The opportunity unveils itself
Funny how small things make all the difference. One night, very late in September, my wife noticed a matchbox-sized ad of Tredea-Mustakarhu pilot program in our local newspaper Pirkkalainen. Tredea intended to send local, potential startups to Silicon Valley. The 4-week program was created to help spark an idea of expanding to the US, by actually showing up in person and putting real sweat equity behind it. The application period was to end the next day. Our CEO Anssi Uimonen was still in London, closing our 6-month Abbey Road incubator program. A quick chat, and the goal was loud and clear. Great timing, to say the least.
All the preparations went smoothly, a big kudos to organizers Tomi Terentjeff and Tredea. After that, everything happened at the speed of sound, and on November 15, 2016 two pale northern guys were slingshotted to a focal point of The World startup scene - geographically speaking. The vibes were high and the expectations positively realistic.
The humble beginning
We flew to San Francisco via New York. As a first timer in the US, it really felt special. Such a different world. Big brand offices everywhere, all the time. As inspiration starts to kick in, thinking gets bigger right then and there. What would it be possible to achieve here in the long run? What could it mean for our business?
An Uber took us to the Mustakarhu Greer Rd 559 residence, a startup-hub extraordinaire in wealthy suburban Palo Alto. The house was already packed with startup testosterone, sharing the same mentality and goals. The reception was friendly and conditions very good. We got a great house with all you need, fantastic location, and an internet connection. All under the Californian sun. What more could a startup ask for?
Getting the hang of it
During the first days, we got to know our surroundings. Palo Alto may be a small city, but it’s business impact, internationally, is huge with many of the key players at all fronts possible present. On the first day, downtown, the former Apple CEO walks by. Interesting, I thought. We might be onto something here.
Tomi had kindly organised some visitors to the house for us. Senja Larsen from Kauppalehti came to write a story about us, providing great visibility for the project. Also a couple of Valley insiders paid a visit – they shared very useful tips, covering the general valley mentality, attending local meetups, how things work in general, making some initial intros, and sharing experiences in coming to the US as a business. With one quest in mind, we sat down to create a long list of growth-hacking concepts, one by one. Very useful content indeed. We also went to greet the key Finnish expat staff at local Tekes / Finpro offices at Nordic Innovation House in Palo Alto. Hats off to Paula Salomaa, Tran Thuong, and Hartti Suomela, to name a few.
After the first get-togethers, every company continued to work on their own. Working contact lists, contacting people, flipping through LinkedIn, doing meetings, and general company soul searching. I think it became clear to all of us that US is truly a massive country, and even thinking about entering the market requires time, money, hard work, and perseverance. A lot of it. Plus a local presence; a US company, bank account, credit card, and a postal address. This would benefit both the business brand and its development, but the ability to get funding as well.
Something to consider for future prospects.
During the second week it was Thanksgiving, the biggest celebration in the country. However happy times for locals, not the best one for business developing startups. On the third week some of us had Slush to attend. It must be said that these two factors had an impact on the productive side of things. Once again, timing is everything.
The gang got back together in Los Angeles for the last week of the visit, to continue what was started in Palo Alto and San Francisco. Another new dimension to the equation. For a music startup, LA really is the spot to be at. Among other business meetings and visits, the key event of the trip was definitely the 99th Independence day celebration at Finnish Consul’s residence in Bel Air, LA. Great party with great new inside connections. Another one was the METal business gathering organised every saturday at the Crest Theater in LA by Ken Rutkowski. The legendary Larry King was one of the guests, too. What a great laugh he was! Both events highly recommended, should the chance ever come up.
It was a great experience with great, like-minded people. Really something to chew over in the coming months. Everything went great and the four week’s time window is probably optimal to start with. It really takes time to adjust, and short stab visits just won’t be enough.
As described in the beginning, the process of organising the trip went so fast that it was really hard to find enough time to prepare on a sufficient level. The main points being creating the right contact lists, connecting with people beforehand, making and asking for warm intros, scheduling meetings, and all that important stuff. This kind of trip has so much potential that it should be extracted fully. Seriously.
While we managed to achieve important goals, we feel we could’ve done even better. Yes, some of it was due to circumstances, timing, and that. But preparation is really imperative in making things happen. So, we’d recommend planning carefully, preparing with conviction, and starting at least two months before jumping to the plane. All in all, we are really happy and thankful for this fantastic opportunity, done with a true entrepreneurial spirit in taking things from grass-root level to actually taking real steps towards future success stories from our little Finland.
A big thank you for all the great people that made this experience possible: Tomi Terentjeff and Tredea & Mustakarhu, and all friends at participant companies; Campwire, Deltabit, 5moreminutes, and the bunch at Greer Rd; Janne Tamminen, Ville Hulkko, and Juuso Haavisto. The warmest thank you goes to our own families, our stormtrooper-wives and kids who allowed dads to leave the premises for a long time. We salute you.
The writer is Artist Happiness Officer at CloudBounce.