As a data science student and enthusiastic techie, it has been always one of my dreams to work in the Bay Area where so many innovations were created. I fulfilled this dream last summer by doing my summer internship as a data analyst at a startup called Keepsafe in San Francisco. My expectation was to work in a dynamic and innovative environment of motivated people who want to make a change. I wanted to soak in the spirit and energy of the valley and learn as much as I can while I was there.
I feel like organizing an internship in Silicon Valley by yourself is not as easy as it is to find an internship in Germany. The level of overhead work in terms of administrational work is significantly higher for US companies to receive an international intern compared to a domestic one. So, my impression is that you either need to be exceptional, have a warm contact via institutions or get a referral. As the war for talent in the valley is crazy and there are bright graduates from Stanford and Berkeley running around to apply for internships, I decided first to reach out to my network to try the latter. It’s helpful just to reach out to everyone you know, tell them about your plans to go there and ask if they have potential contacts in that area or industry. This basically got me an introduction and interview at a company in San Francisco called Keepsafe, where I finally got offered a summer internship.
My work @ Keepsafe
Keepsafe is a post series-A profitable start-up based in San Francisco. They are in the field of data privacy and data protection and provide a family of simple mobile app for your smartphone to make privacy simple. Despite more than $10m annual income, it is still a small and cosy family of about 30 dedicated and enthusiastic employees across our offices in San Francisco, Berlin and Cracow. My role at Keepsafe was an Insight and Data Analyst. My job was basically crunch through the data and the numbers to provide our product managers and leadership with insights about our product and our consumers. These insights then were the baseline to drive product decisions and further develop product road map.
My best friend and daily tool was our mobile product analytics platform Amplitude. Amplitude basically tracks the users’ action of our mobile apps, enables to analyse attributes and events across different dimensions and provides means to create charts and dashboards. Based on hypothesis of my supervising product manager, I tried to explore hypotheses and look for the data that could either support or reject that hypothesis. My work ranged from extracting and querying data from our database, transforming the data in various ways, analysing it with 3rd party software such as excel and tableau, to visualizing the data to tell compelling stories in slide decks and reports.
One of my tasks was to analyse the high value customers of one of our mobile app called Unlisted. Unlisted is a burner phone app that allows smartphone users to get a disposable second phone number. To understand monetization mechanics and derive implications for new pricing schemes, we were looking to deeper understand our high value customers, the so-called whales. The whales are basically your most valuable customers, e.g. the 5% of your customers who generate 90% of your revenue (by the way these are fictive numbers). If we could find some patterns in the characteristics or user behaviour of the whales, it could give insights about how our product is used or how we could possibly attract more whales. Beyond analysing the quantitative data, I was also involved in some user interviews jointly with the marketing department trying to understand whales from a more qualitative perspective.
One of our other flagship products is called Photovault. In contrast to Unlisted, Photovault’s business model is based on a freemium model. Premium users pay either a monthly or annual subscription fee. Building a subscription business means considering that revenue is recurring in different intervals and that different cohorts may retain better or worse. One of my task was to assess the overall health of our subscription business and investigate how well customers are retaining. This sounds like an easy problem, but unfortunately the data wasn’t in the right form to quickly get those insights. Besides querying the data from the payment database, a lot of data wrangling and transformation was necessary for this analysis. The first step was a diagnosis of historic trends about retention rates and monthly recurring revenues. The second step was to build a model based on growth assumptions and churn rates to forecast the future development of subscription revenue. What I really learned in contrast to my data science studies is that in the real world your data sets are rarely clean or pre-processed so that you could start the analysis right away.
Working in a start-up for me meant to be also flexible and working on stuff that is not directly related to your role or title. After a strategic reprioritization of the company, I was also working on international expansion research, where the goal was to find the most promising growth opportunities for one of our app. This wasn’t classical data analytics exercise but rather classical business research. Also, I volunteered on assisting user research or supporting other employees on different topics like preparing keynote presentations. I appreciate these opportunities to look over the edge, learn something new and see the big picture. Overall feel I learned so many different things from how a dynamic small organization works, to working with new tools such as Tableau and Amplitude to presenting virtually my findings in front of the whole company.
The company culture
Working at Keepsafe was quite a lot of fun. They have a very distinct culture that is different from the corporates I’ve seen in Germany so far. The hierarchies are very flat and also the CEO was working just a few desks away from me in our open office. In my first days, they made me really feel welcome and appreciated with this cute starter kit on my desk consisting of a welcome sign and corporate shirts and socks.
In my first weeks at Keepsafe, I got scheduled various coffee meetings in small groups with members of the team so that I could get to know them better. I guess the idea was that if you get to know each other on a more personal level, you can also communicate more efficient with each other on a professional level. Also, we had every day lunch together in our kitchen, which was also great to get to know my colleagues closer. I think this is just possible as we were usually less than 20 people in the San Francisco office and could fit most of us across a few tables. Our coffee culture was expressed in regular short morning or after-lunch coffee runs to a café nearby to please some of our caffeine addiction. Regularly for special occasions, we would have cake or prosecco e.g. if we launched a new product or someone had birthday or an anniversary at the company. Around twice a month we had a company happy hour where we would grab some drinks together after work.
Overall, they put a lot of effort in providing their employees with a very nice environment to work so that they can retain them. This makes a lot of sense given the fact that Silicon Valley has an immense war for talent, where every start-up competes with giants such as Google and Facebook for employees. At the end of my internship, I really felt I became part of the Keepsafe family.
Ecosystem Silicon Valley
My work life balance as an intern was really balanced, which means I had also enough time to enjoy my experience in San Francisco besides work. San Francisco is a great place where it really doesn’t get boring. As a tourist, there is tons of stuff to do such as visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, enjoying the beautiful view from Twin Peaks or taking a tour to Alcatraz. Also, there are great restaurants with cuisines from all around the world and bars to go out. But one of the negative aspects you’ll notice in San Francisco is that they have a big problem with the homeless population and there might be areas such as Tenderloin you may want to avoid at night time.
In my free time, I often used the app meetup.com to find out about events. Social events organized on that platform such as pub crawls were a great opportunity to meet local people and make friends. I made great friends with who I also travelled to different places such as Santa Cruz. Besides social meetups, I also used meetup to immerse more in the tech environment of the valley. I went to different tech meetups which were usually held at some corporate offices. This was for me a great opportunity to listen to interesting tech talks, meeting new people in the space and further visiting some of the famous offices at tech companies such as Twitter or Airbnb. Also, visiting the south bay (the actual Silicon Valley) is definitely worth a visit. The area around Palo Alto has really some treasures to see as a geek. Near there is the infamous Google campus, the beautiful Stanford university, the garage where HP was founded or the computer history museum.