Visiting Tigerlabs for the first time, I felt like I had stepped from Nassau Street straight into Silicon Valley. On the second floor of 252 Nassau St., an unremarkable white building I had passed numerous times on my way to Small World, I found a workspace that reflected the innovative, creative work of its startups. The entire floor was completely open – instead of walls or cubicles, the space was filled with long tables lined up side by side, topped with clusters of computer monitors and occupied by the small groups of people who made up each startup company.
I met my Princeternship host, Savraj Singh ‘03, at one of these desk spaces. Savraj is the CEO of Wattvision, a startup company that produces energy monitors that track energy usage in homes and public buildings, and also creates software that displays live feedback on energy use and analyzes this energy data over time. Wattvision’s goal is to help users decrease their energy usage, thereby cutting their energy bills and helping them to live more sustainably.
Like every day I was at Wattvision, the first day started with a short meeting with Savraj. Savraj introduced me to some of the other people in Tigerlabs, several of whom were recent Princeton grads, and got me set up with a Wattvision account (firstname.lastname@example.org!). He then introduced me to the project Wattvision is working on for Princeton University’s Sustainability Office – designing a more intuitive and informative display for the sustainability touch-screens located in Frist, Butler College, and Frick, and creating a corresponding mobile app. My goal was to brainstorm ideas and compile them into prototype slides for both the touchscreen and the mobile app.
By researching infographics and other energy data visuals, I learned a lot about both sustainability efforts and effective ways to present data. This project showed me how displaying a set of data in different ways can greatly change its impact, and it made me think both critically and creatively about a quite open-ended problem.
At lunch, I met the other half of the Wattvision team, Diego. Diego graduated from Princeton last year, and had worked at Wattvision for a summer before joining the team. Over lunch, I learned about both Diego’s and Savraj’s past experiences in industry and the startup world – before Wattvision, Diego had created a Facebook app with his friends during college, and Savraj had worked as a PM at Microsoft and at a startup that helped users run contests online. I also talked with Diego and Savraj about some of the challenges of creating a startup, and how startups are funded.
On the second day of my Princeternship, I met with Savraj and Diego to share updates. Savraj and Diego were working on the second version of Wattvision’s energy monitor, which needed some software tweaks. I shared the touchscreen prototype slides I had made the day before, and we talked about ideas for the mobile app, which I would prototype that day. I used a website called FluidUI to create my designs, which was a lot of fun to use and helped me create simple, sleek prototypes of possible designs.
In the afternoon, I sat with Diego as he edited the code for the energy sensor. He explained some of the basic principles of Python and web development to me, and I learned how to use Git to commit/roll back code. It was exciting to see a real-life application of the principles I had learned in my computer science classes, and to see the immediate feedback that came from sending edited code to working energy monitors.
As it was Diego’s second-to-last day at Wattvision before he moved to LA to be part of another startup project, everyone in Tigerlabs threw a surprise going-away party for him! I got to meet a lot of the people in Tigerlabs at the party, and played an intense game of Werewolves with Savraj, Diego, and other Tigerlab-ers. It was a great way to end my second day.
On day 3, I shared my mobile app prototype with Savraj and Diego, and talked about the actionable metrics for this format. For the rest of the day, I worked on compiling user feedback from Wattvision’s feedback forum. It was really interesting to hear what users had to say about Wattvision, and what they thought could be improved. Reading the feedback made me realize how much users relied on Wattvision’s sensors and data tools, and how conscious they were of their environmental impact.
I also had the opportunity to hear a speaker from Tigerlabs’ weekly speaker series, Janine Yoong. Janine, who is a Princeton grad and is working at TokBox, talked about the qualities of an effective “First Business Man” in a company. It was a great talk, and it was very interesting to me because I’ve had very little exposure to the “business” side of technology, and this aspect of a startup is extremely important.
On my last day at Wattvision, I wrote a blog post for Wattvision’s blog about its new location in Tigerlabs. This gave me the opportunity to learn more about Tigerlabs and the other startups that are a part of it. Wattvision’s space in Tigerlabs was also new to me, and I enjoyed sharing news about it on the blog. In fact, one of the things I liked most about my Princeternship was the work environment I got to experience – Tigerlabs had such a fun, relaxed environment, and the level of creativity and collaboration of the different groups really added to the positive vibe. While learning about the startup world, sustainability, and web development, I also got to ride a Ripstik, make espresso, play with quadricopters, demo some apps, and pet dogs that people brought in to work. Though Tigerlabs was made of many different companies, I felt that it was a close-knit community of entrepreneurs who were all passionate about their work and excited about the future of technology and health.
On the last day I also got to ask Savraj some of the questions I still had about how he applied what he learned at Microsoft now, what being a PM at Microsoft was like (he had been part of the team that created Microsoft 2007!), and what he recommended for someone pursuing a future in entrepreneurship. Having come into the Princeternship with no previous startup experience, it was amazing to be able to talk to Savraj about his past and current experiences in the startup world, and how he had gotten started. Savraj gave me a lot of great advice about how to avoid common startup mistakes, and he introduced me to many resources that gave tips about entrepreneurship and shared recent startup news. I am very grateful to Savraj for all of the experiences and advice he shared with me – after four days, I feel like I have a much better grasp of what it takes to be part of a startup, and what I should do now to get started on the path to becoming an entrepreneur!
Overall, I had a very fun and rewarding Princeternship experience, and I learned a lot about both Wattvision and the entrepreneurial career path. I would like to thank Savraj, Diego, and everyone at Tigerlabs for welcoming me into their workspace and making this such a great experience. I would definitely recommend this Princeternship to any student who is interested in technology or startups, as it helped me explore a career path I had not had exposure to before. If you want to get to Silicon Valley, you should get started at 252 Nassau Street!