Apprenticeship in a startup: 4️⃣ reasons to take the plunge

After one year spent into a startup as an apprentice, I would like to share my point of view about the « apprenticeship startup experience ».

This morning I read an astonishing article, again. One of those articles made in Silicon Valley: « Neuralink, Elon Musk’s project to enhance our brains ». Wow! What a title! An incredible project, carried by an incredible entrepreneur, to solve an incredible issue… 

And this is no bluff. Okay, the media and the atmosphere in tech world can lead us to this « futurologist hype ». They all write about transhumants, crypto-currencies, space conquest. But there’s a solid truth behind all that: there are true men and women in this world that think the future of humanity. Going as fast as the imagination of novelists. 

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Elon Musk, pitching Neuralink

I’ve always been deeply admirative and passionate by these challenges to the unknown. This is an adventure. Really inspiring. Before I finish my studies, I had promised myself to become an insider of these companies that shape the world’s future. 

So when I was looking for an apprenticeship last year, it was this spirit of pioneering, ambitiousness and adventure that was attracting me. 

I followed three of my school friends into a startup carrying a strong and ambitious social project. In a word, the thing was called Skilvioo and its project was to put more meaning within the work-education system for men and women

Today, after more than one year spent into a startup as an apprentice, I would like to share, in this article, my point of view about this not-known-so-well « apprenticeship startup experience ».

Can someone tell me where we’re heading to?


Skilvioo was launched in 2012 and had a first mission of streamlining relations between work-education system operators. Big thing. 

After a very short time in the company I realized that with our innovating approach, we aimed at digitalizing processes of many different types of organizations: universities, business schools, engineering schools, Pôle Emploi, recruiting departments and companies,… I couldn’t count them all. And we had the same number of different types of professionals to talk to.

So in ou daily work, there were a lot of discussions about WHO EXACTLY were our first target. Hard to find a single unanime answer. 


Our app was kind of large and offered a set of many different features. So I focused on understanding ward exactly was each of these feature bringing to whom. Most of all I had this question in mind: what’s our most impacting value proposition? Would that be the skills matching? Or CV generator? Ha maybe our powerful search engine… hm… not sure.


During the months that followed my arrival, I had many sales meetings with our customers and leads. And by crossing our notes within the team, we would realize that a client A would get a 5k€ proposal, whereas client B had already signed for 3k€ ; and what about client C to whom we already announced a budget of 8k€?

Sometimes it was annual recurring billing. Sometimes one shot. Sometimes monthly…

So what, even the revenu model was not set?


« So I guess that we have preferred channel to communicate with our leads ? » Sponsored adds? Events? Emailing? Content strategy? What works the best since the beginning?… *complete silence in the meeting room* hm. So on that point again, no clear path to walk on.

Towards the definition of a startup

Alex Osterwalder’s business model canvas

When you are used to analyse businesses with the « Business Model Canvas » of Alex Osterwalder (below), this type of situation can become quite anxiety-provoking. The team realizes that very few things are 99% sure on the framework. All the rest were to be explored with more accuracy. 

Panic comes when you run into a wall of unknown parameters each time you try something.

Most of the time, the domain in which you’re adventuring is tied to other domains. Trigger a sales issue, end with a product deeper problem. Trigger a communication question, end with a cost and revenu headache.

Unsolved business model canvas of a startup

This is what’s called an unsolved market equation. 

And to me, this is what a startup is. Definition number one. 

A startup is a company that has not finished to solve its market equation.

You know you’re in a startup when daily routine is mined with uncertainty. When your business looks like a Mastermind game. When you dream about what could possibly 6 months from now with your colleagues during after works. It’s when your product team have their hand shaking before putting the last feature online. 

It’s deep uncertainty at pretty much every decision you take. Little or big.

« Would you tell that you’re experiencing what you were looking for ? » asked my apprenticeship tutor. 

« I did not expect such a mess, but I would definitely go for it again ! »

Without hesitation. 

4 learning levers for an apprentice in a startup

2. Empowerment

You say it, you own it. It’s the most powerful lever for learning. 

In a startup, it goes with the size of structure: an organization of 20 people navigating in the unknown has no choice but giving responsibility to all members. 

