A Few Takeaways from Arctic 15

    Between all of the networking sessions, startup pitches, demo stands, and one-on-one meetings, there were a ton of great talks on the two stages at Arctic15.  For all of our readers who didn’t have a chance to attend–and for the attendees who may’ve missed a few of the presentations they hoped to catch–here are some of the key takeaway points from a few of the talks.

    This is just a brief glimpse into the many valuable discussions held at the conference. So if you want to add some insight from your own favorite talks, share your thoughts in the comments section at the end of the article.

    Basil Peters, Strategic Exits Corp

    We posted a brief interview with Peters a few weeks ago in which he told us that he thinks every company should have a clear exit strategy before they contact the first investors. During his two talks at Arctic15, he reiterated this point but added that today, raising capital is far less important than it used to be because companies are now able to bootstrap more effectively. Because companies are less dependent on raising initial capital, he believes that bootstrapping has leveled the playing field for companies outside of Silicon Valley.And unlike the market for capital, the market for exits is truly global. It’s as simple to sell a company from Helsinki, he suggested, as it is to sell one from Silicon Valley. During the Exits Panel, Peters even claimed he’d rather build a company here in Helsinki than in Silicon Valley, because the Valley is no longer a desirable place to live and work in his opinion. The major takeaway? You shouldn’t worry about making it to Silicon Valley; you should worry about making the best possible product wherever you happen to be.

    Simon Cook, DJF Esprit

    Simon Cook started off with two great points, the first of which is somewhat at odds with Basil Peters’ advice:

    1. Don’t fixate on an exit: it’s just a transition in your company. Focus on your business.

    2. Don’t build a business for VCs. Build it for yourself, your customers, or whoever else, but don’t just start a business with the goal of attracting VCs.

    Among companies in the Nordic region, he sees one major advantage and one major disadvantage:

    -One of the biggest advantages is Nordic companies’ ability to design amazing products. There’s a ton of product vision in the region.

    -One of the biggest disadvantages? Reserved ambition, as opposed to the boldness of companies in Silicon Valley. Companies here need to have huge visions, be bold, and aim to be the world’s best in what they do.

    Closing the talk, he explained that disruption isn’t restricted to emerging technologies. He advised everyone to think about traditional industries as well, because every industry can have innovation applied to it, and every industry is open to disruption.

    VC Panel

    Dmitri Sarle led a lively discussion with Simon Cook (DJF Esprit), Seth Pierrepont (Accel), and Daniel Waterhouse (Balderton Capital) that touched on what it means to work as a VC.

    For some people in the startup ecosystem who aren’t entirely familiar with what VCs do, there’s a glamorous image associated with the job that revolves around seven figure checks and first class flights. But the panel broke down that misconception and emphasized that the job isn’t about flair: it’s about handling day to day tasks and making themselves available at all times to entrepreneurs. They don’t claim to have all the answers, and they work with startup founders, rather than above them.

    How can a startup know if they’ve hooked a VC? One really good sign is if the VC is so excited about a company that he wonders whether or not he should quit his job to join the startup team on the ground level.

    Timo Ahopelto, Lifeline Ventures

    If you’re looking to get funding from Lifeline Ventures, you don’t need a jaw-dropping powerpoint presentation. In fact, you’re better off without one, because Timo hates Powerpoint. Rather than coming in with glossy slides and a hard pitch, it’s more important for entrepreneurs to demonstrate strong insight into their business. There needs to be a big market opportunity for the company, and there needs to be a rock-solid team–so good that each member needs to be the world’s best in one thing. And last but not least, seed investors need to be convinced that there’s going to be a next round of funding in your company’s future.

    Jason Goodman, Albion

    How do you start to build a superbrand? And fast? One piece of advice from Jason Goodman is to pull the engineering out of focus when creating your brand. You may have the best technology in the world, but if no one knows what you do or why they should care, you won’t develop a brand. Two of his suggestions: describe your product with words that people like, and find stories about how real people are actually using your service. Your product’s usability and design are the strongest marketing and press tools. But when those aren’t enough, you have to find something that resonates with your audience.

    For European companies looking to market to the US, he made a good point. It’s just as dubious for Americans to think of Europe as a unified market as it is for Europeans to think of America as a unified market. Consumers in Spain differ from consumers Germany, just like consumers in New York differ from consumers in Arizona.

    Trip Hawkins, If You Can

    Trip Hawkins offered a lesson that most of us have heard, but that’s worth repeating: if you’re in the startup game for the money, chances are you aren’t going to be successful. He also emphasized the importance of a company’s culture. When you have a team of 5,000 people, the company won’t be as intimate as when you had 5 employees. But you still can–and should–keep your culture intact as you grow. Even when you do have 5,000 employees, your company’s culture should aim to be better than every other company’s that has the same amount of employees.

    And when coming up with your next business idea, think as big as possible. And then a little bigger.

    Falk Muller-Veerse, Cartagena Capital

    Ready to sell? If you’re thinking about selling your company now–or in the next few years–Falk Muller-Veerse suggests that you go ahead and do it while the window is open. He suggested that 2014 is a great year for M&A, and timing is critical. That window won’t be always be open.

    What takeaway points did you leave the conference with?  Share in the comments section below.

    Ben Norris is the Founder / CEO of The Peddle, a Helsinki-based company that provides native English language services to startups across the Nordic and Baltic regions. He moonlights as a contributor to ArcticStartup.