Dilip Rajan C’15/W’15, interned at Colabination in Philadelphia, PA

2014-2015 Sutton Entrepreneurial Intern Fellow

How did you find the position?
I found the position on PennLink, though I ended up interviewing for a different position/role than what was offered on PennLink.

What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
I wanted to get the experience of working in an extremely early stage startup to build experience for eventually launching one of my own.

What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
I would tell students to choose a startup based on the people they would be working with – a large part of your learning will be from your co-workers – the actual work is often secondary.

This past summer, I interned at Colabination, a very early stage fashion e-commerce startup that is building a new ecommerce platform connecting millennial shoppers to independent fashion and streetwear designers.

With a total of 6 team members, the company culture was extremely informal and almost flat. We would collaborate often, have lots of whiteboard sessions, and call impromptu team meetings. During lunch, we would all get food together and discuss problems we were working on, general technology trends, or even watch an episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley together. However, the informality didn’t mean the work was easy – a team of just five other people meant that there was always plenty of work to do. Most weeks, I would work as much or more than I did during the previous summer at a hedge fund.

My two biggest takeaways for the summer for the summer were the importance of versatility and the impact culture can have on teams.

In a startup environment, official job titles mean very little; the scope of your work can quickly increase. Especially at a very early stage startup, your daily job ends up being contributing your skills, however possible, to whatever the most important objective for the company is at any given time. While I started the summer working on solely business development and partnerships, I eventually worked on agile product management, revenue modeling, customer acquisition, fundraising, and design. Being as versatile as possible allows you to contribute as much value to the startup as possible. In return, you get the unique opportunity to learn more than you ever could in such a short time at a large company. (Which large company would ever let one person simultaneously be a product manager, financial analyst, marketing & sales associate, business associate, and graphic designer?)

While team culture can play an important role at large companies, it plays an even more crucial role at startups. When done right, daily rituals and cultural practices can boost team energy and overall productivity significantly. At Colabination, we had a daily morning scrum (with an irreverent cheer at the end), quote of the day, coffee meter (and tea meter, but tea was always far behind), “fire-drills”
(impromptu mid-day exercise), and after-work excursions that were all motivating. Everyone on the team was strongly encouraged to not only participate but to also contribute new ideas, making everyone on the team buy in to the culture even more. All of this had a tremendous impact on my productivity both when working alone and when collaborating with other team members.

Overall, I would highly encourage working at a small startup for at least one summer during your college experience. The name of the company may not carry as much prestige or might not pay as much as a typical summer internship but the responsibility you will be given and the amount of learning possible will be more than enough to justify your decision. Good luck and feel free to reach out for advice: drajan@wharton.upenn.edu.