2013-2014 Sutton Entrepreneurial Intern Fellow
What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
I would like to start my own company in the future and wanted to be in an environment where I could work closely with all areas of a business.
What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
If you have any inkling that you would like to work at a startup or be an entrepreneur, try it out. It’s the best way to get a good understanding of whether or not it’s for you.
How I Found My Internship
I was studying in a coffee shop in Center City and noticed that there was a woman sitting across from me who looked to be on a conference call. I glanced at her laptop, and saw that it had a sticker on it that said “ElectNext.” Curious, I Googled “ElectNext” and learned that she was the founder and CEO of the company and a Wharton MBA. As this sunk into my mind, I realized that this was an opportune moment: the founder of a venture backed startup sat literally across from me. It became abundantly clear to me that I had to say something.
As she got off the phone and started packing up her things, I asked her a simple question: “Where did you get the ElectNext sticker?”
Our conversation went something as follows:
“Oh! It’s actually the company that I founded and run.”
“Really? It’s funny you say that. I’m an undergraduate at Wharton studying entrepreneurship”
“How about that! I actually started my MBA at Wharton before founding ElectNext”
When I tell people this story, it’s usually at this point that they say something along the lines of: “That’s really neat! You got an internship out of meeting someone at a coffee shop!”
Which is true to a certain extent. But that ignores the rest of the story and the real takeaways. After I met her, I then:
• Followed up with her via email thanking her for her time
• Asked for a real coffee chat • Was declined because she’s based in NYC
• Asked to speak with someone in their Philadelphia office
• Prepared for an informational interview
• Went through a real on the spot interview when visiting
• Took on a project for the company
• Completed a second post-project interview
…and was then offered the internship after completing all these steps.
Serendipity plays a role in any job search. In the early stage startup space, however, serendipity is often critical. That said, there are some ways to maximize your chances.
First, take advantage of your lucky breaks. Eventually you will get one, but it’s on you to make it count. Meeting the founder in a coffee shop was pure coincidence and makes for a great story. But if I had not done any one of the following steps after meeting the founder, I would not have secured my internship. The boring un-noteworthy steps in the process (the follow up “Thank You“ email, asking to take on a project, etc.) are just as important as your lucky break.
Furthermore, let randomness and uncertainty work in your favor. Pursue interesting people and organizations. You don’t have to work out all the steps ahead of time or know where it’s going to lead. In my case, I didn’t talk to the founder or ask for an informational interview with the expectation of getting an internship. I just wanted to learn more and figured that I’d see where it takes me. When you’re meeting people, come prepared and show a genuine interest. More often than not, people will help you along your way.
Finally, pick startups that have missions you identify with and work on projects that excite you. It’s simple: you’ll do a better job and put in more hours when you’re working on something that you want to and that inspires you.
A concluding caveat: remember that sometimes you can do everything right and still not succeed. Prior to finding ElectNext, there were many leads I pursued that didn’t work. Plenty of emails went unreturned. Of course, it’s always good to check in and refine your methods. But sometimes, the stars just might not be aligned. It may have nothing to do with you. When this happens, refocus as necessary, and move forward. Resilience wins out in the end.