In on the Ground Floor
How an Internship Led to Startup Management Role
How does an English major with no business background end up doing high-level work at a tech startup right after graduation? For Natasha Wallace the answer had a lot to do with Santa Clara University’s Silicon Valley location and the willingness of alumni to recruit current students.
Wallace, who graduated in 2010, came to SCU as an English major who had an interest in art but didn’t know if she could make a living at it. Kelly Detweiler, then the head of the art department, thought she could and encouraged her, while professors Kathy Aoki and Marco Marquez gave her a solid grounding in digital art. Midway through college, Wallace changed to a double major in English and Studio Art with an emphasis on digital art.
It was a low-tech corkboard that provided Wallace with her entrée into the high-tech world. Walking past the board her senior year, she saw a Pokémon figure on a flyer and stopped to find out more.
“I was a big fan of Pokémon in the 90s,” she says, “and the flyer said, ‘Do you want to make video games?’ They were looking for an art intern, so I set up an interview with Josh Chan, their marketing lead and human resources director.”
“A big part of being an entrepreneur is learning to communicate.”
Chan, who received an MBA from the Leavey School of Business, was one of four Santa Clara grads (the others were Dyuman Bhatt, Jason Giang and Chris Blanco) starting a company called Red Seraphim. Their idea was to create a social game, meaning people could play together from remote computer locations, along the lines of Pokemon. Chan hired Wallace as a summer intern.
The summer after her graduation, Wallace did numerous sketches for the game while others worked on other aspects of it. A critical goal of the company was to develop software that would allow people to play the game together using different platforms — for instance a laptop and cell phone. That technology wasn’t widely available then, and Red Seraphim’s founders figured it would be a big selling point.
Wallace was soon promoted to art director, and as it began to look like the startup was on to something, she found herself helping Chan bring other people on board.
“The word got around that there was this group of Santa Clara students making a video game,” she says. “We participated in a job fair on campus looking for unpaid interns and got 80 applications.”
She was made human resources director at the new firm, and Bhatt, the CEO, thought she might benefit from a quick business program, so he suggested she look into CAPE, Santa Clara’s California Program for Entrepreneurship. Offered through the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) at the Leavey School of Business, CAPE offers an intensive six-month weekend program for working and would-be entrepreneurs. She was accepted into the program for the latter part of 2011.
“I was the second youngest person there, but I had actually been involved in starting a business, where for other participants it was still a conceptual idea,” she says. “I really enjoyed the learning process, especially the legal boot camp and learning about accounting, copyright and marketing.”
At the end of CAPE Wallace had to make an oral presentation and was dreading it, but drew strength from one of her undergraduate English instructors, Father Ted Rynes.
“He’s a gifted speaker, and watching him discuss literature in class made me excited about whatever we were studying that day,” she says. I would often think of his lectures when I was preparing for my CAPE presentation because I wanted to evoke that same feeling in my audience.”
Red Seraphim ended up being a success story. It incorporated in 2011, and in 2012, a Canadian firm bought it, largely to acquire the multi-platform gaming software it had developed. The founding team dispersed and moved on, and Wallace is now working in the art department for EBay advertising, where she has been the last year and a half.
She says she treasures the entrepreneurial experience she had at Red Seraphim and feels the fast-paced startup environment opened doors for further opportunities in visual design. And wherever she ends up, she figures her English degree will be an asset.
“I felt that my English background played a big part in the good experience I had at Red Seraphim,” she says. “A big part of being an entrepreneur is learning to communicate, and I feel that my education has given me the skills to analyze information and say things in a way that makes sense to people.”