Slush is here and if you’re anything like most people you’re feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities: from exciting startups and world-famous experts, to inspiring talks and promising parties. So where should you focus your time to get the most out of it?
Last week I set out to find the best practical advice to share with my international colleagues who are Slush first-timers and flying in from afar. “How do you get the most out of Slush?” I asked myself and Google but I couldn’t find the list of best practices from industry insiders that I was desperately looking for. So I decided to turn to the biggest names in the Finnish startup scene and ask them myself.
Take a moment to check out these Slush secrets from the people who storm it every single year. In this series of mini interviews you’ll find best practices from startups, serial entrepreneurs, panelists and investors and you know what, if you haven’t done enough prep work then no worries, most of these people get that. Come Friday morning you might feel hungover but with a little help from these guys you’ll have just conquered one of the most important tech events in the whole world.
Inka Mero is Chairwoman of PIVOT5, a seed stage startup investor, and in 2016 she was named one of the 50 most inspiring women in Nordic tech. At this year’s Slush Inka’s syndicate is investing in the winner of the Slush 100 pitching competition.
“Check out the programme, there’s super interesting content and talks for everyone and pick 1-2 you don't wanna miss. Slush is getting bigger and more hectic every year, so seriously do your homework and reach out to the people you want to meet beforehand. To prepare, go through all the investors and startups participating, so you recognise people and find them. Also, check the massive number of side events. Slush is about meeting people and networking. I've met and introduced several co-investors to my portfolio companies.
Keep some space in your schedule for serendipity, to walk around and talk to people. It’s not really possible to mess up Slush, but certainly coming without business cards doesn’t make much sense. And whatever you do, don't miss the parties!”
“Nothing is weirder than walking past someone who suddenly jumps out at you and starts to blast their pitch at you!”
Tino Singh is founder of TwoDads, a startup fighting children’s obesity with good food and he’s famous in Finland for his Chairmanship of Our International Finland, a popular NGO created to combat racism and xenophobia.
“I believe authenticity and social impact are my weapons of choice at Slush. Rarity combined with value is the other mantra, so that’s what I’m focusing on when I’m pitching, both on stage and in face-to-face meetings. Being authentic is important and because there are not so many food-related startups we have a good shot at being different. Keep telling everyone everywhere about your company and in our case the idea to fight the global epidemic of childhood obesity with wholesome food products.
You don’t know which interactions will lead to what and that’s why you should be open and not too narrow-minded about what will constitute time effectively spent. For example, we recently landed ourselves a trip to Japan through the Startup Network programme of the City of Fukuoka and Helsinki. This wasn’t strategic; it just came about because we’re always talking about our belief and what we do.”
Panu Paljakka is CEO at Startup Sauna, one of Northern Europe’s most successful accelerators for early-stage startups. 173 companies have graduated from Startup Sauna since 2010 raising $100 million in funding.
“My advice for startups every year entering the Slush fire pit is know what you want to achieve and who you want to meet. Prepare in advance: book the meetings beforehand and don't solely rely on the matchmaking tool. People get bombarded through it and often don't take a look at it at all, so put some effort into getting email introductions.
If for some reason, you haven't booked the meetings in advance, put yourself in the shoes of the person you want to meet. Where will they be hanging out? If you don’t know, find out. Your job is to go there and get a few minutes of their time. If your target will be on stage make sure to camp out there so when they're ending their talk you can pounce.
Finally, don’t get hammered every night you’re here. There are tens of different side events that vary in relevance so make sure to pick the most valuable ones, and remember to get a good night's sleep before the next day otherwise opportunities will pass you by.”
“Don't forget to use the Slush hashtag and on the event days someone from your team should tweet hourly.”
Robert Nemlander is Co-founder & Chief Innovation Officer at EntoCube, a startup that provides tools and tech to mass produce crickets and other insects. Earlier this year EntoCube landed pre-seed funding from 13 Finnish business angel investors.
