Highlights from Slush21: startups, storytelling, and a Griffin debut

Aptly named for the weather visitors can look forward to upon arrival, Slush is Finland’s finest annual techfest and a highly anticipated event for startups all over the world.

Highlights from Slush21: startups, storytelling, and a Griffin debut

There are many reasons to love Finland: the northern lights, Santa Claus, and the most saunas per capita in the world. But if you’re a startup founder, investor, or tech evangelist, there’s an even bigger reason this Nordic gem should be on your hit list…

It’s Slush! Aptly named for the weather visitors can look forward to upon arrival, Slush is Finland’s finest annual techfest and a highly anticipated event for startups all over the world.

#Slush21: Welcome back to the real deal

Following a one year hiatus due to COVID-19, Slush21 was finally back in (real life) action. This year’s event welcomed over 8,000 delegates, 3,200+ startup founders, and 1,500 investors to Helsinki, for two full days of pure tech and startup immersion. From an incredibly unique event design to thoughtful and actionable presentations from leaders around the world, the Slush team absolutely smashed it.

There were too many great insights, inspirations, and activities to capture in one blog, but here are a few of our top highlights from the two day conference.

Startups: let's get you started

This year’s event kicked off not with a customary keynote but with a live DJ set to get things going. Next on stage to welcome everyone was Slush CEO Miika Huttunen who talked about why in-person events and conferences are so important post-COVID, especially for members of the startup community. “While the past two years have taught us to collaborate remotely, the need for human communication has not diminished," he shared.

Grit: the superpower of successful startups

Session: EUROPE’S ANGEL MAFIA

Co-founder at Certific and Wise, Taavet Hinrikus talked through his experience as a founder and why having the right team around you is so critical. In his own words: “you want people supporting you who have scar tissue, not people who spend their lives looking at spreadsheets.”

From Taavet’s perspective, it's important to understand the founders’ motivations for starting a company. In his experience, too often it's for the wrong reasons. He believes it's critical that founders have an attachment to the problem they are tackling and are willing to get in the trenches and be shot at for 10+ years. “They need grit because it’s not easy,” he shared.

Taavet also believes it's important for established founders to openly share their knowledge to support other new founders in the industry.

The right team is everything

Session: HOW TO CAPITALIZE YOUR CAPITAL AND THE PEOPLE BEHIND IT

Guillaume Pousaz, CEO of Checkout.com, discussed his journey to growth with fellow investor, Tom Stafford, DST Global Investors. Pousaz told the story of how he bootstrapped his company from its founding in 2012 all the way to a record-breaking €200M Series A in 2019. He shared some fascinating insights into his investment journey and what was top of his wish list when seeking out investment. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t money!

Pousaz shared how signing Netflix as a customer in 2018 was an inflection point for the company, but reflected that “for every Netflix you have a hundred nos.”

For Tom Stafford, scaling a company is about “building an operating system for humans. The founding team remains on the journey but their roles change as the business grows. You need to bring in the right experience at different stages of your growth.”

When it comes to investing in a startup, Tom believes people are the most important asset and founders must embody the vision and the company’s ability to deliver year after year, “Surround yourself with the best team who believe in the vision, which needs to be clearly led by the CEO,” he said.

Additionally, fintech startups need to be aware that the landscape is shifting quickly and that they need to build a team that can evolve with the demands of each market. Specifically, when it comes to regulation, Pousaz believes that “compliance is only going in one direction: more compliance.” He added that “complexity comes from different regulations across different markets and payment types.”

Startup investment and talent is booming

Session: 20 YEARS OF NOTES ON EUROPEAN VC

This panel led by SoftBank and Lakestar discussed how the European tech scene is maturing, with founders sticking it out longer and no longer selling early. They also added that a lot of companies they see now have global ambitions from the beginning. This is a step change from a decade ago, when world domination just wasn’t on the agenda for most European founders.

They also believe the future is bright for startups right now, with capital more readily available than ever before, and with great talent up for grabs and no longer constrained by borders.

But, telling the right startup story is still a struggle

Session: Storytelling in Deeptech

Ted Persson of EQT Ventures and Tony Högqvist, Executive Advisor at self-driving vehicle company Einride, led this discussion on the challenges deeptech startups face in articulating their ambition to the world. Högqvist believes that "brand is about having a big narrative, building towards it, and fulfilling your promises over and over again, which builds trust."

Persson added that "in tech, when it comes to marketing, businesses want to belong to a category, because people are afraid of being seen as 'too new'. Which is totally at odds with traditional business, where marketeers crave differentiation."

Startups paving the way in new industries are still figuring out how to connect with customers in a simple way, and to reiterate their story until it sticks.

Griffin debuts the future OS for embedded finance

Photo Credit: Esa-Pekka Mattila, Slush.org

On day 2, we had an opportunity to put our own storytelling skills to the test. Griffin CEO David Jarvis was invited to the Startup studio to take part in the fintech demo showcase, where he shared our vision for a better future of banking and gave the first ever public demo of our technology.

Joining us as part of the demo showcase were many new exciting companies like Swan, Calqulate, Sastrify, AirPay Digital, and ClearGlass Analytics. We were thrilled to be involved and to get the chance to introduce Griffin to an amazing audience of like-minded innovators in the fintech space.

Brutally hands-on, honest like nowhere else

What we loved most about Slush was the openness and raw honesty you get from all the speakers. It's refreshing and inspiring and something you don’t always get at other big tech events. But we didn’t just get honest insight; we also got actionable tips to foster growth.

To wrap up our key takeaways:

  • It takes grit to build and grow a business
  • Talent is your number 1 asset, so invest wisely
  • The market is hot right now and primed for big, bold ideas
  • Telling the right story (again and again) is crucial for deeptech success
  • When a community (like global startup enthusiasts) comes together to share and learn, everyone benefits

We learned so much and truly enjoyed getting to showcase Griffin’s technology to a crowd who deeply appreciates new ideas and innovative ways of solving legacy problems. We couldn’t have asked for a better debut!

Kiitos Finland. Until next year…