Read about Peter’s journey from competitive sailing to an international career working with venture capital funds and growing startups at Google!

19/04/2021 Graduateships Min.

We sat down with Peter to get his insights on what it is like to work for one of the world’s largest tech unicorns and finding purpose, and we also managed to pull out a few pieces of advice for anyone interested in pursuing a career at Google.

I feel that the initial idea of me doesn’t start with work or what I studied. I think it started way before that, when I was 14 and I started sailing on a competitive level – competing at Danish, Nordic, European, and World Championships. I had to figure out how to sponsor myself. No way I could afford this at 13! So I started working at a young age to be able to support myself traveling all around the world. I did all of these small side jobs – usually not the best jobs in the world – but you learn a lot from these.

There is one job in particular that I still remember very well. You know when you walk into a fitness center or a biking class hall, and you see 50 sweating people? When they walk out, someone has to clean up that sweat in that boiling room, and that’s not the most desirable responsibility to have, but what I learned is that it takes effort to earn money.

I grew up with a dad who used to sell boats for a living when I was a kid, and my mom works as a stewardess at SAS, so I’ve mostly spent time either in the air or on the water which means that I was raised with the service mentality of an air hostess and the sales mind-set of boat salesman.

Further, I grew up being the oldest brother in a pack of three boys, so when my mother was flying and my dad was working, we took care of each other and the house so it was still standing when they came home. You could say that I was raised with teamwork; I think this is the reason that I am extremely proactive and it is important for me to take care of the people around me.

You quickly realize that what you really miss during the pandemic is the physical interaction with people. I can substitute whatever perks and benefits there are at Google. The people are the real denominator of why people stay at Google and my team is the most important thing to me here.
Peter

Do you still have time to sail?

Not on a competitive level – school and university got in the way – but it helped define me back in the days. I had school, sailing, and work. It was hard to take time off, but I grew up with a growth mindset; something had to happen. I’m having a hard time spending a full day on the couch. I value the long-term over the short-term a lot. A day on the couch is relaxing, but it doesn’t give you a lot of memories, long-term value, or that feeling of achievement.

I’m sure my childhood in elite sports enabled me to step it up a notch in high school and then afterward at the university. Yet, I think what is even more important and what I really value looking back was that I grew up with a bunch of people who were both my best friends on land and fierce competitors at sea.

That combination sparked an environment where it was all about pushing each other when training together at the club, but once we were competing individually at larger international regattas, we were a small team helping each other despite being in direct competition with each other. Between each race, we’d stick our boat tips together and share learnings from the racecourse. Helpfulness to your friends came over winning competitions and that’s something I’ve carried with me in life where ever since – lift yourself and others.

The island of Lesbos looks great from the sea.

How did you switch gears into university, then?

After high school, I took a gap year – to figure out what other things there are to life than school. This is where people usually save up a lot of money and then do the classic Asia trip where they burn off everything and have a blast doing it.

Instead, I went to Greece for half a year to work on a large luxury yacht which sounds great, but it was challenging; being of service to the executives of the world. This was also at the time of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean which was an unbelievably tough experience. I got to see both perspectives – actually seeing and thereby understanding the outcome of the political complexity was horrible while being placed on a large Swiss yacht. Seeing the collision of two such different worlds juxtaposed taught me how privileged I’d been growing up in Denmark. And how frail the line between success and hardship is.

Upon returning to Denmark, I started my bachelor’s studies in International Business (IB) at Copenhagen Business School and the odd thing is that if you ask someone during the first introductory week about why they applied for IB or what they want to do with it, no one really knows; something about the international perspective of business. Yet around two or three weeks into the program, suddenly, everyone wants to go either into consulting or banking. As if these were the only two options. At the time, I was nineteen, I had no idea – the only thing I knew, was that I had just returned from Greece and had seen where the Swiss investment banking life could take you; I didn’t want to be rich and exhausted from life.

To me, that wasn’t really a life with a purpose, so I had a very hard time rationalizing the attraction to it. I didn’t want to get so busy making a living that I’d forget to work on making a life.

