Reading Time: 14 minutes
Today I want to tell you the story of the Pearl Lemon Placement programme.
It’s more than likely the people reading this are either already on the programme or just now considering joining it.
So I thought it would be cool to tell you the founding story behind it 🙂
Table of Contents
The programme, in its earliest stages (I didn’t really know nor appreciate it then) – started in 2010.
I was about to turn 25 years old, and had been conversing with a DJ I had met via Myspace called Jas.
He was just a 14-year-old kid when we had first met, based out in Cornwall, and at that time I was heavily into running Deep Impakt Recordings. – my foray into running a recording studio and becoming a rapper.
They were wonderful times, and my days were spent in a makeshift studio I had set up in the spare room of my parent’s place, recording the vocals for rappers and mixing their vocals with the tracks.
Jas happened to mention that he had a friend – Ashley – also a musician like ourselves who was looking to get some work experience in a recording studio – and wondered if I could help?
Ashley lived over 100 miles away, was someone I’d never met before, and was looking to basically sit in my studio for a couple of days, and help out and observe.
He didn’t want any money for it – he was fundamentally looking for a learning experience.
But it was something I’d never done before, I didn’t know him, I was at my parents’ place and he’d need somewhere to stay…
So naturally, I said ‘yeh that’s fine he can stay at mine!’
This was me talking to Ashley now on Facebook (we’d since got connected and I quickly checked him out – he seemed normal enough), he double-checked to see if I was sure…
And a couple of days later he was there – in my parents home, sleeping in the living room – and I told my folks I’d known him for ages, and ultimately all was well.
My parents, what with rappers constantly coming in and out of the house via the backdoor, through the kitchen, into the recording studio – sometimes up to 10 people at a time packed into a tiny room – didn’t bat an eyelid.
Working with Ashley
Ashley spent a couple of days at the recording studio, and I showed him my setup – which was modest, to say the least.
With him coming from a media production background – he already had a good handle of music producing and some of the setup.
But the Macbook>Logic Pro and live studio environment was new to him.
I showed him ‘the ropes’, and he sat through all of the live sessions – and using the camcorder I had in the room he soon began recording the sessions themselves as well as helping me with mixdowns.
“This is great!” I thought!
Ashley gets some work experience, I get some assistance, he gets food and board – and everybody wins!
The StudioBookers Internship Programme
It’s funny to think about how quickly and serendipitously this evolved again.
Around 18 months later, my business interests would pivot somewhat, when I was able to get £5,000 funding from my Uncle, find a co-founder based all the way out in Dublin Ireland, and try my first ever hand at launching a startup.
This time, having now read several more business books, and having a stronger sense of what was needed in my attempts to make this startup successful – I now put adverts out on Gumtree to try and build an internship programme.
I quickly figured out that I could place ads local to Uxbridge – which was where I was working from (the Starbucks in what was then known as The Chimes), in the ‘voluntary sector’ of Gumtree – for free – and get applications from people who were happy to volunteer their time in exchange for work experience.
By this time I was a Warwick graduate in Literature, had had a consulting job at Deloitte, ran a modestly successful recording studio, and was now venturing out for my first startup attempt.
It should be a decently attractive proposition I thought – especially as compared to the other types of voluntary experiences that existed out there.
The Instrumental Interns
I don’t quite remember who the very first interns were – but it was a fun, and surreal experience to be sat in Starbucks, Uxbridge, and to have people come in, 3 or 4 in a day, for quite serious interviews with myself.
The calibre of applicants was surprisingly high as well, as I had students apply from Kings College, Imperial, LSE and more.
This was where I drew upon some of my experiences from all of the interviews I’d done during my penultimate year at university when I was vacillating between consulting, advertising and journalism.
It was here that I’d get into understanding more about what these young, talented, ambitious people wanted – why they were willing to give up their free time – and ultimately be part of a cause that was nothing to do with then.
I’ll talk about the two most memorable interns then.
Pei – The First
She was a Warwick graduate, had a job offer from Accenture, but was ultimately exploring her options.
Working side by side with Alana, she had something that I was and always have lacked. A mind for operations.
Once I walked her through Studiobookers, how it worked, what we were trying to do, and that we needed to confirm market validation, build a community, and blog, and everything around this – she soon kicked into gear.
Alongside this, she began to transform the programme, building out Google docs, onboarding forms, procedures and ways of working and the like.
Ultimately she would go on to take 7.5% equity in Studiobookers she became that important to the success of the company.
She would stay involved as I would shut down Deep Impakt Recordings ultimately and transition into running a tutoring agency called Gobsmackers, which I founded with her and Adomas, another very talented Lithuanian chap who became part of the programme, and soon invited his girlfriend to join as well.
At its height, there were maybe 10 interns working at one time, all crowding around an island in Starbucks.
My family laughed saying ‘why haven’t Starbucks kicked you out yet?’ – you guys order one cup of coffee every day and then just sit there.
The truth is though (and anyone who does stay in a cafe for any length of time will know) – that you always end up ordering several things.
So the Starbucks staff actually were very pleased we were there, as the team invariably kept buying things.
