Sheezan Bakali WG’10 interned at Proper Cloth, New York, NY

2009-2010 Startup Internship Award winenr, supported by the Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board

Proper Cloth an online start-up that sells custom-fitted dress shirts through a fun and slick interface.

Proper Cloth: Genius!

That was one of many, well, genius slogans I helped coin for Proper Cloth this summer as the company’s MBA intern. Proper Cloth founder Seph Skerritt (Sloan ’08) and I spent a lot of the summer brainstorming ideas like that- some great, some not so great. As the company’s second employee, I had my hands in everything, so I helped come up with ideas for the company blog, new web features, marketing initiatives, and new slogans, often aimed at making ourselves laugh.

Proper Cloth: How bad can it be?

Before I started, I was a little apprehensive about my internship at the year-old start up. After all, Seph hadn’t been looking for an intern at all. I proposed the idea to him myself in late June, nearly two months into the summer, when I cold called him and asked for a meeting.

My goal was to secure an internship at a consumer products start up that would make use of my prior experience in the apparel industry and that would teach me a few things I could use when I start my own business after graduation. I was looking for a small company that was clever and sexy, and so I had been reading blogs and magazines like Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur and Daily Candy looking for mention of interesting new brands. When I found a brand I liked, I asked my classmates if they had any connections or searched LinkedIn for a contact name. I got a few great interviews that way but still found myself jobless in June. That was when I read about Proper Cloth in Thrillist and decided to give Seph a call.

When we met, it seemed like we would get along well. He invited me to come on board, unpaid. And you’ll have to bring your own computer, he said in my offer email. My sister laughed at me when she read that email over my shoulder. “What kind of Popsicle stand are you going to work for?” she chuckled.

Proper Cloth: It can’t be that bad

True, the internship didn’t offer a lot of structure, and there were some days when I remarked at the stark contrast between the posh office of my former employer, and the meager resources of the start up. (Proper Cloth office. I look in my drawer for paper. None in sight. I consider using a napkin. Then settle for the back of a business card that someone gave me a couple days before.) However, at Proper Cloth, every day brought a new and exciting task.

One day Seph had me lie in wait outside Citigroup’s Tribeca office and accost well-dressed men. Once I caught myself a candidate, I had to talk him into testing out Proper Cloth’s website. Another day Seph had me hamming it up in videos for the company website. And on my last day, he gave me a rousing send-off. That was the day he had me hand out Proper Cloth flyers in Times Square.

Because I worked so closely with the founder, I came to understand the tactical and strategic challenges of starting a business. I learned how to find a programmer for your first website, how to get graphics made, how to find customers and how to close a sale. When addressing strategic issues, there were ample opportunities to apply lessons I learned at Wharton. Together we thought about how many fabrics are too many to offer the consumer. Can you have too many choices? I remember learning about this in class so I started flipping through my notes. Over the course of the summer, we talked about various other topics from the Wharton core: willingness to pay, coupons and price sensitivity, branding, mass customization, and the psychology behind employee compensation. (I wondered aloud one day if I liked this job so much because I wasn’t in it for the money. He promised me a long happy career with PC if I would promise to always have such low standards.) Because Seph recently graduated from an MBA program, he was familiar with the same topics and we had interesting discussions about how to apply our coursework to the problems Proper Cloth is facing.

Proper Cloth: Once you leave the rack, you’ll never go back

I spent the summer convincing customers to leave the off-the-rack shirts behind and try a custom-fitted shirt instead. At the same time, I learned a lot by having foregone a corporate internship for a start up experience. I learned about the kind of imagination, work ethic, and determination that an entrepreneur needs to keep things moving. I learned that I can be pretty creative, and I surprised myself when I realized that I am actually a good salesperson. Most importantly, I learned that I thrive in an environment with a bit of uncertainty. Without an employee handbook or an established process to follow, every achievement was so much more rewarding. When I placed a Proper Cloth ad on Facebook and watched customers click and make a purchase for the first time, it was one of my most satisfying days of my career to date. It signified to me that I can actually make things happen, and that I was an important part of Proper Cloth’s success, at least on that day. All of this was great encouragement for a wannabe entrepreneur like myself.

Overall, interning for a start up was a fantastic experience that I would recommend to any MBA student. It may change the way you think about your career, and possibly, the way you think about off-the-rack dress shirts. As they say, once you leave the rack, you’ll never go back.