In this article, George Birman and Halley Goodman (WG ’16) share their experiences about working part-time with Hillflint, a San Francisco-based retail-apparel startup. The startup is bringing a line of school-branded, premium-quality sweaters to campuses.
How did you find each other and Hillflint?
I had read about Hillflint in GQ and was interested in buying a sweater. When I realized that they didn’t offer one for Penn, I got in touch with the company to understand why. Eventually, this led to me speaking to one of the co-founders and we came up with the idea of working together to expand Hillflint onto Penn’s campus. I knew I would need to find someone with a deep knowledge of the entire university, and in particular the undergraduate community, who would also be interested in retail. I immediately thought of Halley, who I knew had a passion for the sector and had gone to Penn for undergrad. We were friends from New York as well. So, that helped.
What made it exciting for you? How big is this company?
Halley and I are both passionate about investing in and working with branded retail; she has previously covered the sector as an analyst and I have experience investing in consumer products. We both think the chance to work with a startup will be a great opportunity to develop a growth strategy together with the founders. Hillflint is still relatively small but has grown scale very quickly, having already penetrated nearly a third of all students at Dartmouth and similar numbers at schools like Princeton and Yale. That’s thousands of customers, but the opportunity across the country is many times that.
It’s hard to manage academics, recruiting and clubs, particularly as a first year. How do you make time for this engagement? How many hours do you put in every week? Is your job compensated?
It is hard, but this is something we’re both very interested in and so, we make time for it. I would say we spend about 5 hours collectively per week working on Hillflint. Not participating in mature recruiting certainly helps. Sometimes it means starting meetings at 10pm, particularly given that founders are on the west coast and have busy schedules as well. For us this opportunity is more about the exposure and experience rather than compensation.
What challenges have you or the company faced in managing each other? How have you fixed them? Any 610 lessons that have helped you?
Hillflint is based in San Francisco, so all of our work with the two co-founders has been remote, but we haven’t found that to be a challenge. They very much rely on us to be their eyes and ears at Penn. I think trust is the most critical component here – we have a good relationship with one another and with the founders, which allows everyone to feel confident making decisions, even when we don’t know what the outcome will be. With a new venture like this, there are no precedents, so it’s important to be able to take risks without fearing failure, knowing that if something doesn’t work we will just adjust and try a different strategy.
Has business school helped you in finding or working with a startup? Have you considered joining the startup full-time after school?
This is something that we’ve found independently, but I think that being at Wharton was what put us in the mindset to be open to this type of opportunity. Neither of us would have had the time or opportunity to work with a start-up in our previous jobs; we’re unlikely to join the start-up full time, but we hope we can continue to be involved as the company grows.