Yolanda Yeh ’15, Quirky

Making invention accessible. That is the concept, the reason why a boldly purple company exists – to empower people to invent and to give great ideas a chance to come to life. This is the mission of Quirky, a rapidly growing startup in New York City, where I had the pleasure of spending my spring break.

Although I only spent a few days there, this Princeternship gave me a unique window into startup culture, leaving behind the academic rigors on campus and beginning to understand the excitements of the entrepreneurial world out there. Warmly welcomed by our Princeton alumni host Nikki Laffel Kaufman ’07, and Suzannah Kerr on the first day, we were soon off, meeting people of all departments that are growing the company together. 

I was exposed to a variety of departments I had never considered, ranging from design to sales to operations and more. Everyone was so passionate about what they were doing, so willing to explain and answer any questions, excited about the company, pumped about the future, and invested completely in their potentials and the power entrusted to them. People hung out in the kitchen, joked out loud in the main working space, laughed, thought, and through all of that – solved stimulating problems with creativity and focus. I caught a glimpse of the challenges each part of the company wrestles with and was more importantly, inspired by the confidence with which each person approached these challenges. Getting advice about everything from how to make the most of college to preparing for the life beyond, I learned not only about specific career paths, but also more broadly about the value of taking risks and jumping at opportunities that may take you on a path you may have never imagined.

Nikki Laffel Kaufman '07, Quirky Staff, and Princeterns

 

My Princeternship experience at Quirky ended with my participation in their company-wide product evaluation meeting, a wonderful experience that exemplified collaboration and the openness of the Quirky company culture. My biggest takeaway from the people at Quirky is the notion that it is by going for the things we love and working hard at them that we give ourselves the opportunity to find a career where work does not feel like work. I learned that most specific skills can be picked up on the job so that it is really about pursuing your curiosities and developing the capacity to think and problem solve that can be applied anywhere. As an aspiring inventor and entrepreneur, I believe my experience at Quirky was invaluable and would strongly recommend it to any curious students. Many thanks to my hosts and Career Services for giving me this opportunity

AJ Swoboda ’15, Famzoo.com

I spent three of my Spring Break days working with the CEO of FamZoo.com and Princeton Alumni, Bill Dwight ‘84. As a start up with only two employees, FamZoo “headquarters” are located in Bill’s house in Palo Alto, CA. FamZoo is an online virtual credit union that helps kids learn good money management skills.

I started my first day, Monday, being toured around his home and office, followed by a 30-minute Skype chat with Bill and Chris Beaufort — FamZoo’s other employee and Bill’s former Princeton roommate — about what they do each day, where they’re trying to direct the company, etc. After our chat, Bill continued to describe all that he does at FamZoo. He talked about how he makes decisions (based heavily on ethics), how he interacts with users on FamZoo’s website, and finally how the company has recently shifted and realigned its focus group — first, the company focused on getting month-to-month payments made by individual families, but now it has shifted to bigger registration time periods and has switched to focusing on signing credit unions  and banks to make partnership deals. Bill also showed me how he keeps track of every connection he or Chris has made in the past. Through using a program called HighRise, Bill can efficiently manage contacts, remember how FamZoo is connected to individuals and companies, and find appropriate times to follow up with said contacts.

After getting sandwiches for lunch, Bill and I came up with a project for me to work on on the side as I continued to watch/learn from Bill’s day-to-day operations. It was my job to figure out how FamZoo can increase its company presence on LinkedIn.com, and then begin to implement some of these changes.

AJ and Bill

Tuesday was filled with two major events. First, I listened in on a demo-call that Bill gave to a potential Credit Union partner that was interested in working with FamZoo. Through the hour long demonstration — which Bill knocked out of the park — I got a first-hand look at what FamZoo’s hard sell looks like, how Bill politely interacts with his customers, and the sheer power of a website like FamZoo. I spent the remainder of the day filling out FamZoo’s LinkedIn Company Page. I researched what all companies can do on LinkedIn, talked with Bill to pinpoint the best options, and then began to add banner images, links, and descriptions to the page. The rest of the afternoon flew by as I experimented with additions to the LinkedIn page.

My last day, Wednesday, started with another demonstration with yet another potential credit union partner — one of the biggest credit unions in the US in terms of capital. After this second demo, I finished off the day designing and editing FamZoo’s LinkedIn Page. I left with the final “product” being a three step sequence for viewers to follow in order to learn more about the company, find out how they can partner with FamZoo, and see all the reviews of FamZoo from tons of credit unions and users of the website. Finally, I spent some time tinkering around with the website and all of its functions, and giving Bill any feedback I had during that time.

