Penned with Zen: “What the crazy shoe lady gave me”
Published: Friday, October 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 25, 2013 01:10
“So how about it? Do you want to sign on?”
She looks at me as I pretend to think about it. It’s a risky opportunity to sign on, but it’s not like I have a whole lot to lose. Or as if I have any other real options. A yes, a handshake and a couple of signed NDAs later, and it’s official; I was an intern for a start-up business, Fashionable Heels.
I had responded to Fashionable Heels’ ‘help wanted’ posting on the Wildcats Careers page partly because, hey, working in Boston should be neat. Just being a sophomore mechanical engineer, I had no particular focus or interest for a career yet, or any actual ability for a company to justify hiring me. Fashionable Heels was a part of MassChallenge, a Massachusetts innovation incubator group based in Boston. The idea was to recruit aspiring people to develop their business plans and give them some basic office resources to get things rolling.
Getting to Boston from New Hampshire was a bit of an adventure: A bus ride and short walk from South Station, Fashionable Heels was based in a brand new glass and steel high rise right on the water front. Walking along the waterfront from South Station made the morning commute cool for the first couple of times. After the first couple of weeks though, the appeal of public commuting through rush hour tends to lose its appeal after two hours of sitting cramped next to people on a crowded bus.
As for the neat new building I was working in? I probably should have taken it as a warning sign when the advertised ‘exclusive office space’ was in fact an unfinished floor with the 30 other MassChallenge companies. So the stage was set, for my best and worst experience working at an internship.
There were five interns and two CEOs that worked for Fashionable Heels that summer. Three of us were engineering students who were the ‘design consultants.’ The other two were business majors who outlined Fashionable Heels’ budget-to-be and brainstormed potential promotional ideas. The CEOs split their time managing everything in the office or securing investor’s dollars to finance our project. The glorious project we were all collaborating on? Convertible high heel shoes. Yes, that’s right; a set of shoes with different heel heights for the occasion. You couldn’t pay me to make this up. Ironically, my CEO did not pay me either, despite her promise to reimburse me for commuting down once a week for work.
Did you know that a lady in heels twirling her feet has about as much load-bearing stress as an elephant? That was our design criteria, according to one of the CEOs. None of us had the heart to tell her that most of our friends who had heard of this project would rather carry flats in their purses than different heel heights.
At the start of the summer, there was no shoe to market. There was the concept, a number of computer blueprints one of the CEOs got made for free from the engineers of other companies of MassChallenge, a couple of shoes cannibalized and cobbled together as mock-ups, and about a hundred spare shoe parts in bins. Impressively, by the end of the summer, the three of us managed to create several iterations of a workable design that we tweaked and perfected. The shoe had to travel a lot of rough miles to reach satisfaction: three of us taking turns wobbling around the office, frantically duct taping the heel at a promotional pool party, and other residential engineers laughing at our design mistakes.
That summer was definitely no walk in the park. I was probably one of the more frustrating members to work with, since I was splitting time working in Boston and at home and made communication harder to deal with. The CEO was at the end of her patience, having been invested for two years into getting Fashionable Heels successful and working late nights bartending to make money. Having only seven of us working to get a business started made all of us a little high strung. My family eventually started referring to the CEO as “crazy shoe lady,” because of the stories I brought home about her being stressed.
On my last day there, she – despite reassuring me she’d be there to reimburse me for bus fees – was not there. So ended my first internship: working in a field I had no experience in, effectively paying my company to let me work for them, for a product no one seemed interested in buying. Fashionable Heels actually got a spot on “Good Morning America” advertising their shoe, and to this day are still slowly breaking into utility fashion products. As for me? My experience sounded relevant enough to get some time working at the UNH Space Center. How I ever went from designing high heels to satellites I will never know — or imagine what I could be doing next to put down on my resume.