Taking the Leap of Faith: Penn alumni reflect on what made them jump into the startup world

By Karthik Sridharan W’07/ENG’07, Co-founder and CEO of Kinnek

When I started Kinnek with my co-founder in early 2012, a lot of people told me that I was taking a big risk. I was quitting a lucrative hedge fund job, and it seemed on the surface that I was throwing away a chance at stable career progression. And yet I was very comfortable with my decision.

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My co-founder and I didn’t evaluate Kinnek solely as an opportunity to become rich – if you do that, you will always feel like the decision is “too risky”, simply because from a statistical standpoint it absolutely is. The empirical probability that any given startup will have a successful exit is ridiculously low. If you base your decision to start a company entirely on the hope that it will somehow make you millions, you’ll find the journey that much more difficult and scary.

Before I quit my job at AQR, I did a simple thought exercise: what if Kinnek was worth $0 in two years? Even if it yielded me zilch at the end of the day, I wanted to find a way to make the experience completely worth my investment of time and effort and have no regrets. I planned on networking like a fiend and building strong relationships in the technology world (the Wharton alumni network has been an amazing catalyst for that), expanding my engineering skillset to include Django and other web frameworks, getting fundraising experience, becoming well-versed in digital marketing, and learning how to build a team. If Kinnek succeeded, that would be gravy on top. If it didn’t work out, I would still learn more in two years than I ever could have in a more rigid corporate environment.

So that’s why I left my hedge fund job to start Kinnek—the opportunity to learn an incredible amount in a short period of time, a bootcamp in business practicality that was an awesome addendum to my Wharton education. I was curious what the reasons were for some of my other team members here at Kinnek, so I asked five other Wharton/Penn alums at the company what drove them to joining a startup. Here’s what they said:

Charles Pan, Wharton Undergrad ’09 (Prior to Kinnek, he was a Head of Accounting & Financial Analysis Practice at Gerson Lehrman Group): “After working in a more traditional corporate setting at well-established company like GLG, I wanted to make a bigger impact and help grow something from (almost) the ground floor. I wanted to be able to say that I had a direct hand in building something great.”

Charles Pan W'09 and Ben Watkins C'13 brainstorming product ideas at Kinnek's offices in New York.
Charles Pan W’09 and Ben Watkins C’13 brainstorming product ideas at Kinnek’s offices in New York.

Kel Huang, Wharton Undergrad / Engineering ’07 (Prior to Kinnek, he was a Product Manager at Barclays): “I wanted to work in a fast-paced environment that challenged me to learn new skills and solve different problems on a regular basis. Startups like Kinnek seemed the perfect place to blend my intersecting interests in business and engineering, which tied back to the interdisciplinary nature of my M&T education.”

Jeremy Kreitman, College ’11 (Prior to Kinnek, he was a Business Consultant at Eze Software): “I was looking for the opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process…where I could see my hard work and ideas pay off with tangible results and directly contribute to the business’s growth and success.”

Andy Choi, College ’06 (Prior to Kinnek, he was a Senior Product Manager at Gerson Lehrman Group): “I joined a startup because I wanted to work with really smart people all focused on the same goal of building something awesome. In a past life, I used to be a cook at one of New York’s top restaurants, Gramercy Tavern, and I missed that fast-past environment that fostered a lot of camaraderie and I knew I could find that in a startup.”

Ben Watkins, College ’13 (Prior to Kinnek, he was an Account Executive at Yelp): “As a recent grad, it’s rare to find a large company that affords you the freedom to develop business strategy, to lead projects, to have control over the direction of a team or division. That’s the kind of responsibility you can find at a startup.”

If you’d like to chat with any of us about our experiences leaving more traditional roles at larger companies for startups, please feel free to reach out to team@kinnek.com. We always love speaking with those in the larger Penn/Wharton community that are passionate about entrepreneurship! And if this has inspired you to join our team, definitely check out opportunities at www.kinnek.com/jointeam.

Karthik-headshot-smBio:  Karthik Sridharan is co-founder and CEO of Kinnek, an online marketplace that provides small businesses a better way to find suppliers and make purchases.  He is a graduate of the M&T Program (Wharton ’07, SEAS ’07), and lives in New York City.