renting (think of tangible services Uber and AirBnb as well as intangible service like movie streaming, etc). We will continue to see Accessing playing a role, with the Cloud playing a critical role in enabling us to access what we want, when we want it.

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Sharing: We are entering into a phase of digital “socialism,” where sites like Pinterest rely on people for their power. Within digital socialism, there are levels to this sharing. At its fundamental level, there is the beginning stage of Sharing (posting videos, FB posts, etc). Cooperation takes it to another level, whereby people are working toward a common goal (e.g., sharing their photos but tagging each other for easy sorting). Soon, we’ll see more consistently Collaboration, the idea of generating/working from a stream of thousands of people (e.g. the Linux operating system which underpins most servers and is coordinated by tens of thousands of members).

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Filtering: “In our lifetime, the entire library of all books, all games, all movies, every text ever printed will be available 24/7… and every day, the library swells.” With the library of everything continuing to swell, we will need help to sort it in order to make sense of it. While there are many traditional filters that exist today (e.g., retail stores acting as a natural filter by only storing certain items, brand names helping us figure out what to buy, or friend recommendations influencing purchases), we will need more filters simply due to the escalation in quantity of content. Filtering will go beyond “you’ll like this because you viewed this,” and more to a complete personalization; “anywhere we want personalization, filtering will follow.”

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Remixing: “Modern technologies are combinations of earlier, primitive technologies that have been rearranged and remixed. Since one can combine hundreds of simpler technologies with hundreds of thousands of more complex technologies, there is an unlimited number of possible new technologies–but they are all remixes. We are in a period of productive remixing.” As new technologies emerge and the influx of content comes (with not only artists creating the content, but amateurs as well), we’ll be able to create anything we want. “All these inventions permit any literate person to cut and paste ideas, annotate them with her own thoughts, link them to related ideas, search through vast libraries of work, browse subjects quickly, resequence texts, refine material, remix ideas, quote experts, and sample bits of beloved artists.”

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Interacting: The gaming industry has been the primary investor in virtual reality to date, yet VR will expand significantly beyond gaming. The advances in VR will be both in presence (making it feel absolutely real) and interaction (to make it feel like you’re actually interacting with the VR). Growth will come from equipping machines to be able to better interact with us via more sensors. Technology will become our second skin. “A person mumbling to herself while her hands dance in front of her will be the signal in the future that she is working on her computer.” Not just computers, either; all devices will interact. If it doesn’t interact, it will be considered broken.

jabra1Photo credit: Creative Commons 2.0 user Vernon Chan

Tracking: We’re on our way to develop 54 billion sensors by 2020. Always-on tracking will continue to explode leading to a more “quantitative self.” For example., rather than a once a year check-up at a doctor, we’ll have all day, every day monitoring of blood sugar, heart rate, etc. “We’ll keep tracking ourselves, we’ll keep tracking our friends, and our friends will track us. Companies and governments will track us more. Fifty years from now ubiquitous tracking will be the norm.” Similar to Accessing, people will try to fight tracking because they are concerned about security. Those who figure out how to normalize tracking will prosper, while those who fight it will not.

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Questioning: The onset of new technology will always create more questions. Before Google, 50% of Americans used the Yellow Pages once a week. Now, we’re asking Google 4+ times a day for answers. This continual growth in the availability of answers will continue to highlight how much we don’t know, leading to more more thoughtful and complex questions.

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Beginning: “This is the time when inhabitants of this planet first linked themselves together into one very large thing. Future people will envy us, wishing they could have witnessed the birth that we saw. It was in these years that humans began animating inert objects with tiny bits of intelligence, weaving them into a cloud of machine intelligences and then linking billions of their own minds into this single super mind. This convergence will be recognized as the largest, most complex and most surprising event on the planet until this time.”

