Benjamin Gips ’19

Kountable, San Francisco, CA

This summer, I had the unique opportunity to join the team of Kountable, a fast growing financial technology start-up headquartered in San Francisco. Despite the label, Kountable completely defied my expectations of what it means to be in the world of finance. Working exclusively in Rwanda and Kenya, Kountable partners with local entrepreneurs who have secured significant contracts from large end customers such as governments, foundations, or other large institutions. The credit market in these countries often prevents such entrepreneurs from accessing the financing they need since they lack the collateral to secure traditional loans. Entrepreneurs in this situation end up in a real bind, unable to purchase the goods without funding from their end customers and unable to receive funding from their end customers without the goods in hand.

Posing with Kountable CEO/Founder and fellow Eph Chris Hale ‘00 on the last day of Benjamin’s internship.

This is where Kountable comes in. We focus on the entrepreneur’s capacity, demonstrated abilities, and reputation, and then use our funding to purchase the necessary goods and letting the entrepreneur handle the fulfillment. With Kountable, local entrepreneurs can complete projects that would otherwise be out of reach. End customers enjoy smoother procurement through genuine local businesses. Suppliers gain unparalleled access to emerging markets through our network of trusted, savvy entrepreneurs. The Kountable model truly provides a win for everyone, which is no small feat in the world of finance.

As is likely clear from my description, I am very excited by the work that Kountable is doing. I believe the model is incredibly powerful and only limited by how fast we can grow. Being able to join this team for a summer of work was an amazing experience, or more accurately, set of experiences.

As a quickly growing start-up, the Kountable team needed assistance in numerous rapidly changing ways. As an intern, this meant that every day presented a new set of opportunities and challenges. I was able to participate in or lead several projects throughout the course of the summer, and I will describe some of the highlights below.

Early in the summer I undertook a process of measuring the complexity and difficulty associated with completing a given deal (or trade). This gave me the chance to gain a deep understanding of the intricacies of Kountable’s business pipeline, understanding where deals get held up and inefficiencies arise. I interviewed a key staff member about every deal Kountable had completed in the last year, measuring his and other email history to estimate how much time a specific deal required. This project also dovetailed into collecting some previously unmeasured financial data that painted a clearer picture of the company’s cash cycle. The main takeaway from this investigation was that the most time-consuming deals were not consistently the most valuable, presenting a significant opportunity for improvement in efficiency. Kountable’s recently hired data scientists have taken over this investigation to continue to provide insight into our time allocations. The data I collected also allowed me to help answer various specific data questions posed by other members of the team throughout my internship.

Later in the summer I had the opportunity to engage with the marketing team on the exciting project of defining value proposition statements for the various audiences who come in contact with Kountable. This first involved identifying the many audiences who would care about the services we provide, then following up with some research and creative thinking to define exactly what Kountable means to them. I presented this work to the marketing team, including some members of our Nairobi and Kigali offices. Based on their feedback, I focused in on the suppliers as the next step. I then got to engage in some industry research from several sources. The most interesting of these sources was a series of engaging conversations with other members of the Kountable team. Kountable’s employees come from a very wide range of backgrounds and experiences, and many of them have a wealth of knowledge of various industries. I also did some online research into shareholder reports and other corporate materials from large players in their respective industries. This culminated in much more detailed value propositions and a presentation that I gave to an assortment of interested team members. I ultimately turned this research into marketing personas that are designed to tailor our appeals to suppliers by industry.

Here, Benjamin and fellow interns are brainstorming for their concluding intern project.
Here, Benjamin and fellow interns are brainstorming for their concluding intern project.

Additionally, I participated in a shared project between the other interns that involved cleaning and organizing Kountable’s various databases. While not the most glamorous, this revealed to me the importance of good data hygiene to actually get a holistic perspective on the operations of the company. We were able to communicate our takeaways to the team, emphasizing the importance of getting everyone behind the efforts.

Our final shared project was to pull together some information about all of the work Kountable has done so far. This was a really impactful way to end my experience at Kountable, as it reminded me in very clear terms of the real-world impact that our work has. The project reported the goods, end customers, destination and other information about every one of Kountable’s completed projects. We also pulled in some photos taken by Kountable’s photographers as a way to bring the stories to life. We were able to provide this information to the whole team as a sort of parting gift, but it also left me with the sense of having contributed to something bigger than myself.

Without a doubt, my experience at Kountable has impacted the way I think about my future. For one thing, the experience showed me that I am very interested in learning more technical coding or computer science skills that are necessary to thrive in a start-up environment. It also reminded me how much I enjoy working in a truly mission driven environment, and it has encouraged me to continue to explore various paths that are associated with social impact. I am very intrigued by combining this mission-driven nature with a for-profit mentality. I also like the variability of the start-up environment as it feels like it gives me a chance to demonstrate my abilities in several environments without bureaucratic constraints. While I still don’t have a clear destination or plan for my career, this summer helped me discover several things that I care about and enjoy.

The support of the Williams College ’68 Center for Career Exploration was invaluable in allowing me to pursue this opportunity. I would like to thank the incredible individuals there, and Mr. William F. McCalpin ’79, for supporting me this summer. Of course, I also want to thank the incredible team at Kountable for welcoming me in and showing me so much about the work that we do. Additionally, I want to recognize my fellow Williams interns at Kountable, Boro ’20 and Nkem ’20, and Kountable CEO and Founder Mr. Chris Hale ’00 for helping bring the spirit of the purple valley to the bay area. This has been among the most memorable summers of my life, and it would not have been the same without support from all of these incredible people. I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Williams community, and I only hope that someday I can provide the same support to other Williams students who are in my position.