Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board Intern Fellowship recipient\
How did you find this position?
I met Jason at a conference in New York City that focused on India’s entrepreneurial future. One thing led to another and, before long, he offered me an internship with him at Tria Group.
What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
I wanted to have a meaningful experience over my summer. Last year I worked at a bank and felt more like a commodity than an intern. Working on a focus-driven team made me feel needed – plus I learned a lot. To that end, working at a start-up isn’t all fun and games. It’s exciting but it can be a lot of hard work. In the end, I didn’t mind the hours because I was contributing to something that I felt was important.
What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up?
Be proactive. Find companies that interest you and reach out to them. Show your entrepreneurial spirit in how you can make an internship happen for yourself. Don’t wait for a listing online!
And make sure they know why they need you. The biggest thing I learned is that CEOs and founders are more interested in how you can add value to their teams. Remember, it’s also possible to be a burden to companies of smaller sizes, so explain how you will add value.
About the Summer Experience
Jason (MBA Chicago ’05) started the Tria Group with two partners in Pune, India just last year. Tria focuses on producing high quality precision engineering parts for construction and automobile companies throughout India and Europe. Not entirely exciting or as sexy as working for Google, but it appealed to me in a few ways.
Firstly, I would be able to work in India – a country I’ve never lived in before. I was out of my comfort zone and it was wonderful. When you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain. I experienced some serious price negations, saw corruption first hand and was exposed to the many, many infrastructure problems of a developing nation (something that’s quite disarming when you’re working for a manufacturing start-up). But to be on a team that was willing to fight through all of these hindrances is where I learned a lot.
Secondly, I was working for a company whose focus was on quality. Product quality is what has made Apple and Facebook so effective, and so I was excited. In India, quality is of least importance. When you have a population of a billion people, companies tend to focus on volume. Ergo, quality suffers. So when Jason explained his business model I was intrigued. He was actively changing the market. How would the market react? This past month, Tria became the #1 sourcer of flanges, clamps, and hydraulic parts overtaking the market leader, Stauff, a German MNC. So I guess it worked.
Lastly, I was able to put what I learned in class to use. I used a CAPEX model to evaluate the need for another production facility (FNCE100). I worked with the CFO in assessing bankrupt companies that were looking to be acquired (FNCE251). We travelled to various cities in India to negotiate prices (OPIM291) on many products. Suffice to say, I put my Wharton education to use.
What did I learn in the end? The main thing is to be customer-focused. Build a better product and show customers why they need you. Apple doesn’t build better software than Microsoft, but better hardware – think keypad, trackpoint, docking station. The lessons from America’s largest company and a small start-up in India are the same: customer focus!
Tria also taught me to be professional. Look at Jason’s website (http://www.tria-group.com/) and compare it to competitors (http://www.in.stauff.com/). It’s easier to navigate and the focus is on the product! By being professional – following leads with active phone calls/emails, being on time to every meeting, constantly updating websites and catalogues, actively maintaining relationships – you put yourself above everybody else (especially in India where people are late, unorganized, and, really, just plain unprofessional).
Finally, have values. We worked with many companies that were corrupt and it was disgusting. Jason built his company on principles and that speaks to me more than his balance sheet. It’s easy to be caught up in the black money of a developing nation like India, but when you’re changing an industry, that infinitely more admirable. And your team is happier as well.
Oh, and always be nice to executive assistants!
I hope to start my own organization in the future and will certainly put all of these lessons to use. Good luck to you all in your search for a start-up experience.