So, how should we think about these certain trajectories in the context of innovation? A few implications to consider that will affect our mindset as much as our approach with innovation:

  • These forces are inevitable. While we don’t know how they will manifest themselves, a mindset filled with curiosity, acceptance and imagination versus denial and ignorance will be crucial to developing a winning innovation and growth strategy. As you think about the 12 trends, ask yourself, “how can we leverage these forces to create entirely new industries or categories?”
  • As Kelly notes, now is potentially one of the greatest times in history to invent because these forces will permeate every aspect of our lives–from how we interact with our children to how we wash our clothes. Our job is to figure out what job these forces could and will solve for in our categories and start inventing.
  • Given the notion of our constant “newbie” status, the focus should be less on accumulating knowledge or becoming an expert on a topic and more on a continual, fast-paced sprint that is built on constantly imagining, building and validating new ideas.

The Garage Group helps corporates innovate and grow like startups by helping implement forward-thinking strategies to help brands evolve with our ever-changing technological world.

Photo credit: Creative Commons 2.0 user Markus Spiske

by The Garage Group
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This week, we said goodbye to our amazing Associate Innovation & Growth Strategist summer intern, Amber Hallmann. Amber brought so much value to our team (plus, she brought a mean foosball game!), and we are sad to see her go. The team treated her like a full-time employee right off the bat, and she took each challenge head-on like a true entrepreneur. Amber has a bright future ahead, and we can’t wait to see what she does next. Watch her Miami University Snapchat takeover that she recorded to document a day in the life at The Garage Group, and read her thoughts below about what she learned this summer. The team misses you already, Amber!

What was the most important thing you learned while working at The Garage Group?
I learned to jump into new projects and skill areas without hesitation and to look for opportunities to grow and learn wherever possible. I was always encouraged to learn and ask questions in many areas of the business, and I appreciated that.

What are your three biggest takeaways about innovating like a startup?
1. Flexibility and willing to try new things is crucial
2. Never be afraid of crazy ideas
3. It’s so important to be open to the concept of connecting dots between concepts that seem unrelated

What’s something unexpected that you experienced at The Garage Group?
Definitely the team. Everyone was so collaborative and supportive, both in and out of the office. Of course, I expected to meet good people, but I didn’t expect that they would feel like family, or that everyone would be so consistently and genuinely there for each other, no matter what. It was such a special environment to come into as an intern.

What do you feel your greatest accomplishment was during your time at The Garage Group?
I got to go on my first business trip this summer, which was such a cool experience! During the trip, I was also able to present at the session and be on a client team. I helped the team innovate and generate some great ideas that came out of the process. That trip also gave me so invaluable insight into how The Garage Group process comes together, from research to execution in the client sessions.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you have done differently?
I would have tried to get more involved with marketing tasks when I had down time. In the beginning, I struggled to figure out what to do, and I got better at inserting myself into tasks and projects toward the end of the summer. Next time, I’ll try out as many different areas of the business as I can to gain even more experience.

Do you feel like your thinking and/or way of working changed at all this summer? If so, how?
I definitely connect dots in a more strategic way now. I thought that way before, but I had never done the research piece behind it myself, so gaining that experience really helped me see how it all connects from the back end.

How has this experience impacted what you think you might like to do in the future, career-wise and internship-wise?
Through both The Garage Group internship experience and the Altman networking events, I met so many people in my cohort who interned at corporate companies. Just last week, a friend of mine asked me whether there were any aspects of a more corporate internship that I wished I could have experienced. I realized that I didn’t personally feel like I missed out on anything by foregoing an internship at a more corporate company; I truly loved my experience working for a startup and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I like having the space to innovate and grow and try new things, and a startup environment provides exactly that. I’ve been back and forth on my career path in the past, and realizing that this environment and support system is what I want after college was such a weight off my shoulders.

Anything else you want to add before you sign off?
I’m just really thankful that I was able to come into a team that’s so supportive and that cares about the work we do–and about each other. I was treated as a full-time employee, working with real clients rather than doing training projects, and I’m grateful to have had that opportunity here. I will definitely be back; you haven’t seen the last of me!