Posted by Scott on Jul 12, 2016 4:58:12 PM

When people think startup, they often think gourmet cafeterias, zany office designs, and unlimited perks for their young employees.

Maybe at Google or Facebook... but how does a 6-person company -- 10, if you count us awesome summer interns -- look and feel? What do we actually do....?

Picture Troops' office: a shared workspace in a Union Square high rise, office puppies roaming between desks and free smoothies flowing aplenty. Pretty good start, right?

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But look even closer and you’ll see it's a startup that's building bridges -- between AI, messaging, and social collaboration -- with the goal of making sales work easier. A company that’s truly on the frontier of the next wave of enterprise technology

And it's also the place where I get to help shape strategy, products, and operations from Day 1 of my internship.

Why Join an NYC startup?

In recent years, there’s been a growing interest in VC’s and startups across MBA campuses. This year especially, record numbers of HBS students flocked to the west coast for their MBA internships, living that startup dream. 

And while Silicon Valley has its appeal, for my summer internship I wanted to explore New York’s vibrant entrepreneurial scene. With a bit less polish and more grit, Silicon Alley has a tight knit startup community, a burgeoning technological ecosystem supported by an unlimited number of creative, entrepreneurial, and professional talent.

Troops employees are perfect examples. They run their own nonprofits, work part-time as VC investors, consult other startups, lead professional meet-ups, and hold talks for industry organizations. They also coach Cross-fit, design video games, bartend, take weekly spin classes together, and, staying true to their nerdy roots, share a love for geocaching. 

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What is Troops?

Troops’ mission is to make sales work easier by providing better tools for managing information on customers, accounts and relationships.

Gone are the days of being held captive by software and databases!

Instead, Troops uses a common messaging interface -- VC's latest darling, Slack -- to communicate information in a way that’s more natural, expedient, and frankly, more fun.

Using Troops’ proprietary chat bot technology and a little help from their personal AI assistant, salespeople can access their entire Salesforce pipeline through just several strokes of a keyboard.

Less than a year old, Troops is changing the paradigm for working with data by inventing a world where information is freely accessible and naturally shared across any platform, channel, and person.

And while the near term focus is to help sales teams dominate opportunities (our team obsesses over ways to help salespeople close deals smarter and faster), the long term opportunity for an artificially intelligent assistant at work is limitless. 

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Where do I fit in?

As a member of Troops’ product team, I spend my days building products that improve chat-based collaboration at work. 

I’ve been struck by how closely my day-to-day activities mirror what I’ve been learning over the past year at HBS – process optimization, product positioning, pricing frameworks, marketing strategy, financial forecasting, and good ‘ole design thinking, complete with a whiteboard and freeform Ideo-style creative brainstorming exercises.

The difference between learning at school vs. work is that school is an abstraction, startups are real life. And despite reading hundreds of cases touching similar concepts, the opportunity to execute on strategy has been invaluable.

At Troops, Product Managers not only think about the product roadmap and design, but we also manage the UX/UI internally and are deeply involved in all levels of the product development process.

A typical day might include brainstorming features as a team, assigning individual owners to specific features, working tirelessly to iterate on designs, and then handing off our wireframes to world-class engineers who turn our abstract ideas into web pages and slack applications in a matter of days. 

This cycle provides a unique opportunity to learn high-level design principles in a deeply collaborative environment and develop an appreciation for the level of granularity and teamwork required to build a great product. 

The Hard Part

The most challenging part of my job is striking the right balance between empathizing with customers and staying pragmatic and objective in evaluating opportunities. 

Our customers are our biggest champions -- they constantly share their feedback, feature requests, and ideas. Every company wants solutions tailored to their organizational challenges. The more I learn, the more I want to tackle every problem at once and be everything for every customer. But one of the challenges (and benefits!) of working in a startup is that our resource constraints keep us maniacally focused, so a huge part of our job is to discern the sequencing of what we build.

Troops has helped me develop a more disciplined, metrics-driven approach to prioritization and business strategy in general. The motto “fail fast” certainly has merit at Troops, where we pivot quickly and aren’t afraid to retire old ideas in favor of new, better ones. Around here, the thought around process is that it’s created, broken and then recreated over and over again in order to continuously improve and optimize the business. 

Given how quickly things change and how much collaboration there is between product, sales, engineering, and strategy, everybody needs to check their ego at the door. Difficult feedback serves a common goal – better products and happy customers.

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What is Troops’ Culture like?

After several weeks on the job, I’ve learned that the magic of Troops extends far beyond what I expected. Troops is truly a work hard, play hard environment: pop culture and sports references blend seamlessly with heated product debates; packed workdays transition smoothly into evening happy hours.

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At Troops HQ you won’t see any nerf guns, pool tables, ball pits, or other start-up gimmicks. Instead, you will find incredible teamwork and drive, folks who are passionate about what they’re doing and what they’re creating, and who are enjoying the ride along the way.

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Topics: Troops, Product, Chat Bots