How to hack growth? 4 points by Mari Luukkainen from Icebreaker.vc

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Icebreaker.vc’s Head of Growth Mari Luukkainen believes that managing growth should be done in Finland just as in Silicon Valley – systematically and from very early on. Mari tells how she sees growth hacking whereas Icebreaker intern Chiara Montecchiari shares her career change story, from a flight attendant to a growth hacker.

1. Mari, if growth hacking is such an essential method, why have I not heard about it before?

The method has been used by Silicon Valley startups, such as Facebook, Uber, and Airbnb, for years, but is relatively new elsewhere. By utilising it, a business can focus on things that make sense and stop doing things that do not. This is of paramount importance for any company that wants to grow fast.

When the Finnish cleaning startup Freska established its growth team in 2017, it was among the first ones in Finland. Even today, it is relatively rare to see a growth team that is not a part of the company’s marketing. From my experience as the Head of Growth at Freska, I learned that the method can and should be used in every function of the company.

For me, the huge success of those Silicon Valley companies proves that the method is worth implementing, and the growth rate of Freska tells the same story. In just two years, Freska grew from 700 k€ to 13 M€ in annual revenue.

Many Icebreaker.vc’s portfolio companies have grown well, too. Systematic test iteration (growth hacking) with other help from Icebreaker’s team has helped them to get excellent follow-on investment rounds from some of the most successful investors in the world, such as Creandum, Dawn Capital, Paladin Capital Group and Global Founders Capital.

2. What does successful growth hacking require from a company?

It takes openness and courage to learn from mistakes. The company should have a humble attitude towards the test results. The founders of an early stage startup are often in love with their product, but the test results may tell that the product is not as good as they think. Growth hacking shows where the challenges are that the company must solve to become a success.

Growth hacking is often misunderstood as a model for digital marketing, which is only a part of it. The person responsible for the company’s growth, be it the Growth Lead or the Head of Growth, must have a high position in the company, right next to the managing director or CEO. They should be able to intervene in every aspect of the company’s work. This may provoke resistance to change in larger and older companies, where the hierarchies are often set in stone. In such situation, it takes more time to implement growth hacking successfully.

3. Who is best suited to become a growth hacker?

From my experiences with the 8 groups of growth hacking trainees that I have coached, I have learned that there are certain traits that predict success. One must be fond of processes and willing to follow them time and time again – not everyone is. Growth hackers should not be afraid of Excel, on the contrary they should love numbers and documenting. The person should also tolerate pressure. The stakes are high, as the startup’s existence may depend on the outcome of the testing.

Growth hacking is also a people business. Growth hackers must be good communicators and get along with everybody. They must be able to explain the necessity of testing, even when the results are not as good as expected. Learning from failure is the essence of growth hacking.,

Growth hackers are also central in defining the potential target groups and the added value that the company’s product gives them. They must be able to communicate with every team of the company when making sure that the product fills the customers’ needs.

Good growth hackers come from various backgrounds. For example, people that have been in sales or customer service may have the skills that are required. One of my best recruits worked as a shift manager in a restaurant. Another was a flight attendant. Both roles embody authority yet require approachability and friendliness.

4. How are growth hackers made?

We started Icebreaker.vc ‘s growth hacking internship program last year, and since then I have taught the basics of the method to about 50 people. The interns start working at our portfolio companies, solving their problems, and helping them grow. To allow quick learning, they have constant access to help from their peers, previous interns, and our team. Most have been offered a job as a growth hacker after two months of the internship, already.

Who dares, wins – Chiara Motecchiari got a new career as a growth hacker

When COVID-19 stopped almost all air traffic around the world, flight attendant Chiara Motecchiari, 27, was laid off. However, just months later, she landed a full-time job as a junior growth hacker in a fast-growing start-up in Helsinki, Finland. “Never lose hope! Good things can happen quicker than you think”, the Icebreaker.vc intern found out.

When Montecchiari first saw the Icebreaker.vc’s adverts about their growth hacking internship, she thought the program could not be for her. She had no experience of digital marketing. Instead, she had studied linguistics and had been working mostly in customer service. However, the positive comments from former interns made her to change her mind.

During the internship, Montecchiari got the hang of the basic skills of growth hacking. She also worked for Icebreaker.vc’s two target companies, practicing what she had learned.

“It was an intensive and quite a challenging experience, as I was in a totally new environment. On the other hand, it was very rewarding to see the company developing and to help it growing. I also enjoy working as a member of a team, which is essential for a growth hacker”, she says.

After the internment, Montecchiari got two full-time job offers. In November, she started working as a junior growth hacker for Readpeak, a fast-growing company with a native advertising and content promotion platform.

“Growth hacking is a good career option for someone who needs challenges and wants to work in a dynamic environment. I hope that my story will inspire others, particularly women with background in customer service and perhaps struggling with lay-offs, to consider growth hacking as an opportunity”, she says.

Chiara Motecchiari

Chiara Montecchiari

Who she is: Junior Growth Hacker in Readpeak. Born in Italy, resident of Helsinki, Finland for five years now.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in linguistics from the University of Venice. An open university student in Helsinki.

Former work experience: Various jobs in customer service, latest as a flight attendant.

Special interests: Makes jewellery in her own small business, CreativeActs2.0. Plays volleyball. Leads a very busy life.