James Williams WG’10 interned at Flexfoil International in London, UK

2009-2010 Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board Intern Fellow

How did you find the position?

Prior relationship with the owner of the company.

What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?

To get more ‘hands-on’ experience in running a company.

What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?

Get started on finding the internship as early as possible.

About the Summer Experience

Over the course of the summer I worked at Flexifoil International Limited, a designer, manufacturer and vendor of kite-surfing products. In 2007, a friend of mine, and the nephew of the founder of Flexifoil, took over the company from the incumbent management team. At the time I was a consultant at Bain so my friend asked me to join Flexifoil in a part-time advisory capacity. I loved the prospect of being part of a young and dynamic company, not to mention the perks of free kite-surfing gear and company trips to exotic locations around the world to ‘test’ products and markets, so I agreed. Since that time I’ve been working with the company as an ad hoc strategic advisor.

After researching the various Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs offered, I knew I wanted to become part of the WEP Intern Fellowship program. I approached my friend about working full time for Flexifoil over the summer, with the support of Wharton, and he loved the idea. We decided that for my summer internship my role would be expanded significantly. Ultimately we agreed that I would head up the US operations, as well as helping with the overall company strategy. This included responsibility for the financial performance of the US division, whose target revenue 2009 was $850K.

Over the course of the internship I managed my own budgets, oversaw the work of two sales agents and maintained and developed relationships with key dealers, kite-surfing magazines and our sponsored kite riders. Since the US is a very new region for Flexifoil and the brand connotations have not yet been stringently defined, we decided that it was the ideal market to implement non-traditional approaches. As such, throughout the summer the US business essentially operated as a “skunkworks”, developing new and more dynamic strategies than the legacy business of Flexifoil had previously executed.

This provided me with considerable hands-on experience in running an entire division of a company. Having worked at Bain for three years prior to Wharton, I had numerous opportunities to see the workings of a company from the “outside-in”. What I loved about working in the entrepreneurial environment at Flexifoil was that it allowed me to actually run a business myself, making the day-to-day decisions on the operations of the company and having to hit my own targets and budgets. When I thought something needed to be done, I could just do it; for example, when I thought we could do a deal with one of the kite-surfing magazines to get one of our riders into a featured article, I called up the magazine, took one of the sales guys out for a kite-surfing session and pitched him the idea. I loved that freedom which comes from working in young, fast-moving entrepreneurial companies.

In addition to the day-to-day running of the business, a major project I was involved with was the development of and market-receptiveness to a lower cost and lower priced kite. Flexifoil had traditionally been a premium player in the kite-surfing market, however, the economic climate had a significant impact on the industry, with consumers’ purchasing decisions now based substantially more on price than in the past. I worked on an initiative to develop an “entry-level” kite, which ultimately allowed the company to compete with much lower-priced players. The project involved undertaking customer research projects to determine the demand for different priced and differently performing kites; sourcing new factories in China, which could make high performance kites from a different material to the ripstock previously used; as well as visiting key dealers and end-customers to educate them on the new product. Working with the R&D team back in London, we developed specifications for the new kite; built a pricing model to enable it to be competitively priced; and forecasted demand based on both the customer research we had done and what we knew about new competitor products. The new kite is now being manufactured in China, ready to launch at the beginning of next year, and a prototype version was used by Aaron Hadlow in winning this year’s Professional Kite Rider Association World Championships.

I would strongly encourage people interested in entrepreneurial careers, but who may not want to start their own business just yet, to seek out placements with young and dynamic firms for their summer internships. Even if you go back to corporate life afterwards, you will take with you a wealth of experience and will always want to strive to recreate the fast-paced entrepreneurial atmosphere which, if you’re anything like me, you will relish during your placement.