There are so many subjects to be explored. Deliverables to be produced. Identity points to be challenged. Content to be written. Features to be imagined. Data to be analyzed. There’s work for an entire army here!

And this must be done because company’s survival is at stake. 

For apprentices it means 4 things (in addition to hard work, for sure): 

  • Since nothing is really structured, the mere dashboard that you can produce is silver. The mere design of sales printed document that you can imagine is gold. The mere blog article that you can write is platine. And you can be sure that all these productions will not remain in a box, unused. Team will use it again and again, until better stuff is produced. So there truly is free space to create pretty much everything need by the company. 
  • As freshman in such a little structure, even if you’re « The trainee/apprentice », your added value is also into the company’s culture. First members of such small structures are key to define this culture. And this culture is key to the startup’s growing. 
  • Nobody is going to do the job for you. So it’s a good place to learn commitment, accountability and interpersonal communication skills. 
  • When you’re accountable for something, it makes it count double for your learnings. Failure and successes are much more powerful than if you had done the work for someone else’s accountability.
    About that, shortly: in a pedagogic stand, a skill is indeed remembered better by a person if he/she is in direct observation of the consequences of their actions – links to academic resources here and here.
    More: when you let them try new things, even if they make mistakes, it counts triple – here and there, academic resources.

2. Tempo

To reduce uncertainty over its market equation, a startup has to try a lot of things. Quickly.

On one hand, this can be pressurizing because exploration doesn’t always bring money. It brings knowledge that can lead to the money needed for the business. So dealing with short amount of time, team must keep a high pace of project management. 

On the other hand, it teaches the team not to lose focus on what’s essential for business. Without this focus, they start many things without always finishing them. I kept in mind a sentence of our CEO: « If you want to go forward: the Best is the enemy of the Good ». Meaning that spending hours on a topic to get it perfect is probably not a good idea when you have dozens of other tasks waiting in the queue.

3. Variety

Exploring many aspects of a startup’s business in a short time implies to get involved in very different domains. Communication, marketing, sales, development, product, Human Resources… Sure, everyone must hold their ground of accountability. But this one is very wide for each member of the team. 

The cliché of the « Swiss knife »intern/apprentice is true. And it’s a pity that people see it as a bad thing since Learning is the most important thing for a trainee. As such, you can easily have a good overview of the whole value stream that goes through the organisation. And as such, most important thing, a trainee better learns what they can and what they like to bring, to this value stream.

4. Agility

Finally, you can not talk about a startup without mentioning the Agile part. 

In a startup, agility seems like juggling with a business vision/mission in a hand, and the actual immediate needs of the addressed market in the other hand.

The vision comes to life with ideology, company’s culture, speeches, dreams and motivations. 

And needs comes to life with bug reports, feature demands, business negotiations, and planning. 

A very special skill set is required to address such a balanced combination of addressing both vision and needs: 

  • Knowing how to listen to the market. Eric Ries couldn’t say more « Life’s too short to build a product that nobody wants ».Market is often right.  
  • Knowing how to keep distance with market needs. Henry Ford couldn’t say more: « If I had asked people what they would need to enhance their travels, they would have answered « We need faster horses » ». How can you come up with the Car concept if you listen to your market too much ?
  • Knowing how to deliver high value to the market in short time. So that you can reduce quickly uncertainty over a topic. 

It’s been said so much that an extra time won’t hurt: our technological and economical world of 21st century is moving fast. And no organisation can deal with this pace on the long run if they don’t switch to agile project and product management. 

This is why I think learning these basics in a startup is a great opportunity for an apprentice. It’s a good time and energy investment for the future.

To sum it up

  1. Empowerment
  2. Tempo
  3. Variety
  4. Agility

So, ready to become an insider?

A lot of clichés about the startup experience are true. Uncertainty, intensity, risks, lack of solid framework/processes are totally part of the experience. I have been pushed behind my limits lots of times this year – not always comfy, nor pleasant. 

But the good part to be remembered lies into the intense learning of very useful skills. 

Hi to the bests: Der Don, Oscouille and Jaafouille – Zzzebarti!

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