Once you get closer, you see abandoned rubber dinghies everywhere – a stone throw away of luxury hotels.
Overloaded and used to cross the sea from Turkey to the Island of Lesbos in Greece.

Did you have a hard time finding your purpose?

I did, and I still reflect and question it on occasion, which I believe is important, but what I think unifies my purpose so far is the alignment between a community of people who are caring, curious to build, and borderline nerdy in a playful way.

When I started at CBS, I joined a bunch of different student organizations that were at CBS to figure out what I found enjoyable. Instead of doing language translations, creating slides, or doing ad-hoc tasks for people at a normal student job, I could do so much more, learn so more, and have more impact in these organizations.

For example, as a board member at CBS Students, we were the voice of 23 thousand students and oversaw the daily management of 90 employees across three subsidiaries amounting to +$10M in annual revenue. In what normal student assistant position at a company did you get to learn such skills? And engage to create a better social and academic environment for your fellow students? That was a purpose closer to me than other student jobs could offer me.

Then I started my own company, which probably was seeded somewhere in me long before. My dad is self-employed, and so is my grandfather. I was brought up with the mindset of achieving something yourself, so after a year at CBS when everyone started to have normal jobs, I started brainstorming; what can I achieve myself right now, with the current skills and people around me?

I’m having a hard time spending a full day on the couch. I value the long-term over the short-term a lot. A day on the couch is relaxing, but it doesn’t give you a lot of memories, long-term value, or that feeling of achievement.
Peter

It just so happened that I had a good friend who speaks finance as his first language, and another who is the wizard of programming. We had complementary competencies that just aligned. Secondly, I didn’t want it to be too complicated. Sure, we wanted to do something amazing, to invent something – but the thought was; what can I do right now? At that point, we didn’t want to wait years before launching a company because of its development.

So we figured out that fancy wallpaper was it. It looks great on Instagram. It is so easy to ship because it weighs nothing. You can build a brand out of it. And it worked quite well as dropshipping. We learned so much from building a company – getting suppliers, figuring out how to set up a webshop, payment gateway APIs, marketing automation, filing taxes, formally establishing a company, and what other fundamental fires to put out. And communicating our feeble ideas and worries. And putting our money on the line. Sharing the risk.

 

Do you still run the company?

It was bought by another player in the industry. When I got the invitation to interview for Google, and I got the job, I figured out that running the company on the side would be too much and my partners had gotten other opportunities too.

Moving on to Google – was it your career goal?

I just knew that after my bachelor’s, I didn’t feel like studying anymore. Not because school wasn’t interesting, I was just keener on having a real job, doing something, achieving something.

After I wrote my thesis on ventures and internationalization with Soundboks, the Danish Innovation Center in both Copenhagen and Silicon Valley and Vækstfonden Venture, I knew that something had to happen.

That ended up being Google, but it was not the end goal. I wasn’t directly attracted by the brand – I was more attracted to the culture and what I could achieve and learn there. If I were to stay in Copenhagen for a master’s right after I finished my bachelor’s, I would have probably burned out.

I didn’t want to get so busy making a living that I’d forget to work on making a life.
Peter

What is your role at Google?

I now work as a Senior Accelerated Growth Consultant where I engage with two types of companies with the common denominator of growth.

I firstly work with high-potential start-ups and scale-ups out of Denmark that preferably have Series A or Series B funding to help them accelerate their growth. We take all the resources from Google and see how we can strategically scale their commercial growth based on data. Here I work with what you’d call my type of people – someone who’s borderline nerdy about a topic and wants to build something great within that.

Secondly, I work with more traditional retailers where we use digital resources to scale what they do to bring them into industry 4.0.

 

What does the Google interview process look like?

These major tech companies usually have student events you can apply to get into – for Google in Northern Europe, it’s either BOLD or Insights. The acceptance rate is around 1% and I didn’t get in the first time I applied, but the following summer, I saw an Insights event pop up again and I knew I had to apply even though I was going to be in Hong Kong for my exchange at that time. When I got the email congratulating me that I got in, I was oddly enough sitting at a small monastery in Taiwan. The following month, I flew from Hong Kong to Dublin and spent 2 days there totally jetlagged. That memory is still a bit blurry to me.

