Pranay Sharma W’17 interned at Prayas Analytics in Philadelphia, PA

2014-2015 Startup Internship Award winner, supported by the Sutton Entrepreneurial Intern Fellowship fellow

I was put in touch with the founders of Prayas through a friend. We spoke about my interests and the company’s direction. Shortly after I interviewed and was taken on as a summer intern.

What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
This summer I wanted to experience an early-stage start-up where my experience would a) be personal and b) I would have the opportunity to take on a variety of roles where no day would be the same.

What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
While many people believe you should start with sector, I think team is the point of interest when you’re evaluating a start-up. Find a mentor, somebody who will take you under his or her wing – that’s where you’ll have a great experience and learn the most. As an intern (especially after freshman year), the specific sector is secondary to the people you are exposed to. Plus, exposure to a new industry is never a bad thing and might just add an interesting perspective to your college experience.

I spent the summer working at Prayas Analytics, a retail analytics company that provides brick-and-mortar retailers with operations-level metrics through a software-based solution. We were a three-man team working out First Round Capital alongside a host of other Dorm Room Fund companies. My focus was on Business Development, executing on a variety of projects that ranged from conducting market research to managing my own pilot program with a client. Two big takeaways from this summer:

1. Live by the 80/20 Rule
My bosses this summer always emphasized the importance of the 80/20 rule: Get 80% of the work done with 20% of the effort and move on. The idea is to work intelligently, getting the most bang for your buck and not getting stuck in the details. Start-ups are constantly under-resourced in every which way, especially time. With only three people on our team, it was crucial for us to consider if we were always working smart. This is something I struggled with, and am still learning to do. At Penn, we often get so caught up in our perfectionist tendencies that we forget to consider whether we’re being economical with our efforts. Moving on to the next task, even if you don’t feel like you’re done, takes a special sort of discipline that is crucial to a successful start-up.

2. Meet interesting people constantly
Throughout the summer, my team was constantly reaching out to interesting people for advice on our market, product, and approach. Our connections came in all shapes and sizes. Some folks were Penn alumni, others warm intros, and of course hopeful cold e-
mails. But the ask was always the same, “if you’d have 15 minutes I’d love to discuss…” Over the course of the summer, I was constantly amazed at just how generous people were with their time, and how far they’ll go to help a perfect stranger. Some would put us in touch with a friend at Company X, others would tell us what metrics our customers cared about. All in all, if you can just muster up the courage to ask for a quick coffee-chat, a small favor, or even simple advice, you might just be blown away by the generous responses you receive. It might take some patience and a follow-up e-mail, but your ambition will be rewarded in unpredictable, fantastic ways. Whether it’s sales, product development, or anything in-between, networking effectively will enrich your start-up experience and make you better at your job.

I couldn’t have been happier with my time at Prayas and would wholeheartedly recommend getting involved with a small team at some point during your college career. It makes for some great lessons on being scrappy and cements some worthwhile relationships that will add to your college experience. If you have any further questions or would like to get in touch, feel free to reach out to me at pranays@wharton.upenn.edu.