THE 2010-2011 AMBASSADOR OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board Intern Fellowship recipient:
How did you find the position?
What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
Future career decision – I needed to validate that I wanted to, and could, work in a startup environment post-graduation.
What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
Be focused and don’t get distracted by all the shiny corporate internships!
About the Summer Experience
How I got my “internship”
As many others will no doubt say, I obtained my summer “internship” principally through research and networking. I spent half of my summer working with a startup founded by Wharton students in the class above me. Being involved in the Social Impact community at Wharton I had come across one of the founders. While the founder was obviously very busy getting the business off the ground while finishing up school, I kept at it to connect with him and eventually we agreed I would help them with operations and strategy during the summer. This was an unpaid opportunity (which, obviously don’t come through career path unless it’s a big name non-profit) and was therefore obtained solely by my persistence in reaching out to the founder. The other half of the summer I spent consulting for various startups through a summer incubator. Similar to my other internship, I secured this opportunity by researching events the incubator was having and buying a ticket and showing up to introduce myself in person to the founding directors. This was far more effective than an earlier email I had sent to the director expressing interest in the incubator. Face-to-face interactions really do make a difference even if brief. This will, I’m sure, be critical to my full-time startup search and I’ll have to make it a priority to get to various entrepreneurship events in other cities.
What an entrepreneurial “internship” really means
I put “internship” in quotation marks because working in an entrepreneurial environment is hardly structured or formal, and often, unpaid. Working with startups for the summer is truly what you make of it. It’s an opportunity to see the inner workings of startup environments and to help out in any way you can. My two entrepreneurial experiences really differed. One “internship” consisted mostly of becoming an operations associate. As just another member of the growing 8-person team I did what everyone else did…primarily order processing work and customer relations. While unglamorous and a bit mundane, that’s what the company needed help with most critically at the time with growing sales orders, so that’s what I did. In addition to operations, I also worked independently on a strategy project. I created a survey to obtain primary research on a potential new product launch. The startup was considering launching a new product line in their second year, but needed validation that their target consumers would be interested. They also needed guidance on product design and pricing. I used my previous training and experience to craft an impactful survey that would be a driver of future strategy decisions.
The other half of the summer I spent consulting startups on their segmenting and target market selection, on their go-to-market strategies, and on their financial projections and profit & loss statements. This consisted of meeting with mostly non-business-trained entrepreneurs and leading them to think strategically about the consumer choices and market entry strategies they were or weren’t consciously using. It also meant conducting market research on both consumer segment information and on p&l information for various industries.
What I learned about startups
One of the biggest things I learned about startups over the summer is how drastically different each of them can be. There’s little commonality in how they work, what they focus on, what the founder’s strengths are, what stage they’re truly in, and how they approach their internal “structure” and external networking. My experience with the 8 startups I had some amount of exposure to over the summer varied greatly depending on the founder and the team. However, the two consistent lessons that working with each group taught me were 1) how necessary it is to think creatively with such limited resources and 2) how important it is to be effective at BOTH strategy and execution, often switching between them multiple times in the same day.
What I learned about myself and my future
I validated this summer that an entrepreneurial environment is definitely for me. With all the downsides of working in a startup versus a corporate environment, and there definitely are some, this summer didn’t feel like work. I really loved the feeling of creating something brand new, even though it is clearly a struggle. The opportunity to be incredibly autonomous for something, to be strategic but also leverage implementation skills, to be adaptable and take action, is a unique combination and definitely something I want to do.
I also learned that when I do start my own company, it will be extremely important for me to create a community for myself. As an extrovert, the hardest part of my summer was the occasional feeling that I was on an island. It was very challenging (and very different from a corporate environment) when I was unable to physically meet up with the founder or team, or when there was a business question that I had no resources to answer. I think it would be easy to feel all alone working on your passion and finding ways to create a community will clearly be my lifeline. I will definitely only start a business with a co-founder, I will ensure to have frequent meetings with advisors, will attempt to share office space with other entrepreneurs, and generally, will engage in the entrepreneurial community of my city regardless of how busy I am. Overall, I can’t wait to land on my business idea and get started, and I’m glad that my summer was able to validate my life’s direction.