This ex-Zilingo shares the rookie mistakes he made on Salary and ESOP negotiation

How internships at startups shaped this fresher

  • Hi, I am Anuj Haria. From my first year of college, I started doing internships to gain practical knowledge in diversified fields of business.  
  • Upon completing my Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) I chose the B2B startup Zilingo over D. E. Shaw. 
  • Not negotiating a stipend as an intern, or the first salary, or an ESOP, are some rookie mistakes I made, but you don’t have to.

How internships can shape your career path  

Right from the beginning, I was clear that I wanted to explore the best of the corporate world for a few years, and probably start something of my own. Or if I got the chance I’d join the family business. 

In 2016 I enrolled at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies for my Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), with a specialization in finance.   

From my first year of college, I started doing internships. Since I wanted to start something of my own in the future, my plan was to get exposure to diversified fields and eventually find out what I like.  

My first internship was at a brokerage firm, where I was selling de-mat accounts to retail investors. This made me realize that practical knowledge is more crucial than theoretical knowledge. 

When I started working, I didn’t just apply what I learned from books, but came to know about other things that weren’t in the books, met a lot of people and faced real-life situations. 

For my second internship, I joined a wealth management company and did equity and debt research.

Finally, in 2018, I came across Zilingo. My friend was interning at the startup and told me about it. Zilingo is a B2B technology platform headquartered in Singapore that powers the global apparel supply chain with innovative solutions for production, sourcing and trade. 

It was a whole new working environment and style. There were mostly young people, as opposed to the older people I was working with in my previous company.

I could relate to the people in Zilingo and the problems they were solving. So when my friend asked me if I wanted to join, I said “definitely, why not?”

That’s how I joined a startup for the first time. 

From an intern to joining Zilingo full-time: Why I rejected D. E. Shaw

Zilingo just had 10 employees in their Mumbai Office at that time. 

They told me that I’d have to be involved in all the divisions of the company, right from operations, and sales, to marketing. I was helping them set up the Mumbai office.

My role as an intern was divided into three parts.

The first part was all about understanding the textile industry in India, finding out whom the big players are, and figuring out how the industry works right from processing cotton to finished garments sold at retail stores.

The second part was related to finance, transactions between merchants etc. I was part of a team where we set up the fintech division for the India business.

Third and final part was about marketing where we had to let people know that Zilingo exists in the market. 

It was overwhelming to be honest, because the amount of responsibility and work I was given as an intern, made me feel very valued and important. 

As I kept on delivering, my responsibilities started expanding. Simultaneously the faith I had in the company and the company had in me increased. 

I interned with Zilingo throughout my third year of college and graduated in 2019.

Like all the other freshers I went to the campus placement program and bagged myself an offer letter from D. E. Shaw. A global investment & technology development firm, and one of the best if I may add. 

Still, I had to think through many aspects and decided to weigh the pros and cons of working at D. E. Shaw and Zilingo.

If I joined D. E. Shaw there would've been a high level of job security, as compared to Zilingo, which was a successful company in South East Asia but was just starting up in India. 

The next aspect was the location. If I joined D. E. Shaw it would’ve required me to shift from Mumbai to Hyderabad, and pay more rent. 

Keeping these in mind I decided to go to Zilingo’s office and tell them about the offer letter. They said, “We would match the salary that D. E. Shaw is offering.” 

It was a win-win situation so I blindly took the offer and joined them full-time. 

Negotiating your salary as a fresher

When I joined Zilingo as an intern I didn’t get the chance to negotiate my stipend, better yet discuss it. Which was kind of a mistake on my part.

My thought process was that “I am in the learning phase so any penny earned would be great.” In the end, I got a stipend of Rs 12000 (150 USD), which covered all my expenses as a college student at that time.  

But in hindsight, if I had negotiated, maybe they would’ve given me a higher stipend. 

Even when it came to getting ESOPs as part of compensation, I never thought about bringing it up.

I didn’t even know if I could ask for ESOPs as a fresher, albeit I had spent 10 months prior to that and knew the business to the core. 

My logic was that if they are paying me well, why should I bother? But looking back I wish I would’ve brought it up in the conversation. It could’ve been a huge plus. 

Another rookie mistake I made was not comparing my first-time salary with my peers or the ones that joined a year before me. I wish I had done it because the first salary that we get has a huge impact on our career.

Our remuneration in the upcoming companies or roles would be a percentage of our first salary. Be smart about it.

Why the startup experience is important in your career

According to my experience, working at a startup is much more dynamic. The knowledge acquired from the startup and various internships helped me immensely when I moved to Bain & Company.

I would definitely recommend you to work at a startup for at least a couple of years, mainly for the extensive knowledge and experience you are going to get. 

You’d be working in almost every department of the company. This will give you an overall picture of how a company operates, and how different areas in the business are interlinked. 

You’ll learn to solve different problems and manage time extremely well. You get to see your efforts yielding the fruits, which usually doesn’t happen in well-established organisations.

Don’t think that a startup is not worth working with just because it doesn’t get a lot of media attention. 

If you’re thinking about negotiating an ESOP, there is absolutely no harm in it. But it also depends on what career goals you have or where you are in your career. If you are thinking of changing companies after three years it wouldn’t be a good idea.

Not every company is going to become Amazon or Flipkart so be careful about falling into the ESOPs trap. Work in the startup for a few months, and you’d get an idea if they are going to make it big or not.  

Different companies have different ESOP policies, where a few companies offer ESOPs with a salary cut or give you ESOPs along with your normal amount of salary but with a longer vesting period. 

There are more nuances to it, look into it carefully and take a call.

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