Are Entrepreneurs the Most Ambitious Career-Builders of All?

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Wharton Magazine blog.

By Roslyn Courtney WG’76, CEO and President of LaserBeam Consulting

The Wall Street Journal’s “These Entrepreneurs Make Mark Zuckerberg Look Ancient” recounts the surging demand to develop entrepreneurial skills in the prepubescent set, an offshoot of the growing fever to make it big, younger and faster than ever. In this roaring app economy, startups have created the new must-have capabilities for big businesses, as entrepreneurs define the new fast track to success and wealth. Ambitious career-builders take notice.

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Worth a Taste Test

By Matthew Brodsky

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Wharton Magazine blog.

It’s no bologna to say that second-year MBAs Nicole Marie Capp and Justin Matthew Sapolsky, W’08, are in the midst of a dream: starting their own food business.

Capp comes from a food family that operates high-end delis in Brooklyn, N.Y. Sapolsky, an investor before returning to Wharton, wrote his Wharton MBA entrance essay about getting into the food business.

“Being at Wharton definitely put the gas on that,” he told me, related how he has been able to realize his dream and passion while at School: With the food startup Matt & Marie’s Modern Italian Sandwiches.

Matt and Marie's
Second-year Wharton MBAs Justin Matthew Sapolsky, W’08, and Nicole Marie Capp earned Twitter praise after they catered an event this past fall for Wharton entrepreneurs.

As the story goes, the pair met as vice presidents of the Wharton Entrepreneurship Club in November 2012. By January 2013, they were launching Matt & Marie’s as a catering operation. They worked during the summer out of the Wharton MBA space at 2401 Walnut St. (open as free office space to MBA entrepreneurs) and tapped into Wharton Entrepreneurship resources as part of the Venture Initiation Program (VIP). Through fall 2013, they had catered as many as 25 events around campus. For cooking, they were sharing kitchen space at Enterprise Center at West Philly, a health-grade commercial kitchen that allows operations to rent by the hour.

I initially reached out to Matt & Marie’s during research for a food truck article (still ongoing), and couldn’t resist learning more about delicious sandwiches even after Sapolsky told me they decided against a food truck because they’ve tested their concept already through catering.

Their plan instead, reported Sapolsky, is to have a lease signed on a Center City brick-and-mortar location by the time this article is posted. And by the end of the school year, Capp and Sapolsky may be ready to open the storefront. In the meantime, Sapolsky will do an independent study with OPIM (Operations and Information Management) Professor Eric K. Clemons, who has served as an advisor to Matt & Marie’s. That way, Sapolsky and Capp will also get academic credit as they tend to their kitchen, literally.

The dream is all boot-strapped at the moment, but also scalable. And that gets to why Sapolsky and Capp may have chosen the food business (besides being passionate foodies). Sapolsky noted how Matt & Marie’s menu is simple, much like many of the other restaurants that have exploded on the scene in recent years—the likes of Chipotle, Five Guys Burger and Fries, and Potbelly. Though they chose to open Matt & Marie’s first store in Philadelphia, a town with a lot of authentic Italian eateries, a lot of places don’t, Sapolsky was quick to note.

Fascinating, too, was Sapolsky’s perspective on the startup scene in general. There is a veritable buffet of Internet and tech startups on campus, and beyond.

“There’s room for people to still focus on brick and mortar,” he said.

Particularly, if they also focus on bread, meats and toppings.

It sounds like they are. Sapolsky’s favorite item on the Matt & Marie’s menu is the Roman Cavalry.

“Our chef designed all the sandwiches to balance the five flavor profiles: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. This one does it really well. It has cured coppa, fennel salami, genoa, aged provolone cheese, house-made sweet pickled peppers and a spicy peperoncini aioli on our seeded Italian bread.”

Expect a taste testing of this startup as soon as possible …

Update: Matt & Marie’s has now signed a lease on a location in Center City, and they expect to open in late Spring 2014. Want to go to the soft opening event? Sign up here. 

