The entire San Francisco Agency crew attended Slush from 16-18 November. Some of us are seasoned, veteran Slushers. Others have braved a couple of rounds in the bright lights. And then there’s us. The fresh meat. The uninitiated, heading into battle armed with just our prized event passes and the collective giddy anticipation that only the world’s leading startup event can inject to offset the grayest of Finnish months. As the resident newbies, we (just about) survived to tell the tale. Here we share some of our thoughts and experiences.
Impressed on arrival
There’s no missing Slush. Even if you’re a first-time visitor, you won’t get lost on the way. Slush is impressively well-organized. Almost straight off the local train we were enthusiastically ushered by one of the many helpful Slush volunteers (more on those later) through the extremely adequately signposted gates. Entering Slush for the first time, we were greeted by another unfamiliar but equally inviting scene – It’s dark in here!
That was the first thought that came to mind. For any other industry exhibition, this enormous hall is filled with sterile, piercingly white light, bouncing off gray walls onto a sea of logoed rollups, TV screens and white dividers. But not at Slush. At Slush, Messukeskus had put on her most stylish black dress, put on some slow jams, and dimmed the lights. Thousands of small light bulbs and LED installations created a glowing, warm atmosphere. We felt like we’d stepped into the coolest food market in town, not a trade fair.
After just one lap of the booths and stages, we found ourselves fully immersed and struggling to remember where the entrance was. Taking note of where the “Comfort Zone” chillout area was for later, we headed to the main stage for the opening ceremony. Expecting an understated, low-key introduction? Not at Slush. Of course, there’s a man with an electric guitar and a loop station that opens the show like it’s the most natural thing in the world at 10 am on a Thursday. And on that electrifying note, our first Slush had officially started along with the laser show.
So much to do, so little time
Especially for first-timers, Slush can feel quite overwhelming. It’s a busy place with lots to see and do. With the sheer volume of people, the number of booths and the plethora of speakers, we found ourselves riding a wave of FOMO, wanting to see and do everything, but where to begin? At this point, we arrived at lesson number one: it’s important to set realistic personal goals for what you want to achieve during what feels like an all too short time.
Everyone comes to Slush with an agenda. If you don’t, you get lost. If the goal is to sell, pre-booked meetings are king. If you are there to woo a media contact, better get that media pass ahead of time. And if you’re there just to network and see what fruits fall off the tree, the side-events are your best friend for chance encounters of the productive kind.
Your agenda doesn’t need to be an extremely detailed, four-page document. At San Francisco Agency, we all set goals for ourselves. They varied from “one good lead” to “10 meetings”, from “attend at least one side event” to “try to have fun.” Setting goals is a personal journey, and especially as a first-timer it’s important not to push yourself too hard.
People are relaxed and open to connect
With an agenda in mind, we set off on our personal first-timer journeys with an open mind – highly recommended at Slush. Like any other trade show, doing the rounds is tiring work; all the meeting and greeting eventually leaves you feeling walked and talked out. But unlike any other trade show, Slush has a secret charm up its sleeve that makes networking so much easier.
The relaxed atmosphere is definitely more glowsticks and glitterballs than briefcases and business cards, and this makes people feel a lot more approachable and ready to connect. As first-timers, this was welcome to help shake off the usual straight-laced formalities and strike up more human, organic conversations. Even pre-booked sales meetings were relaxed exchanges, and we left them feeling better connected with our contacts, and with great stories to use when following up.
Remember to take a well-earned break
When it all gets a bit too much, Slush has you covered. The volunteers deserve a special mention for providing another nice human touch. From helping us find the many (and much-needed) free water points, to diligently helping us sort our food waste into the correct disposals for recycling, a helpful and friendly volunteer is never far away at Slush.
Then there was the “Comfort Zone” to visit for some downtime. Here, the dimmed lights, inviting hammocks, and ample power points helped us recharge our mental, physical, and cellular batteries. Walking and talking all day is thirsty work, but fortunately you’re guaranteed to find good company to share a drink with after hours…
The real work starts when the lights go out
Yes, like most networking events, the evenings are as important as the days. If not more. Even though Slush is one of the easiest places to meet new people, a bit of social lubricant definitely doesn’t hurt the cause. With the first events starting at 5 pm and lasting well into the night, you will definitely find something that suits your wants and needs. In our experience, the many side events provided not only some of our most memorable moments, but also some of the most productive conversations with potential partners.
We officially learned how to Slush
So, there you have it; our first-timers experiences of Slush. It’s not like we went from knitwear to Patagonia vests in three days; that transformation takes time. But it’s finally clear to us what Slush is all about. A crazy 48 hours where barriers go down, people look up from their phones and start talking to one another. It’s a place where connections are made and new business partnerships formed. But it is also a crazy festival of lights, open bars, and drag queen karaoke. See you next year!