Cristina's Presidential Interview
After coming back from the U.S. where she was doing research until September 2015, Cristina was looking out for opportunities to make sure she stayed really busy during her Masters at ETH (as if this alone wouldn't suffice)! She was looking for a cool student club and through her friends found out about the ETH Entrepreneur Club. Cristina attended a first event (the infamous Startup Speed Dating) to meet the committee of the ETH EC and after some motivational talk from the different club members she was excited enough to join the junior committee in the middle of the Autumn Semester. This didn't last long as the end of the semester was near and that soon she would be offered to take on the next semester as president of the EC...
Q: So, how did this thing happen to you?
A: Well, I really didn't expect it but Edith, our former president, came to me and simply asked me! I think she knew that I wanted to do something where I would have responsibility and at the time there were very few people that were interested by this position. She only knew me from the few events we organized together but the whole committee knew me well, so I wasn't in a bad position. And then I was like: “Yeah, why not!?”
Q: Really!? Because it seems like a challenging job! Plus, you were at the beginning of your Masters so it could have looked like a little bit too much.
A: Actually, I kind of planned it like this. When I came back from Boston I decided to do a lot of classes in the first semester so that during the second and third semester I would only study part-time with 15-20 ECTS. Of course I thought a lot about it, also because I had no idea what a president does! There is no task list! You don't get this job and know what to do; I finally got to know what it means to “jump into cold water”.
Q: So now that you discovered it: What is the job??
A: Basically, you need to make sure that everybody do their job and anything that is not done by anyone else is yours to do. The president needs to have an overview of the club: What people are doing, what they should be doing, what they could be doing, and most importantly to lead and motivate people, and put together a great team. This last objective was my priority at the beginning. There is also some strategy planning to do, which is quite cool!
Q: Build a great team, motivate people, how do you do that?
A: It's a mix of things. You don't have to be bossy, you must work with your committee and ask for feedback to start an exchange. It's very important to give positive feedback when the occasion presents itself, it motivates people. Internal events allow people from the committee to get to know each other; we had a few official ones for example one on conflict management that I personally organized in collaboration with the ETH Career Center. We often also have committee dinner and trips to get together and have fun.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in doing this job?
A: I think the most tiring about this job is that you always have to think about it. Moreover, you always get new things to do; when you think you got things done there is immediately new stuff popping up: New emails, new meetings, etc. What is challenging is to keep up and have a clear overview of the many things you need to manage at once. Finally, you have to stay motivated, always! Because if you are not then you cannot do it. In order to do stay motivated, you need to know when to take a break. If you feel like you need a couple days off, then you should take them and go offline for a bit. I couldn't do this at the beginning because I felt like I had to always be there and answer to everything in the next half hour all the time but this doesn't work. That's what I learned the hard way. Take two or three days off where you say that you won't look at your emails and even then everything is fine. Of course, when you come back you are a bit overloaded for a few days but that's normal. I also needed to learn how to deal with stress and to prioritize, which is why it was a great experience for me. Often it looks like a lot, but in the end, when you look at it closer, it is not that much. I think being organized is the most important thing.
Q: How do you stay organized? Any software tools that you use?
A: I have a notebook, that's my favorite thing! I tried being more technological, but the thing that works best for me is writing by hand.
Q: How have you changed this past year?
A: What change you are the people that you meet. I met so many people through the club and they are all really cool and everyone has something inspiring about them! When you talk to startups they are passionate and this definitely affects you too. It made me more ambitious, not wanting to stop and achieve more. That's one way it changed me I think. It also opened my horizon. I met people from everywhere and everybody was traveling around. I think that's also very nice. Last but not least, I learned how to speak in public, which I didn't really like before. This is something anybody doing this job would have to learn. I am still nervous before a talk, but at the beginning I was also nervous during it. With experience you start to enjoy it and you switch from being scared to mess something up to wanting to stay on stage! When you talk to certain people they have this look into their eyes that inspires you, and that's what I would like to give people when I am talking!
Q: At the EC we work with startups, students, and we also have advisors and sponsors that participate in our events. Which one of these contacts did you enjoy the most?
