Christina A. Brodbeck: YouTube Founding Team Member, On Her New Relationships Venture

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Christina A. Brodbeck, currently Co-founder and CEO of theicebreak; previously on the founding team of YouTube, the company’s first UI Designer, and the Mobile Design Lead. She is also an active angel investor and mentor. Her present venture, icebreak, is a fun service for couples that helps keep the spark alive in relationships.

LG: What advice would you give an entrepreneur just starting out in this industry? 

CB: Don’t get stuck in the details, and don’t take it personally.

A good friend recently made the joking comment to me that to be a really successful entrepreneur one must be less neurotic and more psychotic.

While that is an extreme statement, the point was to be successful in this industry you can’t worry too much about the details of what other people are doing or what they might think of you. If you do, you’ll get trapped. Instead, divulge yourself in your delusions of how you are going to make your business great, and then work and hustle towards that goal without focusing heavily on what others might say.

LG: You have an extensive background in entrepreneurship and investing. How did you get started? 

CB: I’ve always been one of those people who can’t sit still and enjoys trying new things.  That desire to always be doing something new is what drives me. As a kid this translated into a lot into crazy ideas. I remember one summer, I had just come back from a homestay in Japan, and I became obsessed with the idea of making small backpacks and exporting them there. I even convinced my grandma to hand sew them. Another summer some friends and I had a pretty extensive lemonade selling business; we “innovated” and went door-to-door instead of just staying on one corner. For a kid, that small innovation resulted in a pretty big sum of spending money.

As an adult, this desire to try new things led me to discover technology. I was a history major at the University of Illinois, but one day discovered this book called “HTML by Example.” That book was the starting point for me in learning how to make Web sites, something I quickly realized I loved doing. I started making them for fun at first, and then for the next few years took any job that I could get building sites for people. I didn’t care if they were paying me or not, I really just wanted the experience. As my experience and formal training grew (I ended up going to grad school in technology), so did the opportunities – eventually leading me to work at places like Keynote Systems, NASA Ames, and YouTube.

Getting started in angel investing also followed the same pattern of jumping into something new.

Before taking part in my first deal, I really knew nothing about investing or even what an angel investor was. I pretty much learned the ropes as I went along.

LG: Where does your passion come from? 

CB: My passion really comes from wanting to create and experience new and innovative things; that’s what propels me to get involved with projects that are tackling problems that haven’t yet been addressed by current methods.

So many people measure success in so many ways. How do you measure your own success? Success to me really means being happy with myself, being excited about what I am doing, and having fun doing it. I really strive to create and be a part of environments that are conducive to those three things.

LG: What would you say is the most difficult part about starting a business?

CB: Minus the fact you kiss your social life goodbye for a while, one of the most difficult parts about starting a business is the always having to be “on” part. As entrepreneurs we are so passionate about what we are doing, that we love to tell anybody and everybody about it all of the time. This doesn’t lead to a lot of mental downtime, which could result in feeling frazzled.

I think it’s important to actively take some time each day to think about things other than your business. To kind of escape, if you will. This will give you a mental break, and some safe distance to see your product through fresh eyes.

LG: Let’s talk about your latest venture, The Icebreak. What inspired you to create this outlet for couples?

CB: Theicebreak is an app and web site that helps couples to keep the spark alive in their relationships, with fun snack-sized activities that take no more than two minutes a day.

Inspiration for creating theicebreak really came from two places: personal and business. On the personal side, I was frustrated that there were all of these social networks online that helped me to better connect with my friends, but yet there wasn’t anywhere to go that helped me to better connect with the one I love.

On the business side, after my co-founder (Dwipal Desai) and I had left YouTube we briefly experimented with creating a dating site for singles. In doing so, we quickly realized that dating sites have a lot of issues: high churn, low engagement, and that it is expensive to acquire new users. The best dating site in the world wouldn’t have any users on it at all, because you’ve successfully matched them up. We then pivoted and began to focus on the issue of how do we help people after they’ve ended up in a relationship.

