Slush Helsinki has gotten off to a great start, with the heavy snow yesterday doing little to dampen people’s spirits. We started off with presentations from some of the heroes of the Finnish startup scene: Risto Siilasmaa of F-Secure, Monty Widenius of MySQL, and Ilkka Paananen of Digital Chocolate. After insightful and introductions, Matt Marshall of VentureBeat moderated a panel with all the entrepreneurs.
A common thread in the three entrepeneurs’ comments were the difficulty raising funding. While all three were successful raising money, it was getting money at the right time with the right conditions that was tricky. Paananen says his company, after successfully bootstrapping for several years, was forced to chose between selling the company, raising venture capital, or merging with another company. They chose the latter because Digital Chocolate complemented their business and already had Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins as investors. Likewise MySQL turned down a $15M investment only to take a $10M investment a year or two later. The difference? The former would have seen the founders loosing a controlling stake, while the latter let Widenius and his fellow co-founders keep their involvement. This commitment served them well and enabled them to profit hansomely this year with the billion dollar sale of MySQL to Sun. Since it was been challenging, at best, for them to raise money from Finnish investors, both Widenius and Siilasmaa are now devoting time and money to Finnish startups. Predictably this announcement sent local startups scrabbling to corner both men after the panel.
One question European startups often struggle with is whether to move to Silicon Valley. Widenius said MySQL only moved there because their CEO wanted to be there. Despite drawing laughs from the crowd, this view seems to be widespread. All the panelists are happy with the ability to develop great products from Finland but emphasized the minuscule size of the Finnish market and the importance of having a management and sales presence in the US. Risto Siilasmaa, despite starting F-Secure in Silicon Valley, would have actually preferred to have been in Boston or another city on the US East Coast, due to the time difference if nothing else.
To follow Slush as it happens, you can watch the live video feeds from the business and development tracks. The #slush Jaiku channel and #slush Twitter search results are also a great way to take the pulse of the Slush attendees. If you have any questions for me, I’m @pr1001 on Twitter and on Jaiku.