Scaling with Interns: the Happiness Test

The successful startup secret more valuable than dollars.

Ashley Southard
3 min readJul 26, 2020


In the last year, my cofounder and I have started 3 companies, one of which is a nonprofit. All are based in the principles of supporting both people and planet, but we’re not venture-backed, and we don’t have more than 24 hours in a day — so how do we scale without going absolutely insane?

Yes, we still struggle with turning “off.”
Yes, we have paid employees and contractors.
But, our ability to scale quickly with agility would not be possible if it were not for our interns — almost all of which, once their internships are over, become paid workers.

How many interns, you ask? Approximate ratio: 3 interns per 1 paid employee or contractor.

The mutual benefit: the happiness test.

An internship is a free test run that places absolutely zero weight on monetary value, and 100% of the weight on job satisfaction, work fit, and overall happiness.

We don’t mean free just for us as a company.

Internships are highly valuable opportunities to learn “real life” skills not taught in any classroom, as long as the company hiring them dedicates a fair — and not unreasonable — amount of time to working with them (we spend at least 60 minutes one-on-one per intern each week, usually in the form of two 30-minute or three 20-minute meetings).

The interns we hire work for us for 3 months, 10 hours per week. They are working with us because they want to learn either the industry we’re in, or they want to test out their skills in what they have an inkling of an idea of dedicating their futures to.

Some interns come to us thinking they want to be a social media manager, and end up learning they want to be creative directors or PR agents. Imagine if someone had invested thousands of dollars in classes — only to learn mid-semester that this is really not a good fit!

Others come to us with graphic design skills they’ve learned in classes, but have zero idea how to relate that to a marketing strategy. Their work with us helps them build a “real life” aspect



Ashley Southard

CEO. Big fan of anything that supports people + planet.