Highlights from #Slush22: Innovation and optimisation in uncertain times

In this blog, we get the low-down from our VP Marketing, Laura Hauser and product marketing manager, Mo Backer on their time at Slush 2022.

Slush logo on a screen

#Slush22: This is the break of dawn

The date is November 17, 2022 and the Grifflings are back in Helsinki, the happiest city in the world for Slush 2022, the world’s leading expo for startups. This is our second year attending, so we had high expectations - which this year’s event both met and exceeded!

There’s so much to love about Slush. The experiential designs - the lighting, music, and flow of the space  - create an atmosphere that is inspiring and exciting, but also relaxed and friendly. The content was top-notch, with many of this year’s discussions going deep on the impact of the macroeconomic climate on the start-up ecosystem. Slush definitely delivered on its mission to provide a space for the global startup community to get inspired, share ideas, and have meaningful conversations.

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Slush opening show 
Mo: Slush is visually stunning! The atmosphere was buzzing with optimism. Slush makes you feel like you are part of a global community of builders and change makers.

Laura: I can’t agree more. Slush is always at the top of its game! From the creativity put into the stage design, to the expo flow and curated activities, there’s evidence of so much innovation, thoughtfulness and careful planning.

This year, Slush welcomed over 12,000 delegates including 4,600 founders and 2,600 investors for two days of pitches, panels, presentations and of course, parties. We’ve curated some of our top highlights and insights from the event below.

The best time to innovate is now

For the keynote this year, Nikko Mantyla and Eerika Savolainen, president and CEO of Slush did a good job of setting the stage and highlighting the reality of the economic climate. One key takeaway was that even in unfavourable conditions, unprecedented advances in technology are still setting the pace for a better future.

We were also reminded that Slush is really about connecting innovators and builders with the VC community and it is a grounded place for startups to think about how to launch, grow and optimise.

Nailing your “why” sets you apart

Session -  Building the product proposition

Global Head of Consumer Experience at Spotify, Sten Garmark sat down with the CPO of Slush, Elmo Pakkanen for a fireside chat on how startups can answer the “why” question - why should anyone buy your product?

On consumer experience, Sten shared that though the product proposition is the promise, the experience you build for your customers helps you deliver on that promise and create advocates for your brand.

For Sten, your product proposition is answering the question ‘why’. Startups need to show  value to customers to get people to try their products. He explained that Spotify’s initial product proposition was magical because they had painted a picture for people to see - it was “iTunes built-into your hard drive for free. Once people tried the product, they couldn’t stop listening.

Sten also noted that podcasting had become increasingly popular and content creators were trying to hack the system to get their podcasts on the Spotify platform. The value proposition was as clear as day - by officially making space for podcasts on its platform, Spotify created value for the customer, while also driving revenue for the business.

Repositioning for growth and scale

Session -  Bouncing back: Klarna’s path to stronger growth

Buy now, pay later (BNPL) giant Klarna had received a lot of scrutiny for the drop in its valuation and subsequently laying off 10% of its workforce. In this session, the CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski did a deep dive on the company’s change in direction and the need to be a responsible lender. Taking responsibility is the first step, the next step is to make hard, but necessary cuts and adjustments to do right by your customers and investors. Talking about the layoffs, Sebastian noted that there is no good way to let people go, there’s just a less bad way.

On banking, Sebastian was quick to point out that banks do not currently serve their customers well. According to him, “Financial services is extremely exciting with a target addressable market (TAM) in trillions. Many times banks are betting against us (consumers). They want to offer you as little as they can on interest but charge you as much as possible for loans. The industry is broken and needs competition.”

A living, breathing brand

Session: Branding

One of our favourite sessions was “branding” with Seedcamp’s Natasha Lytton. During the talk Natasha walked through the key components of a good brand’s foundation - purpose, positioning, customer profile, and personality.

With startups, it is easy to see brands evolve: they start off wanting to be irreverent and make noise and then become more strategic as they move up market and scale. Natasha advised startups to treat their brands as a living breathing thing that should evolve as rapidly as your product.  

There were also several lessons on letting the customer, market and your internal structure guide your brand development, while still staying true to the values that got you to where you are.

Taking your radical ideas mainstream

Session: How do you sell the future

James Vincent, founder of FNDR, gave some brilliant tips on how to bring radical ideas into the mainstream. They include:

  • Introduce the new with the familiar.
  • Bring voice to your vision.
  • Product is experience is brand.
  • Bring an interaction to the new world. Keep it simple.

Optimise for scale and automation

“Product-led growth is the golden goose” is a sentiment that’s tossed around a lot in the  SaaS industry. The sessions at Slush this year really brought this to the forefront with recurring themes that emphasised optimising for scale and automation in your product  to make the most of your capital.

And on that, here are our key takeaways from Slush 2022:

  • Your team, your product and your brand are intertwined. Align these to optimise for delivery.
  • Customer experience is king and should be the focus of every meeting, every banner advertisement and every in-product task done.
  • The macroeconomic environment can’t be ignored. Focus and run lean.
  • True leadership in times of uncertainty often means taking responsibility and engineering a redirection, even when it’s tough.
  • Build products that provide your customers the most value.
  • Brands should be ever-evolving. Stagnant brands die off and lose relevance
  • The best time to innovate is in a period of uncertainty.

We had a great time at Slush this year - meeting like minds, getting inspired, and learning so much from some of the brightest stars and best minds in the space.

We’ll see you there next year! But until then, kippis! 🥂

Slush logo on a backdrop