“I'm a devout practitioner of Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, so I decided to bring about the food revolution. When you have a passion it is very important to not give a f**ck about doubts – the doubts of yourself and others. See it as white noise. In my case I have two hands and a brain to get the job done like anyone else. And so do you.
Know why you are at Slush. If you are there for the experience, go ask the stupid questions, go talk to interesting people, go listen and learn from inspirational speakers. If you are there with an agenda, plan, execute and always follow up. Get out of your comfort zone, try something new and put yourself out there. If something is important to you, don't give a f*ck and go fail until you succeed. There is nothing to lose at Slush, only something to gain."
“Always look for an investor, not for money.”
Juhani Polkko is Founder & Chief Marketing Officer at San Francisco, the first agency in Finland to focus solely on startups. He’s part of the team that built the Startup100 Index of Finland’s hottest startups. He’s a firm believer that every company today is a media company.
“Big events like Slush are highly competitive. At Slush there are over 2 200 startups, most of which want to maximise their visibility. If you don't have big news like funding or major brand-name customers to announce, it's not usually worth doing a big PR push. Instead, focus on creating content which is interesting to the event audience – like this article – and remember it’s never too late: write a new blog post during Slush, use relevant discussion groups and social media for distribution. Don't forget to use the hashtag and on the event days someone from your team should tweet hourly.
Try some creative, crazy stuff. Think of something insane and visible at or around the event which makes your brand visible in a positive way – and it’s never too late to do this. Don't worry if it fails the first time, at least your team had fun trying it! Remember, events are all about personal meetings – book some in advance but no worries if you haven’t because that will give you more time for random encounters. You should actively seek random encounters and remember to help others by introducing them to your contacts; they will likely return the favour at some point for sure!”
Pia Henrietta Kekäläinen is Co-founder & CEO of Carbo Culture and Founder of Mehackit, a platform that offers courses, events and content to introduce young people to creative technology. She’s an expert on startups and entrepreneurship and is a thought leader.
“There's inevitably a huge variety of interests coming to Slush 2016 – whether one is a student or a VC makes quite a difference. Ultimately, I believe Slush is about making personal connections. Forget your pitch for a while and see if you as a person can reach another person. Nothing is weirder than walking past someone who suddenly jumps out at you and starts to blast their great idea assumptions at you! Instead, you might meet an astronaut by accident by just being friendly to the person queuing for coffee behind you.”
“Create a hitlist of 10 targets and then execute.”
Moaffak Ahmed is a hands-on Early Stage Investor. He’s also a Founding Partner at Superhero Capital and Chairman of the Board at The Shortcut, an organisation that helps people of diverse backgrounds get into the startup world. At Slush he’ll host a panel on diversity for growth.
“Slush is really much more than a two-day event. Sure, you can just plan your Slush around listening to interesting talks or learning about new companies by wandering around, but it can be a lot more than that if you do a little homework. It’s a great opportunity to meet interesting and influential people from all over the globe, who you wouldn’t normally meet. So it's about networking.
The best way to enjoy Slush is to decide if you have an objective like raising funding from investors or finding a company to invest in or perhaps work for. If you just want to enjoy and wander aimlessly, that's also okay, but be warned – you may be overwhelmed. Once you have your objective set, scout the people and companies relevant for you. Check out their backgrounds and figure out a way to approach them. When you meet your target person, whether randomly or planned, you need an angle to your conversation. Are you looking for money, advice, a job or perhaps just an intellectual conversation? Sometimes the best approach is to be direct, sometimes not. They say that when you ask for advice, you get money and vice versa.
Investors usually have their schedule really packed at Slush. Unless you already have meetings planned, you need to rely on ‘random assisted encounters’. Hang out near the investor area, talk to people for possible introductions, be prepared.”
Riku Asikainen is Vice President of the Board of the European Business Angels Network and former dragon on Finland’s version of the TV series Dragons’ Den. He is also the founder of the Finnish Business Angels Network and its former Chairman.
“At Slush, stand out, make me curious and be very brief with extremely good follow up. And always look for an investor, not for money. The best approach is to contact me through one of my existing founders, other investors or Startup Sauna alumni. In other words, the best way to get through to me is get a recommendation from someone like you, Mr Seenan.”
