Founders’ Week kicks off with a bang!

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The air was dense with antipation when Alexander Stubb (Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade) began his welcoming speech at Aalto Venture Garage this morning. In his speech, Stubb revealed that while he makes one trade promotion trip per month, he’s never been on such wild trip as the #Finnvasion tour of Washington DC, New York and San Francisco with 27 Finnish startups last March.

Progress has been made in the last year also on the public side- government efforts include trade promotion, legislation regarding i.e. work visas and tax incentives for business angels and SMEs.

Stubb said that Aaltoes and Startup Sauna are doing good in a big way- we’ve made entrepreneurship “a cool thing”. Stubb thanked especially Aalto University and it’s leader Tuula Teeri for it’s leading role in this entrepreneurial change we’re experiencing. 

What makes Silicon Valley culture so unique?

“The key thing is that people don’t just talk and dream, they do and do a lot“, says Bragiel. There is really no substitute for this.

It’s not just the entrepreneurs who are taking risks. In Silicon Valley, most law firms will give you up to $25000 in legal services for 0,5-1% stake in your startup. Even in the US, the Bay Area is the only place where you can pay for things you need in your early stage with equity. Where else in the world can you pay for your lawyer or gym card in equity?

People talk about what they’re doing. Anyone will have a conversation with you and share their knowledge- you’ll also get more feedback and help if you’re open about stuff.

Inkinen also pointed out that entrepreneurs are celebrated and understood in the US. In Finland, when Sami told his grandmother he was launching his first company, her comment was “Whatever you do, I hope it’s nothing illegal”.

There is strong culture of giving back – even succesful and busy founders are very likely to reply to emails. Anyone who makes it will almost automatically become an angel investor, rather than “moving to Spain and sitting on the beach”.

“Talent is also appreciated much more than elsewhere - salaries reflect employee value and skills” says Aaron. Some people are recognized as being better at their jobs and more valuable as employees. Their salaries reflect that- which should be considered fair play.

A less talked about feature of the Valley is that introverts can be hugely succesful there. (So even we Finns stand a chance..) “You can let your products and geekiness speak for themselves, everyone doesn’t have to be good at selling themselves” Paul explains, having funded many for their building prototypes, not for being loud.

Can we make Finland into a Silicon Valley-like hub?

The founders seem to agree that Silicon Valley will always be Silicon Valley. However, the gap between SV and the rest of the world is narrowing. Paul pointed out that with the spread of open source culture and the fact that we all reading the same blogs and using the same tools – people all over the world have access to the same information.  He also gave a shout out to Finns for being active “5 years ago there were no Finns, now I see them there every 2 weeks.”

Simmons noted the design talent in Finland, having been in the design capital for a day, and said that many startup spaces in Silicon Valley look like dumps compared to the Garage. He thinks there are lots of business opportunities in exporting the Finnish design sensibility.

There was a question from the audience asking if the valley is just going all social now with big Instagram sales and huge IPOs. Social means fast money to invest into, so how will real research live, the one where the name “Silicon Valley” came from. [See Steve Blank's comments on the matter : "The Golden Age of The Silicon Valley is Over, and we're Dancing on it's Grave" ]

Patzer disagrees that SV is focusing just on social. He says that “there’s just a lot more noise you hear from the social guys and low entry barriers- real innovative technical research takes years and is done with universities.” He’s also working on a transportation company, doing deep research with Stanford and MIT.

There’s quite crazy stuff still happening in the valley with people like Elon Musk and his SpaceX project with the space rocket launch last week.

Starting up

Many in the audience wanted to know, how to take the first baby steps as entrepreneur.

Almost everyone feels that their skills are inadequate and that they don’t have the confidence. In Sami’s words “The very best time to start a company is yesterday, the second time best is now.” There will always be many excuses why to not start now. You need to know that even the most succesful founders were just “making stuff up” as they went. Don’t let their confidence fool you.

Patzer also commented on this, saying that “I was thinking back in my 20′s that I can live with failing, but not with having to think I never tried.“ Paul advises that the worst that can happen is that you quit your job, start a company, fail, and get hired back in, with a promotion.

So why are many of the biggest SV successes 20-something white boys, if there are so helpful, open-minded people?

Patzer says his friend has been working on scientific tests around the world to test entrepreneurial aptitude, where they found out that the most successful are actually 30-35 yrs old. However, billionaires in their 20′s get more press, and it’s much easier to live the entrepreneurial lifestyle with (12-18 hours work/day) when you don’t have a spouse, loans or a family to support. Patzer was also proud to know that he could not have worked any harder in the early years of his company.

Startup Sauna’s wingman Andy challenged our guests to talk about their wealth, because Finns tend to be incredibly modest about their success.

Patzer reveals that he made about $10-15M dollars with his Mint.com exit, and bought a $25 000 yacht for his 30th bday. “It’s good to know you have some spare cash to bounce back to, when you need to fix something for a while.” Regarding wealth of successful entrepreneurs, he says that it’s more like a game score, and that founders have a lot of respect for billionaires- not because of the money, but because they think of it as a “high score” on the barometer of building successful things.

Sami Inkinen revealed that he has been unemployed since April 1st and is looking for new opportunities… so if you have a good startup, employ him ;)

To end the talks, Inkinen concluded by telling us to keep it authentic – “don’t try to change yourself”. You’re the best as you are.

Post by Krista and Henrietta