Startup Intern: An MBA at CommonBond

Do you want to get a job at a startup? Tomorrow, February 5, come to WE Weds “Pitching Yourself to Startups,” 12-1:20 pm, JMHH 340. 

Entrepreneurial Intern Fellowships are available to Penn/Wharton Undergraduates and First Year MBAs. They are awarded to students who plan to spend the summer in an entrepreneurial setting and who demonstrate both a commitment to entrepreneurship at Penn and to pursuing an entrepreneurial career.  Click here to learn more; applications will be accepted later in the spring semester. 

By Edward Wexler-Beron WG’14, 2013-14 Neff Entrepreneurial Intern Fellow at CommonBond

There were several factors that drove me to work at a startup over the summer. At the top of this list was my desire to experience culture and work environment at a startup (which admittedly can vary widely). Although I had launched a startup within eBay, as part of the Business Incubation Group, it was a little different – after all, my paycheck was guaranteed, we had the resources of a large company behind us, and we still had to deal with some of the bureaucracy and politics that comes with a corporate setting. I wanted to know what it was like to be at a sub-10 person venture, to have the continued existence and success of the company dependent on the daily contributions of the team, and to understand how culture was created in early stage companies. I felt that given my personality and desire to play a core role in shaping the growth and environment at my future workplace, smaller companies were the right space for me in the long run.

From a job function standpoint, CommonBond presented a unique opportunity for me. I had some exposure to Product Management while at eBay, but it was a role I wanted to try out in a more formal position. Through my experience in management consulting working with tech companies, I had become increasingly convinced that user-centric thinking was a powerful way to create products that produced value for end customers while best positioning a company for success. A core component of being an effective Product Manager, I believed, was representing users’ perspectives in the planning, design and creation of the website. Typically, in early stage startups, the founder assumes the role of the PM. Once the founder is ready to pass on this responsibility, he or she will look for a PM that has significant product management experience, and ideally with a technical (engineering or CS) background. Given my somewhat limited exposure to Product Management, combined with my non-technical background, I knew it would be an uphill battle to find a PM internship at an early stage startup. CommonBond offered me this rare chance, so off I went to Brooklyn for the summer.

I definitely learned a lot over my two plus months at CommonBond. I learned about product management, about starting and scaling a new company, about creating norms and a culture, and about how to effectively lead. Observing founders David Klein and Mike Taormina (both Wharton alumni!) on a day-to-day basis was a great way to pick up on a lot of these things.

So what were my top takeaways from my internship experience?

  1. MBA interns can have a big impact at a startup. David and Mike brought in 9 MBA interns over the summer. 9. There were only 7 or 8 full time employees during the same period. Many startups won’t hire any interns. They simply don’t know what to do with them, or think the time they’ll need to invest in them will outweigh the potential benefits. Now, not all MBAs are a great fit for startups. Working at a small company, one needs to be self-motivated, willing to roll his/her sleeves up to get a little dirty, and comfortable with the ambiguity that constantly exists. You never have enough data or time to make the type of carefully and diligently analyzed decision that would be ideal, you simply have to work with the limited resources you have. But Mike and David recognized that if you can bring in the right people (and dedicate at least some time to guide and mentor them), MBAs can provide a high ROI.
  2.  Keep an even keel. The emotional rollercoaster founders go through as their company grows is tremendous. They invest an incredible amount of time into their venture, and it can be gut wrenching when something goes wrong (and conversely, it can be euphoric when something goes well). There are certainly times to celebrate – raising $100M, which CommonBond recently did, is an example of this. But on a day-to-day basis, it is important that the founders are not caught up in the highs or lows. It is too difficult to predict what each small win or loss means for the overall company. Employees feed off of founders, so by keeping an optimistic but level demeanor, one can keep the company moving at a consistent pace, not battered (or driven) too much by the most recent developments. Both Mike and David did a great job on this front, which helped everyone stay focused on his/her work and not get thrown off by external factors that were out of our control.
  3. Transparency is important. Despite my emphasis on keeping an even keel as a founder, I also came to realize how important it is to be transparent about what is going on with the company. Not necessarily every day, or about every detail, but about the major events that are happening, both internally and externally. This might feel a little counterintuitive based on learning #2, but it’s really how founders react to events, not necessarily the events themselves (in most cases), which determines how employees react. When David or Mike gave us an update on the company, it a) communicated they trusted us, b) gave them an opportunity to get our feedback on how to best move forward, and c) really made it feel like we were a core part of the team. I can of course see reasons why some information shouldn’t be shared across the entire company, but as a guiding rule I now believe you’re better off as a founder to be as transparent as possible inside your company.

EdwardBio: Edward Wexler-Beron hails from San Francisco. After studying Economics at Pomona College, he received his MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics. Edward was a consultant at the Monitor Group for three years before joining eBay’s Strategy team and then eBay’s Business Incubation Group, where he co-founded a startup within eBay. He is currently in his second year at Wharton, and is hoping to return to the Bay Area after graduation.