Bay area startup visits Slush 2016 in Helsinki
Tips and overview of Slush 2016, the largest startup event in the world
To those of you preparing for the Slush 2017, we dearly hope this will help you get an idea of what to expect, what to look for and how to make the most out of Slush 2017.
What is Slush?
Slush is the largest startup event in the world that is held in Helsinki. During the two days of Slush, nearly 20,000 people (1,100 investors, 2,300 startups, larger companies, and media) flood into Helsinki from 120 countries. The main show consists of three things, the 100 pitch competition, influencer talks, and booths. In addition to the main events, there are 100+ small and large side events catered to your different needs and many more exclusive parties and gatherings. On top of everything, you can clearly sense the whole Helsinki’s hype and support of Slush, as if the winter Olympics is in town.
As a Bay Area startup, most likely you have not heard of Slush before. The same was for us, SendBird, when we were first invited to Slush. However, preparing for Slush, going through the final top 4 and meeting a few dozens of customers, we felt very privileged to have participated in Slush and feared what we would have missed out had we decided to pass on it. It is an exciting but tough two days that requires at least a week of preparation, a flight to Helsinki, tickets to Slush and accommodations. Regardless of the hassle and financial burden, we highly recommend should you be a startup quite serious about building a presence in Europe and Asia, it will help you save a lot of time (and money).
Preparing for Slush 2016: Meetings and Slush 100 pitch competition
Meetings are one of the most important aspects of Slush. The hosts provide you with a proprietary matchmaking tool where you can browse all participants and request meetings on. However, this tool has a few limits and response rate problem so give it a shot but do not count on it. Instead, we searched for contacts of all relevant participants and local companies to arrange a quick meeting. There is a designated meeting area and everyone expects a very short meeting (<30min) so even if you have 10 back to back meetings, do not panic, it will go smoothly. Surprisingly, cold e-mailing works well during this week so do not hesitate. We were able to go through 20 formal meetings and another 30 casual meetings during the week. It was the most efficient meeting slammed week in my life so far.
Though it is not Ilkka (Supercell) talking, the one-time when the main stage gets too packed for you to even pick a glimpse of is during the finals of the 100 pitch competition. We will go through this in a bit more detail on a separate posting where we elaborate on how to make it to the final. We had benefited a lot from previous finalists’ posts, and we would like to add what we can for the next batch. We recommend taking the competition a bit more seriously from the start so that you can be the last one standing. Frankly, I cannot think of anything else that provides a similar experience as a company.
Booth preparations are never easy and most of the times booths do not guarantee your return on preparation. However, Slush is the one event I can guarantee significant results from having a well-prepared booth. Potential customers, media, and investors spend a lot of time visiting booths so the time and money spent preparing will not be wasted. For a consumer and hardware startup, you will quickly be able to arrange meetings with buyers and investors who visit your booth. Nobody wastes their time at Slush so the only relevant crowd will stay with you and you want to be more than ready. So do not be afraid to go above and beyond your imagination on booths.
Day of Slush: recommended to-dos
I recommend arranging at least 10 meeting before heading over to Helsinki. Everyone, whether prepared or not, will have packed schedules during the week so earlier the better. Also, given that it is such a faraway land for most companies it is nearly impossible to have an in-person meeting with most of the participants after Slush. Get started early and be relentless about the quality and quantity of pre-arranged meetings. If you have enough relevant customers and investors coming to Slush (otherwise why even attend?) you should target for about 10 meetings a day.
I also recommend attending Slush with at least one more colleague. There are quite a few random management opportunities at Slush so while one colleague is tied up all day with meetings, the other should participate in the pitch competition, attend side-events, or visit booths (or operate) as much as possible. Slush officially runs from 8am – 6pm so there is not enough time for one person to multi-task before the venue closes. In addition, there are many gatherings in the evenings and it is best to split up to cover as much ground as possible.
Should I go back to Slush next year, I would run an invitation only demo-room. I unfortunately found out about this at the day of, but a lot of savvy entrepreneurs from Europe had taken full advantage of it. At the same convention center as Slush there are small rooms you can book out for yourself. If you want to conduct meetings that require full attention to detail and hardcore Q&A, book an extra room and invite people to your demo sessions at the event.
By the end of the week, we were already quite attached to Helsinki’s extreme cold, 20 hours of darkness a day and crappy beer. Slush itself is an eye-opening experience, we have a ton of respect for the Slush organizers and the thousands of volunteers from Helsinki. Aside from the event itself, it is more of a practical business gathering where you scramble to meet your investors and most importantly customers for many quick and intense sessions. May be next time we can be there to just enjoy Slush, listen to the future shaping talks, visit all the cool booths, and get wasted in grapefruit tasting beer, may be next time…!
Pro grower at SendBird, previously M&A banker at Rothschild, computer science and finance graduate from Washington University in St. Louis