Reo and Anni, Lessons Learnt from the Icebreaker Growth Hacking Internship
Growth hacking has in recent years become an almost ever-present force in the startup sphere after being coined by Sean Ellis nearly a decade ago. From then on, companies have been attempting to promote growth by using unorthodox methods; the process of finding shortcuts, hacks and other unconventional ways to help businesses grow are all a part of the job for the people holding the title of growth hacker today.
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.
We sat down with Anni and Reo, who recently finished our first ever growth hacking internships to discuss the key learnings they gained from the experience.
Can you talk a little bit about your backgrounds? How did you end up applying for the growth hacking internship at Icebreaker.vc?
My career started at the University of Helsinki, where I studied history and political science. As I have always pushed myself towards new experiences and challenges, I took a job in the marketing team of a promising SaaS-startup company after graduating — a rather unorthodox career move for a Master of Arts!
Consequently, the growth hacking internship position at Icebreaker.vc was a bit of a no-brainer; it presented the perfect opportunity to gain applied experience in new areas, such as web analytics.
My background is in the restaurant industry. I did my Bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and before this position, I’d been working in the restaurant industry for around eight years. During my time in the industry I worked as an assistant, resident manager and a shift manager — I was also in charge of sales — and I felt like it wasn’t truly challenging enough for me. I felt like I needed something more. And that’s when I decided to apply to the University of Edinburgh to study for a Master’s degree in marketing. Then, as I was finishing up my Master’s dissertation last summer, I was thinking about where I wanted to work after school and started to think that traditional marketing was not for me.
Then came Icebreaker. They weren’t specifically looking for growth hacking interns at the time, I was just told by someone that Mari (Icebreaker’s Head of Marketing) was the person to talk to if you wanted to get into growth hacking. So I messaged her on LinkedIn that “hey, I’m graduating soon; this is what I can do; this is what I know. I heard that you were the person to talk to”, and then she got back to me saying that she actually had a multitude of things she needed help with and that she’d get back to me. And maybe a month or two later we messaged each other again and that’s how I ended up becoming a growth hacking intern at Icebreaker.vc.
What exactly were you working on as a growth hacker at Icebreaker vc?
As a growth hacker at Icebreaker.vc, I had an opportunity to work with a variety of early-stage SaaS startups in Finland, Sweden and Estonia. I optimised several campaigns in Europe and the United States through the use of web analytics. We were able to set clear hypotheses and then systematically test them — which, to me, was the biggest difference between traditional marketing and growth hacking.
My daily responsibilities included identifying the bottlenecks of growth in every stage of the funnel, defining target audiences, finding new marketing channels and, when necessary, the building and optimisation of landing pages.
We had weekly sprints with portfolio companies where we went through what they needed the most help with — mostly marketing related problems and we had one task that we were going to prioritise during that week. So basically going through cycles of one goal or one experiment per week.
What were the key learnings that you gained through your experience?
All of my key learnings involve the culture of experimentation that was so vivid at Icebreaker. I never felt pressured to succeed nor afraid to fail. Rather, I was encouraged to look at problems from different angles and carry out tests until a solution could be found.
I feel my key learning from the experience was execution. Often there are companies that are constantly planning and thinking and planning, but no one is actually executing. So the key learning was to just do it; execute. Especially because we were doing experiments with relatively low budgets, so even if we were not where we wanted to be after an experiment, it’s fine, then we can just analyse the results and improve on the next one.
What were the highlights of the internship?
Overall, I cannot believe how much I learnt in such a short period of time. Moving forward, the knowledge gained during this internship will help me immensely. The best specific moments were when we were able to grow the international lead funnel of several startups in the Icebreaker portfolio.
I learned a lot when working with the founders. It was great to see just how much expertise they have in their own fields. And I got to see so many companies and startups that I had no idea even existed - some of which were so niche that it was just amazing to see. And it was also great to see how the founders actually valued our opinions and wanted to brainstorm with us. So it wasn’t like, “oh, you’re a trainee or an intern so you probably don’t know anything”, but they actually took us in like we were a part of their team.
Was there something unexpected that came up during your internship period?
The sheer number and variety of software-driven companies came to me as a bit of a surprise. Icebreaker’s portfolio alone consists of close to 40 different technology startups, including many really unique inventions and creative designs.
Any concluding comments for people who would like to try their hand in growth hacking?
I found Icebreaker to be the optimal learning environment for growth hacking. If you are interested in the world of growth hacking, it is best to ditch the textbooks and begin hands-on experimenting as soon as possible.
Define the key numbers that are your goal, then test and optimise your performance through the data. This is a simple recipe for success.
You need to know how to prioritise, so you need to get rid of the overanalysis that comes with problem solving. You just have to bite the bullet and be a straight shooter if you want to learn. There’s a lot of new things that come your way and you need to allocate some of your time to read about things and learn new skills. So what I did was join webinars, Slack communities that were related to growth hacking, and just follow different channels for every single topic that you can imagine.
After their internships, Reo and Anni have both landed jobs in the Icebreaker portfolio. Reo joined Aibidia, the company who have developed a Country-by-country reporting solution that reveals underlying tax risk, and Anni joined Typelane, who are helping companies develop a personal and engaging employee onboarding and offboarding experience — both are working as a Growth Hackers in their respective companies.
After garnering much success in our flagship Growth Hacking Programme, Icebreaker will continue supporting our portfolio companies with their growth hacking needs.