Despite the cold, dark days, investors and entrepreneurs flocked to Helsinki last week to talk tech at Slush, one of the world’s leading start-up events. Two of those attendees were our early-stage Investment Directors, Mike and Joe. Here are their key takeaways from two days on the ground:
#1: It’s tough out there, but a good time to build
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the current macroeconomic climate was the big talking point over the two days in Finland. With the recent and very public Twitter layoffs, alongside Amazon, Meta and now Alphabet, it’s not an easy time to be in Big Tech, let alone a tech start-up. Day 1 kicked off with a great panel with a duo of Sequoia legends, with Luciana Lixandru interviewing Doug Leone, whose key message was clear: now is the time for heads-down focus on building great products (more below). Of course, doing that relies on making the most of runway and planning carefully for future funding needs, as we wrote about in a recent blog.
#2: The sustainability theme is unstoppable
As we have written about in several recent blogs, sustainability is a huge topic in tech – and across the entire consumer landscape - at the moment, from food to social issues. With the hashtag #Slushstainability proudly displayed on banners around the venue, the organisers went all out on the theme this year – not only were there lots of climate tech and sustainability-focused start-ups in attendance, but the event itself was carbon positive, and the catering entirely vegan. We particularly enjoyed Generation Management Partner Joy Tuffield’s conversation with Back Market co-founder and CEO, Thibaud Hug de Larauze, and Vestiaire Collective CEO, Maximilian Bittner, going deep on how the combination of tech enablement and a sustainability-centric value proposition is fuelling their continued success.
#3: Now is the time to focus on product
With 4,600 start-up founders and 2,600 investors, representing $1 trillion in assets under management in attendance, Slush is a place fizzing with ideas. The overall dialogue, however, was around the importance of focusing on building great and differentiated products with long-term value for customers and users vs. chasing short-term low-quality growth fuelled by cheap capital. Bill Magnuson, co-founder and CEO of Braze, gave a masterclass on building deep differentiation in his conversation with ICONIQ Growth partner Matt Jacobson on Day Two.
THINGS TO GET EXCITED ABOUT
#1: The next generation of unicorns are being built as we speak
By their nature, start-ups are built over a long period of time and so the first thing to get excited about for both entrepreneurs and investors is that, despite the economic gloom, it’s a great time to start a business and a great time to be investing. True continues to be very active in the market, having closed several new and follow-on investments this year, including leading the seed round for Awe Inspired, an LA-based demi-fine jewellery brand serving the growing demographic of young people who identify as 'spiritual but not religious' with meaningful and culturally representative jewellery.
#2: Technology continues to change the world
With our focus on the retail and consumer space, we met with many inspiring entrepreneurs who are using technology to keep up with the pace of changing consumer behaviour. Health and wellness is a sector we’re particularly focussed on and excited about – from digital therapeutics to the future of food. We particularly enjoyed chatting with the founders of some fascinating companies building science-backed, tech-enabled products that empower consumers to take health and wellness into their own hands.
#3: The European tech investor community is strong
Despite the headwinds, there are still literally thousands of active investors in early-stage tech across Europe, which is something to be excited about if you’re a founder. For us at True, it’s also exciting to know there are so many potential co-investors for us to partner with, complementing our deep expertise and networks in the consumer and retail sector with knowledge and experience across fast-evolving areas, from crypto to BioTech and everything in between.
Our overarching takeaway was that the European early-stage tech scene continues to thrive, despite the challenges. We look forward to continuing the conversations we started at Slush, and to bringing new and exciting tech start-ups and co-investors alike into our portfolio and network.
Congrats to the Slush team for organising another brilliant conference. We’re looking forward to next year already.