Christopher O’Connell (WG’12), interned at WeatherBill in San Francisco, CA

THE 2011-2012 AMBASSADOR OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board Intern Fellowship recipient

Over the 2011 summer I had the pleasure of spending my summer with a bright start-up company in San Francisco, WeatherBill.  This company, backed by Google Ventures among a host of other prominent venture capital companies, provides an insurance product for the agricultural community to protect against weather related risk.  Using sophisticated technology based on historical data from the temperature and precipitation stations spread throughout the United States, WeatherBill offers a top end insurance layer that is complimentary to traditional federal crop insurance.  During my 11-week internship I worked closely with the Sales & Operations team.

I was able to secure my internship through the Start-up Auction.  After submitting an application as to why I am interested in working with a start-up, I was given a number of points to bid on companies that suited my interests in order to directly communicate that company.  WeatherBill’s recent round of funding and innovative value proposition immediately perked my interests.  I was able to initiate the interview process by writing a few paragraphs in response to abstract questions.  Then, they reached out to me directly for a series of phone interviews before offering me the position.   This process was very straightforward and was a great way to see a vetted list of promising start-ups as well as opening often hard to reach channels of communication.

When I arrived at WeatherBill, they had recently finished selling their Corn & Soybean product to farmers in the midwestern region.  My initial task was to analyze a large amount of sales data from the season and their unique sales channel.  I then provided recommendations based on analytics that I personally created.  One of the strongest conclusions that I made was identifying the problem of retention.  During any sales period, before the insurance purchase window closes and before the planting begins, a farmer is given the option to purchase a policy but then cancel at any moment before the sales period closes.  We found that this rate was very high, almost 50%.  After reviewing surveys and time period based data, we came to the conclusion that the farmers were not realizing the value of the product and the sales agents in the field were not appropriately communicating this value.

From these conclusions came two projects that I personally managed.  First was to redevelop a “welcome kit” that would welcome new clients into the program and re-communicate the value of the product that they had purchased.  In the prior season, this kit was delivered in bulk and there was a lag time before the farmer would have this at their doorstep.  Also, the materials were stale and not informative.  I was able to breakdown this welcome packet into a highly graphic brochure that explained in detail how the program worked as well as a custom packet based on their unique policy.  By the start of the Winter Wheat season which kicked off towards the end of my internship, we had this completed and were delivering these to new clients within a week of purchase.

The second project that I managed focused on educating sales agents.  Due to the ingrained purchase behaviors of farmers, WeatherBill was forced to train non-WeatherBill employees who had been in the selling regions for years on why this was a valuable product and how they could make money selling it.  We found that they were not as informed as they should be.  In response, I created the in field Agent Reference Guide.  This 30-page book effectively communicated the products value from start to finish and was highly detailed in teaching the agent how the technology worked.  By the end of my internship this was fully packaged and was being delivered to agents in the field.

In addition to creating these two projects based on analytics that I mined, I also had to manage the logistics around production.  This included sourcing printers, managing the internal process, and developing delivery schedules.

Overall my internship was a very constructive experience.  I was mentored by the VP of Sales and Operations who he guided me from day 1.  An ex-consultant, he was able to give me valuable advice about how to approach a problem, the right questions to ask before diving into data, and the appropriate way to get sign off within a company that has a long list of to-dos.  The most valuable lessons came from witnessing this company grow and how they achieved very ambitious goals.  During my internship, close to 30 new employees were hired and their forward projections were astronomically large.  The type of leadership that guides these goals to completion is invaluable in any start-up.  Fortunately, I was able to experience this in a very interesting phase of the company that will undoubtedly have a bright future.