Reporting live from TechCrunch Brunch in Helsinki the morning following Slush. The theme for the morning's panel discussions are the implications of regionality and unique features in the Nordic startup scene.
The event was kicked off by Mike Butcher from TechCrunch UK and Ville Vesterinen from ArcticStartup, chatting a bit about Slush, its background and the Nordic startup environment in general.
The panelists (from left to right in the picture below):
Kai Lemmetty, Founder of Floobs
Janne Waltonen, Marketing director Fruugo
Mark Sorsa-Leslie, Managing director of Hammerkit
Jussi Laakkonen, CEO and president Everyplay.com
Leo Koivulehto, Co-founder and chairman, TripSay
Mike set the scene asking how the panelists see the startup scene in the Nordics, whether the environment is going to stay a tough place to do a startup due to relatively high living costs, difficulties with angel and VC funding etc. A few highlights below.
Mark stated he moved from the UK three years ago, and has been impressed with enthusiasm people have, the great engineering skills, and the passion to get things done in a practical manner. Janne continued the people in Nordic countries are quite modest, which is somewhat hindering international expansion
Janne mentioned the Nordic market's been traditionally about local startups thinking of local markets (Swedes being maybe somewhat different), which should end. As Janne put it, we really have all it takes if we have the will to take over.
Peter Vesterbacka commented the downturn is a perfect time to start a company as you have less competition and could be able to take over a lot of the potential customers in a swift. Furthermore, it's perfect to start in the Nordics, as "if you can make it in the slush you can make it anywhere". The current global economic environment it's actually not even that much different from the "normal" challenges up here.
Mike commented in London the startup world is focusing nowadays on revenues much earlier in the game. According to Janne startups should start marketing as soon as possible, and not really wait until their product is "ready". Traditionally the startups have relied perhaps too much on virality (beta invites etc.). Janne compared his experience between Fruugo and two Swedish startups he's been in, and noted Fruugo has really concentrated on not showing anything in public before they are sure their technical back-end is top notch, whereas the Swedish ones were really open since the beginning without even much knowledge about the technical side.
Stephen Lee from Muxlim added, as an American who's lived in Finland for 10 years, that the governmental systems supporting startups are built around the concept of startups having to prove themselves in Finland first, before getting further money to go abroad. According to Stephen this model doesn't really work anymore, and the organizations (and startups) should turn their focus on going global from the beginning.
Jussi answered arguing the Finnish game industry has gone global since the very beginning. Nowadays the industry is healthy and buzzing with 50+ companies with over 90% export ratio, so it's been proved already we can make it from here. Jussi continued the process for pitching a game concept to a games publisher is really similar to pitching a company to VCs, so there are people who have been pitching successfully and know their stuff.
The second panel focused around the topics of finding funding and how to cope in the downturn market.
The panelists (from left to right):
Helene Auramo, CEO and partner of Zipipop
Heikki Mäkijärvi, Venture parter of Accel Partners
Mohamed El-Fatatry, Founder and CEO of Muxlim
Joakim Achrén, founder of IronStar Helsinki
Kristoffer Lawson from Scred
The panel kicked off going through the current status of the startups - Scred and Zipipop are bootstrapping and looking for funding. Mohamed told Muxlim got very well seed money from Finnish angels, which are quite active and willing to help, but for big rounds the money is difficult to get and momentum can be lost. Muxlim run through 500 international VCs in 6 months, and finally landed with one from Sweden.
Regarding the economy, Heikki from Accel Partners encouraged startups to look critically their business in the current economic situation - if the customers are not buying, it may be worthwhile to stop and rethink the business plan, rather than waiting for a sale or better times. They've had very good experiences of startups finding a great business model by refocusing this way.
Heikki also commented they are being more careful about the investments currently. He argued in the early stage companies the team is the most important thing, so that the investors can trust the team knowing what they're doing. Heikki also went on explaining one notable difference with Finnish startups compared to Silicon Valley is in the executive team. The ideas are typically good, but the executive teams are much more juvenile than in the Valley, whereas the board is typically very experienced. So Heikki would rather see people like the board members doing the execution, mentioning he'd like to see people learning business in big global firms, and then establishing startups in their 40s. He explained while you can build a good startup regardless of your age, in the end it will take great skill in execution to take a startup from 5 Million to 10M, and futher to 50M in revenues.
Slush, an event for startups by startups, will take place next Monday in Helsinki, Finland. We have a whole lot of people already coming, but wanted to give out 2 tickets for two lucky persons who still haven’t bought their tickets.