“If you want to talk to me walk up to me. I’m open to a good idea and I aim for a balance of politeness and honesty.”
Juha Ruohonen is a VC and partner at Superhero Capital and as former Head Coach at Startup Sauna he’s known for his honesty and no-nonsense approach.
“Create a hitlist of 10 targets and then execute. And do not rely on the Matchmaking system – rather try to get yourself into where the investors will be. And forget the locals like us. We are available for the other 363 days in a year. If you want to find impressive startups watch the Slush 100 pitching competition, they’re a natural pick and you might find something unexpected there, like Yousician back in the days.
If a startup gets 20 seconds of my time to pitch then tell me how you are different. Do not tell me about your features. It’s about benefits, always. I’m a strong believer in the investor areas and select parties, that’s where you’ll find me. These are difficult to get into, but it’s doable. Introductions work as we saw with Leadfeeder at Web Summit in Lisbon a couple of weeks back. What this entails is me bringing startup guys into the investor area and introducing them to other investors. It works like magic.”
Bruce Oreck is the former US Ambassador to Finland, he’s a household name, now a lecturer at Aalto University and outspoken in his belief that Finland can do more to brand itself.
“Get to Slush early this year, it’s getting bigger and bigger every year. Get the lay of the land, walk it. Come prepared. Bring protein bars, a snack, whatever, lunch lines can be long. If there’s someone specific you want to see get there early. Be strategic about presentation. For example, go places or to see someone with an investor at your side, it works to have an investor’s stamp of approval and you could get lucky. Bring business cards, bring a pen and a small pad. Don’t count on your cell phone for everything. It’s not worth it.
If you’re not confident, if you don’t have the drive then don’t do it, don’t bother going up to someone and flopping. You could have the cure for cancer but if you’re not bold enough you won’t get heard. Don’t badger people, see them once and do it well. Your business card should have a message. How will I remember you afterwards if you’re just “Bob”? Make sure, Bob, that your card says you have the cure for cancer so I remember afterwards. If it’s non-descript it’s going in the trash can.
Leave space for the random. I’m a big believer in “If I show up for life, then life will show up for me.” If you want to talk to me walk up to me. I’m open to a good idea and I aim for a balance of politeness and honesty. I will tell you if I don’t like your revolutionary new shoelace tying system.”
André Noël Chaker is one of the most sought-after speakers in Finland and he’s author of several books, including The Finnish Miracle. At the Nordic Business Forum he welcomed Gary Vaynerchuk onto the stage.
“Focus, focus, focus, but don’t forget to look around you and open yourself to other people and industries that you don’t think you’re interested in. I’ve always spent an inordinate amount of time doing my homework and it’s never too late to do that, do it throughout Slush. And remember, don’t see everything as a transaction, you don’t have to feel that every conversation should lead to a victory of some kind.
Step out of your comfort zone, smile and make eye contact with strangers. This is particularly true of the evening programme. Go up to strangers at least a dozen times in an evening and be brave. When you get confident speak to even more people. Don’t be too strategic about the evening events; let your hair down to some extent but remain focused. Just get talking with no agenda and see what comes of it.
You might have heard that Finns are quiet, but don’t hold back on talking to Finns. They might not look it, but when you ask a question they’ll be happy. Shove the floor at them and don’t be a motor mouth, give them room to answer.”
The top 10 best pieces of advice for getting the most out of Slush
- Create a hitlist of 10 targets and then execute.
- Leave space for the random.
- Keep telling everyone everywhere about your company.
- Don’t be too strategic about the evening events; let your hair down to some extent but remain focussed.
- Always look for an investor, not for money.
- When you meet your target person, whether randomly or planned, you need an angle to your conversation.
- Focus on creating content which is interesting to the event audience.
- Get out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there.
- If your target will be on stage make sure to camp out there.
- Keep some space in your schedule for serendipity, to walk around and talk to people.
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