Cafe-goers would sometimes approach me as I’d done interviews or finished giving a 1-2-1 training session on who I was and what I did.
I had no appreciation for what I was doing then; that I’d managed to gather a group of very intelligent people around Starbucks to work for ‘no-money’ upon a project that was not their own.
I guess I have to a degree always loved leading and as it turns out – teaching. Much of my time in those days into a startup that ultimately wouldn’t succeed – was training and developing these students.
It was amazing to see them progress within the programme, learn quickly and aggressively and then either take equity within Studiobookers as Pei did, or get high paying jobs as others did, and generally go on and progress quite quickly within their careers.
Formalising The Programme
As Gobsmackers came into the fore and was a website that didn’t require a programmer (as Studiobookers did, and the challenges of relying upon a part-time, sweat equity developer who had a family to support and child with special needs would ultimately become more important than the business) – I took my hand to figure out how to use Wix back in 2013.
Now I’ve just spent my last 15 minutes trying to figure out if that old internship website still exists and I can’t seem to find the thing.
But as ever with such an endeavour – I did happen upon lots of other sites that were started/stopped – that echo that time of my life in general which I’ll include here:
Here’s a link to an incomplete personal site I had (however briefly)
Here’s an example of something I began building out for some friends of mine and perhaps give some indication of what I was trying to achieve with a website discussing the merits of such an internship programme:
I still have some of the old documentation in fact relating to the Studiobookers Internship programme – which although was last modified in 2017 – was probably stopped being in use by 2013:
And here’s a page taken from it:
We’d use this Google document as a place to store job adverts we’d place based upon need in the business.
And this was the feedback I began to get from the programme:
Wow – it’s crazy to think this was all of 10 years ago pretty much now 😛
And now – several years later – here I am STILL using Google docs haha:
So not too much has changed.
During my quick jaunt to try and find the right website we’d built on Wix – I also stumped upon this:
This is Strawberry as I now call her online.
We’ve been together almost 10 years now and met through the Studiobookers internship programme.
Felt like I needed to add this in here because it was pretty instrumental. Not to the programme I guess (although she did add lots of value), but to my life 😛
That’s all I have to say on the programme :p
The Next Few Years
Deep Impakt Recordings, Studiobookers, Gobsmackers, Meet My Tutor (and much more in-between and after) were a string of things I would try, get bored of and then wonder.
I remember it will actually – when my uncle’s former business partner Jay said to me maybe 7 years ago now (when I was doing some work for them as a contractor) – Deepak you know what –
‘You’re a wanderer’ – is the best way to describe you – I don’t think you’re ever going to like sticking at one thing – but instead, you want to try things.
And with the vantage of hindsight now as the years have passed – he’s been absolutely right.
But through the thread of all of this – some fundamentals have remained.
One of them is having young (and old, and black/blue/white/brown – i.e any colour, age and creed) people who wished to upskill themselves and get a taste of real-world work experience.
And so for a few years subsequent to Meet My Tutor, I’d decided I’d had enough of my ‘entrepreneurial efforts’ and for several years I took to the road, continued running my tutoring business as a solo bird, and then working as a resume writer (or the ‘CV guy’) – and travelled.
Between the ages of 27-30 things are something of a blur, as I moved from city to city, from adventure to adventure, and placement programmes, and business took a backseat in my life whilst I went off in search of adventure.
The Pearl Lemon Placement Story
At age 30, I’d decided it was time to come back home to London, having spent an extended period of time away and travelling the world.
I was broke, back at my mum’s place and knew I needed to do something quickly.
To start some kind of service.
It seems like a logical next step for me as it was a space by virtue of all of the business/startup attempt I’d made – to be something to try my hand at.
And this time, it was Adina Pascall who approach me on April 7 – 2017, which you can read about more in the Pearl Lemon story.
She was interested in interning with Purr Traffic, and after she came into our offices for an interview – the programme began.
When I say programme – in truth it was just Adina and me in the trenches for the next 13 months.
This would be the length of time which she would stay with us.
Again, she would start offering her time unpaid – and then this moved into a paid placement.
Adina became an indispensable part of the team as I tried to figure out what in the hell I was doing with Purr Traffic as it would ultimately transition into Pearl Lemon.
Looking back at my time with Adina, I don’t think I thought so clearly about being a mentor to her, and her being someone I could develop.
I treated her like a partner in the business, and that was perhaps where the source of some of the conflict we had would come.
Adina (rightly so) would feel like a partner in the business – but we would often begin to butt heads, and as she was taking a UX/UI focus, and had actually done a wonderful job with improving the look and feel of the first rendition of the Pearl Lemon website – it ultimately wasn’t a good fit.
Our time together came to an end somewhat explosively, as we’d had arguments and disagreements – but in hindsight, it was the best thing for the both of us – as she has gone on to do things that make her happier – and I dived back into the pool of searching for people who could grow with the company.
The First Cohort
There was a stream of people who came into the programme the first time around, and some who would stay longer than others.
Considering them part of the placement programme might be something of a misnomer – as it was a mixed bag of virtual assistants, content writers and not specifically anyone full time.
