Venture for America is a fellowship program that gives recent college graduates, like you, firsthand startup experiences and helps them become leaders who make meaningful impacts with their careers.
Venture for America is a program for tomorrow’s startup leaders and founders. Interested in becoming a fellow? This season’s application deadline is October 15, so apply today!
We got the chance to chat with Jobi John, a 2021 Venture for America Fellow. Keep reading to learn all about his experience in the program!
Jobi John grew up in Dumont, New Jersey, and moved to Philadelphia for college. After graduating from Temple University in 2019 with a major in Finance and a minor in Management Information Systems (MIS), he took a job at a tax technology company in King of Prussia. He worked as a Business Intelligence Analyst, creating interactive dashboards and reports to help the Finance and Customer Success teams make decisions. Jobi recently became a 2021 VFA Fellow and has joined CampusESP in Philadelphia as a Customer Success Manager.
Outside of his professional experiences, Jobi loves to play and watch soccer (COYS)! He is also a big foodie and is passionate about finding the best food spots in Philly. Jobi also enjoys escaping the city sometimes to go on a hike or bike ride.
After graduating from Temple University in 2019, what inspired you to apply for Venture for America?
My introduction to Venture for America was random. I spent my first two years out of college (Go Owls!) in a rotational program experimenting—a dash of customer success, pinch of project management, and loads of business intelligence experience.
I loved the analytical side of my job, but found myself lacking in creative spark and community impact. Maybe it was the fact that this was occurring in the midst of a global pandemic, but I figured now was the time to make a change. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough money to start up my own firm, so I was on the lookout for another option.
I was introduced to VFA through an old friend at my former job. Being that nosey cubicle neighbor, I just so happened to catch a glimpse of his monitor. He was scrolling through VFA’s site and the phrase “there is no courage without risk” caught my eye. This was it! For months I’ve been bothering my friend with outlandish ideas and dreams of something more, but never acted on it. Turns out, his girlfriend’s dad was the founder of a VFA partner company and he was just casually exploring their application process.
Since then, he’s been my biggest supporter throughout the whole process. VFA provided a path that could satisfy my analytical and creative desires through value-driven entrepreneurship. All I had to do now was confront my uncertainty and apply.
What’s the application and interview process like for VFA? Any tips for those applying now?
The application process lasted about three to four months (give or take). First you fill out an interest form to get the ball rolling. It’s everything you’d expect from an application: your basic information, academic and demographic background, and a resume. From there, you submit a couple short essays based on some prompts, typically about your interests and why VFA is right for you. I’m not the best writer, so it was pretty tough for me to succinctly type out what was going through my mind at the time. It took a lot of time and multiple revisions before I felt comfortable submitting my short essays. It’s never a bad idea to get another set of eyes to look over your essays.
If you move along in the application process, you’ll be invited to a short interview with a VFA team member. This was a great opportunity for me to show off everything I couldn’t write down in my essays. Pro tip (for life in general): be your authentic self and you will be successful. Don’t feel like you have to create this facade of the perfect candidate because your interviewer will see right through that. Also, if you’re not the best at interviews, it’s never a bad idea to have a couple of examples prepared for those tough questions.
The last step is Selection Day, where hundreds of candidates are invited to a “super day” with various challenges and interviews spread throughout. Although intimidating, it was incredible to interact with all these talented people in the “same room” (yay for Zoom) who wanted to do the same thing as me—make an impact! Same advice as the last round: be yourself throughout the day. You’ve made it this far and that is amazing in itself.
After being accepted as a fellow for VFA, you attend a basic training camp to learn more about the program, create a sense of community with the other fellows, and learn how to start thinking like an entrepreneur. What was your favorite part of the training camp and why?
Wow, that’s tough—there’s so much going on during Training Camp! I really enjoyed working in our challenge groups, but specifically the IDEO product challenge. For context, we were placed in challenge teams that would change weekly. During the second week, VFA brought in IDEO (a design and consulting firm) to teach ideation techniques revolving around human-centered design. Our challenge was to come up with an early-stage prototype that could possibly solve a modern challenge. We would throw ideas around in our teams with guidance from IDEO during each session. Not all ideas were successful, but they stimulated profound conversations that refined our final prototype design. Initially, it was so easy for me to dismiss a “dumb idea” out of embarrasment, especially among other VFA fellows. That quickly changed—I got out of my comfort zone and made an effort to be more vocal. I felt more comfortable being vulnerable. The challenge groups gave me an opportunity to build relationships with other fellows at a deeper level through collaboration; truly an incredible experience and my favorite part of Training Camp. VFA and IDEO did a brilliant job creating an immersive virtual experience given the circumstances.
Building a strong community is a very important aspect of being a part of VFA. How has being a part of this community supported and motivated you in your career?
