3 things I learned at Slush (+ a bonus tip)

Dec 11, 2018 · 5 min read

6 stages.

160 speakers.

Over 3000 startups.

1800 investors.

More than 100 side events.

Needless to say, I was more than excited to visit Helsinki for Slush — the two-day tech party that the organizers themselves call ‘’the world’s leading startup event’’.

Slush is well known for its party-like atmosphere and for bringing an impressive bunch of speakers to Northern Europe every year. This year, speeches revolved around topics like privacy, future of work, and other trendy topics, including AI, IoT, crypto, and more.

Without further ado, here are the main lessons learned at Slush 2018:

1. Localization may be your key to success (but you’re doing it wrong)

The Estonian ride-hailing company Taxify that is today valued at $1bn, is going up against one of the biggest tech companies in the world — Uber. According to Taxify’s founder Markus Villig, what helps them to successfully compete with bigger businesses with more money, is their focus on localization.

‘’If you localize for customers, then that platform is going to win out regardless of how much capital the other company has,’’ Villig says. In other words, companies can spend tons of money on marketing, and yet the company that localizes their solutions is going to win.

And I know what you’re thinking right now:

‘’To localize my business, I have to translate my website in the local language.’’

According to Alice Newton-Rex, the Chief Product Officer at WorldRemit, that’s how most businesses approach localization. However, this approach is all wrong.

‘’Languages are actually pretty far down the list in terms of things that are absolutely essential to enable your product,’’ she says.

So what’s the most important thing to make your product a success in a new market?

Local payment methods.

‘’Let me put it this way: if you don’t offer locally relevant payment methods, your product is sure to fail,’’ Newton-Rex argues.

According to Newton-Rex, the deal-breakers that can either help you or hinder entering a new market are:

  1. Whether or not your solution adheres to local regulations
  2. Offering local payment methods
  3. Localized form designs (because online forms differ largely from country to country)

Simply put:

Localization may be your key to success. If you decide to do it, make sure you don’t waste your energy and money on things that don’t really matter that much to your customers.

2. Privacy is not about hiding things — it’s about innovation

Here’s the truth:

Most people don’t pay enough attention to their privacy because they believe they’ve got nothing to hide. However, according to Randi Hindi, the co-founder and CEO of Snips, privacy isn’t really about hiding something.

Whenever you say ‘’yes’’ to the terms and conditions of a company, you share your personal data with that company. From that moment on, you have no control over what they do with that information.

Now, the biggest problem with sharing your data is, again, not that they might find out something controversial about you. It’s that these companies can now learn your habits and ‘’customize’’ the content you see, which means — you start to receive less diverse information.

‘’The issue, however, is that innovation comes from diversity,’’ Hindi points out. When people are supplied with one type of information, they lose their ability to innovate, which is so important for success.


When using tools and apps, including Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, opt-out of targeting and profiling. That way you have a better chance to come across content that you wouldn’t if you’d rely on the algorithms.

3. Focusing on paid acquisition can kill your business

Many entrepreneurs turn to paid advertising to get their businesses off the ground, and that’s not a bad strategy. When your focus is on generating first sales and acquiring your first customers, paid advertising is a great way to do it.

That being said, relying solely on paid acquisition, may at one point stop your business growth, which will eventually send it to the graveyard.

‘’There will be a point where you reach a threshold when there’s no possibility to grow anymore, or it’s going to be really hard. So, you have to think — if I want to be successful in the long term, I need to build a brand,’’ says Gessica Bicego, Director of Performance Marketing at Blinkist.


Instead of investing money in paid ads only, split your budget and invest in marketing strategies that help you build your brand and make it recognizable, such as content-driven marketing, word of mouth and referral programs.

According to Christian Meermann, Founding Partner at Cherry Ventures, you should make sure that you have money to spend on things that you can measure and that give you immediate results, but also allocate funds for creative stuff and experiments — things that don’t give measurable results right away.

Bonus tip: the best lessons at any conference are learned outside the conference hall

Here’s the truth:

The real reason why people attend conferences is to meet people and network. You never know who you’re going to meet and how this connection will help you in the future.

Simply put, if you ask me, the best lessons learned at Slush were those learned outside the conference hall, meeting people in many side events that took place all around the city.

Here’s another truth:

I suck at networking. Meeting cool people makes me nervous. How to get over that and start talking to people? Here are my top tips:

  • Wear something that makes you stand out. Our conference outfit includes modernized Latvian ethnic crowns, which are proven to be a great ice-breaker and conversation starter. And the best part — especially if you’re an introvert like me — you won’t have to start the conversation, as people will come to you, curious to find out more about your outfit.
  • Don’t ask right away what the person does. As I said, high-profile, top-tier people make me nervous. The later I find out someone’s job title, the better and calmer I feel talking to him/her. So, instead of asking what the person does, ask questions like ‘’where do you come from?’’ and ‘’what brings you to this conference?’’
  • Don’t talk about work. The feeling that I have to sell myself and my company, makes my tongue get twisted. I feel obligated to represent my company well and that puts pressure on me. Therefore, if possible, I try to talk less about work and more about other things I do or like, trying to find something in common with the person standing in front of me.

What are your best conference networking hacks? Let us know in the comments below?


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