My Story: Martin Ferro-Thomsen

This post is a profiling story to the backgrounds and experiences of Martin Ferro-Thomsen, the Head of Communications at Issuu. He was also one of the co-founders of the company and blogs at You can also follow him on twitter. Issuu is from Denmark and praises itself as the leading digital publishing platform delivering over 3.3 billion pageviews a month to 33 million readers.

My Story is a new series of posts which will cover entrepreneurs and their backgrounds, experiences and advice. My Story -series is written in first person, by the person in question.

I’m Martin Ferro-Thomsen and I currently work as Head of Communications at Issuu. I was part of the founding team. I’ve worked at Issuu since 2006.

My education
I have an MA in Culture and Communications and I’ve always had an interest in technology since I was a kid and “deconstructed”, well let’s say destroyed, my toys.

In my senior years at the university (2003-2005) I interned and worked part time at Learning Lab Denmark with communications and editing, and also did my MA thesis as a small, but ambitious research project here. It was about how artists and organizations can work together on joint projects, pretty groundbreaking stuff from an academic standpoint. Those years were hugely inspirational to me and introduced me to many different ways of working, organizing and learning. I had met with artists working internationally as self-made entrepreneurs, often against really tough odds, and it was very liberating for me to see what you can achieve almost anything if only you put your mind to it. The whole DIY attitude has always impressed me and still does.

After that I worked as an editor of a glossy gadget magazine, testing loads of consumer devices and writing about the rise of digital media. This was before the iPhone showed the world what a smart phone really was, and most of my reviews were pretty harsh probably because I expected too much. I was then freelancing for a short period where I wrote a few major feature stories about culture and technology for one of the biggest newspapers here, notably a lead story about where I interviewed Tim Westergren. This was in early 2006 and at the time I’d never actually heard about the term Web 2.0 but obviously I understood that something was going on.

That year I also worked on a PhD application, again on art and organization, when I was asked to join Issuu. I loved the idea and said yes, mainly because I would love to see some innovation in the world of publishing. But also because is was so ambitious that I honestly doubted we’d succeed in raising funding. For some reason I’ve always been gravitating towards the insanely cool yet impossible. But actually we got funded just around the time I also got my PhD fellowship, which I had to let go. At the time I would rather be part of something and create value for potentially millions of people.

The most memorable jobs before Issuu
As a teenager I had my share of crappy jobs, including working at a mink farm, a chicken farm, a plastic factory and a furniture factory. In ’96 I spent four months in a kibbutz as a volunteer picking fruit and moving rocks from desert-like fields. My Mom thought it was good for us kids to experience that kind of labour, and although I passionately hated it at the time, she was right. I now fully appreciate the value of educated work but I’m able also to endure the tedious parts that comes with any job (although it gets harder with experience). As an entrepreneur you can’t really be picky as some tasks just needs to get done, and most often you’re the only resource available. I think I’ve manually written over 20,000 emails and other messages during my time at Issuu. I’ve read probably ten times that. But boring stuff gets a lot easier when you’re working for something other than just a salary.

As a student I called about a job as a communications assistant working for a journalist, or one-person press agency you might call it. I got hired the same day without much of an interview and was asked to write the editorial for a major and pretty serious publication. It later caused somewhat of an outrage because at the time I used a pretty liberal form of punctuation that I picked up at the university where I studied language. It soon became apparent that my boss, who was a really nice and generous guy, had a drinking problem and sometimes he would disappear for weeks on end, often to Russia where he had a wife. I was always paid in cash and enjoyed the ride, but a few months later it was over because he had spent all his money on a completely outrageous film project involving Russian vodka, vodka and girls matched together with a bunch of has been celebrities. Need I say more? But it was a great inspiration for me to see how one man could just work out of his apartment with nothing more that a computer and an internet connection. That was something new at the time.

The reasons I would change jobs
One should never put up with boring jobs, poor working conditions or bad managers. I know because I’ve had my fair share of all those things. It still amazes me how much one must put up with just to make money. People usually laugh at me, when I talk about these things. I guess because most people think they have no choice, but in reality you lose many democratic and social rights when you check in to your workplace. I think many employers generally underestimate the competitive value of creating a good workplace, despite the fact that their employees live most of woken life there.

But if you loose the sense of play, possibility and experimentation in your job, it becomes just that: a job and nothing else. On the other hand you see people obsessing over stuff they love without even the slightest probability of getting paid. That’s extremely powerful and I think entrepreneurship holds that golden promise of making your hobby your job.

Highlights of my career
For Issuu it’s our first TechCrunch post, making the top-50 list and being nominated for two SXSW awards. None of these we really planned for and it’s something for our entire team to be proud of, they’re awesome. Together we celebrated reaching our first million users, page views and so on. Today we’re talking about billions and it has becomes abstract. Unbelievable.

On a more personal level it was seeing my first articles in print, both academic and journalistic ones. And making the font page in the Sunday edition. Also, turning my MA thesis into an international research project with a budget of over $ 50,000, directly involving cool artists and practitioners from all over the world. That was special.

My most important learnings
I often use this term I call ‘the Internet brain’. It’s the collective consciousness of people on the web, but also that certain cognitive mode the average user is in when using the web. I think I pretty much knows how it works today after studying it for years firsthand. It’s not pretty from a strict intellectual and evolutionary perspective, but once you see what it can achieve under the right conditions, you have to admire it.

Another thing I’m obsessing over, is features vs. value. Techies always think that features is what creates a web experience. But it’s not. People do.

Finally, the web will reward you if you play nice and create something of value. I love that instant karma nature of the web and it can help guide your decisions once you know what to look for.

People and networks matter
A lot. Most of my jobs I got through my network, often from people I’ve never imagined would be in a position to offer me a job. It’s hard to put a price on a good network, but ‘invaluable’ comes to mind. In our age some people think that the network is something you just plug into. It’s not. It must be earned like it always have. Most of the important connections will be made in person, certainly not on Twitter, although it can help facilitate contact. So I try to keep up with the social scene and make time for the cool events.

My advice regarding jobs
Joseph Beuys did a lot of ridge-walking in his life, switching industries and context all the time. When removing yourself from somewhere, or something, you gain new perspective and I think that’s important when designing a career. Eventually you’ll end up being the right, and only, candidate for your dream job. And if that doesn’t exist yet, then create it by following your desires.Being a professional generalist makes you able to deal with increasing complexity, learn rapidly and execute without fear–because most often you don’t know any better.

If you’d like to be profiled for ArcticStartup, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re always after inspirational entrepreneurs with great stories.