From the outside, 252 Nassau Street is a nondescript structure with fading tan paint and a badly weathered sign. If not for the Tigerlabs poster inside the window, I might have missed it entirely. I walked inside and climbed the steps. When I opened the door at the top of the flight I was amazed. It was a huge open colorful space with ping-pong tables, wooden picnic tables, an antique telephone booth, and a colorful fish tank. People from different startup companies were working everywhere on long tables topped with computers. I sat down on one of the bright red couches near the front desk and in less than a minute I met my host, Savraj Singh ’03. Savraj is the CEO of Wattvision, an energy monitoring company. Their product attaches to a home’s electricity meter and tracks the amount of energy the home uses. It then uploads that data to the company’s servers; the users are able to view their energy usage in real-time on their computers and phones.
Wattvision tracks months of energy data, and users can compare their energy usage between two dates. Users can even elect to receive email when their energy use spikes. Wattvision’s goal is reducing energy consumption, which saves customers money and mitigates their carbon footprint.
After I met Savraj, he brought me and the other Princetern, Hope, to a conference room. We sat down in regal-looking leather armchairs and Savraj introduced us to Wattvision. He responded to our questions about the company and announced that they were within days of receiving the first fifty Wattvision 2 units, the second generation of the Wattvision sensor. The project was funded by Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing platform. Savraj then demonstrated how to edit the Wattvision website, and implemented one of my suggestions for the “How It Works” page, which was live within seconds.
He then introduced us to several important projects that he wanted us to work on. The first was creating the Amazon product page for Wattvision 2. Another major task was improving the “Setup” instructional page on the website to make it easier for customers to install the energy sensor. When the units arrived, we would also help package and ship them to the Kickstarter backers who had funded the project. The third big project was designing a proposal for an energy savings competition for the Princeton Office of Sustainability. They plan to hold an intra-dorm contest among the student body geared at energy reduction. At the end of the introductory meeting, Savraj got us both set up with Wattvision email addresses!
Hope and I immediately got started on the Amazon product page. We did some research on Amazon’s vendor central service and learned how to use the product page template on Excel. I looked at similar products’ pages to see how to phrase the product description and important bullets. By lunch we had made some strong progress on the page and had spoken with a representative from Amazon who answered our questions about formatting.
For lunch we went next door to Nassau Street Seafood where we met many of the other people who work at Tigerlabs and got to learn about their startups. One of the most interesting companies was Present, which is designing an app for live video sharing.
In the afternoon, Hope and I continued to work on the Amazon page and I began outlining the proposal for the Office of Sustainability competition. I checked out the energy dashboard Wattvision had created for the Frick Chemistry Laboratory and the campus solar array. I brainstormed several ideas for how the competition could motivate students to cut their energy usage. As it approached the end of the day, Savraj gave me a lesson in riding his Ripstick, a type of skateboard that you can propel by twisting the board. He was a pro and rode it comfortably while talking on the phone. We spoke about improv comedy at school and he told me that he is in an adult improv group in Princeton. When I left I was already excited to be back the next day.
My second day at Wattvision began with work on the energy competition proposal for Princeton. I made a PowerPoint presentation featuring the contest guidelines and included snapshots of the Wattvision app featuring names of the residential halls. At 11, we listened in a conference call between Savraj and an employee of Smart Things, a home automation company. They spoke about integrating the Wattvision software with Smart Things’ products, which could be controlled using a smart phone. Their conversation was very interesting and gave me an idea of how companies in similar spheres collaborate.
After lunch I got to work on the Wattvision 2 setup page. Savraj wanted me to simplify it so that anyone could set up Wattvision in under 15 minutes. The ultimate goal is to create an instructional video demonstrating how to configure the gateway and sensor. I edited the formal setup instructions, which will be available as a supplement to the video.
Around 2:30 Savraj gave me and Hope a programming lesson. We were using the programming language Python to create shipping labels for the Wattvision 2. We used a website called EasyPost, which allows users to integrate shipping APIs into any application. I spent the rest of the afternoon writing code to extract data from a spreadsheet of Kickstarter backers’ addresses to transfer to the EasyPost code. Savraj went to pick up the Wattvision Gateways, which he said we would hopefully be able to package and ship the next day.
On Day 3, I continued working on the program to transfer the addresses to EasyPost. Savraj came in carrying a big box of the Gateways and other boxes filled with sensors and tools. Savraj then explained how to set up the Gateways. He first plugged in a power cord to turn it on. Then he inserted an Ethernet cable to connect it to the Wattvision servers so that it could receive a unique ID number for future setup. The Gateway looked nothing like what I had imagined. It was a circuit board, unlike the plastic box I had seen in pictures. It wasn’t until after configuration that the circuit board gets inserted into the plastic casing. For the rest of the morning Hope and I configured the Gateways. It was very cool to think that we helped set up the first fifty Wattvision 2 systems.
In the afternoon, I simplified the setup instructions on the website and wrote a script for an instructional setup video that Wattvision plans to film soon. Savraj was very interested in my ideas about how to best present the information. While Hope submitted the Amazon product page, I came up with more ideas about the residential college energy competition. Savraj asked that I pitch the proposal to him, and in doing so I discovered a lot of areas that needed improvement. After working with Hope on the guidelines of the competition, I updated the presentation with better descriptions of the rules and incentives for the winning college. Before I left, I played a game of ping pong with Hope and practiced my Ripstick skills. I definitely made some solid progress from the day before.
On my fourth and final day I was determined to finish the shipping label program. After learning some basic Python operators online, I modified the batch order template to process the addresses of the Kickstarter backers. Seeing the orders appear in the EasyPost dashboard was definitely the most satisfying moment during my week at Wattvision (yes, it even topped my first turn on the Ripstick, which happened shortly after). Before lunch, I edited the Wattvision 2 setup documentation, meant to supplement the setup videos.
After a great sushi lunch, I got back to work on the setup instructions while Hope designed a logo for the “Princeton Energy Wars.” Next we got a lesson from Savraj on web design. He taught us about Git and Github and explained how to use Google App Engine to edit a website. I am hoping to continue learning web development on my own so I can create the setup page I envision. After a quick photo-shoot, we spoke to Savraj about his time at Princeton, his experience at Microsoft (he was a project manager for Office 2007) and the origins of Wattvision. He gave us some great advice about entrepreneurship and we spoke to Reuben, one of the other entrepreneurs in Tigerlabs. His company, 8andup” teaches entrepreneurship classes for young people (ages 8-10) in a fun and hands-on way. Before I left, I thanked Savraj for an amazing week and said farewell to Tigerlabs, at least for now.
My Princeternship at Wattvision confirmed my interest in entrepreneurship. It had always intrigued me, but this week I finally got to see startups in action. I wanted to believe that I could become an entrepreneur, but it wasn’t until this week that I realized it was a feasible possibility.
Experiencing a “day in the life” of a startup partially confirmed my anticipations. I had imagined people working really hard on projects they truly cared about. That was absolutely accurate. What was surprising was the range of activities the head of a startup needs to perform in a day. It could range from assembling units to debugging code.
I would recommend this Princeternship to anyone interested in the startup scene. It was a hands-on experience; I felt like I made a real contribution to Wattvision. It was one of the best weeks of my time at Princeton. I learned so much about a vast array of topics and got great experience working in that type of environment. After the Princeternship I decided that I want to work for a startup during the summer.
I owe a huge thanks to Savraj and everyone at Tigerlabs for letting me into their world. Savraj wanted to help us learn and was so patient in whatever he taught us. I can’t wait to go back to 252 Nassau Street!