Google has its EMEA headquarters in Dublin which is a small city in itself with about 10 000 people. During the event, you get to learn what Google is; experience the office, Google’s culture, see if there’s a fit. In the end, you get an opportunity to apply for a job or an internship. For the event intake I was a part of, there were 3000 people who applied and 40 of us from across Scandinavia got in – from here, that’s when we got the option to apply for jobs.

After the event, I think I had three months of interviews in total. I had the initial screening call, and then I had to make a motivational video application – sitting and pitching yourself in front of the video is so awkward, but so valuable. You reflect a lot, learn a lot about yourself and about the whole reason why are you even applying in the first place. After that, I had four formal interview days – one case interview, an interview about my behavioral fit, one on cognitive ability, and then three back-to-back interviews with people from the organization including the hiring manager.

Google Insights 2018, Dublin EMEA HQ

What are they looking for in a candidate?

Basically, you shouldn’t look at interviews as employers are looking for something in you, rather, it’s an opportunity for you and the employer to see if there’s a fit.

Therefore, Google doesn’t necessarily focus on grades – there seems to be no correlation between grades and a good fit. It’s more about if your personality fits. Who are you? Why do you want to work here? What value do you add? This was the struggle for me at CBS, that there was no clear and personal “why” when people wanted to go either into management consulting or investment banking. Here, Google was looking for this “why”. 

The culture and values are big factors in the decision, that is also why the interview process is so rigorous.

Please don’t do things that you don’t care about. That is simply a waste of life. When I was studying, I sometimes saw people with an unhealthy balance between getting the internal stamp of approval for what you actually want to achieve, and then chasing all the external stamps of approval that other people value. If you are striving after something you don’t really care about, that’s where you burn out.
Peter

What is the culture like?

There are people in their twenties up to their fifties across all cultures and languages. I think the average age in the office in Dublin is around 29, but I am definitely dragging it downwards.

There are a lot of young people who would like to achieve something, yet it’s not by having sharp elbows – because of the values in Google, the atmosphere is so collaborative. I haven’t met anyone who didn’t want to help me out in my best interest. You can reach out to anyone even though you’ve never met them before and I’m sure they’d like to help you. This is what makes Google so cool.

Google gives you a trillion opportunities. It’s about figuring out what you want to do as a person and structuring your way to get there. This is very much dependent on the people around you. I am learning from my role, but I am really learning more from the people around me.

You get into a bubble. We are ten thousand people in a small tech city. This bubble gives you a great life where you get free food, free pool and gym facilities, great benefits and so on – currently, it looks like they’re constructing a new building with a tennis court on top of it – but you quickly realize that what you really miss during the pandemic is the physical interaction with people. I can substitute whatever perks and benefits there are at Google. The people are the real denominator of why people stay at Google and my team is the most important thing to me here.

 

What is special about them?

Well, if you go into a meeting room and there is a water bottle that is tipped over and there is water everywhere – it normally goes for people at Google that they would just clean up the water, take the bottle and put it to recycling despite it not being their bottle. They want to do the right thing even though it is not always their responsibility; proactively doing the right thing when people are not looking. That’s the common trait. People are nice. They’re good people who care. That is what the culture of Google depends on. To me, people are generally the only factor that really can make a competitive advantage sustained in the long run. Culture kills strategy.

Google Summer Party 2019

Do you have any advice for those who would like to apply for a job at Google?

Please, figure out the purpose of your joining. I have seen so many generic applications that say nothing about the people. What do you specifically contribute with? What do you want to achieve? Why is this a great fit for both parts?

 

With all your activities, it must have always been hard not to burn out. How do you stay motivated?

When you get into Google, there are a million opportunities beyond your core job, but you can’t spread yourself too thin. I have been great at unifying many of the things I have been doing with the same denominator. Back when I was studying, I was focused on getting leadership competencies by mobilizing people as a team around topics they cared about – from working voluntarily in the student organizations to building a company.