This blog pretty much summarizes all that I did during my time with FamZoo. I definitely recommend participating in the Princeternship program, it’s well worth your time.

Lauren Morera ’15, Visionary Capital

Completing the Princeternship at Visionary was definitely a unique experience that I won’t soon forget.  The organization itself was run very differently than I expected, and the actual work the company did was less financial than I expected it to be. I spent two days working in New York with the Visionary team.  Visionary is like the e-harmony of business and is an outgrowth of the older VisCap model founded by the same Princeton alumni as Visionary, Alex Salzman ‘07.  The time during the Princeternship was very exciting for Visionary because the organization was sponsoring the Wall Street Green Summit at the time.  This allowed me to see all the behind the scenes work that goes into a conference and all the logistical issues that can arise when more than one group of people is attempting to run the same conference.  My first day was mostly spent helping Visionary with some administrative work on Salesforce by organizing the contacts that Visionary would be inviting to the closing reception of the Summit the following day.  Alex also let us listen in to some calls which was interesting and this allowed me to get a better feel for what the business was.  At the end of the first day we went over to see the venue for the conference where we would be meeting the next day.

Lauren, Alex Salzman, and fellow Princetern Kyle

On Tuesday Kyle, the other student on the Princeternship, and I met at the conference venue where we spent the day talking to various professionals in ‘Green’ fields.  We met people who worked for green investment banks and green manufacturing companies and I thought that these interactions were extremely valuable because they allowed me to get exposure to a unique and innovative field of New York professionals.  At the end of the second day we went to the reception hosted by Visionary where we met some other professionals, but mostly talked to Princeton alumni who also worked at Visionary and gave us their perceptions of the field.

I would really like to thank Alex for giving me the opportunity to work with the company and learn both about myself and Visionary through this process.

 

Janie Gu ’15, Quirky

For my Princeternship, I worked at Quirky, a startup company in social product development and industrial design. Each week, hundreds of people from the site’s online community, called “ideators,” submit their ideas for inventions online. The ideas can be anything that isn’t already on the market, with the only requirement being that the product ideas must retail for less than $150 and should not be software-based. The community then votes on submissions, and final selections are made by the Quirky team. From that point on, the community participates in the development process, including design, naming, colors, logo, and market research, alongside professional engineers on the Quirky team. Final products are sold through two main avenues: 1) the online site and 2) Quirky’s retailers, including Target, Office Max, etc.

On the first day, our host, Nikki Kaufman ’07, who is Head of People and Culture (the Quirky version of Human Resources), and Suzannah Kerr, who works alongside her in the department, gave us the full tour of Quirky’s new home in western Manhattan. The office was an experience in itself, as it clearly reflects the unique culture and personality of the company, with beautiful glass furnishings and modern decorations contrasted against the array of sinks, lockers, and other random objects taken from an elementary school in the Bronx.

We were then given an hour to sign up for and get to know our way around the site, quirky.com, and prepared to make a mystery call to the Community Team, which is responsible for interacting with the online community and answering questions from consumers, designers, and inventors. We then met with Quirky Community Ambassador, Baron, who gave us an overview of what his job entails and what he does on a daily basis. He explained the challenges of working with public relations and customer service at a company like Quirky that has such a unique business model and works with such a wide variety of products.

We then met with Bret, Quirky’s Head of Marketing, who introduced us to Quirky’s marketing strategy, challenges, and opportunities. He explained how Quirky’s brand revolves not around a specific industry or lifestyle, but rather the stories of its inventors. He then challenged us to come up with our own marketing strategy to help Quirky take advantage of the month of May, which is generally celebrated as Inventors’ Month. This gave me some insight into what a marketing director does on a daily basis and the many considerations he must make to sell his product.

Janie, Nikki Laffel Kaufman, Princeterns, and Quirky Staff

 

We then met with Gaz, Quirky’s Head of Product Design, who introduced us to some of the factors to consider when evaluating / selecting idea submissions for Quirky to produce. He then took us through the production process from selection to brainstorming, preliminary design, prototyping, launching, tooling, manufacturing, and finally sales.

