Zillow. It’s not a rare New Guinea marsupial. It’s not a surfboard maker. It’s not a forgotten ‘80s fantasy film. Zillow is a dot com. And while it launched only six months ago, Zillow.com has already garnered three million unique users per month and $57 million in venture financing.
This past summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to intern with Zillow in a business development capacity. As a Wharton Entrepreneurial Internship Fellow, I was asked to write about my summer position. Having experienced the sweet taste of working in an entrepreneurial setting, I know I will not be returning to Corporate America any time soon.
Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink, the duo that shook the foundations of the travel industry by bringing Expedia to market, initially founded Zillow in 2005. Currently, Zillow focuses on providing automated home valuations and interactive mapping technology as a way to educate and entertain anyone interested in real estate. Ultimately, Zillow aims to be the leading online source of real estate information. While an ambitious undertaking, Zillow already has a strong following among a great number of unique audiences, including: home buyers, sellers and owners; realtors and brokers; lenders; and real estate developers.
I was initially apprehensive about joining a startup. Having first considered working in a startup environment during my undergraduate years, I harbored visions of late nights on some Stanford professor’s couch eating pizza crust and digging through millions of lines of C++. Yet I somehow knew it was the right decision. My objective last summer was to secure an internship that would enable me to gain valuable skills and experience in a high-growth, fast-paced, entrepreneurial environment, where I would be exposed to various business functions and work closely with top management to help direct company growth strategy. This objective was met and surpassed during my summer with Zillow.
|I believe that MBAs in startups are generally rewarded with more responsibility, more exposure, and more job satisfaction.|
My primary role was to build the partnership pipeline and manage business development efforts. This entailed evaluating and identifying target partners, initiating contact, discussing partnership possibilities, negotiating terms and closing deals. I also worked closely with the CFO and Controller on various finance and accounting projects. In the end, I opened and closed six deals, built and implemented a new model for managing capitalizable costs, assisted with fundraising, led the viral marketing campaign for a new product, and worked in some capacity with almost half of Zillow’s 100+ employees.
A great number of my MBA classmates considered pursing internship opportunities in start-ups, but ultimately secured jobs with more established firms. Often, the lure of on-campus recruiters is simply too appealing to resist. Admittedly, the startup time horizon often requires that students hold their breath and wait patiently until April or May before signing an offer letter. In exchange for this patience, I believe that MBAs in startups are generally rewarded with more responsibility, more exposure, and more job satisfaction. Furthermore, startup jobs do not necessarily require students to sacrifice compensation. Many startup employers, having secured recent VC funding, are capable of providing fairly competitive salaries and equity options, and Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs offers a number of grants and fellowships to supplement income.
|I encourage those who are interested in entrepreneurship, yet not quite ready to start your own thing, to take a chance and spend the summer with a startup.|
It should come as no surprise that I found the Zillow job by networking. Startups rarely approach Wharton, so students must find ways to approach them instead. I discovered and connected with Zillow through both an old college friend and a new Wharton friend (shout out to Kenny Kim). Though the initial contact may be more difficult to establish, I found that most startups were eager to speak with me and compelled by the concept of working with a Wharton intern (though, regretfully on occasion, not necessarily me!). Once the relationship is established, the interview process typically involves several phone calls that focus on interest, experience, passion, and personality. One drawback is that a company may not be able to identify an opportunity, but a related benefit is that you are likely competing with few, if any other MBA candidates (seriously, how do you think I got the job?).
Working at a Zillow is not for everybody. If you have distaste for air hockey in the office, fancy wearing wing toes to work, and have no patience for constantly explaining your company business model to other MBAs, I would not endorse this career path. But I encourage those who are interested in entrepreneurship, yet not quite ready to start your own thing, to take a chance and spend the summer with a startup. Corporate America will always be there when you get back.