2013-2014 Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board Intern Fellow
How did you find the position?
The position was listed on PennLink, and I had heard some positive buzz about the company around Campus…so I decided to send in my resume.
What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
I had been intrigued by the idea of working for a startup, or even founding my own someday, but I wasn’t sure how my expectations for startup life and my perceptions of it matched up to reality. I figured that a summer experience would be a low-risk opportunity that would provide me with some good exposure to startup culture, and equip me with a proper dose of perspective for when I would need to make more permanent career decisions down the road.
What advice would you give to students interested in working at a startup this summer?
The founders and full-time employees will passionately believe that their product or service is destined to be the next big thing—a real game-changer with prospects to becoming a large, profitable, healthy business. The quicker that you can buy into and share those big dreams, the better that you will be able to communicate with them and speak in their language. As you are pursuing positions at different companies, keep that in mind, and ask yourself the question: “Do I firmly believe in this company and the product or service that they offer?”
That being said, since you will be coming in from the outside world and haven’t yet been “drinking the Kool-Aid,” so to speak, when you come in don’t hesitate to provide a level of healthy skepticism if you think that the start-up is being a bit too optimistic in certain respects, or if you think that things can be done in a better way than they have been done traditionally. Don’t be afraid to assert yourself and step up to fill a major role in steering the direction of the company.
Remember, also, that startups are businesses that are built to grow quickly. Accordingly, they do not shy away from tackling big problems or taking on big challenges in their pursuit of rapid growth. If you don’t try to capture that growth, you’re destined to remain just another small business, and you’re not truly a startup after all. Use that mindset to help motivate everything that you do while working at a startup.
About the Summer Experience:
I spent the summer working for Glass-U, a company that produces fully-folding, customizable sunglasses. Unlike your traditional glasses, which have only two joints, Glass-U shades consist of a quarter-fold that allow consumers to fold them down to the size of a single lens. The company was founded by a Penn Student, Daniel Fine, and launched at the Rose Bowl in January 2013. The product is sold through a variety of retail channels as well as through bulk custom orders. The glasses themselves are polycarbonate with a rubberized coating and sell for $10 retail, with bulk pricing available for the larger orders.
As one would expect, my experiences working for a startup this summer were diverse in nature as well as broad in scope. Early on, I showed that I had some decent proficiency in Photoshop, and so I was recruited to produce a new mockup system that provided more realistic renderings of product designs for potential clients. The new system altered existing photos of the product to render them in any color, with any type of logo or text featured on the side. After a while, I was also tasked with producing promotional materials to target particular customer segments. Eventually, I branched out even further by re-designing several features of our online retail space, applying knowledge of HTML/CSS/JS that I had picked up by completing tutorials on sites like Codecademy over the course of the summer.
Outside the office, we travelled a bit to go to trade shows and events to sell the shades and help raise product awareness. My first week, we went to a promotional products tradeshow in Atlantic City, which provided a quick crash course on our company, our clients, and our industry, which in turn helped me really hit the ground running early on and realize what issues presented the most pressing needs to the company. Later on, I also went along to sell product at the USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championships at the Philadelphia Union’s Stadium, the Wawa Welcome America Festival, and other such events in the Philadelphia Metropolitan area. Doing this groundwork and interacting with customers not only gave me some experience to improve my sales skills, but also was refreshing and rewarding in the sense that it allowed us to interact with a large number of customers, to see how they reacted to the product, and to watch them walk away satisfied after purchasing our shades.
If you think that you will ever want to start your own business someday, or if you think there’s a chance that you will want to work for a start-up once you graduate, I would definitely recommend trying it out for a summer. There really is no better way to determine whether or not the startup lifestyle is right for you than to dive right in and give it a try.