It’s About the People

By Stephen Robert Morse C’07, Co-founder of Skillbridge

I didn’t go to Wharton.

I majored in English and history—I know what you’re thinking… but at Penn, I started making films and founded a documentary film production company that focused on films that created social change. I teamed up with two friends, Jeff Levin C’07 and Jon Levy W’07 to pitch the company to the Wharton Venture Initiation Program (VIP). Somehow, we beat out a load of talented competitors and were selected for the program.

The Skillbridge team.
The Skillbridge team.

Fast forward about seven years, to when I was working at a later stage startup and itching to get involved in an early stage startup. I wrote to Clare Leinweber (then managing VIP, now Wharton Entrepreneurship’s Managing Director), whom I knew well from my time at Penn, and asked her if she knew of any companies that I could help out with. She kindly offered to send my CV around to all of the Wharton VIP companies. This led to my having conversations with five different founders—all of whom had very interesting projects. But one person I met with for coffee in New York, Raj Jeyakumar WG’13, really sparked my interest. The previous year, at Wharton, he co-founded Skillbridge along with Brett Lewis WG’13. Brett had to go back to work at Bain for a couple of years to pay off his student loans, so I stepped in, working with Raj to build an online marketplace for business talent.

My takeaway from this: Don’t discount alumni connections. Frequently, startups want to hire talented people, but they don’t know where to turn. You never know when your skill set will be compatible with someone else’s needs, so do your best to get your CV in front of the right people’s faces. Fortunately for me, Clare knew all of the right people, which made my job much easier.

Now Skillbridge has been acquired by Toptal, an Andreessen Horowitz backed company that is doing super well in the space of hiring developers for jobs. Soon they will open a business vertical, Toptal Business, using Skillbridge’s assets. In my opinion, the combined firm is well set to further disrupt the freelance hiring market. The idea of online hiring is still young, and I am confident that the combined Toptal/Skillbridge team will continue to nail it.

I would never have gotten here without the human connections that came through Penn—and, in my case, specifically Wharton Entrepreneurship. There is a huge element of trust that comes with building startups. You need to know that your team members are putting in equally high amounts of effort, and you need to know that they will do this every single day. Penn acts as a great mechanism to vet the talent with whom you will work, and because of this, Penn is able to churn out successful startup after successful startup.

To those people who are still Penn students: you’re incredibly lucky, as there will be few times in your life when you are around so many potential business partners. Don’t miss the opportunity to meet your co-founder, as he/she could be so close by!

Headshot 2 200Bio: Prior to attending the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, Stephen co-founded Skillbridge, an online platform to find and hire the world’s best business and strategy consultants. He has worked and consulted for a number of startups in New York and London including Lightbox (acquired by Facebook) Seamless (merged with GrubHub), Shapeways, and Appboy. Stephen was awarded a BA (honors) in English and history from the University of Pennsylvania and a dual MA (honors) in Journalism and Media within Globalization/Financial Journalism from a consortium of European institutions he attended as an Erasmus Mundus scholar. Stephen is a 2012 Tow-Knight Entrepreneurial Journalism Fellow and 2009 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He contributes regularly to the Financial Times and Fast Company.

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