Dariush Afshar WG’09 interned at Retrevo in Sunnyvale, CA

2008-2009 Startup Internship Award winner

Retrevo provides users with a research, commerce and support experience for all of their consumer electronics needs.

While many summer internships are often lined up in the early winter months, startups often do not operate like that. In fact, many of them do not know what their plans are one month into the future. So, it is often hard to find a startup internship earlier in the year. Knowing this, I went to the Silicon Valley this past summer with an open mind and came back a satisfied customer. After talking to a number of different startups, by networking my way around the area and cold calling and cold emailing many prospects, I settled on one particular company. This summer I had the good fortune to intern at a software startup company in the Silicon Valley called Retrevo.com. The company provides its users with a research, commerce and support experience for all of their consumer electronics needs. After having secured their second round of funding last spring, I identified them as an interesting prospect for my summer internship experience.

Many people say that when you go from a large company environment to a startup, it is fun, more fast-paced than one may be accustomed to, and a phenomenal learning experience. I would agree with all of those assessments and then some. In fact, I cannot imagine having had a better experience this past summer. I was given tremendous responsibility and a chance to excel at areas in which I knew I could add value, based on previous experience. Having already worked as a consultant, and having worked in Corporate Development for a major multi-national corporation after that, I felt the need to explore the inner-workings of a much smaller organization and felt that the Wharton MBA Summer was the best time to do that.

Knowing that I wanted to get more exposure to the Sales and Business Development side of an early-stage startup business, I focused my company search on that area. And in the end, despite one’s interest in a particular role, a startup will only be interested in students with some knowledge of their business and flexibility to do different projects and assume different responsibilities on the fly.

To give you a flavor, I spent the summer doing a number of different functions, from competitive analysis, to market sizing and business development. Most technology-driven startup companies during their early stages are primarily comprised of engineers, with very little business support. This one was no different, with only a handful of business people. So, in an environment like that one, the expectation is that whoever comes in, whether as an intern or full-time person, is ready to add value immediately. There is no training program and no ramp-up period. The expectation is that you hit the ground running.

Working directly with the founders and senior management of the company daily, near San Jose, I attended a number of meetings, mostly business development focused, all with the goal of helping build a scalable business development organization. I was included in as much as I had time for and given a lot of autonomy. Stepping out of weekly engineering meetings to make business development partner calls was a common occurrence. During my summer I had identified, targeted, reached out to and closed a number of social media partners for the business. By the summer’s conclusion, I had led the establishment of a scalable business development initiative, designed to allow partners to engage at different levels, without high-touch from the business development team. I had learned a lot and was proud of the contribution I had made to the company. I had also learned even more about the team dynamics of a startup. In short, I learned a ton!

So for those of you who are set on working at larger multi-national companies for your Wharton MBA Summer, I urge you to explore the opportunities that await you in the start-up realm. Give it a try. Consider joining a startup in any geography. These days they are popping up globally. You may just find that taking that risk is the best career decision you ever make.