Summer interns running their own business

Interns David Twamley (left) of Penn and Neal Cook of Temple geta full internship experience at Front Rush L.L.C., a software company in Lambertville.
Interns David Twamley (left) of Penn and Neal Cook of Temple geta full internship experience at Front Rush L.L.C., a software company in Lambertville. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 12, 2011

For the record, summer intern Neal Cook does make the coffee and empty the trash.

But more significant, Cook, a Temple University sports-management major, and fellow intern David Twamley, a business major at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, have other responsibilities that might make them the envy of their copy-making, phone-answering compatriots.

They are running their own business - at Front Rush L.L.C., a company that develops sports-team recruiting and compliance software in a cool old factory along the canal in Lambertville, N.J.

"On our first day, we were building our own desks," Twamley said. "Two weeks later, we were running our own company."

The business Cook and Twamley are trying to bring to market is called Online Sales Board. It's an offshoot of internal-sales scorekeeping software that Front Rush's founders developed to motivate their sales staff.

"We went from screwing in desk legs to designing pricing models," Twamley said.

Internship is a rite of passage for college students making their way toward careers. But in these hard times, when unemployment in the 20-to-24 age range is running at 14.5 percent, an internship is more than just a way to pass the summer.

Employers routinely hire their interns when they graduate, the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported recently, drawing from a survey of 266 companies conducted in January. In fact, the companies said, four of the 10 new graduates hired from the Class of 2010 had previously worked as interns.

That may happen to Cook, who graduates in December, but no one's making any commitments yet. Twamley will be a junior in September.

"From our perspective, it's a great way to analyze talent," said Front Rush cofounder Brad Downs, 30. "There's no better way to evaluate someone than to watch them work."

This is the first year Downs and business partner Sean Devlin, 30, have had interns. The pair were childhood friends who always dreamed of starting a business.

Downs graduated from the College of New Jersey with a degree in business communications. He was living with grad assistants who were assistant coaches for the college's baseball team when he noticed that they struggled to keep track of potential players while also steering clear of violations of NCAA recruitment rules.

Inspiration: Make that process easier.

Downs immediately called Devlin, then working for Monster.com. "The next day, I put in my resignation," he said.

They borrowed $3,000 from family and friends, which enabled them to swing a $35,000 bank line of credit. Five years later, they employ 12, pay them benefits, and record sales in the millions.

"Our idea was that we would have the interns do everything we wished we could do but we didn't have the time: researching new markets; new verticals; posting stuff on Facebook," Downs said.

Meanwhile, Front Rush had been using an online sales board to motivate its staff. It worked well but wasn't core to the business.

Developing it would be a distraction. Why not let the interns do it?

"We feel that we got our M.B.A. the first year we were running our business. You have to learn to manage cash flow. You have to learn how to hire people, and you have to learn it like that," Devlin said, snapping his fingers.

That's what Devlin and Downs decided to provide for Cook and Twamley.

Over the July Fourth weekend, the interns kept texting their bosses. With the launch set for later this month, they couldn't afford to kick back much on the holiday.

Everything was a learning experience.

"Search-engine optimization," Cook said, giving an example. How could the two design their company's website so it popped up high when someone typed sales leader board?

Online Sales Board allows each salesperson and that person's managers to track how they are doing against company quotas, while also allowing personal goals to be set. The twist: It's all applied with a customizable sense of humor designed to goad rivals.

Little details matter.

Cook talked about having to arrange a merchant's account for online payments, then realizing that transaction fees needed to be figured into product pricing.

"You think it's like a lemonade stand," Twamley said. "You hand someone a glass, and they hand you money. But if you can't sign up easily, that's a bad omen for your product.

"We want to make it easy for people to sign up and make it easy for them to pay."


Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

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