Internland: the rise and fall of a sideproject

essay, maker, lessons

Few years ago, I was looking for my first internship. This is the first adult experience for most people, before having to file taxes, buy houses etc... you know the kind of stuff I'm talking about.

It's not that it's tough, you have to hack your way around to find the best response rate. That's marketing and personal branding in some way. It went well, not that great but my response rate wasn't what was important to my eyes. I always got the chance to focus on the wrong thing. This experience made me think: there are so many websites for job seekers, often full-time/part-time positions, and they are perfect for that, but they also contains offers for internships and apprenticeships. And they're not caring that much about these targets so the experience is not designed at all for these positions.

This is how I decided to start building a job board aggregating internship offers all around France, with an experience specifically designed for student usage.

The beginning

The first thing I did back then was coming up with what I call a funny name: Internland, the place where you can land your perfect internship.

I benchmarked what was already existing in the market to identify competitors and come up with a unique angle. It turns out there was really awesome experimentations, but none were scalable to my eyes, and I was looking for a very automated product. This is probably a mistake: first, solve an important problem for one person then grow, and not the opposite.

From the benchmark, I was able to ideate more about the product and its roadmap. A roadmap that would become reality if the mvp would have caught great interest from the target audience.

As we often say in the maker community: go for the quick & dirty and put out an MVP centered on a specific feature as soon as possible.

The execution

With that in mind, I started desigining a one-page-fits-most landing page/app with a very Googlish UX.

Internland website

Then I wrote scrappers' code to gather data from reknown sites as much as pure players. I put all this data into a serverless database called Fauna and synced it with a search engine SaaS called Algolia. As tech students, we have lots of perks notably with GitHub Students.

The scrappers were running cronly on a Raspberry Pi at my house, I tried to set up them on Heroku or in Lambda functions but Puppeteer gave me a hard time on this one. Yes, setupping a Raspberry Pi was easier, maybe it's the time for me to turn into SysAdmin?

Sysadmin expert

Everything synced pretty well, even if I got some (many) little (huge) issues with the scrapping part. Indeed, uniformizing external data into what is interesting for you is one of the toughest step of scrapping data. My goal was to have the smoothest experience to quickly find out the internship offer fitting your precise needs, and to do this you have to setup very specific and precise search filters.

Once everything was ready, up and running, I decided to ignore the "beta" phase as it was already the internship season (aka late-spring/early-summer) and rushed into. the release with little to no plan. Neither for my upcoming internship nor the launch of Internland.

I don't know what I'm doing

Narrator: You can imagine nothing happened.

Turns out theres' no magic traffic coming up, no overnight success. The world wide far-west web. To share this exciting new project for the French market, I was very lost. Every side-projects I used to work on were in English and released in English, where I know a bit more about launching something online (Beta List, Product Hunt, my Twitter account...).

However, when it comes to the French market it was a very new way of approaching this wild life. So I decided to use my most French social media: LinkedIn, and wrote a small post to announce Internland. Most of my network on LinkedIn is people like me, meaning students probably also looking for an internship by the time.

I was pretty new to LinkedIn copywriting, and it was way before the bullshit storm we live through now, but the stats and the reach of the post were pretty encouraging so far.

The website got some views and Algolia stats were very talkative about the need of a product like this. I was finally very excited to work on something useful and already bringing value, or at least interest. But after the initial launch, I got little to no any idea about how to keep getting traffic. As we say, "you can't forecast stats based on the initial launch week".

Stay motivated

It was time to get back to the workbench: how to grow the traffic? Why not launch a media focusing on tips to land an internship from 0 to 1 with do's and don'ts? It could be a great growth relay for constant traffic and social media posts.

But do you feel the paradox of me looking for an internship and giving tips simultaneously? If a recruiter passed by and would not be aligned with my words, I'd have been rejected instantly and put on a blacklist. What a great way to dig your own grave.

I defintely think that fear, being paralyzed and not having strong conviction is what loses you when working on something. I think we have to be bold, and to this date I still think that I'm not ready yet to wear this cap.

This is how I let the project live its life by itself for few months first, then for a year or so. But my intuiton told me I couldn't drop this sideproject without much marketing effort. Funny that I've said it's all about personal branding earlier, right?

After a while, I invested some time to rank on Google on other keywords than just "internship" and "internland". To do this, I fetched cities with over X inhabitants and created a specific page with auto-filtering so I could reank up geographically. Pressed Push. Waited 1 week, 2 weeks, 3, 4... Nothing. This made me kind of sad and desperate on how to create awareness around this project. And I decided it was time to move away and work on something else, something new.

Stay hungry, stay foolish

This is the end of the story, no fancy outcomes except that it was a great opportunity to learn a lot. I'd have loved to build what was on the intial roadmap, such as a way for students to select their favorites offers and build alert on new results. Or even better, pick offers and batch apply in one click with a custom application such as a variable-based cover letter. No AI involved.

Oh and I've almost forgot to say: Internland got good SEO results about 3-4 months after the update, getting organic traffic thanks to the geo-based page. But definitely not enough to get back on it, especially that I was convinced it was time to move on.

What would you have done in this case? Move on or get back on it? Tell me on Twitter

The last lesson I've learnt: invest time on your SEO early on, it takes time to get results and it could help driving traffic organically to test out your ideas.