Devin Griffin (WG’09): at Takkle

2008-2009 AMBASSADOR OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Takkle (www.takkle.com) is a social networking community for high school athletes.

When the good folks at WEP asked me to put together a recap of my summer work, I figured that the best way to sum up my experience would be to share my classmates’ reactions to my internship. Here’s a sampling of responses I’ve received from fellow second-years after telling them that I interned at Takkle.com, a social networking community for high school athletes:

  • “Really? Sounds like that was a perfect fit for you given your background in sports.”
  • “That must have been great and super-practical since you’ve been planning to start your own company.”
  • “Oh wow, that sounds like something I should have done over the summer.”

I have to admit: I didn’t expect my classmates, many of whom interned at all flavors of high-powered firms, to be so impressed by the fact that I worked at a startup that they probably never heard of. I mean, this kind of praise is usually reserved for the electrical engineer who shouldered his way into a hedge fund or the southern belle who secured the highly sought after spot in McKinsey’s London office, right? I honestly couldn’t believe that this kind of encouragement was being thrown my way on the back of doing deals with tiny education websites and having a sweet mini-ping pong table eight feet from my desk all summer. Apparently, the realities of my summer experience struck a chord with more people than just me.

The realities of my summer experience struck a chord with more people than just me.

My work at Takkle revolved around two main projects. My primary responsibility was to launch an online advertising network, which would enable Takkle to bundle and sell other websites’ ads for a fee. For my other project, I was asked to make a recommendation on the company’s strategic positioning given the niche in which they are trying to compete. In short, Takkle’s ad network is up, running, and generating revenue and through the strategy project, I learned more than I thought possible about the myriad websites designed to encourage shameless flirting, blind dating, and playing online games at work. What’s most striking is that some of the silliest, most basic websites make really, really good money.

From a professional development standpoint, I feel incredibly fortunate for the opportunities I had to share my work with the CEO and co-founders of the company. They engaged seriously with my ideas and asked tough questions to push my thinking before giving me the go-ahead on the ad network. They also took significant time to understand my thoughts regarding the company’s strategic direction and promised to incorporate my recommendations in their future planning.

From this experience, I took away three key lessons. First, never underestimate the power of the Wharton brand. Undoubtedly, I had a lot of credibility when I set foot in Takkle’s offices due to the founding team’s connections to Wharton. However, Takkle was not about face-time or limiting my work to projects deemed “intern-safe”: my managers demanded that I do work that would make a significant impact on the financial health of the company. I feel that my standing as a Wharton MBA gave them the confidence they needed to entrust me with serious, meaningful work.

My managers demanded that I do work that would make a significant impact on the financial health of the company.

Second, I got a much-needed taste of what it takes for an entrepreneur without a tech background to start a technology-based company. Takkle’s founders came from banking and consulting. During my first year, I spent a lot of time hung up on the idea that I couldn’t possibly start a company that heavily relied on the web or technology in general because I don’t possess those skill sets. Through my summer at Takkle, I completely changed the way I think about this issue. I now focus much more on identifying and evaluating the challenges that my startup could address better than anyone else. If the opportunity should happen to rely on technology, then my next step is not to get hamstrung by my lack of tech savvy; rather, my job becomes finding and convincing others who have those specific skills to advise me, work with me, and join in helping me capitalize on that opportunity.

Finally, I learned that selling doesn’t have to be so scary after all. This summer I pushed my own comfort zones by cold-calling, emailing, and even faxing handwritten notes to potential partners; I also put together my first sales deck and ultimately pitched the ad network idea at least 60 times in order to close five deals. Although a 1-in-12 average would land me on the bench of just about any sports team, doing five deals in a six-week span bolstered my confidence and showed me that I can sell. No question about it. By summer’s end, I shed many of my reservations about getting rejected and now view sales as a gradual process of getting in front of people who will say yes.

Looking back on it, I was extremely lucky to have had such a productive, empowering, fun, and exciting summer job. I’m also certain that by taking on a role at a startup, I transformed what should have been an interesting internship into an illuminating experience.