I got my start as an intern.

It was 1994. I was fresh out of college. I was done playing professional soccer. I had turned down grad school. I had big hopes of conquering the business world – the sports marketing world, to be exact. Here’s the thing though – I didn’t know how to do sports marketing.

So, I used my fresh-out-of-college, limited network to find out who did sports marketing. I got a list of names. I started to reach out. I wasn’t looking for a job. I was looking to learn. Over the few weeks that followed, I had a lot of coffee with a lot of people. All those coffees provided me the opportunity to zero in on a well-respected possible contact doing cool things in sports marketing.

To get on his calendar, I used my network. I called in every favor. And I got that meeting.

And my pitch to him was simple:

“I will work very hard for you – as a free intern – doing anything you need if you will teach me the business. I want to shadow you, watch you, learn from you.”

That was it.

I didn’t ask for money. I didn’t ask for a job. I asked for the opportunity not only to learn everything that I could, but also to prove my value to him and his company.

I got that internship. And I had a place to start conquering the business world.

When we ask for the opportunity to learn and to prove what we can do without pay, we put ourselves on the line like we’ve never done before. And, in doing so, we make the conversation about something bigger than the money or the job. We make it about what we can make possible for ourselves.

I recently heard someone say that free internships are like slave labor. If that’s the case, I made my first million dollars a few years after someone used me as an indentured servant.

If you are smart and driven, then prove that to the world.

Play the long game. Sure, you could make more money next month if you took the highest-paying-starting-job you can find. If that’s you, I hope you enjoy your cubicle. In year one you may advance from making copies to making copies while getting coffee. Sound harsh? It is, yes. But I only know what I’ve seen and done myself and what I know those whom I respect had to do to get rolling.

Don’t be afraid to work for free. It is incredibly valuable. It just may be the most lucrative decision you ever make.

Yours in startups,




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