Samantha Abzug (WG’11) interned at Prohibition Beverage in Philadelphia, PA

THE 2010-2011 AMBASSADOR OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board Intern Fellowship recipient:

 

How did you find the position?

Careerpath- the company was already affiliated with Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs as the founder is an Exec MBA grad

What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?

I was interested in the food and beverage industry, so it seemed like a great opportunity, and I wanted to challenge myself by working in a less structured and much more entrepreneurial environment than I had in the past.

What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?

Definitely go for it!  It’s a great way to try something new and interesting in a relatively risk-free way.  Plus you’ll definitely have much more interesting summer stories than most of your classmates.

About the Summer Experience

This summer I worked at the company formerly known as Prohibition Beverage (it is now called Redemption Spirits).  The name change was just one of the many changes I experienced during the eventful ten weeks that I spent at the company. As a relatively risk averse individual, I wanted to challenge myself to work in the riskier start-up space where I’d get more comfortable working under conditions of uncertainty.  I found that perfect opportunity with this summer position working on strategy at Redemption Spirits.  Redemption Spirits is a small liquor company whose strategy is to focus on building niche liquor brands through primarily word of mouth and viral marketing, as well as developing capabilities to provide compliance and warehousing services to other small liquor brands.

Two weeks into the internship, as I was just starting my summer project analyzing different metrics that should be used to gauge the performance of a liquor brand on the market, a longstanding conflict with our largest investor came to a head with legal action, and culminated a week later in the company selling its name and all of its assets (including the one liquor they had currently on the market) to this investor group.  While all employees during this period were faced with the uncertainty as to what would happen with the company going forward, my boss quickly after launched a brand new company, Redemption Spirits, to follow the same business model (but without our office space, which was also sold).

 

After the founding of the new company, we launched right into start-up survival mode.  I had the opportunity to help craft an operating plan to get the new company up and running and even had a hand in brainstorming and voting for the new company name.  My old project got put on the back-burner, and instead I got to work on evaluating potential brand acquisitions, as we were trying to get something in our company’s portfolio as quickly as possible to help lure new investors.  Everything took on much more urgency as the company’s survival was at stake if they did not raise more capital soon.  My boss, freed from the restraints imposed by the previous investors, was re-energized and more passionate than ever about the viability of his business plan.  It was an exciting time to be a part of the company and I could directly see the impact of all of the valuation and acquisition work that I performed, as it was vital to the survival of the new company.

 

Prior to the summer internship, I had taken Entrepreneurship, where we learned and read cases about all sorts of issues that plague start-ups, such as conflicts with investors.  There is typically a trade-off between cash and king, meaning that in order to get more money from investors, entrepreneurs often need to give up more control.  I had the opportunity to see this first hand, in a real-life, experiential setting.  While I learned so much about the liquor industry this summer, I learned even more about the process of starting a company and many of the pratfalls that derail start-ups before they are able to gain traction.  I also had the opportunity to experience the entire lifecycle of a start-up, albeit in a reverse order, in a mere ten week period.

 

While my experiences this summer did nothing to assuage my risk aversion, it was still invaluable.  While start-ups are inherently unstable, ironically, I just happened to be there for the most unstable ten weeks in the company’s two year lifespan. The summer taught many lessons not just about potential start-up risks, but skills that will benefit me regardless of the size or nature of the next company I work for. It reinforced the benefit of taking the initiative and trying things out even if they aren’t right.  It taught me the value in being flexible and able to quickly adapt to changing circumstances.  The work product I had completed by the end of the summer was completely different than my initial project, but ended up being even more useful and important for my boss.