The blare of the trumpets died down: the biggest conference of Europe has finished. International conference SLUSH was held in the northern city of Helsinki from Nov, 30 to Dec, 1. Exhibition center “Messukeskus” gathered 15,620 participants presenting 1,686 startups from different countries, 777 investors and 630 journalists. My team and I presented CrocoTime worktime monitoring system there. And now I’d like to tell you how to get prepared to SLUSH to make your participation the most effective.
How we got to the conference
I’ve heard so many times about SLUSH, but I didn’t plan to go there. But then I got a letter from Russian Venture Company to visit SLUSH for free as a member of their team. So, I made a briefing with my colleagues and told them about such opportunity. Everyone was delighted by the news. And we decided to take part in the conference.
Apart from us, another 10 startups selected by GenerationS business-accelerator went to SLUSH as members of Russian Venture Company: SmikTech, AnyWalker, Kleiber bionics, Promobot, Samocat sharing, Piligrim XXI, Kera-Tech, TalkBank, PandaMoney, MASKI+. The second team of startups from Russia was formed by “Skolkovo” innovation center. It has occurred that there was one more way to get to SLUSH for free. It was discovered by Sasha Spirina who is a member of CrocoTime team. Sasha signed up at http://www.slush.org/ and completed Atomico Survey which was about the current state of the European market and the place of startups in it. She turned out to be one of the best respondents of the survey and was designated a free ticket to SLUSH, which cost 400 EUR, by the way.
Preparation for the conference
There wasn’t much time to prepare for the conference. It may be said that we started preparations at the first briefing when we discussed objectives of the trip. We wrote all the “what for” on the board. Crossed out unnecessary things, marked the most important and defined the main purpose: to communicate with as many prospective partners as possible, to hear feedbacks on our product and to find out what representatives of the European market think about CrocoTime. Now we generally work with Russian companies or Russian representatives of foreign companies, but we are about to enter the foreign market.
Taking our objectives into consideration, we decided that our implementation manager Irina Grigorkina will go to SLUSH with me. And due to the success of our public relations specialist abroad Sasha Spirina, who won a ticket to SLUSH, we were able to set one more important objective of our trip: to establish business contacts with foreign media.
When we finished with the strategy, we moved on to the tactics. We have studied SLUSH website thoroughly. And during a month before the trip we were sending e-mails to the companies of Finland which were named as participants of SLUSH. Thanks to the website we were able to arrange meetings with people we were interested in. Actually, we have looked through all the participants of SLUSH who had registered at the website and defined our targeted audience. For example, thanks to preliminary arrangement, we had a meeting with Sami Ranta who is a representative of “Tieto” company. A few days before SLUSH, being in Russia, we had a Skype call with him.
At the same time, there were organizational preparations for the trip. We made a check-list according to which we could know which tasks have been fulfilled and which ones are still to fulfill:
- Sign up on the SLUSH website
- Send the participants’ data to RVC
- Get confirmation of the correct registration
- Discuss meetings at SLUSH and in Helsinki
- Book a hotel
- Buy airplane tickets
- Arrange visas (take out insurance!)
- Buy railway tickets to Moscow
- Prepare a speech
- Prepare a presentation
- Book return tickets!
- Book a car
- Prepare information for the RVC stand
- Prepare materials for RVC flyers
- Fill the consents to personal data processing
As it often happens, while preparing documents, some difficulties appeared. One employee had to change her passport and that’s why visa processing was delayed significantly. By the way, we applied for a common tourist visa. Airplane tickets have been ordered a month before the trip. It is much cheaper.
We also calculated the costs of transportation during our stay in Finland. We concluded that it will be much easier and cheaper to rent a car. In Helsinki, a taxi costs as much as one day of a car rent.