LG: What’s unique about The Icebreak? 

CB: What’s really unique about theicebreak is that we spark conversation and communication. We nudge couples, by giving them an exciting and interactive question once a day to answer and share with their partner. Our philosophy is that we want to create conversation, not just facilitate it. Relationships evolve over time, and it’s important for couples to continue to communicate with each other through these changes.

LG: Name three things that come to mind when your boyfriend thinks of you.

CB: Haha. This is a great question because it led to a real conversation between him and I, as I had to ask him. This is what he said: Diet Coke, Loves Plaid, and Converse.

LG: How were you able to grow your community? 

CB: We’ve been very fortunate to have great word-of-mouth growth, which has been wonderful since we really haven’t done any advertising. As a company, each member of the team happens to be in a relationship, and so we really aim to create a community and product that we love using in our own daily lives. As a result, we can personally relate to what our users are going through in their own relationships. This gives the business a very personal touch, and allows us to see things through our users’ eyes. When we correspond with our users, like if they have a technical question, we realize that this is more than just a technical problem…that it’s about something bigger and more important – connecting with the one they care about.

LG: As a women investor do you have any significant words of advice you can offer to women entrepreneurs seeking funding? 

CB: When fundraising for theicebreak, a male mentor and investor I greatly respect said that he could see some other male investors being shy and timid to bring up and discuss in a partner meeting a site that deals with couples and helping them with their relationships.

If you’re a female entrepreneur with a product that is targeted to the female demographic or deals with topics that might make some men feel uncomfortable, just know that you might have to work that much harder to get your foot in the door.

I do think it’s changing, though, and more women are becoming investors…so hopefully it will become easier and easier for women.

LG: How important is it for women these days to have a mentor? 

CB: It’s incredibly important to have mentors and advisors. If you don’t have one, find one. As an entrepreneur, a lot of what you will be doing will be trial by fire, where you have little experience with the task at hand. You need to surround yourself with people who have the knowledge and advice to fill in the gaps in what you know so you can better navigate through that unknown territory.

LG: What is it that women do, or don’t do, that causes them to fall short in realizing entrepreneurial potential? 

There are two things that I think we as women struggle with quite frequently — asking directly for what we want, and being vocal about our amazing accomplishments.

Too many times, I find that it is difficult for us as women to make the “ask” for money when we are fundraising our businesses, and it’s difficult for us to meet someone for the first time and tell them about all of the amazing things we’ve done in the past. I think it’s very important for us as a whole to teach women of future generations to not be shy of asking for what they want, and to teach them not to worry about sounding arrogant if they speak of their achievements upfront.

LG: I could not agree more. At one point, I found myself practically forgetting all  of my key accomplishments when talking with professionals, investors, mentors and even my two advisors. As a tip for women reading this, I recommend carrying a little notebook highlighting all of your accomplishments. Or, use the notebook in  your phone. This way, when I’m asked, I’m better prepared.

LG: Let’s shift back to theicebreak. Please explain how Date night Coins are collected and used by the couple. 

CB: At theicebreak, we believe in using technology to enhance relationships and real-world interaction, not replace it. Therefore, we wanted to implement a rewards system that encouraged people to spend time with each other. Everything that someone does on the site gives them Date Night Coins; once they’ve reached a certain number of coins, they can go on a date night with their partner to wherever they choose and email us their receipt. We’ll send them a check for 20% of the entire bill, up to $20.

Thank you Christina for interviewing with us.

Laura Greb lives in New York and created Artmeme as a community for emerging to mid-career visual artists to encourage and support creative development and growth. For the past seven years, Laura has worked with an array of artists and currently provides creative growth and development sessions in order to move forward in their career confidently.  

While Laura is not focusing on artists, she is an avid writer and has interviewed an array of founders, mentors, artists and other likeminded individuals. She also loves to write about technology and business events. She is passionate about meeting people and sharing information to help others reach their goals.

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