Azita Habibi WG’14, interned at 4Vets in Sao Paulo, Brazil

2013-2014 Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board Intern Fellow

How did you find the position?

Leveraged my student network within Lauder and Brazilian community at Wharton. I knew the founders of a few Wharton start ups (baby.com.br) as well as a 2Y Lauder student that had spent his summer in Brazil working at a VC as well as interviewing numerous start-ups for his entrepreneurial blog. With these resources, I began to form a list of targets and they reached out on my behalf to set up introduction. From there, I conducted several skype calls/interviews.

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

I came to Wharton to lay the foundation for a business in Latin America following graduation and wanted to use the summer as a test-run to give me firsthand experience.

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

It is an amazing opportunity that will enrich your career experience regardless of what direction you choose following graduation. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a relatively risk-free risk.

The MBA summer internship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try something you’ve never done before. I came to Wharton to start a business after having spent my prior 7 years at Google and IBM. I was used to working in large, complex hierarchies with formalized structures, policies and objectives so working at a 4-person start-up like 4Vets was a drastic change. Suddenly, I learned first-hand what it meant to be working in ambiguity. Total ambiguity.

My sister is a Wharton/Lauder ‘09 alum living in Sao Paolo and she and I had decided before I went to business school that we wanted follow in our parents’ footsteps and start a company together. We saw Brazil as an attractive emerging market that still had plenty of opportunities to take successful American business models and execute them in Brazil. I spent my entire first year at Wharton researching, developing an idea and business model and ultimately defining a business plan. I weighed the pros and cons of working on my own start-up vs. working at another start up and after much deliberation, decided it would be prudent to do the latter given I had never worked in Latin America. I made that decision in March and immediately began to formulate an approach for securing a summer internship that would give me the exposure I needed to assess the Brazilian market for my business concept.

I am a Lauder student with a focus on Latin America so my first thought was to leverage my fellow Lauderites who had any relationship to Brazil. These were 2Y students in the Portuguese track or Brazilian students. I met with several 2Y students to hear their general perspective on living and working in Brazil and seek their advice on navigating the Brazilian start-up scene. Three students had spent their summers working in Brazil either at a VC or starting their own company and their insights proved invaluable. One student had started a blog that was dedicated to exploring and navigating the Brazilian entrepreneurial scene that I read and re-read before my informal interviews began. With his help and the help of other Wharton alums living in Brazil, I began to put a list together of start-ups that were in the e-commerce space given my idea was for an e-commerce business. These students and alumni were amazingly generous and reached out to over 10 start-ups on my behalf to set up introductory calls. From there, the ball was in my court to set up Skype meetings and in-person meetings (a few founders were traveling back and forth to the U.S.) I spoke to both B2C and B2B companies and ultimately decided to work at 4Vets, a B2B pet care e-commerce platform. The Brazilian pet care market is the second largest in world (second to U.S.) at $8B and is quite fragmented. 4Vets aimed to provide a one-stop shop of pet care supplies to the thousands of small veterinarian clinics and shops that represented the largest buying channel for the Brazilian consumer. Pet care is not exactly what I had anticipated working in for the summer, but the Brazilian/Wharton entrepreneurial community is tight-knit and everyone I spoke to highly recommended the founders of 4Vets as intelligent and ambitious guys from whom I would learn a lot. Bernardo Arrospide and Ben Lewis were Wharton students that spent the summer of 2012 in between 1Y and 2Y working on 4Vets in Brazil and decided to stay and defer their degree to keep up their momentum. Ben and Bernardo enlisted a third Brazilian founder, In Hshieh, former COO and co-founder of baby.com.br, in the spring of 2013 to round out their management team. I was the fourth to join the team in June and together we put together a plan to launch 4vets.com.br by fall of 2013. The team had secured funding from a Brazilian VC called eBricks in April of 2013, but continued to work on due diligence and contracts throughout the summer to actually close the round, a frustrating reality of the Brazilian funding environment.

I was brought onto the team to develop the sales strategy and build out a sales force with appropriate sales compensation structure and incentive plan. While that was my main responsibility, given how small our team was, I worked on almost all aspects of the business alongside Ben, Bernardo, and In. Together we worked to define functional, technical, and design requirements for the online platform with our development partners. We architected a back-end payment system to ensure a premium buying experience for a business owner. We built a compensation model to optimally incentivize our first sales rep for the initial rollout. We met with suppliers to ensure the most extensive product offerings for our customers. The list goes on…

As you can see, you really do wear all the hats regardless of what your title or position states in a start-up. It was an invaluable experience to live in Brazil for a summer, learn Portuguese, and get exposure to multiple facets of a small business. I have no doubt in my mind that those experiences and insights will prove priceless in my career.