What I learned from 2 days of networking and tech
The northern tech and start-up event Slush is one of the biggest entrepreneur events with 25,000 attendees in 2019.
From hearing the inventor of the iPod talk about product design to listening to Stani Kulechov speak about Aave, Slush 2021 was an amazing experience. I spent the two days networking, talking to start-ups, and listening to panels.
Slush is a start-up and tech event held annually in Helsinki, Finland. It gathers investors, start-ups, and individuals together. Start-ups pitch their ideas to secure funding from the big players in the industry. Tickets cost about 400–600 €, depending on who you are. Here's a great trailer describing Slush.
The purpose of Slush
Slush offers many things from panels to company stands, but the ultimate purpose of the event is match investors with start-ups. Slush organizers offer a matchmaking tool to book 25-minute meetings with fellow attendees. This way you can network, talk about tech, and pitch your company if you're seeking investors.
I enjoyed meeting both start-ups hosting stands and booking meetings to talk to tech industry professionals and attendees. Despite my shy nature, I aimed to learn a lot about networking and pitching.
There's valuable insight to be gained from panels
I'm in doubt of panels as you can say a lot without actually saying much. Simple truths and statements sound fancy but fall flat of being useful. However, four stages to choose from provided really interesting opportunities.
You can watch many of them yourself! The biggest stage, the Founder Stage, and the second biggest stage, the Amphitheater, were both streamed on the Slush YouTube channel and are now available as recordings. You'll just have to look at the schedule on the Slush site for both stages, but I've made it easier with links below:
In the very first panel the iPod inventor Tony Fadell provided insight into building iconic products. He explained clearly these products meet both the rational and emotional needs of customers. You can watch the 25-minute panel here.
Stani Kulechov, the founder of Aave, was one of the panelists talking about Web3 – you can watch the panel here.
An interesting observation about a billionaire
At the end of the second day, just before the after party, I happened to be sitting in the Amphitheater stage. The last panel for the day was announced: two venture capitalists, Marie Ekeland of 2050 and billionaire David Helgason, talking about climate investing. Helgason is the founder of Unity, one of the two biggest game engines in the world. His net worth is a staggering 1,8 billion USD.
Helgason's behavior surprised me. He was inquisitive, critical, and humble: he wasn't afraid to admit that he knew little about some topics and more about others. He would even admit that he didn't always understand what Ekeland talked about and asked that she simplify it.
It's rare to see that kind of transparency from someone that you would expect to want to retain an image of hierarchy and mastery. Then again, a lot of high flyers are open, emotionally self-aware and lack a fear for criticism. I researched these traits in my comprehensive high flyer article that was based on the massive Deloitte study. If you want to watch the panel between Marie Ekeland and David Helgason, you can watch it here.
Networking to improve your career
Networking is a fantastic tool to speed up your career. New genuine connections can lead to potential jobs and can give high-value leads if aligned well with your industry.
Sharing leads works well with professionals that don't compete with each other. This could mean a lawyer networking with a business owner. The business owner might know entrepreneurs that can need a lawyer, while the lawyer might have clients interested in the business owner's service or products. This is far more useful than working alone.
At Slush I focused on both areas of networking: getting to know rising stars in my industry while exploring other industries to meet high-performers that align well with my work. I feel that networking is not a numbers game. The quality of the contact is more important than the quantity. I prefer meeting three regular contacts that I learn from than having 10 meetings with people that I know I will never speak to again.
Pitching law to the tech industry
Law is tough to pitch – most start-ups have a friend helping with law from the start, making it tough to acquire leads from start-ups. Would you trust a stranger to manage your legal matters for over 200 € per hour, especially without proof of their past performance? I certainly wouldn't.
Pitching to tech and start-ups is luckily easier with the right approach: We set out to talk to the small stands with genuine curiosity: The concepts on show from medtech to physical games turned into honest conversations. After learning about their product we asked about the state of their legal matters. Surprisingly, they wanted to hear our opinions and network to book a meeting later. Granted, our law firm specializes in helping start-ups with early issues like legal documents and standard contract policy.
Interacting with others to have a genuine conversation is an efficient way to both network and pitch. It is also somewhat linked to the honest Finnish culture too – I realized this contrast when we were approached by an American stand marketer. She ruthlessly pitched us the product for about 5 minutes with only a few small questions from us, ultimately ending it with a sales deal and trial offer. While conversation was non-existent in this approach, she did explain the product very well.
Slush 2021 was a fantastic experience. It exceeded my expectations, and interacting with others was much more fun than anticipated! I can't wait to see what they have on offer for next year in hopes that it will be bigger than ever before.
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