How Failing to Get an Internship Got Me to Where I Am Today

Meet Valtteri Salomaki:

Valtteri Salomaki is an MBA graduate from the University of California, Riverside and the co-founder of Free Logic Media LLC and EDGE Sound Research Inc. 

Valtteri’s Failure Story: 

At the end of my 2nd year of college, I was returning from my study abroad in Hong Kong and was relentlessly applying for internship opportunities. I noticed that my friends were landing high profile internships at companies such as Microsoft, HP, Sony, etc. which made me feel confident that I could also land a high-profile internship opportunity at a tech firm with my high academic performance and extracurricular activities. I ended up applying to over 50+ positions; however, to my dismay, none of the companies responded to my application. Even after spending countless hours working on my resume, getting advice from career counselors, and networking at events, I had nothing to show for my efforts. This was especially a hard time for me because my family had recently gone through a financial hardship and my first attempt at a startup idea, a tea import/export business, had just failed, wavering my confidence. 

After giving up on applying to internships I wanted, I moved to my secondary option and sent job applications to unknown companies in Southern California that did not seem very credible. In under 48 hours after applying, I was shocked when I received an interview at a direct marketing firm in San Diego. After my first interview, I received a job offer and I was both excited and confused because it was a little bit too easy to get the job after struggling for months to hear back from other companies. I had a gut feeling that this job opportunity was not something I would enjoy; however, I decided to accept the offer as I had no other options for that summer. 

On my very first day of work, I was told that my first marketing campaign was providing samples of Polish dumplings inside of a Costco to help increase sales. I was given a marketing pitch to practice and off I went to my first Costco location. I will never forget my first attempt at pitching a simple food product and feeling like a complete fool as I couldn’t even get through the marketing pitch without jumbling my words. This moment made me feel like an utter failure because while my peers were enjoying amazing internship opportunities at my dream tech firms, I was in a Costco struggling to sell food. 

Throughout the summer, I was miserable working 50-60 hour weeks providing product demos for all sorts of products such as car wax, bedsheets, etc. at over 15 Costco locations in Southern California. Even though I had some success, breaking sales records for a few products and learning how to handle customer service; I was still ashamed of the work I was doing. When my friends asked me what I was doing for work, I would just avoid the question by saying “marketing” broadly. I was in the wrong headspace, constantly comparing myself to my peers’ achievements, and it was one of the lowest points in my professional career. 

How failure led to where I am at today:

After experiencing failure all summer, I had a moment of clarity that changed my perspective on personal development. I started to ask myself “why do I care about what others think about me, this is my life.” Working a job that I did not enjoy showed me that nothing in life is permanent if you are willing to do something about it. Each life experience is a choice to either complain or to treat it as an opportunity to reflect and grow.

Even though this job was not something I wanted to do, I am very thankful that I experienced it. The following year, my life started to snowball in the right direction because of my mindset shift from caring about others’ opinions to focusing on my personal growth. I started getting more active at UCR and worked in my free time to learn new skills that were not taught in my University courses. The following summer, due to my dedication to personal development, I received a sales management internship opportunity at PepsiCo. Then, the following year I worked even harder to build on my marketing skills and landed an internship opportunity at my dream tech firm, ESRI.

Each new opportunity built up my confidence and I continued to push myself into uncomfortable situations with the intent to learn. This allowed me to once again pursue my passion for entrepreneurship, and I started building ventures encompassing all of my life lessons. Fast forward to 2020, I am now the CEO of Free Logic Media LLC and EDGE Sound Research Inc., pitching my startup vision at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, happier than I could have ever imagined.

Advice on failure:

When experiencing failure it can paralyze you, but that is the moment you have a choice to either persevere or to cave into your emotions. My recommendation to anyone experiencing failure is to take a step back and reflect. Ask yourself, what is this failure telling me? The answer will generally fall into three categories: I am not meant to do this, I need more experience, or I need to give it another shot. Failure should not be feared, but rather celebrated. Now every time I experience failure, I ironically feel a sense of accomplishment because I know I am one step closer to success.

My favorite quote is from Nipsey Hussle, “None of us know who we are until we fail/ They say every man is defined by his reaction to any given situation/ Well who would you want to define you?/ Someone else or yourself? Whatever you do, homie, give your heart to it/ And stay strong.”

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