2015-2016 Startup Internship Award winner, supported by the Sutton Entrepreneurial Intern Fellowship fund
I recently spent my second consecutive summer working for a company called Options Away. The company sells a product that allows consumers to hold the price of a flight for days or weeks while finalizing travel plans. It is a unique concept at the intersections of tech, travel, and finance innovation.
Last year I was looking to gain start-up experience prior to beginning at Wharton. I found the role at Options Away after sending cold emails to numerous start-ups in the Chicago area. Luckily I had previously completely several pricing strategy projects at Deloitte Consulting so Options Away was interested in my pricing experience to help them better understand airline pricing as well as to help them effectively price the holds they were selling on airline tickets. As I began to talk to them about the prospect of me rejoining the company for a second summer, one thing I was adamant about was gaining higher-level exposure to the business, such as interacting with the Board of Directors, dealing directly with current and potential investors, and working directly with the CEO on pressing strategic issues. Options Away worked hard to help me achieve my objectives for the summer.
I was able to achieve most of the goals I set for myself because Options Away provided ample opportunity for me to reach them. My main responsibility for the first half of the summer was to create a comprehensive, bottom-up budget and forecast for the next 2-3 years. This was something that investors were asking for so I had the opportunity to make an immediate impact. Given the nature of a budget and forecasting tool, I also was provided the opportunity to work with the CEO and Board of Directors to roll-out this tool and then ultimately worked with investors and potential investors to show it to them. This task opened up other doors for the latter half of the summer and I was able to take ownership of researching and prioritizing banks to provide Venture Debt to Options Away, which would allow the company to potentially delay their Series B round.
Additionally, I was involved in several operational aspects of the business. Options Away is a first-mover in this space so one of the company’s goals is to gather as much information about the customer as possible. I was on a team that was responsible for implementing a series of tests and performing analytics that would offer insight into consumer behavior. We were given a blank slate to dream up any tests or analyses we could think of that would offer greater insight into the customers and their habits. This became of particular importance because midway through the summer a competitor emerged in the space. However, Options Away had about two years of purchase and consumer data so we have been able to effectively position ourselves to the customer in the optimal way, especially as compared to a new company that had little insight into the consumer. For me, this was a learning in analytics and business insight, but is was also a major learning in terms of competitive behavior.
I learned a great deal about several aspects of entrepreneurship through my two summers at Options Away. I was fortunate that these learnings spanned many different aspects of starting and managing a company. But I attest that the single greatest learning from the summer came from the ability to see a company grow through two different stages of growth in two separate summers. The first summer I was there, Options Away was very much in a proof-of-concept phase. Sales volume was low and finances were tight but we were trying to prove to the marketplace, potential partners, and investors that the concept was something that consumers would be excited about. The second summer I was with Options Away, the company was in a very rapid growth stage. Daily sales volume was the equivalent of almost four months’ volume the previous summer, the number of employees had almost doubled, and most importantly Options Away had secured their Series A round of funding so now had the financial backing
of three prominent Venture Capital firms.
Experiencing these two distinct growth stages expanded my knowledge of entrepreneurship tremendously. Had I been with Options Away continuously throughout that time, though, I do not think I would have fully recognized or appreciated the nuances that contrasted the two growth stages.
Often students looking to work for a start-up focus on larger, late-stage start-ups because it is a safer, more secure environment. I would strongly encourage any student interested in entrepreneurship to fight that urge and instead look for opportunities at early-stage start-ups. They might be riskier in that the company may not survive or it may not turn into a full-time offer, but on the contrary it is an amazing experience at a risk-free time in your career. Your summer internship is a time to learn as much as you can. I came from an environment where there were already best practices in place and things were done a certain way. It wasn’t until I worked for an early-stage start-up that I actually fully appreciated the ability to chart new territory and lay the foundation for future “best-practices”. It is in this environment that you will be able to stretch yourself the most and have the most fruitful summer possible.