The next day, we delved deep into the details of the operations of the company, first meeting with Julie, who handles Quirky’s manufacturing in China and sourcing suppliers, who gave us an overview of how she coordinates the company’s overseas operations and makes sure that all the logistics and details of each product are communicated to the right people. For example, she told us about one miscommunication between Quirky’s engineers and the Chinese engineers at the factories; this led to a huge recall of products and enormous losses. We then met with Nancy, Demand Planner, who works to ensure that demand is always being met and that products are always on the shelves when they need to be. She explained how this job is especially difficult at a company like Quirky, that produces so many different products that there is no past data from which to draw predictions about demand. Lastly, we met with Justin, who handles Quirky’s logistics and distribution channels. This involves distributing the products, once they’re supplied, to people’s homes and the stores of different retailers. These meetings gave me invaluable insight into the field, because until then, I hadn’t truly understood what the job of “Operations” entailed and I definitely hadn’t realized the multitude of tasks that Operations departments do on a daily basis.

The next day, we met individually with our departments of interest. I met with Nathan, Quirky’s Head of Tech. This meeting was especially valuable to me since I was able to learn about the technology and web development side of Quirky, and also gave me the opportunity to talk to someone who had similar goals and interests to me. Nathan shared his diverse and fascinating life experiences with me, from being an English major in college to working at Google and briefly in entrepreneurship before coming to Quirky. He gave me incredibly helpful advice on honing my technical skills, getting internships, picking a major, and career development.

We then met with Chad, Quirky’s Head of Sales & Business Development, who told us about selling the Quirky products to various retailers and buyers. His openness and easygoing nature also made me realize the importance of networking and interpersonal relationships. Lastly, we participated in Quirky’s weekly Evaluation meeting, where the entire company meets to discuss the week’s product submissions and chooses the best ones for the company to produce.

This experience at Quirky was invaluable for me. Especially since it is such a small company, I had the chance to observe all the aspects of the business, from engineering and design to marketing and operations. In addition to gaining insight into a wide range of career paths, I received career advice from several professionals in fields relevant to my own interests. I also thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the diverse life experiences of the Quirky team, many of which were infinitely different from my own, and just being a part of the fun, open, and collaborative culture at Quirky. I would definitely recommend this Princeternship for anyone who is interested or even considering the possibility of working in the product development industry or at a startup.

Reena Glaser ’14, Quirky

I was lucky enough to spend my spring break at Quirky, a startup company in New York City that works to make “social product development” a reality.  In other words, Quirky asks anyone from anywhere in the world to submit their ideas for inventions, and then if that idea is chosen, their entire team will work to try to turn that idea into a product on inon the market.  Pretty cool, right?  Even better, I got to take part in the process this week for choosing the ideas that the company will work on and so much more.  I had the chance to meet with employees with many different specialties within the company ranging from product design to brand management to operations.  So much happened in only three days, and as a result, this Princeternship has given me a life-changing perspective about my career search.

When I arrived, I met the other two Princeton students who were involved in this experience with me and we were given a full tour of the new Quirky headquarters.  This office was unlike anything I had ever seen: the conference rooms had glass walls so that the space felt open for collaboration.  The tables in each room were designed by the Quirky team and were supported by unique objects such as sinks, toilets, and high school lockers.  The main office space was also a large open room so that there was no separation among employees and departments.  This setup really captures the atmosphere of Quirky where everyone works together on all of the steps in the product development process and where everyone is enthusiastically engaged in the company’s mission.  This was demonstrated to us as well; even though we were hosted by one person, we still had the chance to fully interact with over fifteen other employees and departments.  Our experience really showed the team-oriented environment of Quirky and the hard work that is put in by all of the people who work there to make their company successful.

Reena, Nikki Laffel Kaufman, fellow Princeterns, and Quirky Staff

Most importantly, I want to take this opportunity to once again thank our alum, Nikki Laffel Kaufman ’07, for making this Princeternship possible.  I got my first real experience in business and I met a wide range of people who have been valuable resources in helping me figure out my next step in my career journey and to learn about the real types of opportunities that are out there.  The people at Quirky are what really make this company incredible, and I am deeply grateful to have gotten to spend time with them over the past three days.  Thank you again, Nikki and the entire Quirky team, for making my spring break unforgettable!

Kyle Douglas ’15, Visionary Capital

Alex Salzman ’07 and I first met before a speech he gave at Career Services a couple of weeks before my Princeternship. As it turns out, he lived in the room next door to mine when he was a freshman; looking back, something as little as this helps engrain in my mind that entrepreneurship and our career paths start right here, right now.

