John Wolfe WG’13 interned at Onefinestay in London, England

2012-2013 Startup Internship Award winner, supported by the Sutton Entrepreneurial Intern Fellowship fund

I found onefinestay through my own outreach in London in the start-up scene there. Generally, people at Wharton have a lot of contacts to entrepreneurs through their networks, thus speaking with people about your interests and goals is a great way to get ideas and leads.

The three-month experience working with onefinestay was excellent.  I spent my summer divided on two strategic projects, the results of which were a road map going forward.  The first project was set to run for two months, but was shortened when the second project became of more strategic importance, given the growth stage of the company.  I got to watch onefinestay hire new employees, implement new systems, and grow to the point that it needed new offices.

One of the biggest challenges—this was very specific to the time and place—was the operational impact of the Olympics, which effected road closures and transport delays at a time with a huge influx of foreign visitors.

The other major take away for me was how useful and applicable business school is to running a business.  My academic background is modern languages and I worked in banking before, so the concept of sizing a market seemed abstract to me.  Sitting in MKTG 621/622 I assumed that channel and marketing were concepts related mostly to CPG/FMCG.  However, given the broad range of challenges from the summer, business school and business school thinking absolutely helped me to break apart problems and understand the retailing dynamics.

Advice for students considering startup work:

Be focused – Be targeted in your approach to which startups are good fits and where you can add the most value while also learning something. This sounds obvious, but every startup has people with different skill sets already on board, and since you’re one of 10 or 50 (as opposed to one of 30,000), you’re abilities matter.

Things change – In a small company you have to be prepared to have things change. This is definitely more the case than in larger companies with structured programs and defined functions.  Business dynamics, seasonal shifts, changes in investor preferences all drive the day to day evolution of the business and of your work.

Think laterally – the staff of small companies (start-ups included) don’t have the luxury of thinking solely within their function.Financiers need have to think about marketing spend and channel strategy, marketers have to think about operational processes and costs.

Life is unstructured and imperfect – the work is going to be unstructured and interns will be responsible for their own learning.MBAs have the opportunity to bring structure to unstructured.