By Aditya Nair WG’16
I am writing this post on the flight back home to Mumbai, reflecting on my phenomenal past 10 weeks spent with Able Lending in Austin, TX.
I first got acquainted with Able Lending when I participated in the Penn Design Challenge, a competition where multiple teams work on a product design challenge posed by a company. This year, that partner company was Able.
I was keen to work with a fintech startup over the summer in a product role. My goals for the summer were to gain experience in product thinking, prototyping and testing process.
Able was very interesting to me for a variety of reasons. It was created with the noble goal of enabling the “Fortune 5 million,” i.e. the five million small businesses that employ nearly 50% of the US labor force. The company is founded by HBS alumni Evan Baehr and Will Davis, and is backed by Peter Thiel and Mike Maples. I was also excited to work for them because the role built on the product work I had done on the Penn Design Challenge, which gave me the opportunity to learn more.
The internship experience
Able supports small businesses by multiplying the funds they raise from their friends and family with an Able loan. The Able loans requires that the borrower raise 25% of the capital towards their loan from three to five people, called their backers. This structure provides for an interesting set of stakeholders that can be developed into a strong network. My primary project at Able was to develop product ideas on the evolution of the network, and how it can add value for every stakeholder. It was an intellectually stimulating project which involved a mix of academic research on human behavior, analyses of various networks, brainstorming, interviewing, prototyping and testing.
As is the case with most startups, working at Able is highly entrepreneurial. You are expected to be a self-starter and decide how you want to organize your day, week and month. However, everyone is very approachable and there is always support available. There is also a very strong emphasis on learning. Every Friday, the entire team spends 30 minutes sharing their weekly learnings. It is a great way for everyone to know what is going on across the organization. Every Tuesday, a senior team member has lunch with interns where they talk about the work they do, what their team does and their personal career evolution. I found these sessions to be a great way to learn about how the startup is systematically evolving in every function.
Able is Will and Evan’s second startup. Prior to Able, they founded Outbox, a unique startup that attempted to disrupt the US Post Office, Outbox did quite well until regulation forced them to discontinue. This dramatic pivot to Able, and the way they have built the team and grown the Able culture, was inspiring to me; seeing it provided me with the most powerful insights of my internship.
Lastly, Austin is a fantastic city—great food, craft beers and amazing music. I made close friends at Able and spent most weekends exploring the city with them.
Things that helped and what I would do differently
It’s difficult for an intern to enter a startup and add a lot of value in a short span of time. Having a clear idea of what you are going to be working on is ideal, but unlikely. What worked for me was to have visibility on one primary project that I was going to be working on before I joined. This really helped me hit the ground running.
It is also unlikely that an intern will launch a product fully during the internship because of lack of continuity. However, the beauty of a startup is that you can learn and explore a wide variety of areas relatively easily. If I could change anything, I think I would be a bit more aggressive in pitching for “mini projects” during the internship, over and above my core focus. It’s a great opportunity to really push oneself to explore unchartered territory in a risk-free environment.
Bio: Aditya Nair is a 2nd year MBA at Wharton and will spend the fall 2015 semester in Wharton’s Semester in San Francisco program. At Wharton, he is a board member of the Wharton India Economic Forum and is working on conducting the conference for the first time in both India and in the US. He is also the Director of the Wharton India Startup Competition, and is conducting the competition in India for the first time. Prior to Wharton, Aditya co-founded and ran Banker’s Quotient, a financial services focused skill development venture. Prior to BQ, he was a management consultant with McKinsey & Co, primarily serving clients in the financial services industry in India and the Middle East.