Allison Berliner (WG’13)
Waderfly & Voomza in New York, NY
How did you find the position?
I found out about the position through MBACM.
What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
I wanted to work at a start-up because I hope to start my own company when I graduate from Wharton. Before coming to Wharton I worked at a non-profit, so working at a start-up seemed like a crucial learning experience – especially in tech.
What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
I think the main thing that helped me get the job that I ended up loving, was doing a lot of homework over the course of the year. Coming into Wharton, I had thought that travel was the sector I was most attracted to. So while my classmates were going to recruiting events, I was reading industry news and talking to as many people as possible who worked in the space. Over spring break, I went to SXSW Interactive with a list of travel tech companies that I wanted to talk to. And when I came back from the conference, I got the Travel & Hospitality club to sponsor a panel on travel tech, which I organized. This was just another great excuse to reach out to founders of companies that I wanted to work at and learn more about the travel tech community.
Over the summer, I worked at two startups. First, I spent 6 weeks supporting a former colleague launch Voomza – a dedicated online community for sales and business development professionals. Then, I spent 10 weeks working at Wanderfly – a travel recommendation/discovery engine. The experiences ended up being extremely complementary. Voomza was super early stage with a beta version of a website and a goal to raise angel funding. Wanderfly had been around since 2010, and had raised $1.6 million in venture funding. Between the two companies, I got to see the full life cycle of a tech startup.
At Voomza I worked on two main projects: developing a user acquisition strategy and benchmarking convertible debt term sheets. Since I knew nothing about either of these topics going in, I spent the first few weeks on the job doing research and talking to people at other startups. I also went to a few sessions at General Assembly, which was helpful. Overall, I was struck by the fact that there didn’t seem to be much that couldn’t be self-taught in a short time period. There are a ton of great resources out there, and I think that when you work at a startup you just have to be good at finding them. I was also struck by the fact that user acquisition and marketing is a much tougher game than people realize when thinking of starting a consumer facing website. No matter how viral you think your site is, it’s just really hard to get people to sign up for a new thing.
Going into Wanderfly, I basically thought that only two things mattered when starting a business – getting users and getting investors. From Voomza, it seemed like those were the hardest and most important tasks that founders thought about. Working at Wanderfly didn’t exactly change this impression. What was super interesting, though, was that 2 years in, the founders had realized that the user acquisition dream was not going to happen in travel, because the use case is episodic. Wanderfly had done an amazing job of building a viral product that people loved, but by the time I got there, the founders were nearing the end of their runway from the last round and were beginning to consider what an actual revenue model might look like. They weren’t willing to do traditional advertising on the site, so instead, I worked with one of the founders on developing a marketing plan for a different type of B2B product that allowed companies to seamlessly integrate into the site. I also looked into advertising opportunities for the newsletter.
Overall, it really did seem like consumer web was all about eyeballs. And as a result of learning this and seeing what it means from the inside (where there is very little in the way of any true competitive advantage), I’m now much more attracted to B2B ventures