Whether you’re a Senior preparing for life post-graduation or a Junior closing the deal on a fabulous summer internship, there is a healthy feeling of anticipation of what is coming next in your life. Of course, for those Haas students still looking for opportunities, remember: you are not alone. Actually, we at the Haas Undergraduate Blog are here to help.
I had the opportunity to meet with Doug Renert of Tandem, a mobile start-up accelerator that is made up of a team of investors that works with up-and-coming entrepreneurs to fuel the growth of their business. Tandem is the first mobile industry capital fund and incubator in Silicon Valley and believes the future billion-dollar ideas will be focused in mobile. Oh, and they’re hiring!
– Start of interview
At U.C. Berkeley, we’ve had our share of students building successful and not-so-successful start-ups and companies. What are some general tips (you all have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Work on something you enjoy. Another is if you do want to get serious about building business, I really advocate what they call now, “the lean start-up approach.” It essentially calls for getting something in the market quickly that you can test user-interest and engagement with then adjusting your business based on the feedback you receive. It is in contrast with the notion of hiring a big team, working on a product for years and then releasing it in the market and hoping that it goes well. Doing that without the real-time feedback that is available now is really asking for trouble.
Most of our companies at the end of the day are doing something somewhat different than what their original premise was because they learned a lot of things when they were releasing new products. They made incorrect assumptions about what users would want, they learned how to attract more users, and what users would pay for.
The last thing, which is what we do here, is surround yourself with people that you like, respect and trust to get as much input as you can but don’t listen to everybody. You want to get a lot of feedback and ideas, but you want to be able process all that information and make the decisions at the end of the day.
I read that Tandem runs like a “specialized trade school.” For all the students out there looking to join the team, can you further describe the employee culture/work environment?
People are definitely helping out each other here. You see people go out for coffee saying, “we’re launching our iPad app and you all launched a month ago, what did you learn and what should I know about” or “here is my design for my app; what do you think and what should we improve on.” So there is a lot of cross-company collaboration. There is also a lot of attention to metrics. These guys (men behind Bingo Bash) have a detailed dashboard of how users came in, how often they come back—everything is based on measuring effectiveness at a detailed level and basing decisions around that.
How big is the Tandem team currently? How many people are looking to bring on board?
There is a handful us doing different things. We’re actually hiring more people but I’d say at any given time there is 5-8 of us. All of the mentors and consultants that come through generate much more than that. As far as interns go, we’re looking at having 1-3 at a time.
Prior to starting Tandem in 2007, you held leadership at Oracle and Tello Corporation. From your time at these companies and even in your work today, what are some qualities that students should embody to become successful in any work environment?
One critical area for me goes back to metrics and is about identifying concretely your goals are and working to deliver on those goals above all else. Treat everyone else the same way as long as they’re producing on their goals, don’t care whatever else is happening. For example, I don’t care when people come in or go home or how often they’re here or am I meeting with them all the time—the whole focus is on is are they deliver on their goals. Also, try to be creative and look at problems differently than they’ve been looked at in the industry before.
Now let’s backtrack a little: when you were an undergrad at Princeton and even as a Graduate Student at Boalt and Haas, what are some lessons you learned?
Being able to convince people of your ideas through writing or by presentations is a very key skill. Also, the more social you are, the better. This is a very socially oriented career. Connections are everything. I think it’s great to be as social you can in the school environment cause it will help you transition in the work environment.
Lastly, in this business, perseverance is very important. Again, many of these businesses don’t happen easily and are usually the result of a lot of thinking and challenges along the way. More often than not, as long as I continue to hammer away at the problem, it ends up working out in the end. Most things that are worth achieving are not easy. If you go through a little pain along the way, you appreciate the destination that much more.
At Tandem, you are “The Dealmaker” responsible fueling business growth through market planning and establishing key relationships. Can you describe, to an extent that you can, your typical day in the office?
Several discussions with Tandem-backed companies around changes to their product or how to acquire users or where should we raise money from—all sort of strategic product-oriented discussions. Sometimes it will be talking to our PR group and talking about how Tandem can increase our visibility and expand our platforms to future entrepreneurs. A lot of times, I’m meeting with venture capital funds selling our companies and what not. Probably half of my time or more is spent off-site because I am the outward-facing guy trying to network. We have different people here at Tandem focused on the business itself and don’t travel as much.
What are the major challenges of the job?
The biggest challenge is always getting people to use our companies’ products.
We always try to invest in teams that are building great things but building awareness, getting people to adopt those things and getting them to spread virally is what we spend most of our time figuring out.
Another challenge for Tandem is trying to differentiate from other incubators, funds, and angel investors. There are more and more of those since it is a cyclical business and we are currently at the peak in this particular cycle with early- stage investors trying to jump in.
The highlight for us every time is building a successful business. We’ve had some that have had exits that brings some finale to a situation. We had a company called Zumo that was acquired by Motorola and is now a big part of the company. In fact, I’ll be watching TV with the kids and we’ll see their product, which is now called “Motocast”, come up in a commercial and we’ll be like, “hey, that was one of our companies.” We have other companies that are still growing. We have a company called Playhaven that has 60 million users and 30-something employees.
Our goal is to make every entrepreneur a millionaire by the time they finish their Tandem-backed business. We haven’t had a 100% success in that but we’ve been close to 90% so far in terms of companies that exited or companies that are on their way.
For future employees (hopefully some Haas students!), what should they expect working at Tandem?
They will be surrounded by great entrepreneurs and mentors that really want them to succeed. They will be working in an environment where everybody is here cause they want to be and not because they have to.
What advice you have for students, whether it is for an internship of full-time position, applying to Tandem or other companies?
I say this not just to interns but to anybody applying to Tandem including entrepreneurs looking to build their business: show us something you’ve built or something you’ve done. It can be a game you’ve developed if you’re an engineer or a blog you write about in whatever you’re interested in, it can be your Twitter feed and you have this many followers and you’re known for something in area—if you done something outside of school that you’re proud of that you’ve built or created is always helpful.
We’ll look at grades as an indication of discipline but that is a very secondary factor for us. For us, we look to see if you like building things, creative and have you applied these skills somewhere outside the classroom.
–End of Interview
To apply for a summer internship with Tandem, send a cover letter, transcript, and resume to email@example.com. The deadline for submissions is May 15. If you are looking for an internship in the Fall, the deadline for submissions is August 15. Learn more about Tandem by visiting http://www.tandementrepreneurs.com.
To gain even further insight of what is like being an intern at Tandem, read this post by current Tandem Intern Extraordinaire, Michael: 4 Months in the Valley
Good luck everyone!
Catherine Limcaco 12’