2012-2013 Startup Internship Award winner, supported by the Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board
How did you find your position?
Two of the co-founders used to be my colleagues in McKinsey. When I found out about their venture, I informally reached out to them.
What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
I am interested in launching a start-up in the ecommerce field. I thought that working for another ecommerce start-up would give me valuable experience in this industry.
What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
Ask for work that motivates you and that you can learn from. It is easy for an intern to be given repetitive/uninteresting tasks.
How I got my internship
A Facebook post congratulating my ex-colleague for the launch of his start-up caught my attention. I sent Louis a note to see what he is up to and he told me about Namshi.com, a fashion focused ecommerce start-up based in Dubai. He told me that, within three months, they were able to launch their operations and that they are now shipping across the Gulf countries and Egypt. I am very interested in ecommerce and thought that working for a new venture in this field can help me gain some insight on how to manage my company in the future. Since Louis knew me at both personal and professional levels, he was happy to take me on board.
Start-ups are usually unstructured and hectic and Namshi was no exception. No one followed-up with me after receiving my offer and I had a very vague idea about what I will be working on. Namshi did not process my visa on time and I had to scramble at the last minute to the UAE Embassy and was eventually able to get the visa the day before the start date of my internship. Having lived in Dubai before Wharton, I was lucky enough to know the city well and I had a place to stay. Otherwise, my experience would have been even more difficult. I got to Namshi for my first day of work with no idea about what was expected from me and without having discussed culture or work life balance with anyone in advance.
How it went
Coming from a consulting background, being able to wear jeans to work every day was, to me, particularly enjoyable. The startup was based in one large open space with no offices (except for a couple of meeting rooms) and even co-founders and MDs shared the open space with the rest of the employees. This made the company more dynamic and mirrored the non-hierarchical atmosphere that characterizes it. I was first asked to work on a couple of initiatives that did not particularly excite me. One of the initiatives was relatively easy to implement so I made sure I get it done before I asked the MD for something that motivated me more. We eventually agreed that I would work with the digital marketing team on optimizing their advertising expenditure in order to get more bang for the buck. The work was analytically very heavy but it also involved a lot of experimentation. The analytical part involved measuring ROI, running cohort analyses, and analyzing the value of different segments. The experimental part taught me, by trial and error, that changing very small details of an ad can have a big impact on conversion rates. This project took up the bulk of my internship experience. After Louis was satisfied with the return we were now getting on Facebook and Google ads, he asked to move on to a different project. I was now responsible for building a data reporting structure for the marketing team. In this project, I learned how difficult it is to gather accurate data and how decentralized information is. How can employees make informed decision if they do not have access to the needed data? I developed dashboards and agreed with the team on the methodology that should be used to collect each piece of information. I eventually handed over the work to one employee who was now fully responsible for continuously updating the data and for making sure that it is clean and accurate.
What I learned about working for a start-up
This experience reinforced my belief on how unstructured working for a startup can be. To enjoy the experience, you need to be comfortable with uncertainty and with the prospect of working on something different every day. You need to be willing to ask for meaningful work that motivates you and keeps you excited. And you need to be comfortable with the possibility that things could not work out as planned. Two weeks after I left Dubai, I heard that the startup right next door shut down. One of the co-founders of this startup was also my ex-colleague and I could have easily been working for him rather than Louis.