A: Of course, I truly enjoyed our advisors because they are experienced and they give you more insightful feedback for you as a person. A few people that I met from companies or from startups really talked to me and gave me personal advice. This was the most helpful thing because you get advice for your future and sometimes they present to you new opportunities. I always knew what I wanted but this keeps changing over time! And then of course the committee. These are the best people I think! Because you are in the same boat and at the same stage in your life so you can truly relate to each other. We had sometimes meetings all together with the Vice-Presidents where everyone was stressed and you know exactly how everybody feels. This is actually good because you know how to talk to each other because you feel the same way. And this is where the best relationships are built.
Q: We do many different things as a student association and you probably do a lot more things inside the club than most of us are aware of. Do you have one favorite accomplishment?
A: It is actually hard because as a president you don't really do anything that can be seen or measured. It is never just me doing something. One thing though, at the beginning of 2016 when we started, we weren't a team; we were all new and we were merely a group of people that have to work together. My biggest objective was to have by the end of the year a club that people want to join also because of the people that are in the club: Create a real team feeling. And I think this we definitely achieved; I hope you agree! This was one of my fears at the beginning because I like to work with people that I feel comfortable with and with whom I can do other things next to work. Secondly, smaller things like the first EC Award that I moderated with Greg made me very happy. This was like my personal highlight because I had never done this before and suddenly I had to speak in front of three hundred people! In the end, it was amazing. Third highlight, was at the Swiss Startup Day where we went with some members to represent the club. There I had to pitch the club but I didn't know it until only one or two days before so I had to improvise a speech that made us win the second place in front of seven hundred people. Needless to say, it made me proud.
Q: Which of our events is your favorite?
A: I like the EC Award! I like it because the people are in such a good mood when attending this event. Of course the FuckUp Night and the Kickoff also make people happy but the EC Award has an impact, a long-term effect. A lot of the finalist actually turn their dreams into reality and when we see them after the event they are all so grateful like: “It's so cool that you do this, thank you so much, we wouldn't have done it without you!”. The people in the audience are feeling excited too and I hope it motivates some of them to do it the next semester.
Q: Now I want to know about the most embarrassing moment you had as a president, or the worst mistake you might have made during this last year!
A: Aaaaaah, that's hard! I deleted them all from my memory! Once I sent an email to the wrong person. Someone was asking something of me for many times and I wanted to write an email to someone else from the committee to complain about this person writing again but accidentally I actually replied to this person, which could have been a terrible mistake. But fortunately for me the message wasn't that explicit, I apologized and everything was back in order. On top of this, it was during the first week of my presidency...
Q: What would you do differently if you could start again? Would you still accept the position!?
A: I don't regret my choice at all! At the beginning I had difficult times, it was too stressful for me, and I thought of giving up. Maybe that's what I would do differently: I would ask more people for help. Usually, I want to do everything myself because I like the way I do it but obviously I cannot do everything. Sometimes you think you could do it better but it is not true, other people just do it differently; it doesn't mean that it is better or worse. You will not be able to have it your way all the time so learn to make compromises. Some people know how to do the the things you need done and it would only take two minutes to ask them to do them. We are a team and nobody is supposed to do everything by themselves. That was my problem at the beginning: I didn't want to ask others and I would try to do it myself... I ended up super stressed. I learned to trust people more!
Q: What else would you have liked to? Tell me something that you wanted to do but that you didn't because of time and resources constraints.
A: I would have liked to do more long-term strategy planning. This is something we wanted to do at the beginning and we had advisors to help us doing in. It would have been nice to meet them, actually sit down and talk about opportunities, and write down a strategy plan. I didn't really take the time to take a step back and look at our Club from a longer-term point of view. We will finally do it in February officially.
Q: What's next for you?
A: I am going to travel first of all! And then I will start my Master Thesis at IBM. I am really excited because it is on the topic that I wanted, and it will actually have an impact on the world I hope. It is important for me because after doing a lot of fundamental research I wanted to do something applied, which is why I am going in this company. And who knows, it just might turn into a startup someday... But I will stay involved in the Club, I can't leave right now!
Q: Any personal advice to your successor?
A: Takes some days off, that's really important. When I was so stressed I suddenly asked for help, and that's what I was told: Turn off Slack, turn off emails, and go away for a couple days, maybe in the mountains. And don't worry about what will happen; sometimes you might be mislead to think so but people don't die if you send them their emails a little later! Taking time off also makes you more motivated when you're back! Second thing, prioritize! This something I really failed to do at the beginning. Always keep in mind that there is something else, that there is a broader picture. Finally, enjoy it: Learn as much as possible, talk to people and let them tell you their stories.
Timothée Barattin, ETH Entrepreneur Club