Thomas Baldwin WG’13 interned at Olook in Sao Paulo, Brazil

2012-2013 Startup Internship Award winner, supported by the Dr. William Zucker Entrepreneurial Intern Fellowship fund

How did you find the position?
I had known for some time that I wanted to spend my summer at an early-stage, venture-backed startup in Sao Paulo. With this in mind, during DIP week (dedicated interview period), when most of my peers were busy interviewing with consulting firms and investment banks, I flew to Sao Paulo to build relationships with members of the Brazilian VC / startup community. During this networking trip I met the founder of a fashion eCommerce startup called olook, and he ultimately offered me a summer internship position.

What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
My motivation for working at a startup was a function of two key objectives: (1) develop a functional skill-set I could use to enhance my credibility / marketability in the world of startups / entrepreneurship; and (2) gain insight into what it takes to build and lead an early-stage venture-backed startup.

What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
Networking is key. Think about your past experiences, determine how you can leverage your unique skillset to add value at a startup, and then market this “unfair advantage” in your discussions with founders.

My summer experience at olook
I spent my summer at olook, a fashion eCommerce startup based in Sao Paulo. The company was founded in 2011 by Peter Ostroske, a Wharton MBA candidate who took a leave of absence after raising capital from Brazil’s premier venture capital firm, Monashees Capital. Olook is an online fashion brand that delivers the most up-to-date women’s shoe, purse and jewelry designs to its members at prices that are fifty percent less than comparable products on the market.

My summer experience was phenomenal! It may sound a bit cliché, but one of the most compelling aspects of working at a startup is the opportunity to meaningfully impact the trajectory of the organization. This was certainly the case for me at olook. While I worked on a number of projects across different functional areas, including finance, operations, and marketing, I spent the bulk of my summer working in the area of customer analytics. In particular, I was tasked with building a dynamic model to analyze cost of customer acquisition and customer lifetime value. The results of my analysis led to a significant shift in olook’s approach towards customer acquisition, and had a big impact on topline growth. It’s great to know that my efforts made a real difference for the company!

Looking back on my time at olook, I’m glad that I was able to translate my more traditional skillset (financial modeling and analysis, developed during my time as an investment banker prior to starting at Wharton) into a niche skillset that is in demand among consumer web startups (customer analytics). Many MBAs are intimidated by the idea of transitioning into an industry where functional talent (i.e. computer engineering, online marketing, logistics) is more sought after than generalist, “jack of all trades” talent (which describes most MBAs). As I discovered this summer, however, many of the skills that we develop at Wharton – including statistical analysis, data interpretation and modeling, and salesmanship / negotiations – can be extremely valuable in the context of a startup. The key is to carefully frame the ways in which your MBA skills can add value in the context of a startup or tech company. This could mean that you focus on partnership development (a priority for companies like Foursquare), or that you focus on customer analytics (like I did this summer at olook). Once you land that coveted startup internship, try to develop “domain expertise” in a particular area so that you have a more specific / relevant skillset to talk about in future discussions with entrepreneurs and founders. Or perhaps you’ll be able to leverage your new skills to launch a business of your own!