However, note that it’s not enough just to pay (at least here: https://www.holidayautos.com) for a car booking: you will have to provide a bank card of a driver. 750 EUR will be withheld from it during your trip. We prepared everything for it. But when we were about to go to Moscow, we found that this company accepts personalized credit cards only! We didn’t want to have no car. That is why I had to apply for a personalized credit card on the Tinkoff bank website. After more than a dozen of phone calls and endless talks with the bank managers I finally ordered a card. I was supposed to take it in one of Moscow offices of Tinkoff bank before our flight. As a result, we nearly missed the plane. But this is not the end of the story. When we were taking a car in Helsinki, it turned out that we can’t pay by this card, because it wasn’t activated. Thanks God we didn’t need it! It turned out that my debit card was ok.
When we got to Helsinki we had a spare evening to go for a walk. As it turned out the next day, it is expensive to eat in McDonald’s as well as in a local café. And the food in local cafes is much tastier.
One day before SLUSH opening day there was Founder’s day. CEO, founders and higher management of large companies were invited to this event. It took place at Cable Factory. I had an invitation as a founder. But everyone from our team wanted to be there. For free. We decided to try. It was successful, as no one checked our passes.
Experienced businessmen were telling about their success from the stage. And we were getting acquainted with people who had “Executive” badges with the aim to get a feedback and to find out how European employers can be interested in CrocoTime.
We had a chance to meet Skolkovo Far East representatives: TMF Group. We also got acquainted with Lari Tuominen, a successful businessman in the sphere of IT from Helsinki. We arranged a Skype call with him for December. Hope to get a feedback and recommendations on positioning. Also, Larri promised to share his experience in finding of a needed niche in the foreign market.
The conference itself
The opening ceremony was in November, 30. SLUSH energetics made its participants excited. Everyone was in a positive mood, open for communicating and interested in everything what was going on. Ones were concentrated on the workshops and speakers. Others attracted participants’ attention by their interesting and unusual stands or delicious treats. But most people were walking around, getting acquainted and communicating. As well as we were.
We came to stands of companies we were interested in and got acquainted with representatives of large companies. If there was no special mobile application with navigation in SLUSH area, we wouldn’t have had any chance to find any stand we needed. There were two lists available in mobile application: companies and investors. We chose companies we needed and the application showed routes from the place we were at to them. It saved our time and made our search easier. So, we had a chance to communicate with representatives of the following companies: Nokia, Finnair, Lufthansa, Nordea, Danske Bank, VTT, TMF, Bayer, PWC, Elise, Tieto and others.
From the first moment, you feel a little bit weird when you just come and introduce yourself to a person. Your main purpose is to establish contact with a person using verbal and very often non-verbal methods of communication. After you tell what you do, people usually listen to you attentively. Most people ask clarifying questions and tell their opinions on the product. And everyone exchange business cards.
On the second day we concentrated on communicating with representatives of media. Sasha Spirina had a chance to get acquainted with foreign journalists and to discuss opportunities of publishing in foreign business publications.
The scales of the event are impressive. More than 15,000 people took part in it. Perfect space design, music and light gave the sense of being at a rock concert. By the way, this took the heat out of the situation and released startupers from excitement. People didn’t feel any boundaries between those who are looking for investors or large companies to cooperate with and those who are investors or have authorities in the European market.
The way home
Our flight back to Moscow was delayed to 12 hours because of the weather. As it is a major force, the airline company didn’t give any compensation. That’s why we had to pay for one more night in a hotel. It was more expensive than a pre-booked night. Thanks God we didn’t have train tickets from Moscow to Saransk (our office is located in Mordovia) booked in advance, otherwise we would have had to change them as well. Of course, this case upset us. Speaking about expenses, the situation is following:
If you go to SLUSH yourselves, you will also have to spend about 400EUR per person for a ticket what is approximately the same as the amount for accommodation and food.
All in all, if you are a new startup or an investor, you need to go to SLUSH. You will find new contacts and useful acquaintances here for sure. And also you will be able to check your product positioning in the European market and will get an opportunity to publish an article about you in a foreign publication. But if you want to find new customers or partners, it’s better to find some other events. FinCon, for example.