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How I Turned an Unpaid Internship Into a Business

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Not every internship works out, let alone an unpaid internship. Internship experience can range from coffee runs to hands-on project management. Regardless of the actual responsibilities you have in your role, an internship is what you make of it. My most successful internship was the one I took straight out of graduate school that inspired the idea behind a big-name Hollywood entertainment business.

I sold the business that would turn into Gofobo.Com to Terry Hines and Associates before even turning thirty. It’s one of my greatest achievements, and the story of how I got to the finish line might come as a surprise. My journey of success did not start with a trust fund, but with an unpaid internship and a “no.” 

The origin lies in pushing myself during every stage of my life— from working the paper route as a child, being a janitor in my high school, to signing up for countless other volunteer positions as a young adult. This tenacity reared its head as I began to encounter roadblocks that now serve as a cornerstone in one of my earliest success stories.

No Job is Too Small

I took an unpaid internship at Allied Entertainment after I got my MBA, promoting movie screenings and mailing paper tickets to those who secured them. Sorting through movies like Harry Potter and The Notebook in the backroom, noting who actually showed up and who did not. A seemingly menial task, right? 

The thing is: being down in the nitty-gritty of this kind of work is the best way to see what’s going right or wrong. I was the one to notice that at screenings we would either have too many or too few people show up. In the growing digital age, I realized this was a prime moment to transition to electronic tickets. In short: my “aha” moment may have happened on unpaid time, but boy did it pay off.

Good ideas are good ideas, and they come from everyone in the workplace. After all, it is the lack of confidence that will shrink you down, not your job title. If you treat your work like it is insignificant, you will feel insignificant yourself. However, if you treat every action like it can be groundbreaking, it will be. The sooner you take that lesson, the sooner you will see results.

Go Against the Flow, It’s Worth It

I brought the idea of electronic tickets to the CEO of the company, absolutely itching with eagerness. After all, who wouldn’t want that easy data at their fingertips? Well, apparently not him— or at least not yet. He brushed it off, saying to keep going about business as usual. It’s easier to do things as they have always been done

This didn’t sit right with me though. My business motto has always been to give my 100% effort, even if that means undertaking a more daunting task. Only then can you expect and see results. It’s the way I live my life most authentically: giving it my 100% over and over again. After all, hard work pays off; there’s a reason why that cliche exists in the first place. The idea of just continuing along one path because it’s the most familiar felt like a long-winded oversight. 

Faith unshaken, my vision of these electronic tickets just couldn’t go away. I knew it would make a splash in the market and was in an area no one else had explored yet. So, I went down the discouraged path and carried on with my idea anyway. I reached out to a friend from college who was similarly excited about the future of this project and we got to work. 

“There’s no shortage in remarkable ideas, what’s missing is the will to execute them.” – Seth Godin

Be Relentless

I trusted my gut feeling that the CEO’s “no” wasn’t a dead end. I recognized I had done the research and that my concept wasn’t foolhardy, but relentless. And being relentless ends in results. 

I know firsthand that putting in the time and effort will help see a project through. I’ll be up at the crack of dawn to get my projects finished as soon as possible, trying to check as many things off a list as I can. That’s right, I was that kid in college who finished his homework for the whole semester over the first two weekends so I can spend the rest of my time focusing on other extracurriculars.

So, over the course of two years, we worked hard. We got up early and stayed up late. Ran our pencils dull as our eyes glossed over computer screens. And thank goodness we did.

Stay Good-Natured and Listen

This story ends when I’m in my late 20s, standing in a boardroom at the end of my two years of persistent work— no longer the unpaid intern. I was an accomplished businessman face to face again with the original man that told me to drop the idea behind gofobo.com. This time, however, I had sold the idea of gofobo.com and it merged with Alliance Entertainment, becoming what it’s known for today. That’s when he told me he’d “never turn me down again.”

Make a name for yourself this way. Don’t be afraid to be bold— one day those who doubted you will no longer be your superior, but your equal. Forge partnerships with everyone. Every individual in your company is valuable with their own unique, original, and potentially groundbreaking ideas who deserve to be heard and taken seriously. 

Yes, even the unpaid intern.

Brian Meert is the CEO of AdvertiseMint, the #1 Hollywood-based digital advertising agency that specializes in helping successful companies advertise on Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Tiktok. AdvertiseMint has managed millions of dollars in digital ad spends in entertainment, fashion, finance, and software industries. Brian is the author of the best-selling, The Complete Guide to Facebook Advertising, a member of the Forbes Agency Council, and a thought leader and speaker.

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