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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Interview with the Slush CEO Eerika Savolainen

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Slush 2022 is getting closer and tickets are flying off the shelves. We had a quick chat with the new CEO Eerika Savolainen, who took over in January 2022 and is leading the team creating another great event in November. She shares with us some personal and professional goals and how she sees Slush developing during her time at the helm. And of course what’s coming this year and which speaker is on top of her wishlist to chase to bring in.

Let’s learn first more about you and your journey, and then discuss Slush things too. Could you tell us about your journey? Eerika the person, not the professional CV story.

Brief version: born and raised in northern Helsinki. As a kid, I enjoyed two things, school and gymnastics. My interests have always been very broad, but I ended up studying Finance in business school. During my studies I spent my time doing pretty much everything else other than studying, mostly work and coaching gymnastics. I had been curious about the startup ecosystem for a while, and ended up in the Slush team in 2019. It was supposed to be a short stint, but I got hooked, and here I am. Slush is the best place for curious and ambitious 20-somethings to learn and grow.

Who were your childhood idols? And who are your idols today?

Funnily enough, I used to do gymnastics as a kid, and a familiar name for many in the ecosystem – Marianne Vikkula – was a captain of a successful team that I looked up to. Later she became the CEO of Slush, and that’s actually how the startup ecosystem caught my eyes in the first place. Role models can arise from peculiar places!

How would your friends describe you in three words?

Determined, smiling, and equipped with a can-do attitude.

What’s your favorite travel destination you have visited so far?

We visited San Francisco with Slush a few months back, and I really enjoyed the experience.

What destinations are on the top of your list of places you want to visit in the future?

For me, it’s not really about the destination rather than what’s the reason to go there. I’d probably like to visit places that are related to something that I’m excited about in life (often this collides with my work).

Dogs or cats?

Cats, without question.

What kind of things make you excited?

I love my job. Solving hard problems together with a bunch of incredibly smart and kind people is ever rewarding. I’m also super curious about how world-class companies are built and run.

Tell one thing about yourself that you think people would be surprised to know about you?

My taste in TV shows is really bad.

Okay, couple of more serious questions too. What kind of professional goals do you have?

Ultimately, the most rewarding and exciting thing I could imagine doing is founding your own company. Let’s see what happens along the journey.

You have been active in group gymnastics sports, do you see a relation with learnings from there you use today in a leadership position?

Definitely. Gymnastics, like sports generally, teaches you diligence and how to work for your objectives. You learn that excellence is a habit. Also, you work with a team, sharing both successes and failures. All this is very useful in professional life.

What kind of values are important to you?

Curiosity and trust by default are important values for Slush, and for me personally.

What’s your take on inclusivity in the startup world?

It’s clear that an inclusive ecosystem creates better outcomes for everyone. I’m happy to see that the European ecosystem is extremely willing to discuss and tackle the clear issues in diversity and inclusion, but it’s safe to say that we still have a long way ahead of us.

I’d love to keep asking more about you, perhaps another day, but let’s also talk about Slush. Could you tell us how you ended up becoming the CEO of Slush?

Whenever I’ve had to decide whether to take the next role at Slush or continue to other adventures, the decision has come down to one thing: I’ve always been just so curious to know how the world looks like if I accept the next challenge – and I’ve not regretted it. For me, Slush is an endlessly rewarding place to learn and grow.

How do you see Slush changed during the years you have been involved?

The biggest shift is definitely in our focus: relevance over scale. Pre-pandemic, Slush events kept growing year after year. Last year we had an 8,000 people event, and over 60% of our audience were either startup founders, operators or investors – and people loved that. We’re going to double down on this, and build the most focused and best curated Slush to date.

It has been more than six months since you took over the helm. What has been the most positive experience about it?’

I’ve loved every minute, but perhaps most of the best experiences come out of our team. We’ve a brilliant team, that is both creative and executes well, building on the learnings from last year.

And has there been anything that has really surprised you?

To be honest, not too many things. I’ve been part of the team for a while now and worked closely with wonderful Miika (our previous CEO). By now, Slush is very familiar and dear company to me.

Slush team in Dubrovnik
Slush team building in Dubrovnik, spring 2022

In January, you mentioned Slush aims to serve even better the core customer groups, startup entrepreneurs and investors, that connecting them is not that much of an issue anymore, but rather supporting the founders in other ways. Could you share what this means in practice?

People come to events to connect, but as the European ecosystem has evolved, connections are not the only bottleneck for the growth of startups anymore. We focus on creating excellent stage content and event concepts that tackle problems acute to early stage founders. We’re not a generalist tech conference, rather than an event built for founders.

How do you see Slush will be when your time as the CEO is over, what do you think will be your legacy there?

Slush is one of the best founder schools in Europe. I’d love to leave Slush to a state where it operates, independent of the individuals running it, on standards and processes that rank on par with the best European startups of comparable size.

As we know that the Slush CEO position lasts usually 1-2 years, where do you see yourself heading afterwards? And how about in five to ten years?

As said, the most exciting thing I could imagine happening in the future is building your own company. Let’s see when that is, but at least the idea guides me in what I do right after Slush, and probably still in five to ten years.

And to wrap it up, let’s discuss about this year’s event specifically, which will be happening on November 17th-18th, and the ticket sales have been going very well already. As last year’s event was sold out and you had a long waiting list, how are you preparing to meet the demand this year?

Actually, we’re not. To best serve early stage founders, we’re very intentionally keeping the event rather small and focused – 12,000 people with 4,200 founders and operators, and 2,200 investors. So, we’ll be sold out also this year.

What will be new from the previous years?

As said, Slush 2021 was smaller because of the pandemic – and it was brilliant. Now we’re building a curated event intentionally, which allows us to hone the details to their finest and focus on problems fundamentals for early stage founders.

And what things do you definitely want to keep as they were earlier?

Many familiar things, like Slush 100 pitching competition, Meeting Area and Matchmaking Tool, and Day 0 events for founders and investors will surely be there also this year – but not as they were, rather than upgraded.

If you could choose any person on the planet to come to speak at Slush, who would it be?

I’d love to have Sheryl Sandberg. Working on it!

Anything else you would like to share or add?

As said, we’ll be sold out way before you’d think, so I recommend securing your tickets at slush.org/tickets

Thank you so much for the interview, Eerika! Let’s catch up again closer to the event to discover more details about it.

Ps. Definitely take Eerika’s advice and grab your Slush 2022 tickets right now if you did not do it yet!

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Jan Ameri
Jan Ameri
Entrepreneur-by-heart – and by actions since 1998. Being an expert in spotting new opportunities and creating new concepts, Jan has been a partner or co-founder in seven different companies in various industries. In the early 2000’s he was pioneering some of the very first WAP, SMS, and interactive TV based wireless games and fantasy sports games in the Nordic countries. Jan loves to watch Shark Tank and The Profit in his free time. And he is an FC Barcelona fan.

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