THE 2010-2011 AMBASSADOR OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board Intern Fellowship recipient:
How did you find the position?
ShareWithU is an online education and social network platform, providing services targeting graduate level students and young professionals in China. It is founded by Marvin Mao (WG’11) in Beijing in 2009. The idea first came to Marvin in 2009 when he was admitted to Wharton after completing the long arduous MBA application process. I met Marvin right around that same time in Beijing at a social event for new admits living in China. Marvin brought up the idea of creating a better service to help Chinese professionals apply to business schools, I thought it was cool and we discussed it. By the time class started in the fall, I learned that Marvin had already launched a platform called ShareWithU. I naturally got involved, helping to develop the idea and mentoring students in China. Hence, my summer role in business development is an extension of my involvement and enabled me to own a bigger operations role.
What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
I started my professional career working with new business models and later with entrepreneurs. Prior to Wharton, I provided consulting services around technology-enabled services and also joined a startup in China. So this opportunity aligned well with my interest. Career wise, I want to move into venture capital post MBA and saw this as a great opportunity to build more operation skills.
The exciting thing about ShareWithU is that this is a real company– not a class project, not a business proposal, but a real company with paying customers. Also, because I was “there” since its beginning, I got to see ShareWitU go from an idea discussed informally (in my case, discussed in Marv’s car on our way to a house party) to a website and finally to real people ready to pay for our services – which is pretty cool.
What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
It is important to know 1. what they are getting into and 2. what they want to get out of it.
Students are generally interested in startups because they want to get their hands dirty or want to start a business after school. But they have to be realistic about one thing — startup is HARD WORK. You’ll quickly see that it is not a “job,” it’s a commitment. Founders think and breathe the business.
The startup environment is an emotional roller coaster. One minute you are charging forward with potential customers lined up. The next minute, these potential customers are not calling back and you are going under. “Death” is always close by, which is also what drives Founders to work even harder to stay alive.
Startups provide a rich learning environment. Entrepreneurs are constantly wrestling with “how” questions. How do we grow the business? How do we position ourselves? How do we differentiate? How do we get our bills paid? How we get help without paying for it? How, how, how? So there is a ton of stuff to work on. The startup experience is really what you make of it. The more “how” questions you work on, the more you learn. For every “how” question you try to answer, the process will teach you a set of strategies and ways of building a business.
At startups, you can make things happen. For example, this summer, one of my projects is marketing. We want our name to be known in China but how do we do it? Well, a number of MBA fairs are held in China every year by certain organizations (e.g., QS World MBA Tour and The MBA Tour). So I contacted the MBA Tour and pitched them ShareWithU, who we are and what we do. A few phone calls and emails later, I got a free booth at their Beijing and Shanghai MBA fairs, giving us face time to hundreds MBA applicants (our target customers). Projects like these are the building blocks of a company.
So be proactive and really get your hands dirty. No one is going to monitor you and no one is going to tell you what to do or what the right steps are. You have to figure it out. I’d say, go into a startup with a target list of experiences or skills you want to learn. For example, “I am going to learn XYZ (X can be how business partnerships are formulated, Y can be how to gain customers, Z can be how startups think about getting outside funding).” This will help guide you in getting involved with projects you are interested in. Note, this might mean pushing yourself to take on additional work on top of everything else you have to complete.
In summary, a startup is really a place where you can see the business as a whole. You’ll be excited, you’ll be confused and/or frustrated, and you’ll impress a lot of people with your skills. Business school is probably the best time to experience the startup world.