No matter where you are, community is everything. Historically, it’s been tough for me to find a community to confide in. Back in college, it took me a while to find a core group of friends I could turn to when I needed to either talk, cry, laugh, or do whatever with somebody. I had just moved to Philly at that point and was definitely feeling homesick. With VFA, you essentially already have a group of people in your circle. This is especially great if you’re moving across the country to a new city for the first time. There’s a whole bunch of fellows who genuinely want to get to know me and have my back. I’ve worked in corporate America for two years and never had a professional experience like this before. When I’ve had a bad day (and that definitely happens), people have reached out and checked in on me. That’s all I could really ask for.
In terms of motivation, I love hearing about all the good work other fellows are doing through their startups. These stories give me a better idea of how I want to shape my career, and the role I’d eventually like to see myself in.
Tell us about CampusESP, the company that you are currently working with as a part of your fellowship program? What is your role there?
CampusESP is an education-tech startup based in Center City! We are 100% bootstrapped which is insane to even think about. Only 10% of startups really “make it,” and about 10% of that 10% survive without any funding. We offer an all-in-one parent engagement platform to universities and colleges to improve their family communications and student enrollment efforts. Parents stay connected through personalized newsletters, targeted announcements, drip campaigns, event management, and much more. I only joined recently, but I can already see CampusESP’s impact through conversations with our customers. I was ecstatic to find out that we have some customers from Philly too (shoutout to Temple, Drexel, LaSalle, and Arcadia)! CampusESP is truly adding value to universities/colleges across the country and families of students.
It’s inspiring to hear from those fellows who were here from the beginning. Three fellows made up the first 15 employees at CampusESP which is amazing. VFA had a huge presence at CampusESP early on and it has proven to be quite successful. CampusESP has more than doubled in size since then and it’s only growing. Fellows at CampusESP work very closely to the leadership team and founders. There’s no better way to learn startup skills than from the people who started one from the ground up. The CEO and CTO probably sit about 10ish feet away from my desk which is a huge opportunity for me to learn and grow from them close-up.
What does a typical day look like for you at CampusESP?
I grab coffee for everybody in the office (if I’m feeling saucy I’ll put in an order for cinnamon raisin bagels too)…
As a Customer Success Manager (CSM), my job is to onboard customers through a series of implementation calls and a product training. To prepare for these calls there’s a lot of work that goes on in the background. Once a customer goes live, we manage their account to ensure they are engaged and taking full advantage of CampusESP’s benefits. I don’t have my own accounts yet, but I’ve been shadowing other CSMs in preparation for when that time comes. The team is super helpful and has given me a ton of advice as I’m getting adjusted to my role. Feedback and open dialogue are a big part of the culture. Beyond my job description, I’ve taken on a bunch of special projects that come up from time to time. For example, I’m currently working on a project with the Product and Customer Success teams to manage implementations for a new solution we just rolled out. Although I am a CSM by title, I like to think of myself as a generalist. Everyday is a new story.
The CampusESP team is more than just a bunch of employees at a company. We’re a tight-knit group of people who care about building personal relationships and growing professionally. Before I even started working I was flooded with a ton of welcome emails from coworkers excited to meet me. Since joining CampusESP, I’ve gotten to know them better through team activities and general discourse. For example, we recently had a paint ‘n sip night a couple weeks ago. I’m not the best painter in the world but it was really fun! For professional development, I’ll be heading to Raleigh, North Carolina, in a couple of weeks with other CSMs for a product workshop conference. That just covers a little bit! There’s so much more going on here at CampusESP to get involved and stay connected.
If there is one piece of advice you could share with someone who is thinking about applying for the fellowship program at Venture for America, what would it be?
I mentioned this earlier, but be your authentic self. It has helped me make genuine relationships with coworkers and fellows. I know the whole application process can seem daunting, but it got way less stressful once I realized I was doing this for me and not for anyone else. So what if I didn’t get in? At least I brought my whole self to the table and did the best I could. I know that was super cliche but it’s no joke. Be yourself.
How can someone interested in becoming a Venture for America fellow get started?
Apply right now! Applications for the second round are due by October 15 so there’s plenty of time to get started. However, if you feel like you need more time, don’t worry. The third round of applications are due by January 21. Go to the VFA website for more information on how to apply. Also, I’m available if you have any follow up questions so please reach out. Good luck!!
Are you interested in launching a career in entrepreneurship?
If so, then Venture For America’s Fellowship might be the choice for you! Their program is based on the belief in the power of apprenticeships; that some of the best learning comes through experience.
As a Venture For America Fellow, you’ll work as a salaried employee at a startup or high-growth company in one of their 13 cities for two years! During that time, you’ll learn what it takes to build and run a company and prepare for life at a startup through top notch training and support. You’ll also find lifelong friends, an entrepreneurial community, and a network of individuals ready to help you take your career and ambitions to the next level.