March 13, 2020
Late last year, we at Icebreaker were entertaining the idea of providing more ways to add value for our portfolio companies. We decided on arranging a 3 month intensive internship for two growth hacking interns. During this internship, the interns would have the chance to learn about hands-on growth hacking by solving weekly growth challenges for our portfolio companies.
After seeing some initial success in our efforts to help our portfolio companies with their growth and both of our interns being hired by our portfolio companies, we decided to continue the GH Internship with a second batch of interns - larger in size. We welcomed six new interns to the Icebreaker office in February: Asko, Krister, Sini, Heidi, Marja, and Elena. They have been helping our portfolio companies with all their growth needs, lead by our Head of Marketing, Mari Luukkainen.
We sat down with four of our interns — Asko, Krister, Sini, and Heidi — to discuss their experiences of working at Icebreaker.vc as we are currently in the process of looking for new team members.
Akseli: Could you tell us a little about your backgrounds and how you ended up joining the Icebreaker growth hacking internship programme.
Krister: My name is Krister Alasaarela and I’m still a high school student. I found out about a year ago that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and if I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I’d have to put a lot of effort and dedicate a lot of time to become one. Therefore, I created a plan for myself. I had a vision of starting 2020 fresh and with a bang; to do something new and something that I’ll remember.
So, I was scrolling through LinkedIn one day and I saw Mari’s LinkedIn post about Icebreaker’s Growth Hacking Internship.
I applied instantly.
Sini: My background is that I’m studying industrial management and I have been working through different kinds of IT trainee roles in different corporations. I soon came to find out that those corporations are just giving you a title, but it doesn’t really grow with you once your traineeship is done. It’s more about the time you spend there that matters. So this internship has been more about acquiring a skill set that I could truly use outside of the role, instead of learning about things like debugging.
Growth hacking feels more human and personal — that’s something that I have enjoyed during my time here.
Heidi: I was a poker dealer in a casino for many years, I have also done b2b sales and worked on a TV series, and have interest in design, so my background is very diverse. But then I decided it was time to educate myself further. I ended up in Haaga-Helia, found Mari’s interview on a course and followed her from there. When Mari posted about the opportunity, I applied.
Asko: Like Sini, my background is also in IT, more specifically, IT project management. And it is kind of a funny story how I ended up here. I have my own company and many of my customers are startups or small or medium sized companies that need assistance with user experience, customer experience, and stuff like that; gaining new clients through their interfaces and more signups especially. And what I noticed was that I couldn’t help them with everything they needed. I noticed they needed a deeper approach in the marketing side of things: more targeting, more everything, and especially growth.
I was then trying to come up with ways on how I could provide them with this kind of growth.
And then somewhere around December I saw Mari’s post and thought that, okay, well, this might be something I could use to help my customers.
Akseli: Now, let’s get more into the Icebreaker side of things. What were your expectations when coming to work for a Venture Capital firm ?
Krister: I expected exactly what we’re doing right now, to be honest. I expected to witness these startups I have been working with grow. My father’s a startup entrepreneur, my grandpa’s a startup entrepreneur — my whole life I’ve been in the startup scene. So I knew that startups would have their problems concerning growth - not problems necessarily - but their own bottlenecks concerning growth. And I knew that that would be something that we’re trying to solve.
Sini: I did not know a whole lot about Venture Capital before I joined this programme. So I was eager to find out. Volunteering at Slush last year was the first deep dive I have personally taken into startups. Everybody was talking about pre-seeds and seed rounds, which kind of gets you into the headspace of understanding the process. Because if you don’t, you miss out 80% of the conversation.
So it was a good introduction into explaining how the startup ecosystem works and then I came to know something about how Venture Capital works, but Icebreaker itself was a new company for me when I applied. I thought that Icebreaker sounded quite cool because Icebreaker deals and invests in startups at such an early-stage. So often you hear about VCs who are coming in at A rounds or something of the sorts, but with Icebreaker, seeing the idea and watching a startup grow was why I was amazed about Icebreaker itself.
I remember one of Icebreaker’s partners telling us when we started that the founders need to drink, eat and sleep. So Icebreaker seems to be a Venture Capital firm that does not only care about results, you guys are building a healthy relationship with the portfolio founders.
Asko: Yeah, actually, I was also very amazed about the culture here. I had no previous practical knowledge about venture capital, only theoretical knowledge. I’ve been studying a bit about funds and finance so I had in my head the idea that I was coming into a bank.
Akseli: Now let’s talk about the working environment at the office. Like Asko said, he thought he was coming into a bank. What has it really been like?
Asko: I think this is a very open environment. I mean, I also get to talk and collaborate with the partners, and that’s something I didn’t expect at all. The fact that everybody’s working towards a common goal is really great.
Sini: I think this is something I already told Mari about, she picked interns who want to be with each other and collaborate with others; building and learning from each other all the time.
For example, if Asko knows how to do something, I’m just gonna sit there and learn from him right away. If somebody learns a new skill or is great at something, then you just go and learn by doing; you get inspired!
Krister: And that is fantastic. I mean, although there aren’t too many cultural differences with the people here, everybody has a unique personality and their own way of thinking — but when you put that together, I think we have done great things and achieved great results.
Akseli: What do you think about the other people working here? How has your relationships been with them?
Asko: I can’t think of a single time when somebody has tried to assert any sense of authority over me.
Sini: A good example of the flatness here: Kristian, the Head of Experience at Icebreaker, or me still pick up things like toilet paper from the shops or take the dishes out the washing machine when needed, there’s really no feeling of hierarchy between us.
Heidi: The corporations where I have worked before have always been a bit more strict about what you do, where you do it, and when you do it. So the freedom to operate how you like at Icebreaker has been great!
Krister: Everybody’s here to help each other learn and to help these startups in Icebreaker’s portfolio prosper. It really feels like Icebreaker is a very real Venture Capital firm. For example, this whole pre-founder community is fantastic. Everybody is incredibly supportive.
Akseli: What would you say your key learnings have been during your time here? What would you say is the one thing that you will take with you when you go to, say, work at one of our portfolio companies, or decide to take a different career path?
Krister: I’d say attitude. I can’t pinpoint the most important learning, but I can say that I’ve learned a lot about attitude and visualising a startups growth and then putting plans it into action.
Heidi: I think I have been able to develop a strong technical base of knowledge that is great to build on in future. I did know something before, but I think that everything has become more clear now. Also realising that good people skills are key, you have to be able to build trust with the startups fast.
Sini: I’m a person who loves questioning things, so a questioning attitude and trust are some of my key learning. Be confident in yourself and know what you don’t know.
Heidi: I’m super happy that all the people I have worked with have been so willing to help and co-operate. And to see that the startups are genuinely happy when they get help and results fast. I also feel that there is no hierarchy here, we are all working towards same goals and everyones jobs are appreciated.
Asko: And building on that also, I love the testing that goes on in our environment by having one (growth hacking) test a week and then hypothesising on what can be done next is great. And Mari has been very good. She tells you just to do it, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work - just try something else.
Akseli: What kind of advice would you give to someone coming to work for Icebreaker?
Krister: I would say be confident, believe in your skills, and be open minded. Come here with an attitude that you want to be better every single day and then you’ll be alright.
Asko: This environment will encourage you to learn. There are many things here that you wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else.
Sini: Exactly. And that’s what I love about this environment, too: we are allowed to fail. Icebreaker really allows you to be an out-of-the-box type thinker. And that is something that I have really appreciated.