It all started with a cold LinkedIn mail to Aaron Gailmor, the founder of Brass Roots, an early-stage startup that I happened upon while tracking Expo West 2019 (World's largest natural, organic and healthy products event) with a classmate. I had no expectation that I would hear back, since there was no MBA internship opening, so I was pleasantly surprised when Aaron replied and gave me a shot anyway! After going through multiple interviews and being asked for numerous references, I realized that no matter how resource constrained an early-stage startup might be, a founder will never under-invest in recruiting diligence.

I was enthralled by the opportunity for many reasons. For one, I wanted to be in a startup with fewer than 10 people so that I could witness first-hand what it takes to build a company from scratch – I would be employee number 5. But Brass Roots afforded me much more. The company aims to transform health food with a lesser known super-seed (Sacha Inchi), which has a superior nutritional profile compared to most conventional nuts and seeds. The mission was to do this not just through its products, but also through its actions such as youth education and snack donations. Amid exams and interviews, it gradually became clear in my heart that this was the one – I was going to New Orleans!

I was offered the role of a Business Development Intern, but I quickly learned that like many early-stage startups, a perfectly delineated structure was a luxury that we couldn’t afford, especially when Aaron’s baby was due a week after my start date. Yet, the lean experience has proven to be a blessing.

The first thing I saw is that all of us have a deep belief in Brass Roots’ mission. We live and breathe it every day. It’s 24/7, all hands on deck. For instance, Estelle (from Sales) brings Brass Roots’ puffs wherever she goes, even on weekends when she’s at a beach. I soon found myself doing the same - bringing puffs to my birthday party, reporting on competitor products while strolling the aisles at Whole Foods, and more. I would liken the team dynamics to that of a family, where everyone is passionate and has one another’s back.

Another eye-opening experience is the constant pivots due to our limited resources. At my previous employer, I was often time-constrained but resource-rich. I would seek research support from specialized knowledge teams and parallel process tasks that could be outsourced. At Brass Roots, the team and I are the only resources. We do whatever it takes to complete the tasks and find workarounds when budget isn’t available. For instance, as we work towards piloting a new super-seed butter, I went from copacker outreach to personally blending and packaging the pilot batch. The chasm between small batch and bulk production is very real, and we have to be creative to optimize investment until we get to sufficient scale.

I have also come to appreciate how great leaders have an uncanny ability to empower their teams while serving as a beacon whenever necessary. From Day 1, Aaron was very comfortable in conferring on me the authority to self-manage and trusted me with full autonomy. I was given ownership to build an investor pitch deck, craft our Amazon strategy, and work on a new product launch. This gave me invaluable perspectives on the internal workings of an early stage startup. Concurrently, I was able to share some best practices that I learned in my prior consulting role and from the HBS network to the team.

There’s so much I love about my summer experience, and I’m confident that in time, Brass Roots is going to thrive. Yet when I look back, my favorite moments are invariably those where I got to develop deep personal connections – be it strategic dialogues with Aaron or tasting local cuisines with the team on a rooftop on a sultry summer night.