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SF Insights – PT I

Kirjoittanut: Tuuli-Emily Liivat - tiimistä SYNTRE.

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In the beginning of February, I had the unique opportunity to join a trip for board members organised by the Tampere Entrepreneurship Society to San Francisco, Stanford, Silicon Valley and San Jose. The aim of the trip was to immerse ourselves into the culture of the technology-savviest place in the world and bring back insights to enrich the startup culture in Tampere. The trip was very special – during the 10 years of the organisation’s existence, this was the first time such a trip was held.

Our visit included meeting founders behind most commonly used programming languages and people that can be called serial startuppers. Welcome to Silicon Valley!

Day one.
“Why are you here and not building startups?” 

Our very first visit was to a startup called Merlin AI. 
The vision for the company was that Merlin AI – jokingly, the strategic magician – could learn to develop your ideas further and have strategic follow-up questions to all of your needs. The service could be used in for example job interviews.

The founder, Alfred Wahlforss and his co-founder spent 6 months testing, pivoting and hacking the revolutionary startup. They had 30 different ideas and 12 customers, out of which Merlin was the most successful. During the time of our visit, they had been invested in by Sequoia Capital, which is a venture capital fund best known for their strong portfolio in investing to early-stage startups. Merlin AI had been at their new office for a couple of months and were actively recruiting more coders. 

The reason for their office being in Silicon Valley was simple – the place offered more opportunities and networks. In Sweden, where the founders are from, the market had pre-existing software companies with significant size and the space for startups was significantly more difficult to enter. 

During the visit, they shared the following:
It is important to keep having ideas, since some ideas you can build into the next Google.
It’s very helpful to have a bit of coding background – eg Harvard has free courses to do to learn.

“People in general are not doing things – do something and be loud about it, the right people will find you pretty quickly.”

The founder also shared thoughts about the work ethic. With startups existing to solve problems in the scrappiest, most scalable way, the raising of ambition happens so quickly it can go unnoticed, which can be brutal as your achievements and ambitions will never be fulfilled and things can be constantly developed. This is why the founder loves the startup world so much.

Our first day continued by a meeting with Roland Osborne from 500 Startups belonging to 500 Global. 500 Global is a venture capital firm with $2.4 billion in assets under management that invests in founders building fast-growing technology companies. Their focus is on markets where technology, innovation, and capital can unlock long-term value and drive economic growth.

The secret sauce of Silicon Valley is the relationship to failure. It is more okay to fail in Silicon Valley than anywhere else in the world. 

Roland had amazing insights and tips for startup founders. Together, we discussed what venture capitals in general are looking for. As an example, the startup needs to know who is their competition, market fit, validation and strategy. Strategical moves such as the market expansion needs to make sense and if the team is ambitious, there will always be a need for a bigger market. He also shared that in general, all startup ecosystems need an authentic success story, that stays in the ecosystem and wants to give back to the community. All startup scenes desperately need founders who believe in what they’re doing and that have something to prove.

Good founders are very biased towards taking action. The best founders move very quickly to ensure they stay ahead.


Our day continued with a visit to BusinessFinland hosted at the Nordic Innovation House by Hartti Suomela.
BusinessFinland is a government organization for innovation funding and trade, travel and investment promotion.
The organisation is divided into four main areas: funding, international offices, Invest in Finland and Visit Finland. The international offices can provide startups with a remote community, help with things such as taxes in a foreign country and at the Nordic Innovation House, a member can even have a PO box there for mail and registration.

The meeting was very insightful: it was clear that the host had stellar background info on entering the global markets and had services that can be provided to startups such as sparring or market research in collaboration with Stanford University students.

In Finland, startups are used to offering a lot at once, while in the US you need to have laser sharp focus: what are the problems that can be handily resolved? Why are you the best person to fix the problem?

We also discussed the go-to-market plan during the meeting. There is a popular misconception that the US has one massive market to launch products and services, while in reality, markets are reached one state or region at a time due to their differences in legislation, consumer behaviour and lots else. He emphasized the importance of agility and that market reach is significantly easier once you have local references willing to back your venture.


our day ended with a visit to Meru Health, which is a business to business service aiming to offer employees a multi-faceted approach to better mental wellbeing with a 12-week programme. The founder of Meru, Kristian Ranta, highlighted the importance of creating a carefully thought through culture, values and wellbeing. As an example, the productivity and efficiency are important but one needs to also have empathy, transparent communication and a trusting atmosphere despite the work at the company being straight-forward.

Some of the most useful insights included the following:
When expanding in the Nordics, one must take into account that the region has lots of smaller languages, meaning that it is harder to localize with limited resources. At the same time, it is highly important to understand the market’s society’s behaviour: as an example, pitch decks are built up differently in a place where the society in general requires time for building trust. He also stressed that local references are highly important as they raise trust. As an example, the company went through Y Combinator and got references there.

Nordic people are known for not talking a lot but being authentic – however, one must be able to speak and express themselves.


TRES aims to gather local students and young people interested in entrepreneurial ventures across fields of study and profession to provide an easy access to networks of likeminded people and the startup ecosystems by organising various events. The second day insights will be published shortly.


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