2015-2016 Sutton Entrepreneurial Intern Fellow
How did you find the position? Earnest posted on CareerPath.
What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer? I came to Wharton as a career switcher, from finance to tech. After spending four years at a bulge bracket, I knew I wanted to work at a small company.
What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer? Talk to your team and try to really understand their roles and responsibilities. Positions that may have the same title can mean different things at different companies. Also, it’s more motivating to work for a company with a product you believe in and a culture that is a good fit.
In my internship search, I was interested in FinTech, as it is a natural segue from finance to technology. Earnest offers personal loans and student loan refinancing but ultimately aims to build the bank of the future by bringing increased transparency, fairer practices, and better technology. The company’s aspiration to fix our broken credit system is very exciting, and it definitely has a lot of potential. When I researched the company more, I also found out that one of the co-founders majored in the same degree from my alma mater.
Another appeal was that Earnest recognized the value of MBA interns. For the summer, there were 8 MBA interns across 7 teams. Because the company was small, the teams were lean. For example, the Product Management intern had huge responsibility as the sole Product Manager for one of the three verticals. As a Marketing intern and the third person on the Marketing team, my roles and responsibilities covered the spectrum of marketing, from growth to analytics to social media to PR. I looked at acquisition strategies across multiple channels for both inbound and outbound marketing at the top of the funnel. These included paid search, organic growth, social media, content, referrals, and affiliates. We looked at ways to efficiently grow the customer base across web, mobile, and offline channels. This included understanding mobile behavior, analyzing client acquisition strategies and costs, optimizing ad channels, comparing performance across re-marketing campaigns and types of content, identifying key drop off points, and better defining and narrowing user testing sessions. Another key responsibility was designing, executing, and measuring marketing tests across various marketing channels. For example, I was responsible for initiating and leading advertising campaigns with partners including Pandora, iHeartMedia, and Rdio.
My position at Earnest offered a great combination of developing hard and soft skills. In addition to strengthening analytical capabilities, my internship called for close cross-functional interactions with other key areas of the company. Outside of my job, I also took advantage of the opportunity to grab coffee or get lunch from people in other divisions including Engineering, Product Management, Business Development, and Risk. One of the advantages of working at a small company is that people are so friendly and willing to share their experiences. Even though the CTO had a packed schedule, he was able to squeeze some time to meet. Our co-founders were accessible when not traveling and regularly showed up to company dinners on Wednesdays.
This summer was a very exciting time of growth. When we started in June, there were around 70 employees. By the end of my internship, the number of employees was in the triple digits. We also celebrated a number of milestones during the summer, as the loan base had quadrupled by the time I left. I also experienced the cultural changes when the company hired and onboarded a Chief Marketing Officer and a new ad agency.
My work also led to external recognition. My manager asked me to contact Poets & Quants to explore potential sponsored posting opportunities. I reached out and pitched a post about how our MBA interns comprised almost 10% of the company. They must have thought it is a catchy story, as they sent a writer to come interview us for a feature article. The article on Poets and Quants was also published by Fortune and Quartz. Earnest happily welcomed the positive free press.
It was a great summer in San Francisco. Startups offer a greater degree of flexibility and ambiguity and offer insight into how to run a company with limited resources. Lessons from the summer about taking initiative and being flexible will be very relevant going forward. I feel fortunate to have found a position where I could make an impact at a company that is working to deliver value and make the world a better place.