Alex’s newest project is Visionary, an offshoot of a company he co-founded called Visionary Capital, an investment firm for the media and technology sectors. There wasn’t much structure to the Princeternship, but that reflects the way Alex works—he is spontaneous, and in this way he is successful. What Visionary does is establish a network of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and other investors or figures seeking relationships, especially, but not exclusively, in broad “green” or social entrepreneurship sectors. It’s what Alex calls “eHarmony for business.” Before the Princeternship, I tried my best to help collect contact information for small angel and venture capital groups or campus entrepreneurship groups through the region and e-mail some over to Alex. Then on the first day, Lauren and I entered and updated contact names and organizations in Visionary’s online network, such that an employee (another alum) could call invitees of Alex’s networking cocktail event the next day, had they not already been called. We also listened in to Alex’s conversations with figures in industry to learn about how he sets up meetings and establishes connections. Later on the first night we were supposed to attend a networking event to help promote Visionary, but there was a business conflict between Visionary and the CEO of the company sponsoring the event. That fell through; while it was disappointing, Alex looked at it as a lesson learned about decisions, relationships, success, and failure in general. On Tuesday, we listened in on interviews Alex held for entrepreneurial speakers at the Wall Street Green Summit (WSGS), so we were able to learn about their services and interests throughout the morning and early afternoon. During and after lunch, we spoke to entrepreneurs and speakers on break and introduced them to Visionary, its goals, and its networking event later that night. I wasn’t exactly prepared to be an advocate for the company and introduce myself and Visionary to attendees of the WSGS, and I didn’t know what exactly I was going to be doing beforehand, but to me it was interesting and an opportunity to be assertive. Finally, in the evening we worked at check-in for Alex’s cocktail networking event down the street from where the WSGS was held. A couple of the businessmen at the event stopped to talk to me about what they do, which was really cool..

What I learned the most from this Princeternship experience was neither about entrepreneurship nor venture capital, but about business in general. I was able to see both sides of Alex’s pursuits: his successes and his failures. On one hand, the conflict that he had with the CEO of the company hosting the WSGS on Monday night resulted in a lengthy but respectful discussion outside the event, so I could see firsthand that things rarely go as planned and interests so often conflict. I also saw firsthand how difficult it is to “make a name for yourself” in entrepreneurship and the business world because spreading the word about Visionary was not easy; sometimes the best way to stand out is to physically introduce yourself and make a sort of pitch. On the other hand, Alex’s networking event was very successful and the attendance was far higher than he had expected. At dinner after the event and throughout both days, Alex told us about his struggles and his successes. We also had the chance to learn about the unique experiences of other Princeton graduates working for him. To me, learning about how Alex and his employees acted when things didn’t go as planned and how they made decisions was the most valuable function of the Princeternship. Although I am still not totally sure about my future plans and whether they will include entrepreneurship, this experience solidified that whatever path I take will include many successes and many failures; we simply have to learn from both.

Fellow Princetern Lauren, Alex Salzman, and Kyle

I would certainly recommend this Princeternship to others in the sense that through it, you will learn about successes and failures in the real world. This specific program will likely not be the same in the future because so much of it was on the spot, but if you are spontaneous and at all interested in venture capital, this is an awesome way to spend two days in New York. I even had the chance to walk through the city for a little over an hour and meet up with friends. As someone who hasn’t spent much time in the city, this was also pretty exciting.

For any Princeternship, I would emphasize that communication with your alum is most valuable. From learning about their stories, maybe you will learn about yourself. At the very least, I saw that some decisions don’t work, but they must be made and their effects serve to teach.

 

Julian Dean ’13, Visionary Capital

On Tuesday, March 20, during Spring Break, I participated in a Princeternship at Visionary in New York City, hosted by Alex Salzman ’07. Visionary is a recently founded company that works to match businesspeople including investors and entrepreneurs, particularly those focusing on green tech, social entrepreneurship, and sustainability.

I came on the second day of the Wall Street Green Summit, a conference for people interested in sustainable and “green” finance. Visionary was hosting a reception after the event. My contribution was to encourage as many people as possible to attend.

I began in the morning at the headquarters in Brooklyn where a team of employees, mostly Princeton alumni, were calling invitees to follow up and encourage attendance. I identified contacts and prepared materials for the conference.

Julian, Alex Salzman, and fellow Princetern Kyle

Around lunchtime I moved to the conference in Manhattan, where I described the reception to conference attendees and provided them with materials and surveys about the event. After the conference I attended the reception and further described Visionary to attendees and encouraged them to investigate participation.

It was interesting and energizing to experience the fast pace of a new startup. I quickly learned the fundamentals of the business so that I could describe Visionary, and the post-conference reception, to conference attendees.