Ariana Tabataie C’14 interned at Merchant Exchange in New York, NY

2013-2014 Startup Internship Award winner, supported by the Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board

As spring was approaching last semester I began to feel the pressure of securing an internship for the summer that would ideally materialize into a full time position after graduation. I eagerly attended info sessions, career fairs and coffee chats in my one black blazer and pair of dress pants for every and all internship opportunities. I went to OCR events for all things I was and was not interested in addition to all events I was and was not qualified for. The search became discouraging and exhausting. Eventually it began to feel somewhat useless. Around April I changed my approach. I applied for jobs on Penn Link that truly harnessed my interests. At which point I invested my time in sculpting what I thought was the best application I was capable of creating. I applied to a few start-ups that I saw listed on Penn Link, Merchant Exchange being one of them.

Only a few days later I received a warm and enthusiastic email from Jeff and Mark, the two co-founders of Merchant Exchange, asking that I schedule an interview. A few days later I sat outside Houston and spoke with them on the phone for forty minutes. They asked me personal questions about who I was and why I was applying, and then they asked me more obscure and challenging questions. They asked how I would explain the Internet to someone who had been away in space since the Internet was created and had just returned in 2013. After that, they asked me to create a new social media platform that would create a buzz.

The interview was fun, relaxed and intellectually stimulating and after a long conversation I was offered the job and I happily accepted.

I arrived in New York in the beginning of June and met Jeff and Mark a week later. They are Wharton alums who have a passion for understanding consumer tendencies and how to implement an innovative rewards platform to reward consumers for their loyalty to particular merchants. Mark best explained Merchant Exchange as an online punch card that accounts for all of your favorite brands and your interactions with them.

In addition to working for Merchant Exchange I had the pleasure of working for The New York Times corporate communications team at the NYT headquarters. After work at The Times I would take the train to Merchant Exchange where I would enter an entirely different environment. The contrast between an old prestigious historical icon and a new and up-and-coming online platform taught me a lot about business management and branding. At The Times I worked with a team on the larger picture of how to keep The Times relevant in our digitizing world. At Merchant Exchange I worked with a very small team to explore how to utilize online traffic to promote Merchant Exchange with newly drafted marketing plans. The New York Times is essentially working to not be phased out of customer’s daily lives, while Merchant Exchange is working to break onto the online scene.

I feel very lucky to have worked with such drastically different business at various stages of their existence. This summer taught me more than I could have ever imagined. The opportunity to work at a start-up is invaluable, especially as an entrepreneurially minded student. The folks at merchant Exchange are smart and motivated but not nearly as focused as they should be. The small group of Wharton alumni has wisely learned computer coding and other elements of computer science. Their new skill sets have opened many doors, that have unfortunately served as a massive distractions from their main goal of catering to Merchant exchange. During my short stay at Merchant Exchange, the team began exploring three side projects that demanded funding and resources, which ultimately took away from the resources initially allocated to merchant exchange.

Despite these distractions, the start-up environment is exciting, fast paced and very sensitive. As an intern your work is visibly impactful which is highly rewarding. I loved my experiences this summer and the contrast between my two internships gave me a far richer understanding for business and the progression of development at every stage of a business’s lifespan.