Neal Pancholi WG’13 interned at Kohort in New York, NY

2012-2013 Startup Internship Award Winner, supported by the Dr. William Zucker Entrepreneurial Intern Fund

What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
To understand the dynamics and challenges of start-up life to eventually start my own business.

What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up?
Just go for it! Find something you are interested in, open your mind, learn as much as you can, and be prepared for constant change.

I have worked at a variety of big companies throughout my life, from consumer goods, to financial services, and even technology. While all were great experiences, none of them taught me how to start a company, and more importantly, how to build and scale a business. I was interested in working at a start-up to understand what it’s like to build a business, and the challenges that can come along from doing that. The essential question I wanted to answer was: what is it really like on the ground floor? At a start-up, you’re on a small boat in the ocean with a team, and there are many waves and each one can knock you off course, so how do you stay the path while also staying flexible and adjusting?

Most startups do not recruit at business schools; they prefer you find them, and the hottest ones seem to have a waiting list around the corner. Luckily, Kohort, who is run by an MBA graduate, sees the values in current MBA students and was hiring through MBACM. The application process was surprisingly efficient: just send Kohort a link to your LinkedIn profile. Afterwards, I had two video chat interviews and one in person interview; all the interviews were focused on my interests, life, and background, not so much on how exactly I could add value. Most importantly, I got the vibe that I would enjoy working with this team, which is incredibly important.

I joined Kohort as a Business Development and Marketing Manager intern, but immediately from the start, my responsibilities changed and varied day by day. Due to product launch delays, I found myself adding values in ways that I did not expect. From working on a competitor analysis to help differentiate Kohort from its peers, to testing and debugging the site, to creating a clear and concise message throughout, I did work that I never expected doing – and it was incredibly valuable! I came in with the idea that I would help the site acquire users while rolling out the marketing plan. However, what I did was help with everything else. I was able to see the inside of a company before the product went live. I was able to understand the challenges and the necessities required for success. As a consumer and user, we all see the product once it launches and we generally make a buy or sell decision within moments of using it. After working at Kohort, I realized the tremendous amount of work required to get ready for that launch. I learned that you don’t just launch a product you create, but you have to get all your ducks in a row (and there are a lot of ducks).

Kohort was great because I was given the flexibility and trust to figure out problems. No one was looking over my shoulder. The best part was that I found problems that no one knew existed, and I was trusted to solve them. The team was incredibly smart and always on the same page, a true kudos to the senior leadership. The great part of the Kohort experience was being an integral part of a small team and being trusted (many founders want their hands in everything, Mark and Steve let you run!) – and it all comes from the team. The Team, The Team, The Team!

I’ve been asked many times what to tell first year MBA students, and here are my thoughts: Don’t get caught in the trap of doing what everyone else is doing. At the same time, don’t get caught in the trap of joining a tech start-up because it’s in right now. Take some time and think about what you want to get out of the summer experience. If you want to learn about production and operations, go to a production facility, if you want to want to start your own fashion line, go and shadow someone in the fashion industry (or just do it!). You are only doing yourself a disservice by getting caught in the trap mentality that most MBA students get caught in. Don’t do things because others are, do things you want to do, explore your interests. Life’s too short to waste time and do things that aren’t cool to you.