Also, we have two tickets to give away for the TechCrunch Brunch @ Slush that takes place the day after Slush itself. Mike Butcher, the editor of TechCrunch UK will come to Finland for the first time to host an event for the local startup scene:
TechCrunch UK is partnering with Slush, and we'll be throwing a breakfast brunch event for 100 start-ups, entrepreneurs, investors and key industry players the day after the Slush conference, so you'll be able to come along and network over some great Helsinki coffee. If you're a Scandinavian or Baltic startup, then this should be an event right up your street. It will be on Tuesday, 25th November at 09:30am to 01:00pm.
We will award a ticket to Slush and to TechCrunch Brunch for two persons who come up with the best English translations for the Finnish word Sisu. Every successful entrepreneur has a lot of this magical stuff that gives her the will power to push through against all the odds. Here’s the Wikipedia translation to get you started. You should write your own version into the comments below.
The description should be a one or two sentence punch line. We will choose the winner sometime tomorrow afternoon, so you have until that to write your version in the comments.
If you rather buy your tickets make sure you do it soon, since Slush is less than a week away. You can buy your ticket to Slush here, and your ticket to the TechCrunch Brunch for the day after here. Hope to see you at both.
Photo by Phineas H (CC:BY).
According to TechCrunch UK (blog post here) Muxlim, the Finnish born Muslim social network, is launching a virtual world especially Muslims in mind. This will be much like the other virtual worlds we are familiar with such as The Second Life apart from the Muslim specific features.
TechCrunch UK reports:
The idea is that something tailored to the Muslim world would be allowed through the IP-blocks of countries like United Arab Emirates which currently stops access to virtual worlds and online games considered unsuitable or offensive to Muslim culture. The virtual world is said to launch in 4-6 weeks
The revenue model will be VIP accounts, virtual gifts, virtual furniture/clothes, themes/styles, profile applications, advertising, branded communities and physical merchandise like t-shirts.
Muxlim has been very active lately. In addition to the new virtual world, they are planning to open an office in the UK and a big UK launch event at the end of January 2009 to go along with that.
If you look at the TechCrunch UK comments it clearly shows that religion is much more sensitive topic in the UK than it is over here in the Nordics and Baltics. Very few, if any, of the comments actually deal with the product itself, but rather with the fact that the virtual world is for Muslims. Mike Butcher, the Editor of TechCruch UK, decided to shut down the comments since the blog post created so many racist comments. I have not seen such negative approach here in the Nordics or Baltics even though Muxlim has been in the headlines quite a bit. It seems that UK has much more to learn from us than just financial regulation.
Edit: Here's also Wired's take on the Muxlim virtual world.
I interviewed Mike Butcher of TechCrunch UK on the European startup ecosystem and how he sees it versus the US one while I was visiting Seedcamp in London. I told Mike that we need to make entrepreneurship sexier here in Europe and get more role models for students and young guns to look up to. See what Mike told me and what he thinks of the Scandi startup scene in particular.
We will be discussing the state of the European startup scene here in Helsinki tomorrow night at the ArcticEvening (see more here). Come meet the local startup scene and enjoy a laid-back evening with us.
Dopplr, the Helsinki and London based startup, has secured second round financing from a very admirable group of investors including Esther Dyson, Tyler Brûlé, Thomas Glocer, Yat Siu, Aditya dev Sood, Lars Hinrichs, Joshua Schachter, Brian Behlendorf, Ami Hasan, Daniel Sachs, Joshua Cooper Ramo, Kim Weckström, and Azeem Azhar. Saul Klein, who invested in this round, also invested in the previous round together with Martin Varsavsky, Reid Hoffman and Joichi Ito.
“Dopplr is leading the way in intention sharing services online. It is valuable to know where your trusted friends and colleagues will be, and where you could meet them next,” said Lisa Sounio, CEO of Dopplr. “Partner brands on Dopplr will also give you relevant information and offers tailored to you. For example, when you tell Dopplr your plans to go to Hong Kong, you might get the latest intelligence from Monocle and offers from boutique hotels picked by Mr and Mrs Smith.”
Despite seeing a lot of attention from both the press and investors, there are some questions that people look answers for. One cannot miss the (despite somewhat questionable) data from Compete.com. According to Compete.com, Dopplr reached just over 50k UVs in August. If you're making money from commissions on hotel bookings and such, you need a lot more traffic to make the business model work and therefore focusing on such a small group of people travelling so much might be difficult. Furthermore, Mike Butcher at Techcrunch UK makes a solid point about the dilution of ownership with so many investors. It could be that once you get enough popular investors on board, the odds of you failing are smaller as these investors are looking forwards to making a return (hence they echo the name as much as possible).
Having these questions answered would be interesting, but nevertheless you have to give it to the Dopplr team for getting financed in such a tight market - we haven't heard that many similar stories lately.