Heejay Kang WG’15, at Spring/Jello Labs in New York City, NY

2014-2015 Ambassador of Entrepreneurship

Sutton Entrepreneurial Intern Fellow

How did you find the position?
CFDA partnership + MBACM
What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
+ to learn from and surround myself with entrepreneurs & thought leaders in industry (co-founder of beachmint, ex-google, ex-MD of TechStars, long-time DVF veteran/CFDA mentor to name a few..)
+ to experience launch (note: launch isn’t just a day)
+ to gain new industry experience in retail/tech as well as functional experience in marketing/branding
What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
Create a view for what you want to do – it doesn’t have to be limited to an industry or type of company but there should be a common thread to your search. Perhaps its exposure to the retail industry, which could mean any number of roles in the value chain, or a role that leverages analytics across industries. A summer experience at a start-up can be incredibly flexible and to some, loosely structured, so it’s helpful to define your own goals for what you want exposure to and skills you want to develop to narrow down your search.
Here are the main takeaways from my summer experience at Spring, a mobile shopping app geared towards the fashion-set that launched this August (check it out at shopspring.com -> App store!). I was on the Marketing team, and led initiatives related to our pre-launch influencer campaign, as well as content production and strategy for brands.
Sober up:
There are a lot of exciting things about working at a startup – day-to-day is never just sitting at your desk all day, you have a myriad of guests (including of the canine variety) coming in and out of the office, and some sweet office perks (bottomless cold brew). But the overwhelming message we received from the founders, the chairman, and other guest speakers was this: Don’t get caught up in the hype – keep your head down and keep working hard at building your business. We knew how to applaud hard work but there was emphasis on focusing on the content, not the headline. We celebrated the real wins that mattered – user acquisition, bug fixes, new feature rollouts – but not the media coverage or our funding announcement. We were constantly reminded that while the media had a tendency to sensationalize and somewhat glamourize the startup life that being an entrepreneur was hard work. To circle back up to my point earlier, leading up to launch, we were reminded it was not a day – it was just the beginning of a further uphill climb. Yes, it was a date that we worked towards with a number of benchmarks geared around it – but we knew once we launched we would get real feedback form real users and have to solve a whole new set of problems. I appreciated having this sobering perspective especially from those at the management level who lead with passion and hard work despite their successes.
Prior to business school, I worked fixed-income on the trading floor, with an open floor-plan and glass offices for all executives and conference rooms to promote transparency. I always enjoyed the openness and liveliness of the floor, but always felt that closed-door meetings, despite being in glass rooms were just that – closed and need-to-know only. During my summer, I was met with refreshing transparency and an overwhelming wealth and access to information. While some of it
can be attributed to being at a small company, I felt that it was very much a cultural attitude. It was a very deliberate mindset and belief from management to share what was going at meetings that happened off-site or get input from every level of the company. The focus on building this type of culture needs to happen top-down and bottom up – across all levels of the company and from the beginning. Having this experience made me realize how much I value this type of transparency and the respect that I received as an employee that make you feel like a partner.
Impact and Passion
One stereotype that I found to be definitely true was that you had direct impact at a startup. While I started the internship with research projects, the work quickly morphed into something executable and deliverable. Ideas were brainstormed, discussed, and many times went directly to a marketing email or sent to clients. It was refreshing to see something through the lifecycle of completion and receive feedback. It was the best training for making decisions under uncertainty. I found a new level of ownership on my deliverables and results and also found myself constantly thinking about how to execute in the best way – this led not only from the level of impact but also the passion I felt for the work. I was further compelled by the hard work and passion of my co-workers, many who all had alternative career choices that frankly may have allowed for an easier lifestyle. I truly felt that everyone was there by choice and with the desire to build something incredible. For me, having the ability to have impact and passion in your work is a must in my career – and one of the most rewarding aspects of an entrepreneurial career.