Irina joined Proton in 2017 as the company’s first marketing hire. Throughout her time, she has witnessed Proton’s evolution from an encrypted email service to a privacy-by-default ecosystem. We interviewed Irina to discuss how she advocates for the Proton community through her work and the importance of building a better, more private internet.
What first drew you to apply for a position at Proton?
There were many things, but the most interesting one was the unusual path that Proton took at the beginning. I was intrigued by the idea of an encrypted email service that was founded by former CERN scientists as a response to the Snowden revelations.
At that point in my career, I was looking to join a company that did more than just make money. I didn’t really know where to look for one, but a coworker I used to work with at the time mentioned Proton Mail a few times over lunch. My curiosity grew, and the more I read about the company and the more interviews I watched with Andy, our founder, the more convinced I was that I needed to join the team in their mission.
How long have you been working in your current role?
I joined Proton in April 2017 as the first marketing hire in a team of engineers and customer support agents. My initial job scope was expansive, and I’ve been lucky enough to work closely with Andy, our CEO, and Bart, our CTO, to understand their ambitions for the company.
Since then, my role has evolved to focus on brand management and experience, with a strong emphasis on community growth and engagement. It’s been an interesting journey so far, and I’ve learned a lot from other members of the Proton team, as well as from my own mistakes and successes.
How has Proton changed in the time you’ve been here?
As a company, Proton has definitely grown, and I’ve noticed an upward trend. When I first joined, our headquarters was a small office in Fongit(new window), Geneva’s first innovation incubator and Proton’s close friend, with only 12 people on site. The company-wide calls were every Monday. We only had 40 employees back then, and it was still possible to meet everyone virtually.
In a mere five years Proton has grown, not only in terms of headcount, but also in culture and potential. I’ve always known that Proton was a loved and respected brand, but I never imagined that we would build three additional services — VPN(new window), Calendar, and Drive — by 2021, launch an ambitious rebrand for our new privacy ecosystem, open six new offices in cities around the world, and see Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, join Proton’s board of advisors.
Although this evolution sometimes feels surreal, the company and team itself is still very tight knit, and the close interactions between people have remained. I’ve met my best friends here, and they’re still a big part of my life, even though some of them have moved on to other opportunities for their careers.
What does a typical work day look like for you? What are some of your responsibilities?
Up until recently, most of my time has gone into preparing for Proton’s new brand and privacy ecosystem. Now that this has been released and our community has received it positively, my work now focuses on measuring its impact and evolving it into experiences that will bring us closer to our users but also enable us to expand our reach further.
I haven’t really had two identical days. And this is something I love about my job. My most recent responsibility has been to find new ways to involve the Proton community in our mission. If I’m supposed to launch a campaign, I will either organize or participate in creative workshops or develop creative concepts on my own. Sometimes I also work on naming and positioning a new Proton service.
What’s the most memorable project you’ve worked on?
This is tricky because there have been so many! But I believe the most memorable one has also been the most difficult – the Proton brand evolution(new window). There is a trove of history and meaning behind the Proton brand, and my team and I had to unpack all of this together.
This included surveying and interviewing hundreds of people, analyzing our history and personality as a company, and lastly, synthesizing our research into a comprehensive strategy that would inform our visual development. Our challenge was also maintaining a historical link between the ‘before’ and ‘after’, so that our community could still recognize and connect with the brand.
To be honest, I was really afraid of the outcomes and feedback of this project. Many people have worked tirelessly on this. We had really good days and really bad days, but seeing the praise and positive reactions from our beloved community have made the blood, sweat, and tears worth it.
What do you most enjoy about working at Proton?
What I love most about working at Proton are my colleagues. The company is a magnet for attracting amazing and high-quality talent. People who are smart and kind, people who strongly believe in the importance of our mission.
Like I mentioned earlier, I also met some of my best friends here at Proton and have made many great memories. Last but not least, I love that I had the opportunity to witness the unique evolution of a project I truly believed in from the first day.
Why do you think Proton’s mission is important?
I could talk for hours about this, but I believe that making privacy the default online is important due to the shifting and changing nature of technological experiences in the 21st century. As online communication platforms evolve, our identity and experiences transcend the boundaries of the physical world. We spend a large portion of our lives online these days, and it’s up to us to define what that means.
We don’t need to give up our data every time we use the internet; I believe there are better alternatives. Alternatives that ensure privacy for everyone. And Proton is building this option for people who want to experience a better, more private internet.
How would you describe the Proton community?
The Proton community is diverse and incredibly impressive. Diverse because privacy transcends social classes, industries, hobbies, personalities, and countries. The Proton community is truly global, and it’s made up of so many different groups of people that really make Proton into what it is today.
And incredibly impressive because, even after five years of following its evolution, I am still surprised by the engagement and endless support from everyone. There’s truly no Proton without the Proton community(new window).
How do you advocate for the Proton community through your work?
The first method is through listening. We employ different ways of collecting feedback from our community. We do this primarily by conducting surveys and individual interviews with our most engaged beta testers or contributors. We also routinely monitor and gather community reactions to new features and products on forums such as Reddit.
Secondly, we are constantly adapting our communication style and content to create value for our followers. An example of this is developing easy-to-follow guides for online privacy, tutorials, or recommendations of other trusted services. And lastly, we give out rewards to community members who help us promote awareness for privacy issues online.
What do you think the future holds for Proton and the Proton community?
Definitely a much closer relationship. Even as the brand continues to grow, my goal is to ensure that there will be more opportunities for Proton and the community to come closer together. To make privacy the default online, we must all work together. And to succeed, we must be united and lead the movement that will make the internet a better place for everyone.