Managing Product at a Mission-Driven Startup

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Carmen Lau, WH ’20

This summer at CariClub as a Product Management Intern was an exhilarating and fast-paced learning experience. CariClub is a B2B SaaS (business-to-business, software as a service) startup that connects young professionals with nonprofits to help them raise money, plan events, and further their impact. Our clients include Fortune 500 companies such as Deloitte, KKR, Morgan Stanley, and more.

My 11-week internship gave me a chance to leverage the fundamental business knowledge I learned in my first 2 years at Wharton and apply it to product strategy so that we can satisfy the needs of our company, customers, and nonprofit partners. I was given a lot of responsibility and autonomy as I oversaw a team of 5 designers and developers to make improvements to our platform and build out new features. I created guidelines for prioritizing product decisions and set and oversaw the execution of an 8-week product roadmap.

One of my main projects during the summer was leading the creation of the world’s first online associate board builder tool for nonprofits. An “associate board” is a group of young professionals who volunteer their time and skills to help a nonprofit. Since it is still a fairly new concept for nonprofits, we built a web application that asks questions about the size, mission, roles, and responsibilities of the board they want to make, then takes their responses to create a personalized charter. This will be critical in raising funding and scaling our service.

But business needs aside, when at a mission-driven company, you always have to think about your purpose and your “why”. So I set a mission statement for the team and wrote it on the whiteboard as a reminder: “Create a product so awesome that every time a user logs on, they become excited about the change they can create in the world.” This was my North Star throughout my internship, and reminded me of the team’s role in the company and the significance of our work. I really believe that our work is centered around helping nonprofits make a bigger impact on their communities, and what I wrote was later adopted as the official mission statement of the team.

Outside of working hours, I got to explore New York City and stayed at a hacker loft in Brooklyn, where I met people from around the world who were photographers, artists, musicians, programmers, travelers, and more. I read design and business books to further develop my skills and foundational knowledge. I was finding fulfillment in my work, and also the community around me in a wonderful city.

Thanks to the support of the summer funding award, I was able to have an incredibly fulfilling internship and summer. Raised by a single mother and the first person from my town to attend Penn, a summer like this for me to pursue my passions would not have been possible without financial assistance. I definitely want to continue working in the tech industry, and look forward to exploring more product-related roles in the future.

Author: Student Perspective

Views and opinions from current Penn students.