The insider's guide to the Jerome Fisher Program at the University of Pennsylvania

My Summer at Two Y Combinator-backed Start-ups

by Patrick W., M&T Class of 2014

by Patrick, M&T Class of 2014

Flying home from California, I could hardly believe the summer that had just passed. All that I had learned, the new skills, the adventure and the excitement, the highs and the lows, all of it was rushing through my head early that Friday morning. One of my housemates had dropped me off at the airport, and I boarded my plane home from San Francisco. I thought back to the origins – the strange turn of events that had culminated in my summer, with the biggest factor in my success likely being M&T: what I had learned from the program, and even the name itself. So let’s begin there.

It started with an email from the M&T listserv. I already had a job that summer, but I decided to read it anyway. “Interns Wanted for a Top-Secret Y Combinator (YC) Start-up” was a catchy header. I didn’t realize that simply reading this email would change not only my whole summer, but my life. I ended up sending an email to the founder, congratulating him on his acceptance to Y Combinator, the world’s most prestigious start-up incubator (think 1% acceptance rate). We ended up getting into a conversation about the implementation of his idea and I talked about how I would implement my favorite feature of his proposed app: a preferred dish at a restaurant based on tastes and dietary restrictions. You could use a hidden Markov model to try to match the attributes of food to user preferences, and return the food with the highest probability of the user liking it. There were other interesting complications. My conversation with the founder, Arjun, turned into a long discussion, and he sent me an offer, knowing that I already had another job. His reasons: I was M&T, and he valued the passion for technology apparent in our conversation.

So I quit my other job and flew out to California, along with two other M&Ts, Joseph and Guillaume. We worked on and built out the app for 2 weeks, and it was up to us to try to sell the app to restaurant owners. However, that didn’t turn out so well – there was not a huge product-market fit. So, the startup was disbanded so that the founders could focus on new company ideas, but we were welcome to stay in the start-up mansion. I forgot to mention that part, the entire start-up of 10 people lived in a mansion outside Mountain View, CA together. This later became a rather famous location in the valley called “Hacker Fortress.”

So, not that long after flying to California, I didn’t have a job, and housing at that point was actually uncertain. However, Arjun and the other founders of the start-up sent out an email containing all the interns names and descriptions to the YC listserv, that literally every YC founder was on – hundreds of the most influential entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. The next morning, my inbox was filled with requests for interviews and resumes. Many of those emails mentioned the fact that I was M&T, and even a good number of the emails were from M&T alums (they exist on the West Coast too!) I ended up taking a job at a company called PlanGrid, which made blueprints for the iPad (and did it better than anyone else); they recruited me specifically because I knew the business and I could do the engineering– they essentially needed a growth hacker.

I learned Ruby On Rails, and showed up at work the very next day after they hired me. My summer became less eventful (probably better for my health) after that point, as I had a place to live at the Hacker Fortress, and a steady job. Every morning I took a train into San Francisco, and I took one every night on my way back. My technical skills grew day by day as I learned more about web architecture and programming, and I incorporated my business and marketing knowledge in generating an algorithm to try to predict and identify customers most likely to buy the premium service, rather than just using the free service. By the end of the summer, I had built a full-service administrative website, wrote software that helped them identify potential customers, and learned web development at the same time. I even had time to take off a week and travel around California, running in different locations (a hobby of mine), and crashing at friend’s apartments (there is a large Penn contingent in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area.)

By the end of it all, I had come to appreciate the power of connections – I even received a full time offer from a Penn alumnus (but I decided to return to school) – and the weight that M&T and Penn hold in the entrepreneurial community. This made it possible for me to be much more flexible in my plans, and take risks, because I knew that if I needed to return to stability, people would be interested in hiring an M&T. As a result of this summer, I am certain of the path that I want to go down: I don’t want to be a financier or consultant; I want to change the world through technology. And all of this stemmed from an email that I decided to open up and read.

Patrick is a current M&T junior in the Class of 2014. He is currently majoring in Computer Engineering within Penn Engineering and concentrating in Statistics in the Wharton School.

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