Not only investments – how does Icebreaker.vc operate in the world of early-stage startups?
Being one of the freshest VC players in the market, Icebreaker.vc has indeed done some impressive work with early stage software-driven companies in the Nordic and Baltic region. Today, the fund itself has reached €20 million in size, as the investing ticket rounds from €50K to €350k. For very early stage investing, these ticket sizes remain impressive – and coveted.
Success stories rise from a supportive community and managing team
But no amount of money is as valuable as bringing on-board the right knowledge – as done by Icebreaker through their own managing’s teams specialists and their community. Early on their journey Icebreaker’s founders realized the massive future founder potential in Finland. They estimated that around 10,000 people with 5-10 years of successful work experience would be interested in creating their own venture in the future. The problem? No community to support that shift, and no investors to back the newly born early stage ventures.Icebreakers strategy with their community is simple, but effective: the community works as a unique startup and talent incubator – located right at Icebreaker’s elbow. Joining the community gives startups and aspiring founders a path to not only capital, but to the valuable opportunity to knowledge from other entrepreneurs. To add even more value, Icebreaker’s team is built on expertise from different fields. If a portfolio company needs help with their marketing, Icebreaker has a specialist in their managing team to send as a rescue. Same goes with recruiting and software, for example.
But how does Icebreaker.vc invest?
Because concrete examples are always more interesting, we will share four different investment stories from Icebreaker in the following.
Case Hoxhunt – Automated phishing training and response
The idea behind Hoxhunt is familiar to anyone with an email – the most common way cyber security is breached in corporations is done through phishing emails. You might know these phishing emails, they are tricky beasts! Phishing emails use social engineering tactics to manipulate employees to reveal confidential information to the people making the phishing emails. This information could be either passwords or either confidential sales reports. Not something you’d want to share outside your organisation, right?
Icebreaker invested in Hoxhunt in the early-stage, back when the founders were still bootstrapping. Excited about the idea, Icebreaker led the first Pre-Seed round and facilitated the extension of the initial funding round by introducing the team to Risto Siilasmaa’s family office. This introduction ended with him investing into the company and providing the founders with more valuable connections.
Icebreaker also worked closely with the founders on follow-on fundraising including coaching with the process, working with pitching materials and introducing the founders to potential investors. As a result of this coaching, the company received several competitive term sheets which ended with €2.5m round led by London-based Dawn Capital.
Case Inscripta – Professional dictation made easy
We all know the joke about doctors having bad handwriting. While it’s a fun joke, the cost of manual patient notes are a real-deal. Reading and trying to make sense of the manual patient notes end up being the most time consuming back office task doctors and nurses face daily. On a global scale, this leads to multi-billion losses annually. This time could be used with the patients, thought the founders of Inscripta.
The CEO and founder of the company, Simo Sorsakivi, worked several years in the medical dictation industry and experienced the fore-mentioned issue in first person. He founded Inscripta to replace old-fashioned dictation solutions and manual transcription processes with their own state-of-the-art speech recognition solution. Inscripta’s solution is capable of adapting to any language or professional lingo, and has already surpassed competing solutions like Google and Nuance in speech recognition accuracy for Finnish.
Icebreaker.vc invested in Inscripta in the early stage as they found the ground-breaking company interesting. Inscripta represents one of the first major investments in speech recognition and mobile applications, which uses machine learning to drive better speech recognition. Their services are specialized towards the professional healthcare industry – particularly important when you consider how important nomenclature is in health services. Icebreaker believes that Inscripta will help those in health services better their work-life balance, as menial tasks such as transcribing doctors notes will become increasingly streamlined with the help of their speech recognition software.
Case Klaus – Conversation review tool for support teams
Klaus, known as the “conversation review” tool for support teams in companies, was founded by a team with a long background in the software industry. This background includes for example hands-on experience from Pipedrive, which is a known for scaling their business extraordinarily fast. (Pipedrive, an Estonian startup, has raised over $90m during the last year and is currently serving over 80.000 customers globally.) Klaus’s CEO Martin Kõiva was one of the first employees at Pipedrive, where he built the customer support function and managed operations of over 60 support employees.
Getting first hand experience of what worked and what didn’t in customer work, Kõiva and the team at Klaus knew exactly how to effectively solve problems with customer support software. This know-how, combined with the fact that the customer experience management market is projected to grow exponentially during the next few years, provided Icebreaker enough reasons to make the investment decision in the early stage. 12 months after Icebreakers initial investment, Creandum led a €1.5M seed round for Klaus.
Klaus was started by Kair Käsper (Head of Growth) and Martin Kõiva, who started and worked at several companies together. It was apparent to Icebreaker that these two founders were ideal as their working relationship was strong. Later on in their journey, they were joined by technical co-founder Egon Sale who has 15+ years of experience as a web developer. Icebreaker and other supporting VC’s have been helpful in providing Klaus with business guidance and connecting them with a network of potential users.
Tools for growth – what does a VC investment deliver on top of capital?
As seen from Icebreaker’s operations, VC’s invests rarely only capital. Every investment requires time, effort and planning ahead. Every investment case also needs very different things from their investors. But what are the needs that Icebreaker has found common with their every portfolio company?
Common with every investment case, was the help that Icebreaker offered in recruiting. This help ranges from building a hiring plan and sharing open jobs in their own channels to building recruiting process and management practices. For example, with Hoxhunt they helped with finding and interviewing possible candidates and with Klaus the fund participated in key recruitments, with both coaching on the process and direct making introductions to candidates which led to successful hires. In all of the investment cases Icebreaker helped the founders to implement employee stock option plan.
With Hoxhunt the Icebreaker team helped the founders to focus on relevant areas of the business by sparring with the goal-setting and growth plans. With Klaus and many other portfolio companies, Icebreaker has introduced the team to the OKR-methodology which allows the team to focus on the most relevant areas of the company building during their first 12 months. This kind of strategic knowledge and “looking from the outside” -mentality is valuable for even the more experienced founders.
Icebreaker coaches their portfolio companies in concrete ways. Sometimes the founding team would need help with drafting customer corporals and tender templates to fit the enterprise customer demands or help convert trial to subscriptions. Icebreaker also often make introductions to new customers and decision-makers or helps the teams with their sales process development.
As early stage VC’s rarely work alone for long (or at least hope not to), it’s in both the fund’s and founding team’s benefit to work together on fundraising. For example in Logmore’s case, Icebreaker supports the team in ramping up both marketing and sales and finalize the product by increasing the Icebreaker ownership in the spring of 2019. With Inscripta, the same kind of work was done with their fundraising material. Icebreaker also introduced the team to multiple investors – and that in turn led to successful fundraising in the spring of 2019. Icebreaker has also helped their portfolio companies to raise significant uprounds from established funds like Dawn Capital (UK), FJ Labs (US), Creandum (SWE) and All Iron Ventures (SPA).
Icebreaker has a CEO mentoring program and they organize monthly Founder Clubs to support the development of the founders. They strongly promote life balance in all interactions with their portfolio companies, and have partnered with performance coaches from Hintsa and Heltti to create programs to support the founders and employees of their portfolio.
Growth – it’s what all companies and investors are striving for. To help tackle the biggest growth challenges in their portfolio companies, Icebreaker recruited two growth-hacking interns to their team. These driven interns resolve one growth challenge per portfolio company per week. For Icebreaker and its portfolio companies, this unique strategy has proven to be one of the most effective ways to tackle the companies’ growth needs.