Taleo, Brass Ring, LinkedIn—any student in search of an internship or post-graduation job knows the unfair, confusing, and outright ridiculous world of career vetting. Making one stand out is hard without the opportunity to prove yourself. One startup called MindSumo is however trying to change this.
MindSumo is something of a cross between a Chegg-like community website, and a wanna-be consulting firm for students. Anyone with an .edu email address can sign up, and once they do they have the opportunity to participate in “Challenges.” These challenges are posted by real companies of all sizes—ranging from credit unions in Wisconsin to even the consulting and tech giants like McKinsey and Microsoft. Ultimately the goal of a student challenge is simple: Provide the best solution. In return, students can win cash prizes, get introduced to recruiters, and even receive internships or interview offers in return for their solutions.
MindSumo is in a unique space that crosses over between two realms of work, inherently making its challenge system both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that MindSumo really is trying to help us as students get in touch with companies we like and recruiters with proof of our abilities. That said, in the six months or so I’ve been with the site I’ve yet to hear back from any recruiters, mentors or other resources since.
My evidence is of course purely circumstantial. A likely factor though is that you need to socialize yourself and get “recommendations” from fellow students in order to get introduced to a recruiter. Some challenges have offered recruiter and interview opportunities, but usually they are only open to students at a particular school or program with which MindSumo has partnered. The social element is really focused around the challenges, which inherently have limited socializing due to their competitive nature.
These challenges also have their benefits and concerns. For one, typically 20 or 40 entries can be made for each challenge, and it can take months before enough entries are made since the site is still growing. In a 20-entry challenge, only 6 winners are selected, and in a 40-entry challenge, only 10 winners are selected. The odds are good, but it depends on the quality of the other entries, not necessarily your overall abilities, and a small site like MindSumo can attract everything from one-paragraph answers to entire, comprehensive reports by students. An issue of this is also that only one person can submit one entry, so while in the real world no project is solved by a single person, this is really about how you stand up to your peers, even if you give a correct, or good answer. Every challenge will have a different pool of candidates and ultimately it’s impossible to know how you perform unless you get feedback from the challenge creator.
The last, and rather ethical, concern I’ve had with MindSumo is its lack of an equity system. While you can win or lose, you lose all intellectual properties to whatever suggestions you make for a product or solution to a challenge. Many of these challenges are creative-focused, and have to do with unique problem-solving in situations that are real-world oriented. MindSumo makes it very clear the company has a right to do what it likes with all the suggestions received, even those that do not win. Winning, at most, grants you $150, which is a measly sum for challenges that ask you to invent products or propose solutions to complex engineering problems, such as increasing oil delivery efficiency.
There’s also no guarantee of an interview or recruitment opportunity for solving a challenge, which means that you inherently have no guarantee of equity for providing a solution. So even if it’s just a paragraph or a ten-page solution, everyone is rewarded the same way. MindSumo has mentioned to me via email that there have been discussions of an equity system, but it’s a hard sell to the companies who create these challenges. MindSumo does not advertise itself as a challenge center like innocentive—its model is about showing off your talents, so I will concede that this is about your human capital, not the products you invent while answering challenges. In any case, if I were providing a solution creative and detailed enough to end up on a supermarket shelf, I’d be heartbroken to find my reward be just $150.
But let me be frank that despite these issues, there’s nothing out there quite like MindSumo, where nothing more than an email address qualifies you to answer challenges by some of the most well-known companies in the world. I personally have completed challenges and won prize money, so it’s certainly a system that works and is interesting to engage in. There are dozens of challenges on the site already that range from banking, to product marketing, strategy, and design.
It’s great to see the scope that MindSumo tries to incorporate unique projects that attract students of all backgrounds from universities all over the United States and beyond. If you’re interested in the idea of challenge solving, or perhaps think MindSumo might lead to an interesting venture or opportunity, you’ve got nothing to lose by visiting their site (www.mindsumo.com) and signing up. I think the model of MindSumo needs some polishing though if it expects to compete with the juggernauts in the industry of career gatekeeping. The challenges feel very distant from the talent-acquisition element, and I wish there was a clearer path to prove your talents to potential employers.
—Joshua Sherman ’16 is an English major.