From the Quad: So Much to Learn in SoMa

By Shiv Kapoor

Photo credit: Shira Yudkoff

This summer, I visited paradise and lived there for eight weeks.

As someone who has always wanted to be an entrepreneur, I grew up hearing about, reading about, dreaming about Silicon Valley. A hopeless romantic, I felt that my journey would never be truly complete if it did not include a stop at Startup Mecca. True Ventures’ True Entrepreneur Corps (TEC) program gave me that opportunity this summer.

The first day of my internship began with an overview session in True Ventures’ office in the SoMa district, the epicenter for startups in San Francisco. As I walked over on a rainy Monday morning, I saw the logos of startups I admire above the doors of tiny offices, on windows and plastered on one whole side of a building. Whenever I “checked in” on foursquare (yes, I am that person), I was greeted with tips from company founders I had previously only admired from a distance, recommending interesting things to do. This felt … right.

Four days a week, I caught a morning CalTrain from San Francisco to Mountain View, home of Lexity, an app store for e-commerce and a True Ventures portfolio company. I spent the 70-minute commute reading about the latest developments in the startup ecosystem and preparing material relevant to the work that lay ahead that day. When I arrived, I sat two seats away from Lexity’s CEO . And I would feel woefully underprepared.

Silicon Valley startups have this habit of trusting interns to deliver. I realized this summer that companies like Lexity have no time for elaborate orientations, feeler projects or kid gloves. From day one, I was responsible for—not “providing bandwidth to” or “assisting with” but “in charge of”—projects directly impacting the bottom line. My work was seen by everyone who visited Lexity.com and played an important role in converting browsing prospects to paying customers. In some cases, a slip on my part could mean that no one would know that this piece of software, which a team of engineers had spent months on, existed at all. No pressure.

This is not to say I didn’t have help. I could talk to anyone at any level in any team just by walking over to his or her desk. I was working with the smartest people I ever met. My Lexity mentor was only two years older than me, yet it seemed as though she had been doing her job forever. Unfettered access to company documentation, the authority to “commit” work with next to no red tape and the silent invitation to sit in any meeting that caught my fancy meant that I always had everything I needed to Get Things Done.

A few weeks in, I found my groove. The startup life is a sprinting marathon, a demanding mix of speed and accuracy for which the exhilaration is the reward. I knew that I would never be without food or companionship at the office regardless of day or time, and that helped me achieve my planned goals for the internship confidently.

This was just half the fun. On Thursdays, all 12 TEC interns gathered at the True office in SoMa for presentations by portfolio company founders and CEO s. All of the speakers were very approachable, and I met several for one-on-one coffees or dinners. This is a phenomenon I believe to be unique to the entrepreneurial community. I was treated with great respect despite the vast gap in experience and achievement, and I received guidance that will serve me well for years to come. The rest of the summer was equally thrilling—exploring San Francisco, bumping into my role models, driving with fellow TEC interns to Lake Tahoe for the weekend, working on my own venture late at night. No better “Startup 101” course exists on the planet.

Wharton played a big part in getting me to my paradise. In August 2009, I left New Delhi for Philadelphia with the hope of learning how to start a successful company. Since then, Wharton Entrepreneurship has provided me with countless platforms for exploration and development. The Wharton Venture Initiation Program was a big talking point in my interview, and the Wharton Entrepreneurial Intern Fellowship made my desire to continue down my chosen path at a startup a practical one. Onwards and upwards!

Shiv Kapoor is a senior concentrating in entrepreneurship & innovation, marketing and retailing. He is the co-founder of ThisYaThat.com, which has been backed by the Wharton Venture Initiation Program, the Wharton Innovation Fund and the Weiss Tech House Innovation Fund, and has won the Sol. C. Snider Award. He is a board member of the Wharton Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Club. He grew up in New Delhi, India and enjoys traveling the world.

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