Derek Zhao, WG’20, shares the steps he took to represent WIVA, a Wharton Social Impact WISE Fellowship that mirrors typical investment fund activities, in a last minute meeting with an entrepreneur.

It was 11:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night. I was sitting in front of my laptop preparing for case discussions for classes the next day when an email popped up. It was from the CEO of an early-stage company I had reached out to about my WISE Fellowship project with Wharton Impact Venture Associates (WIVA).

“I will be at Wharton tomorrow at the Steinberg Conference Center. Can you meet at 1:30?” My fatigue was immediately replaced by a sense of excitement. I quickly responded, coordinated internally to make sure my fellow WIVA team member, Rishabh, was also available at the suggested time, booked a room, put aside the cases, and began getting ready for the meeting.

Before my time at Wharton, I had met with a number of management teams as a private equity associate, but I knew this meeting would be different from my previous experience — I was no longer in control of capital. I needed to convince the entrepreneur to partner with us and go through a yet-to-be-tested internal diligence and crowdfunding process with many uncertainties. The strategy was to convey our value-add from leveraging other resources we had other than capital, all while asking tough questions so that we could at least evaluate the company at a preliminary level.

Prior to this meeting, I had never worked with Rishabh, who is a senior undergraduate student at Wharton. Had I known Rishabh as much as I do today in terms of skillset and capability, I would not have been stressed at all. At the time, I felt I had to be ready to put out fires if needed. I needed to make sure I knew as much as possible about the company as well as about WIVA, since there would not be a more senior team member at the meeting besides the two of us. I took a structured approach in my preparation.

Here were my steps:

  1. I drafted an agenda for the meeting.
  2. Brushed up on WIVA’s marketing and communication strategies by looking through documents on my team’s share drive.
  3. Combed through the research I had previously pulled on the company one more time.
  4. Reviewed news and headlines to ensure I didn’t miss any significant recent events.
  5. Re-read the email exchange to-date with the entrepreneur.
  6. Drafted key questions I had on the business, ranked them by priority, and categorized them into “must know,” “good to know” and “better to ask in subsequent meetings.”
  7. Finally, I anticipated what questions the CEO might have on WIVA and planned the corresponding answers, and then I attempted to anticipate his potential responses to my “must-know” questions.

Thanks to the preparation and Rishabh, the meeting went well.

This experience was one of my most memorable moments of last semester. To me, WIVA was a lot more than a school project because we were working with full-time staff and with entrepreneurs on an event instrumental to the survival of their ventures — fundraising. WIVA was also an opportunity to research, debate, and potentially influence the strategies of a conceptual best-in-class impact investing fund. WIVA has been a tremendous learning opportunity and I am grateful for the support and the opportunity to be involved.

Derek Zhao

Posted: February 11, 2019

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