How Venture for America Prepared a Pandemic Grad for Life at a Tech Startup

Featured Image: How VFA Prepared a College Grad for Life at a Tech Startup

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Have you ever tried looking for your first professional job in the middle of a pandemic that shut the world down?

I have.

In the fall of 2020, I was finishing up my college career in the isolation of my apartment and searching the internet for an answer to what was next.

I spent my days “attending” Zoom lectures while aimlessly searching for jobs. Each listing seemed as soul-sucking as the last.

Going through the pandemic changed the way I looked at the world. I didn’t just want a good-paying job: I wanted to make an impact, to work at a place where I could learn from what I do and apply those lessons to creating something of my own.

Then, as if to answer my prayers, I saw a listing for an organization called Venture for America (VFA), a nonprofit fellowship program that gives recent graduates firsthand entrepreneurial experience with startup leaders and founders.

I applied as soon as I read the listing, and on graduation day that following May, I got an offer to work as the content marketing associate as a VFA fellow for the Philadelphia-based tech startup, ReturnLogic.

Venture for America Changed My Life

You never know when you’ll wake up and have a day that changes the course of your life. The day I found the VFA listing was one of those days.

It’s not because I sound fancy calling myself a fellow or even because I got the opportunity to build my life in a new city straight out of college. It’s that I somehow find myself sitting here, writing an article for a company that believes in my talents so much that they trust me with their brand.

As a startup, ReturnLogic’s team consists of only about 30 people. That means anything I do (or fail to do) has a tremendous impact on the company’s overall success.

It sounds scary, I know. But, for someone filled with the entrepreneurial spirit like me, it’s actually quite exciting. Invigorating, in fact.

I just didn’t think I’d get the chance to have this much responsibility until I had a significant amount of experience behind my belt.

That’s the beautiful thing about Venture for America: They look for college grads like me who have a hunger to learn and live an impactful life. They also look for eager founders and startup leaders who want to staff their company with young minds they can mentor.

First, they put us all together in a virtual portal to begin the rigorous job-searching process. Dozens of accepted fellows and VFA partnered companies from all across the country spend the next couple of months pitching themselves to their top choices; sending resumes and cover letters, interviewing, negotiating, meeting in person … and doing all of that with multiple companies, competing with your fellow fellows for positions, while also having a deadline by which to secure a job and trying to finish up graduating college.

Think of it like intense speed dating to find your perfect professional fit. And dare I say, I found mine with ReturnLogic.

ReturnLogic was My Perfect Fit

Amongst the dozens of companies that I sent my resume to or that reached out and pitched to me, ReturnLogic offered me the most room for professional growth in the areas I’m most interested in.

In the 10 months since I started working here, I have

 Published dozens of articles on ecommerce software

 Established professional networking practices to boost marketing reach

 Assumed control of ReturnLogic’s social marketing strategy.

I have learned and grown more in less than a year than I know I would have if I worked at some large company instead. And I’m not alone in my experiences.

ReturnLogic talent manager and second-year Venture for America fellow Alex Leone says:

“As someone who came to the company with different kinds of experiences, I was encouraged to take on a lot of responsibility quickly. … I was spending a lot of time updating our product training and employee onboarding procedures, so I was promoted to talent management and acquisition manager. ReturnLogic values employees’ professional development and passions, which is why our CEO allowed me to transition into a role that didn’t even exist yet.”

When it comes down to it, the amazing experience at ReturnLogic reflects our CEO’s dedication to his staff. Peter Sobotta partnered with VFA because he cares about its mission, which is evident in the way he conducts business. Although he’s a busy man, he makes himself available to anyone that wants to discuss his experiences and business strategies. He also uses every interaction with his employees as an opportunity to inspire us to learn from ReturnLogic’s successes and setbacks, as well as apply them to our own entrepreneurial journeys.

That energy trickles down the hierarchy to solidify the company culture around personal and professional development — and doing what it takes to make things happen.

VFA and ReturnLogic put me on an early trajectory to learn how to become the founder I aspire to be. To me, that is priceless.

About the Author

Taz Alam

Taz is the Content Marketing Associate at ReturnLogic, an ecommerce operations company based in Philadelphia that takes an API approach to returns management. Taz’s role includes writing researched articles on ecommerce and retail return trends, creating engaging content for ReturnLogic’s social media, and challenging current beliefs about ecommerce returns. Outside of work, the Virginia Tech alum is also involved with the Philly startup community as a Venture for America fellow. Her aspirations include making the Hustle Mentality mainstream through her personal brand, The Hustle Legacy.