But the expectation to learn, grow and develop was always there, and so even those who weren’t on a placement or internship programme were sent videos and informal training by myself to learn and do things.
The First Of The Crop
Federica Gianlogio was probably the first person to come and work with my side by side.
She is an Italian who was in London for the summer, and had had a mutual friend who told me she was looking for some interesting work experience and so had connected us both.
At that time I was living in Fulham and as it turned out – Federica would be living practically in the same building.
This was again another opportunity to show her my productivity processes and to work through how to use her computer more efficiently – which I think is actually the cornerstone of being more productive.
Once she was given this foundation – I saw her fly and become much more productive.
She would then go on to single-handedly organise an in-person event we ran in a hotel conference room in Fulham where I would meet a future business partner as well as other conference organisers.
The First True ‘New Placement’ Partner
By now, it being an internship no longer felt like an appropriate word – but I knew I wanted to build more formal partnerships with those looking for a career change, or new experiences and the like.
This is when the student/mother/superstar Lydia Sims came in and real action and activity started.
Lydia had applied through an advert I’d put out on Angel.co and had come in and taken the proverbial bull by the horns and started getting involved in all aspects of the business.
There was no side of the business that her hand didn’t touch and her responsibilities and involvement soon grew until it was a breaking point.
This was when we bought in another partner – and we quickly began to see a ‘training problem’.
And this really was the beginnings of the formalisation of the programme.
Google docs for new starters became more built out and involved, videos would soon accompany it – and soon enough Lydia was putting her time into building out the training materials because it seems to be the best use of time to make everyone more valuable to the company and also to help with their own learning curve.
Federica Returned, Fares Builds And The Programme Grows
Federica, notably, was the one intern who returned 18 months later to get involved in the programme again and at this stage, we had at times up to 25 partners in the programme.
Fares was a designer looking to build his portfolio – and he would be instrumental in building out the Pearl Lemon Placement website.
He’d mentioned that companies such as Spotify had some really attractive careers websites so why not do the same thing?
I thought the idea was fabulous and over the course of 3-4 months – the website was built out from scratch and really began to demonstrate how the value of the programme had grown.
We’d migrated from Google Docs to Archbee for all of our training materials and began to focus on building out training on that platform.
Anytime anyone would learn new things and develop new processes – we were sure to (in whatever slap-dash fashion as long as it happened) build them into the training materials – which now has hundreds of videos.
The Programme That Develops Stars
It’s been an absolute pleasure to see the programme give people confidence, to hear how much they learn from the process, to see people take ideas they get from the placement and win freelancing gigs, build side hustles, get corporate gigs paying up to $60,000 a year…
And some of these people coming into the placement programme having never had any experience before this.
Equally, some of the people on the programme have already been offered full-time positions, have gone full time, and have job offers waiting for them when they finish the programme itself.
Continuing Education And Rewards
When I think about why people come, and why people stay I think there are several things that are somewhat unique and also fortuitous about the programme.
The fortunate parts are that we happen to be in the digital marketing space – so it’s a very exciting industry to be in at the moment that has only been further underlined by how the global economy has changed.
From inception, I have always been interested in remote only, and Pearl Lemon has fundamentally always been a team of global stars – so it means that remote training and processes have been built into the company since the start.
I’m a great believer (as you can probably tell lol) in the power of personal branding and for those who will stay the path – we are actively working to build out their own personal brands.
I also encourage people to produce their own content and build a little name for themselves.
Attribution and building a portfolio I also think is critical. I.e Allowing the partners to walk away with some work they can point to to demonstrate that ‘this is what I have made whilst I was with Pearl Lemon’.
Incentivising and recognising stars through ‘intern of the month awards’ (which I’ll admit is done intermittently) as well as rewarding writers who hit certain word counts and the like encourages others to push more.
I, myself, spend an inordinate amount of time learning and creating (430am – 1030am each day I stay offline to give me time to read and study) – and in this way, I’m able to produce volumes of education which all of those on the programme can hopefully learn from.
Internal education is another key as we do weekly training every Friday where I will teach everyone something new that’s typically relevant to their work, and this training is then recorded and uploaded to the cloud.
And of course, the placement programme website itself is an asset that continues to grow in strength as both a recruitment tool but also for partners (as we now consider them) on the placement programme to produce regular content (as we’re asked to) to have a trackable audit trail of all the work they’ve done and their time with us.
It’s exciting to see some from the programme come and join the company in a full-time capacity.
The training is in a continual state of evolution…and Pearl Lemon is probably a little unusual as an agency as in the same way I place so much emphasis upon personal development, I place the same upon our professional development…
So what this translates to – is that in order to serve our clients at a higher level – we must practice what we preach and don’t fall foul of the cobblers shoes.
It’s just damn cool to see where this has got to, with happy partners, a company that grows as a consequence of their incredibly valuable work, and ’m hopeful that in time it’s something their future employers (whether us or others) will look to and say ‘aha’ – they’re a Pearl Lemon Graduate.I
That means something.
That means they’re good.