At Google, I am doing side projects as well, but they are unified within my goal. If you feel like you are working towards achieving that goal, you are not burning out, you are using your energy to fuel you in the right direction.

Please don’t do things that you don’t care about. That is simply a waste of life. When I was studying, I sometimes saw people with an unhealthy balance between getting the internal stamp of approval for what you actually want to achieve, and then chasing all the external stamps of approval that other people value. If you are striving after something you don’t really care about, that’s where you burn out. I personally reflect quite often whether where I am in life right now is where I want to be and whether the trajectory I am on is where I’d like to go.

At the time of writing, I’m 25. That’s probably ⅓ of my life already. Remember, time is one of the few resources you can’t buy more of, so it becomes really important to be intentional about the trajectory. Every wasted day is gone. Forever. Poof! This puts things nicely in perspective, doesn’t it?

Let’s say you are stuck in an unfulfilling job that drains the life out of you. You probably can’t just pick up and leave, there are probably bills to pay and mouths to feed. However, you can start setting a goal, plotting a path, moving some items into action, and creating some traction.

National soccer match, Denmark vs. Ireland, Dublin 2019

What’s next for you?

I came to Google to learn things. I can spread myself in a million different directions to see what I want to learn next. I don’t have an end goal – Google, the brand, was not it. I am very focused on achieving something. Not necessarily having great numbers of financials but building something for impact. If that’s going to be through my own start-up or working with people in the venture capital space.

It’s all about making a lot of small bets. And if all the bets have a common denominator, suddenly, you have compound interest. That’s when you achieve something in the long run.

10 rapid questions

 

1. How much do you sleep?

8 or 9 hours. Preferably more than eight hours. I don’t function mentally if I haven’t slept.

 

2. Favorite book

I just read “Trust Me, I’m Lying” by Ryan Holiday. It really gives you some perspective.

 

3. Do you believe in God?

It shouldn’t be a yes or no question. I don’t necessarily believe in having something bigger as a God that you would be able to attribute your failures, wins and frustrations to, but I believe that you make your own luck. Having said that I do also think that having the belief in something bigger is good. But not in a superstitious way.

 

4. Do you feel lucky?

I feel incredibly privileged.

 

5. Do you have any advice for graduates?

Surround yourself with people who want to achieve the same things as you. Not necessarily people in the same industry or a certain job, but having the same mindset of wishing to achieve something. Surround yourself with people who are great, lift you, and are fun.

 

6. Do you meditate?

I do, and I reflect a lot.

 

7. Who do you admire?

I admire my parents a lot, I really do. My parents live in a house from the 19th century. My dad managed to be a great dad despite having his own firm and also renovating our house on the side. That is where many of my own traits come from. Traveling a lot, my mom has taught me so much about people and cultures outside of little Denmark. This laid my foundation for an ever-growing curiosity and has given me a perspective I am grateful for.

 

8. What’s your superpower?

My stamina and drive. When you know what you want to achieve, your spare time becomes your job and vice versa.

 

9. What’s your best and worst habit?

I believe it’s one and the same.

My best habit is that I tend to reflect a lot. I want to figure out what I’m doing on a yearly basis, usually after New Year’s, I take some time to figure out where I’m going – what I want to do this year and then plan for that.

I believe it’s healthy to question what you’re doing, but do you know that feeling when you’re about to fall asleep when a thought pops into your mind and then you don’t get to sleep as much as you should have because you have this great idea that makes you stay up all night.

Definitely my best and worst habit, questioning myself.

 

10. What’s something you believe to be true and others don’t?

Haha, a classic – I love this question. I have a belief that education is really important, but sometimes it’s not where you should spend the bulk of your time. The Danish stereotypical way of doing a bachelor’s and master’s degree in one go is not necessarily the best way for everyone.

Please be bold and don’t just do what everyone else is doing. You can achieve great things, but the traditional approach to education of spending multiple hours in a lecture hall for 5 consecutive years isn’t always the means to do it. It is for many people, but you can also achieve and learn things in other ways.