Slush: Talkoot and Community Building
I have a tradition of going to Finland in November. I have been doing this every year since 2008 no matter where I live. November, of course, is the worst time of year to visit Finland. It’s cold and dark. It snows, but then the snow turns to rain so instead of beautiful white snow-covered scenery we have this wet mushy thing everywhere, called slush.
Slush is the reason I go back every year. No, not the cold wet stuff on the ground, but an event called Slush that is held in Helsinki every November. Slush is an event for startups and investors. It started small – the first Slush back in 2008 had only about 200 attendees, but it has grown dramatically and Slush in 2016 had over 17,000 attendees from all over the world.
Size is not what makes Slush great though. Slush was amazing when it had 2000 people and Slush continues to amaze me with its current massive size. Despite the growth there has always been something special about Slush that remains year after year.
Slush features world-class speakers such as top investors, heads of state, and successful entrepreneurs. I’m sure the talks are great, however I have never seen one. I spend 100% of the time at Slush talking to people – networking with old friends and making new ones.
Meeting people is what Slush is all about: smart, energetic, inspiring people. Sometimes I get good ideas, other times long-lasting friendships are formed. Transfluent always tends to get a good number of customers from Slush. Some of our biggest customers as well as our lead investor came from Slush. In fact, Slush was one of the first venues where Transfluent was present, when we attended the 2011 Slush-100 startup competition. Out of hundreds of companies applying, and the 100 that were selected to pitch, Transfluent placed 3rd!
Worth mentioning is that Slush is a non-profit that is organized by volunteers. There are over 2,400 volunteers, mostly students, working around the clock to make Slush what it is. This large-scale joint volunteer effort is a very Finnish thing. The Finnish word for it is “talkoot,” which could be translated as “communal work,” but there are deeper shades of meaning as well. The word originates from Swedish language, but is not used or known by most Swedes today. Alongside Finland, our southern neighbors in the Baltic have the concept of talkoot, and a similar word to describe it. You can learn more about talkoot from Wikipedia.
Slush leadership mostly consists of students from Aalto University and the leadership tends to change quite much year over year. This is an important observation – while many great startups are a creation of their founder, Slush is a community effort that remains great even when the people organizing it are replaced.
Slush flight from Silicon Valley
Slush has always been attended by people from around the world, but notably there have been few people from Silicon Valley. This is a pity as Silicon Valley is the world’s startup hub, with more companies and more investors than anywhere else. Main reason has always been the lack of direct flights. It takes easily 16+ hours to reach Finland. To make things better, this year Slush organized a direct charter flight from San Francisco to Helsinki. The flight was just 10 hours, which is shorter than a flight to most European destinations. I live near San Francisco so I was able to grab a seat.
I can honestly say the flight was the best flight I have ever taken. I’ve never been on a flight where 10 hours goes by without noticing. People talked with strangers, made new friends and had fun. Passengers roamed freely between business and economy classes, and nobody was too important to take the time to chat with others. It was a true mini-slush.
The flight was packed, with only a few middle-seats remaining. Most of the people on the flight had never been to Finland, but based on the comments I would say that nearly everyone will go again next year. I predict there will be more than one plane flying next year!
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