Starting Up Once More

By Jennifer Royer C’07, W’07, WG’13

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on the Wharton Magazine blog.

My scrappy, serendipitous, exciting and ultimately successful adventure finding work at a startup.

It’s official: I’m a real person again. My first post-MBA paycheck is moments away from hitting my bank account, and my alarm clock is routinely set to predawn hours. I was one of those “nontraditional” types who took on the renegade post-graduation job search, and I’m happy to report that it worked out quite favorably. I am an ex-consultant who managed to break into the San Francisco startup scene.

As such, I hope to impart some wisdom to help others make this transition:

• Keep an open mind. Especially in San Francisco, people are well connected to technology startups and happy to help. For all you know, your Lyft driver could be a retired venture capitalist or entrepreneur, and the more you engage in happenstance conversations the more likely you are to find a link that works for you and leads you to your dream job. Also realize that there are a lot of places to look: AngelListVentureLoop, the Wharton job board and informal connections.

• Be flexible with goals: When I started my search, I thought I would end up at a fewer-than-50 person consumer Web startup. Instead, I’m at a pre-IPO, 500-person SaaS company—but I’m hard-pressed to find a better role or place for me to learn and grow.

• Be humble. I aimed to show versus tell as much as possible, voluntarily making presentations outlining my growth ideas or showing how I would structure my role at a company. This combination of work products, sheer hustle and passion not only is  an indication of your future success, but can differentiate you from other candidates while removing stereotypes about consultants lacking execution ability or MBAs requiring comfortable salaries and lofty titles.

• Stay busy. If you look for a job 24/7, chances are you’ll go crazy. Particularly if you’re an ex-consultant, you can easily pick up some part-time projects. Check out Wharton’s own startup, Skillbridge, for inspiration, or find entrepreneurs who could use your help. I built a financial model and pitch deck to help raise capital over the summer, and it an incredible experience that used almost everything I learned at Wharton.

• Know and be yourself. You may never escape “strengths and weaknesses” questions, but  think about who you are and what you want as you focus on this exciting phase of your career. For me, it boiled down to product, people and role. I need to be in a place where I am passionate about all three and can feel comfortable bringing my energy and sense of humor to work. It sounds simple, but checking all of those boxes is actually rare. For every 50 jobs I saw, only one or two looked remotely appealing.

• Brand yourself. It’s important to draw out the relevant aspects of your skills and experiences, and weave them into a cohesive story about who you are and what you will contribute to a nimble and growing enterprise. I literally made a slide called “About Me” and shared it with a number of people I was interviewing with. I also increased my activity on social media outlets. The more you tell your story, the more you understand your true priorities.

• Don’t settle. It may be tempting to apply to jobs willy-nilly, but doing this can distract you from finding the opportunity of your dreams. Had I exhausted myself by pursuing marginally interesting places, I would have lacked the focus and energy to excel at the opportunities for which I was genuinely passionate. I was grateful for my friends’ help, but I didn’t take every connection they offered. I also intentionally threw out my security blanket, turning down the return offer from my consulting firm.

At the end of the day, if you aren’t excited about what you do, you’ll be hunting for jobs again in the blink of an eye. Even though traditional jobs may offer stability, the entrepreneurial life provides such amazing opportunity that even if you initially fail, you’ll have the ride of your life.

Note: The entry above is the author’s own and does not necessarily represent the views of her company.

RoyerBio: Jennifer Royer hails from Ohio, which means she has experience shoveling snow and, despite having spent nearly 10 years on the East Coast, she still occasionally says “pop” to mean soda, if for no other reason than to give a tacit salute to the motherland. When Jennifer is not training for some form of endurance race or plotting her next travel adventure, she enjoys flexing her entrepreneurial muscles, reading and partaking in foodie excursions. She can be bribed with carrot cake, sangria and dinners at restaurants worthy enough to be on her restaurant spreadsheet. Before returning to Wharton for her MBA, Jennifer worked as a strategy consultant at Monitor Group.