Are you wondering how to find an interesting start-up internship and get the most out of it? Rami Abou Jaoude (Wharton MBA 2013) describes his internship at Namshi.com in Dubai during summer 2012 and shares how to facilitate your own learning in an unstructured work environment.
How did you find your position?
Two of the co-founders used to be my colleagues at McKinsey. When I found out about their venture, I informally reached out to them.
What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
I am interested in launching a start-up in the ecommerce field. I thought that working for another ecommerce start-up would give me valuable experience in this industry.
What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
Ask for work that motivates you and that you can learn from. It is easy for an intern to be given repetitive/uninteresting tasks.
How was your experience?
Namshi.com is a fashion-focused ecommerce start-up based in Dubai. Start-ups are usually unstructured and hectic and Namshi was no exception. No one followed-up with me after receiving my offer and I had a very vague idea about what I would be working on. Namshi did not process my visa on time and I had to scramble at the last minute to go to the UAE Embassy. I was eventually able to get my visa the day before the start date of my internship. Having lived in Dubai before Wharton, I was lucky enough to know the city well and I had a place to stay. Otherwise, my experience would have been even more difficult. I went to Namshi for my first day of work with no idea about what was expected from me. I had not discussed culture or work life balance with anyone in advance.
Coming from a consulting background, being able to wear jeans to work every day was, to me, particularly enjoyable. The startup was based in one large open space with no offices even for the co-founders and MDs. There were a couple of meeting rooms, however. This made the company more dynamic and mirrored the non-hierarchical atmosphere that characterizes it.
I was first asked to work on a couple of initiatives that did not particularly excite me. One of the initiatives was relatively easy to implement so I made sure I got it done before I asked the MD for something that motivated me more. We eventually agreed that I would work with the digital marketing team on optimizing their advertising expenditure in order to get more bang for the buck. The work was analytically very heavy but it also involved a lot of experimentation. The analytical part involved measuring ROI, running cohort analyses, and analyzing the value of different segments. The experimental part taught me, by trial and error, that changing very small details of an ad can have a big impact on conversion rates. This project took up the bulk of my internship experience. After Louis was satisfied with the return we were now getting on Facebook and Google ads, he asked to move on to a different project. I was now responsible for building a data reporting structure for the marketing team.
In this project, I learned how difficult it is to gather accurate data and how decentralized information is. How can employees make informed decision if they do not have access to the needed data? I developed dashboards and agreed with the team on the methodology that should be used to collect each piece of information. I eventually handed over the work to one employee who became fully responsible for continuously updating the data and for making sure that it was clean and accurate.
What did you learn from your internship?
This experience reinforced my belief that working for a start-up can be really unstructured. To enjoy the experience, you need to be comfortable with uncertainty and with the prospect of working on something different every day. You need to be willing to ask for meaningful work that motivates you and keeps you excited. And you need to be comfortable with the possibility that things could not work out as planned. Two weeks after I left Dubai, I heard that the startup right next door shut down. One of the co-founders of this startup was also my ex-colleague and I could have easily been working for him rather than Louis.
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Prior to Business School, Rami worked in McKinsey’s Dubai office focusing on the Telecom Media and Technology sector and advised a range of clients in the Middle East and Africa on marketing, pricing, strategy, and operations. Rami is pursuing a master’s degree in Business Administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the American University of Beirut.