Thursday, September 19, 2013

Challenging Everything: A Boothie's Bogotá VC Internship Experience

William K. Lee is a rising second-year student at Chicago Booth. This summer he was an intern at Polymath Ventures, an innovative company builder in Bogotá, Colombia, and he shares some of his experiences in this interview. Prior to Booth, he worked as a software engineer for Bay Area Internet companies including eBay and Wikia. He came to Booth because he wanted to shift to the business and management sides of technology, so his summer internship gave him a great opportunity to practice the high-level skills he has developed in business school. Moreover, the opportunity allowed him to step out of his comfort zone and tackle new challenges in a new place. Will is active in the entrepreneurship scene at Booth and in Chicago and is a Co-Chair of the Booth Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Group (EVC) for this coming year. Outside of school, Will is training for October’s Chicago Marathon (his sixth) and enjoys playing bar trivia with other Boothies.
--Matt Richman

Where did you work this summer and what was your role?
I worked in Bogotá, Colombia, at Polymath Ventures. Polymath designs and builds companies from the ground up that serve the needs of the middle class in emerging markets. This summer I was a technology advisor and product manager for one of Polymath's companies, Táximo. Táximo is trying to reinvent the taxi industry in Latin America by making the customer experience safer and more convenient.

What are some resources you took advantage of at Booth that helped you land the job?

The Entrepreneurship concentration at Booth was instrumental in securing my summer internship. I first heard about the job opportunity from the newsletter of the Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Group. Once I got the offer, I turned to the Entrepreneurial Internship Program (EIP) from Booth’s Polsky Center for further assistance. EIP offers grants to students like me who want to work at cash-strapped startups.

What was the highlight of your summer internship?

I was in charge of hiring a software developer. At first I tried the regular recruiting channels, such as posting on job websites, but they proved fruitless. The next step I took really threw me out of my comfort zone. I went to several software engineering Meetups in Bogotá in order to meet talented developers in person. I planned on attending just the events’ networking sessions, but I ended up participating in the interactive Spanish-language portions, too. Imagine trying to talk about Big Data with just high-school level Spanish! Nevertheless I am glad I got to experience these Meetups not just because they helped with recruiting but because they informed me about the startup scene in Colombia and connected me with tech entrepreneurs.


Will attending a tech Meetup at a Bogotá co-working space

Were there any transformative aspects of the experience that will help you structure your final year at Booth?

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working closely with company founders to advise them on technology issues. I liked drawing on my technical background and also pushing myself to think strategically. I would like to have a role like this after I graduate from Booth. This could be partnering with an entrepreneur for a startup or serving as advisor-in-residence at a startup incubator or accelerator. In my final year at Booth, I plan on participating in entrepreneurial activities and taking many entrepreneurship and general management courses, such as New Venture Strategy.

How was your Spanish before the internship? 

I studied Spanish for four years in high school, but it was very rusty when I landed in Colombia. This wasn't a problem for work because my colleagues used English in the office. Still, I tried to improve my Spanish. I got involved in Spanish-English language exchanges and listened to podcasts. Now it's pretty good—yesterday I tuned into a Spanish radio station and understood an announcement for a supermarket sale!

Did you get a chance to explore Bogotá and Colombia? What was your favorite experience outside of work?

Bogotá had a host of things to do this summer. I enjoyed going out into my neighborhood and discovering nice restaurants, hole-in-the-wall eateries, cafes, and bars. I also ran a lot this summer for marathon training, so I got to explore many parks and districts on foot. I created a Google map of my favorite places, which was a big hit around the office. I tried to break out of the city's large expat scene by meeting locals through various channels. They were very friendly and invited me to special events like a wine expo and an outdoor rock festival. My favorite experience of the summer was spending a weekend in Medellín, Colombia's second city. I enjoyed its fantastic weather, met its outgoing people, and reveled in its vibrant nightlife.

Will and another Polymath intern sampling some reds at a wine expo in Bogotá

How did your first year at Booth help you get the most out of your summer?

When I decided to pursue my summer internship at Polymath in Colombia, I took the Booth motto of "Challenge Everything" to heart. In my work, I used skills I developed in my first year coursework to perform extensive analysis on every claim I encountered. My colleagues appreciated the level of rigor I applied to my job. At a higher level, I challenged myself by taking the risk of working in an emerging market that I had known little about. The safe move would have been working for a startup in the Bay Area, where I'd lived for most of my life, where I planned to return after Booth, and where I would have formed connections seemingly more beneficial for my short-term goals. But conversations with faculty, second-year students, and industry professionals that I met on Booth-organized career treks helped me see that a summer in Colombia could be just as rewarding. I'm glad I chose Bogotá. Not only was it a unique life experience, it opened my eyes to the business opportunities there and gave me insights into entrepreneurship that will serve me well in my career (and which you can read about here). 


  1. Great post..! I think this is the benefit of doing internship. In my opinion such internship really helps in development of our career. The best part I liked in this post is the highlight part. The internship really responsible for pushing us out of our comfort zone and this is crucial for our career progress. I did my internship at Hong Kong where I worked in a reputed Software development firm and I had a great experience as an intern. I learned a lot and after completing this internship now I am a much better programmer with good in performance tuning.

  2. How fluent is your Spanish overall? A: speaking, B: reading, and C: writing.