2012-2013 Startup Internship Award winner, supported by the Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board
I came to Wharton with the goal of launching my own startup over the first year of my MBA. However I soon discovered that things were not as easy as they look in the film “The Social Network”. During the first months of school I used to meet up regularly with different groups of students also interested in entrepreneurships to discuss trends and bounce off business ideas and soon realized that when it came to executing we did not know where to start! I then decided to intern at a startup for the summer with the objective in mind of getting to know how to structure a team and make an idea come true.
For a Spanish civil Engineer with 4 years of experience as a Project Manager of infrastructure projects such as bridges, motorways and ever sewer systems the transition to entrepreneurship let’s just say that was not straight forward. So I decided to draw up a plan.
I started by compiling a list of startups that would fulfill the requirements I had in mind. The main ones were the following:
- Location: The USA is a worldwide referent when it comes to web-based startups, so I screened out companies that were not headquartered here. Within the USA I was tempted to reach out to a pool of great companies based in California but as a Spaniard I am very attached to my mother’s paella so geographically I was looking for cities that have direct regular and affordable flights to Madrid. Developing a network of entrepreneurs in the surging east coast entrepreneurial scene became a priority for me so I narrowed down the list to companies headquartered in NY, Philly or Boston.
- Purpose: Throughout my first year I had been following the new online education trends and was fascinated by companies that were innovating and disrupting the industry with new approaches and solutions to old problems with exceptional results.
Another type of company that I targeted were ecommerce sites that are solving a problem such as cutting out the middle man.
- Stage: My target was a 1-2 year startup, VC backed and that was achieving super high growth to have a recognizable name on my resume that would then give me some credibility among entrepreneurs, investors, programmers, … Beneficial when trying to raise capital or form a team. In such startups you still get a sense of what working at a startup is and you even get paid; not trivial after having visited 4 continents several times on my first year at Wharton!
Once I had compiled a short list of companies that greatly motivated me I started reaching out and interviewing to potential employers. Soon it became evident that the companies I had targeted were the “hot new kids in the block” and therefore sought after by many others. The hiring process proved to be very unstructured and competitive with many startups requiring specific experience (online marketing, finance, …) that I did not have.
At that point in time I started thinking what I could do for them? How I could add value in an industry that was totally new to me? I remembered that many of the companies on my shortlist were expanding to Europe or at least thinking about it, trying to stop Rocket Internet from winning over these markets first.
I revamped my pitch and started to emphasize how these startups could leverage my knowledge of the European market and my network, within a few days I managed to land an internship offer from Lot18.com to join their offices in the UK.
Lot18 (http://www.lot18.com/), for those of you that are not familiar with the company, is a membership by invitation website for curated wine at attractive discounts. The company is based in NY and has raised over $40M from renewed VC firms such as Accel, meeting all the requirements previously mentioned.
Will Armitage head of Lot18 Europe and former head of Europe of IG, a financial services company, recruited me and directed an extremely talented and experienced team in the UK and France. It was an international, cohesive and driven team that really helped me integrate very fast. Among the members of the team there were a descendent of a world famous artist and Master of Wine, a 770 GMAT score, and an ex-Goldman that was the one who actually picked up the phone!
Despite the promising company profile and the team in place Lot18 UK was shut down after barely 4 months of operations (http://betabeat.com/2012/07/lot-18-shutters-uk-business-6-laid-off/) Common questions posed among MBA student debating whether to venture into the startup ecosystem are: What happens if it does not work out? What’s after a failed startup?
My experience in the Lot18UK shutdown aftermath challenged the perception of many that entrepreneur’s careers are only for risk avid individuals and that uncertainty is a given. These generalized beliefs are mitigated by the following factors:
- Liquidity of labor market: Most of my colleagues did not last for more than a week with looking for a job. Some of them had a side project that was already profitable and decided to raise capital in order to scale it. Other just started consulting or working as freelance straight away. There is such a demand for the specific skill sets that you develop in a web startup that it is very unlikely you will ever be looking for a job for long!
- Supportive Community: The shutting down of Lot18UK in the middle of my summer internship left me with little to do (just some data analysis for the French office) I was ready to take up a new challenge and had an idea, however the mental barrier when the time to execute was still strong. As a Wharton MBA I first wanted to write a full business plan and have all figured out before even thought about trying to get a customer.
After pitching my idea to my colleagues, they encouraged me to jump right into the action and start executing offering their help and expertise. Comradely from my colleagues was key to get things moving.
On the other hand the startup community in London is really a tight and open minded one. During my 10 week internship I attended innumerable Wine Fridays, Silicon Roundabout meetups and connected with founders of relevant startups in the European scene such as Job&Talent, Busuu, Basekit or Alex Valls’ (WG’11) SmithfieldCase. The founders were all willing to go out for drinks and exchange information and opinions on best practices, new trends and progress and job openings in their companies with just a summer intern!
After my first experience in a startup, even after having experienced the failure of a venture, I see entrepreneurship as my career path. It has never been cheaper and less risky to start a business.
Don’t be afraid to go against the standard recruiting process; don’t be afraid to swim against the current to pursue your dream. Every year there are more salmons at Wharton. Start up now!