Arman Tokanov W’16 interned at in Astana, Kazakhstan

2013-2014 Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board Intern Fellow

How did you find the position?

I previously worked for this company, and they offered me a new position.

What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?

My motivation was to leverage the experience for my own startup career.

What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?

My advice is to be ready to be independent and self-motivated.

Last summer I worked as an Operations & Marketing Intern at Educator Online, which is Astana-based (that’s in Kazakhstan) online education startup. Coming from Kazakhstan myself, I was thrilled to contribute to the young and rapidly developing startup scene back home.

In essence, Educator is an extensive database of video lessons specifically tailored to Kazakhstan’s high school curricula, which has a very user-friendly interface and grants users access to the video lessons at a very low cost. When I started working for the startup, its website just had launched a month ago and there were many challenges in the areas of user acquisition, gathering customer feedback, and refining the business model. Because of that, as it often happens in startups, I got to do a lot of different activities and to fulfill different roles. One day I would be interviewing a prospective teacher and assessing her ability to give a video lecture, another day I would talk to mass media representatives trying to generate buzz around the young company.

Probably the most important skill that I acquired and developed during my internship is project management. Since the founders knew me through my previous involvement with the project (the summer before I worked there helping with content creation), I was given the responsibility and autonomy to lead several projects. I managed the creation of three new video courses, for which I had to find and recruit teachers, arrange video shootings, coordinate schedules of everyone involved and do many other things. This was a very interesting experience that allowed me to do something substantial and to make a meaningful contribution to the company’s development.

In the recent years marked with the “startup fever” around the world, one of the biggest challenges for young ventures is to differentiate themselves from increasing competition in the fight for a customer. In order to achieve this goal, we implemented a social media marketing campaign to expand general brand awareness and bring more users. I had a very creative and interesting task of defining the brand’s “personality traits” and unique features that proved to be effective during the marketing campaign. Moreover, I improved my creative writing skills by starting a corporate blog to engage with supporters and customers. On a more broad scale of marketing, I also researched new revenue sources such as corporate sales and partnerships with other Kazakhstani companies.

I really loved my summer internship – my ultimate plan is to start a startup and the closest thing to starting a startup is interning for one! Very informal and close-knit corporate culture, independent nature of work, and serious degree of responsibility were very appealing to me. I would encourage everyone (no matter how different your career aspirations from founding a startup are) to work for an early-stage company. It is probably the best way to test your limits, to learn by practice, and to have fun while working. And the most importantly, it is the best way to do something meaningful while being young and inexperienced.