Salimah Nooruddin WG’15, interned at BlueApron in New York, NY

2014-2015 Neff Entrepreneurial Intern Fellow

I thought really hard about what I wanted to do this summer. I knew I wanted to take a risk and try something I hadn’t done before. I also knew that doing something consumer facing was very important to me so I tried really hard to think about the products and services I enjoyed using. I had visited my old roommates in Boston right after starting at Wharton and found out they were using a new service called Blue Apron. I decided to try it and really liked the offering. I found myself talking about it all the time and soon enough I met someone who knew a Wharton alumnus who worked there. I was so excited and jumped at the opportunity for an introduction. I also visited the offices through a trek. Instead of selling myself, I asked them what they needed. I knew they were growing fast and probably had a lot of needs that weren’t currently being met. I told them I had a general interest in marketing but was pretty flexible. So I had three possible projects explained to me and then I told them I was the most interested in Customer Insights. My interviews with the Director of Marketing and Vice President of Marketing were on a range of marketing related topics from the brand, my experiences with the product, what I would do differently and finally how to measure ROI on different initiatives. It was thought provoking and made me really understand the challenges of building a new product category.

My motivation for working at a start-up was from my prior experience working as an investor. I had been working around startups for about 4 years but I had never worked for an actual startup. I thought this was a great time to take that risk and see if I really enjoyed it. I was also really motivated by this startup in particular’s mission to get more people to cook at home.

The best thing you can do when looking for a startup is to find what they need. Startups get more done in a quarter than some companies get done in a year. They move incredibly fast. Because of this, they either look for functional expertise (which you may have) or passion. For me, I tried to make it evident that I was passionate about food so crafting my story was incredibly important. The jump from clean energy to food and sustainability isn’t completely obvious so I went further back and talked about how my mom was an entrepreneur and how I thought about food in both in local and global context. I really made it clear that I valued Blue Apron’s mission which was to make it easier for people to cook at home and eat well both in terms of the diversity of trying new things and new techniques. What made me such a great fit is that I too love to cook and several people on the team were chefs or cooking enthusiasts.

Foodie culture was evident from Day 1. We had lots of great initiatives kick off while I was there: Supplier Series that introduced Suppliers to the Blue Apron team. These were great artisan purveyors of awesome products like bread, pasta and tortillas. One was even a social enterprise named Hot Bread Kitchen that taught immigrant women how to cook all kinds of new breads and trained them to become bakers in their own businesses or employed by bakeries in the city. I thought this company was amazing and was so proud to be a Blue Apron employee and customer when I learned about this partnership. We also celebrated birthdays in an incredibly fun manner: DIY frost your own sugar cookies or DIY ice cream sundaes plus the usual gourmet cupcakes were a recurring benefit. We’d also do team lunches once a month and try new restaurants around town. Working on the edge of Chinatown and Soho made it a great location for impromptu lunches as well.

The people at Blue Apron made the experience so worthwhile. My team was made up of a lot of former start-up people from the NYC tech scene. There were folks from Fab.com, Tough Mudder and others. People definitely take their jobs very seriously and a take a lot of pride in working for such a cool new brand that they can discuss with their family and friends. I really enjoyed my role. Prior to my project, there had been one survey that had been limited in scope and had gathered more demographic data. My goal was to revamp this survey and gather data for the following purposes: 1. Understand how satisfied customers are with the current product offering 2. If other product lines were to be introduced, what were customers most interested in? 3. How is customer service doing to date and how do those experiences impact Net Promoter Score? 4. Establish a customer panel that we can regularly visit to gather new data. After analyzing the data my final presentation was presented to the executive team, marketing team, and company. I also supported our first ever focus groups to inform our creative direction for a mass-market advertising campaign and supported the product team to analyze data from a non-customer segment to better understand needs for a new product line. My final project was to benchmark our brand awareness where creative was to take place also using surveys and market research firms for respondents.

One of the coolest things was that I also saw a lot of things in transition. One small but interesting example is that Blue Apron used to do a weekly all-hands meeting but the meeting was slowly losing its importance with so many new people on board. The executive team soon changed the meeting to a monthly all hands meeting. I can’t tell you how unique it was to be at a startup and watch that transition. I felt incredibly connected to the group during this growing pain and it was fun to witness it. A lot of people were really sad that this change had occurred. Others thought it was long overdue but what was interesting was everyone had an opinion about it and felt a connection to it.
Looking forward I know I want to have a career in food that changes the way people shop, cook and eat. I’m not entirely sure where I plan to have an impact but I do hope that I have a chance to do it with a startup in the future. I have a better sense because of this summer what that will look
like and what the challenges I’ll face in building out my team and giving it a sense of purpose and I hope I have the opportunity to be with a growth stage startup and see those growing pains play out in real-time and have a better sense of how I as a leader will respond to them.