Finally made it. Having waited for 5 hours at Arlanda airport I arrived at the hotel at 3am so I was pretty tired when I finally showed up at the Slush 2008 event. But it was definitely worth it.

The set-up was a mix of short presentations and panel debates with some of Finland’s most successful entrepreneurs, Risto Siilasmaa (F-Secure), Monty Widenius (MySQL), Ilkaa Paananen (Sumea), Petteri Koponen (Firsthop & Jaiku), Sampo Karjalainen (Sulake), and Asmo Halinen (Apaja). The panel debates were moderated by Matt Marshall from VentureBeat.

Personally, I think the major contribution of the speakers was the fact that these successful entrepreneurs engaged and showed interest in an event for up and coming entrepreneurs. I believe that it is extremely important with role models and having the chance to talk and listen to people that have built great companies.

There were also some very useful pieces of advice and sharing of experiences from the speakers, for example in terms of how to handle the current financial situation, the importance of focus (something I will come back to in another blog entry), and what it’s like being acquired by a large international company.

Perhaps the most interesting example was one of failure rather than success when Asmo told us the story of Apaja’s launch of a virtual world to complement their successful avatar and gaming focus. By not listening to what their users wanted, they ended up spending 1.5 years building and eventually dismantling a virtual world which too few people were interested in. And for a start-up, that’s a pretty significant misuse of resoruces knowing that there are so many other things that needs to be carried out.

Another interesting story was told by Sampo from Sulake (Habbo Hotel) and how the whole thing emerged as a project build for their own pleasure and then virally spreading to more and more people. But the important lesson was that the founders never lost touch of either their own love for the product or making sure that they truly understand why and how their users actually use the product. I think many companies can learn from the likes of Sulake, being almost obsessed with understanding user behavior.

The day also provided great opportunity for networking with a nice location and ample space to meet people (since everyone needed to pass by the bar to reach the auditorium). So all in all, a great event and hopefully one which will be held again next year (and hopefully I can stay on for the party next time around).