By Sarah Mauet
Taking home the top prize at the 2013 McGuire New Venture Competition and Showcase was a turning point for Team Howdy. All year they had considered launching after graduation, but that win sealed the deal for three of the team members.
“After winning first place at the year-end competition, we said, ‘Wow, if we don’t do this, we’re going to regret it,’” said Elizabeth Lansdale, co-founder and CEO.
Launched in August, Howdy is an online marketplace for internship and entry-level job guides. Lansdale launched the startup along with co-founders Jonathan Rave, CFO, and Samuel Zarifi, COO. The fourth McGuire Program team member, Isaac Gealer, got a job in New York City and the team bought him out, but “we still have an awesome relationship and he still owns a portion of the company so we keep him up to date,” Lansdale said.
The remaining trio was faced with some tough questions early on. Two team members were from Arizona, but a third was from the east coast. They considered moving to a new location to launch the company, but after reflecting on the time and expense involved in deciding on a location, finding an office and finally moving, they decided to delay a move in favor of concentrating on launching the business.
They work remotely using Google Hangouts and Google Business Apps where they keep up with weekly goals and hold weekly meetings. This arrangement keeps them organized and has had some surprising benefits, Lansdale said.
“We are all living at home and it’s actually working to our advantage because each of us is able to be at a university nearby and we avoid travel expenses,” said Lansdale, who is based in Scottsdale. Zarifi is in Tucson and Rave is in New Jersey.
The startup officially launched on-the-ground operations in September at the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, New York University and University of Delaware and each co-founder is close to at least one university. They oversee students hired at those schools to work as “campus founders,” who spread the word about Howdy to the student body through career fairs, events and social media and try to attract students seeking internships as well as former interns.
Students interested in applying for internships can go to Howdy’s website, www.howdyon.com, to search for internships based on company, category or location. They can preview guides before purchasing one for $7.95 or a bundle for a reduced price. The site has 170 guides available now for internships at highly desired companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and many more. Each guide is between seven and 13 pages in length and covers everything from interview questions and work projects to workplace environment and social life. Former interns write the guides and it behooves them to be as comprehensive and helpful as possible because they get a 20 percent commission from each sale of their guide.
Howdy already has 600 registered users and is growing quickly with the winning business model developed in the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program, but the startup is in the process of considering changing its model in order to make the internship guides free to students. They are evaluating a “give to get” model that would allow students access to all guides in exchange for sharing past internship or job information. They are also looking into allowing students to upload resumes for free (getting resume and cover letter editing advice would require a fee) and permitting employers to search resumes for a fee to fill their internship positions.
“These changes to Howdy would be huge, which is why we’re currently doing hypothesis testing to really get a feel of what else the market needs,” Lansdale said. “We are constantly speaking with students, increasing our website conversions, and enhancing our internship guides, all to make sure we’re providing a valuable product… We have to think big everyday.”
Most students only have three summers before they graduate, which isn’t a lot of time, Lansdale said, and they want to be sure the summer internships they take will result in relevant skills. Howdy tries to serve that need by allowing students to read honest reviews from past interns, get tips to better prepare for interviews and determine in advance if an internship is a good fit.
“Everyone knows now a days that a degree isn’t enough to land a job,” Lansdale said. “There’s a gap between academics and the workforce. Internships have become more and more crucial; they are a conduit between college and a job.”
Meanwhile, Lansdale never seriously considered a job search of her own after graduating college. She has dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur since her senior year in high school.
“If I hadn’t gotten into the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program I would have cried. It was everything for me,” she said. “Being in the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program made my college education. I can’t imagine where I’d be without the McGuire Program.”
The McGuire Program teaches you things that aren’t taught in traditional classes, Lansdale said. It’s very hands-on. You learn the steps that enable you to start a business – and you learn that you’re able to do it.
“The most surprising thing, when I reflect on everything,” she said, “is the fact that I’m only 21 and I do have my own company.”
Top photo: Team Howdy won top prize at the 2013 McGuire New Venture Competition. From left: Samuel Zarifi, Jonathan Rave, Isaac Gealer and Elizabeth Lansdale.