2010-2011 Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board Intern Fellow
How did you find the position?
- Through a dinner hosted by the Weiss Tech House.
What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
- To get a behind the scenes view of moving a concept -> product -> market.
- To use what I learned to launch my own start-up.
What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
Make sure to do thorough research on the company, identify some of their needs, and frame what you’ve done in terms of meeting those needs. Even better: give them concrete recommendations.
What I Did This Summer
I worked with a serial entrepreneur on a new business venture into the CPG (consumer packaged goods) marketplace. My boss was great, he really gave me an opportunity to get immersed in all aspects of the project.
On the marketing side, I worked on creating the brand. I researched potential celebrity endorsers, weighed in on different names, slogans, packaging and positioning for the product, and synthesized summary reports on competitors and target groups. I also performed statistical analysis on data from a marketing research study. Even in the early product development stage, the focus was on crafting a brand message that not only resonates with consumers, but that ultimately incites them to purchase the product.
One of the most memorable parts of the internship was flying out to meet his business partners to discuss strategy/vision for the company. I was struck by how critical it is to cultivate a strong network…it makes everything a lot easier.
Reviewing the contracts and patent applications exposed me to the legal aspects of entrepreneurship, while getting looped into conference calls with engineers and manufacturers revealed another arduous process – the technical/operations side of creating a new product.
I am so glad I didn’t do a more “traditional” internship because the insights I’ve gained from working at a start-up are directly translatable to what I want to pursue. Much credit goes to my hilariously candid boss for an exceptional opportunity to learn about what it takes to build a new business.
What I Learned
The three capstone lessons I would take away from this summer are 1. write succinctly, 2. have patience and 3. people are key.
To build a business together, everyone must be on the same page. Which means that ensuring understanding among partners, no less partners located around the globe, can be a tough task. Clear communication is key. I place emphasis on being able to write succinctly because email has become such a ubiquitous communication channel. From what I observed, the prerequisites to “writing succinctly” are being able to summarize and simplify different arguments, see the big picture, and being able to quickly pick up and use any technical lingo. Because emails can be so easily referenced, ample time and thoughtfulness need to be spent on writing them.
Even before Jay, my boss, hired me, he said there would be a good amount of down time associated with the job. I kind of brushed off what he said because I had the mindset of “oh, start-up = working all the time.” (Though I still think the case is true for tech start-ups.) Therefore, I was surprised at the extended breaks resulting from having to wait for other partners to pull through on something. I think the chief lessons here are to work on tasks in parallel, be ready for the hectic times, and above all, be patient after doing everything you can to move the development process along.
Networking. Don’t we all hate that word? We shun the negative connotations it carries – who wants to be the sleazy guy, with the plastered on smile, making the rounds, talking about the same superficial topics (usually weather). But isn’t working with and knowing the right people the foundation of any successful entrepreneurial endeavor? I think so. While working with partners you trust and having a wide network of contacts will not guarantee success, cultivating authentic relationships will. Now, how to do that…
Towards the middle of my internship, a key partnership with a manufacturer actually fell through. If the situation had not been remedied, the product development process would have been majorly hindered. Jay, through speaking with his personal contacts, was able to quickly find a new manufacturer. I think he has enjoyed much success in his career because he is a genuinely nice person who wants to help others thrive while working towards his own goals. I’d boil down the concept (and I don’t mean for it to sound so calculating) as “helping others to help yourself while thinking not about what you’ll gain from the relationship but what they’d gain. ” Cultivating “authentic relationships” with other people is not an easy thing to do, but is so critical to the development of a new business. For some practical tips, I recommend the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I found his book illuminating because it links big picture ideals with smaller, tangible suggestions.
Penn rocks! (And a few suggestions on Wharton courses)
Penn is an extraordinary place. Fellow students with their depth of intellect and passion, top tier faculty, and the plethora of resources available (to highlight a few: guest speaker events organized by clubs, Lippincott Library, Weiss Tech House, Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs) are here to support you in your entrepreneurial adventure if you so choose. I feel very fortunate to be part of this community and can honestly say I would not be exposed to even a third of the opportunities at Penn if I were at any other university.
With that said, I would like to highly recommend the following Wharton courses that should not be missed (and that I found especially valuable for my internship): Negotiations (LGST 206 & MGMT/OPIM 291), Consumer Behavior (MKTG 211), Legal Aspects of Entrepreneurship (LGST 213), Marketing Research (MKTG 212), and Information Strategy and Economics (OPIM 469; particularly good for those interested in tech entrepreneurship). There should be equivalent MBA versions of these courses.
I’m really excited about my time here left at Penn. I don’t know what the future will hold – where I’ll be living, what job I’ll have, whether I’ll pursue a start-up directly after college, if it will succeed – but I do have a couple goals for the year.
I think for most people, they have reservations about putting themselves out there to meet strangers/new people. I definitely do – I can be shy in new situations and don’t like getting rejected. I’m working on overcoming these reservations in order to get to know more amazing people here at Penn and to seek out mentors so that I may hear their epic tales of successes and failures.