Rave in the North

Marko Vukajlović
Marko Vukajlović
December 2, 2019

It’s nice to see your high school dreams come true. One of mine was to visit Finland – the cradle of metal music. That might suggest that the country is loud. In reality it’s completely different. My superior didn’t even want to speak to me at some point. Not because I am a bad listener or company (I hope), but because it’s so silent, that simple talking comes as a disturbance to the quiet. It felt like everything could harm that strange harmony of low frequencies made by wind and sea. To put it short – the first impression was that the Finns are not loud folks. Even the trams didn’t make that squeaky noise on the tracks. Car sirens and traffic impatience are non-existent. But there is one stereotype which came out true – Finns are mostly blond. And, why did we go there? It wasn’t our intention to measure how really blond Finnish people are, but to attend one of the leading startup events today, called – Slush. 

Upon arrival, our Airbnb host greeted us wearing woolen socks, made by his grandmother. That got us talking… He gave us a few tips and after three flights that day, 1kg of grilled meat and not a chance of buying beers after 9 p.m. we gave up and fell into our first Nordic sleep. Next morning – shock! There was no shower cabin or a bathtub in the, rather small, bathroom. There was only a nozzle connected to the sink and a drain… If, by this point, you think – why in hell would someone write about taking shower in Helsinki, think again. It’s just one example of understanding the culture of Finland. And if I had to put it in one word, I would call it – simplicity. 

Equally simple was to get around Helsinki and arrive to the Slush venue: down the street, then left across the bridge, through the projects on the right and that was it. We’ve checked previous years on Slush online, but nothing could prepare us for what was coming up. Being hard-working Montenegrins as we are, we came a bit early. We circled around the big venue, (my superior was terrified by the Nordic videos) and we were ready for a DJ set. But that was another shock because there wasn’t one, but two DJs on the stage. All that at 10 a.m! Jokes aside, DJs were in charge of the opening ceremony and the whole venue, dark atmosphere and neon lights made the impression that we were at some night club for real, waiting for the highlight of the night. Slush cultivates that dark, one could say – northern vibe. And there was no natural light around whatsoever. Literally. 

With our pupils dilated, we listened to the opening speeches and got on with what we came to do. 

Big corporations such as MicrosoftSamsungPorsche had their own huge booths, so did the successful startups like RevolutVoi… We were interested in scale-ups and up-comers. They all had their own space and every one of them got an exclusive chance to speak to two guys with strange English accent. Most of them are in the fintech. Different platforms designed to help people transfer their money skipping banking interests we couldn’t even count. They all had their own special functionalities which their makers think could get them more clients. Other than that, Slush brought together startups who are trying to optimize business operations. Like those before them, these too weren’t something new, but had some “catch” to them. Coming third, there were so many health-related platforms. In so many ways Finns and other Europeans are trying to use innovative solutions – software and AI, to help people solve their health issues. Asian colleagues came with robots, of course, and that’s what got us scared. Because some of them, like the ones from South Korea, were so far in the future, that their competition from western Europe or USA could only envy their ideas and solutions. Smart trackers for the goods and online music workshop for kids got our attention, among others.

Regarding feedback to two guys coming from relatively tech-marginalised Balkans, it went off very well. People mostly asked us what we do and what’s the situation with Montenegrin tech community. Some weren’t that interested in hearing what we had to say, yet some were very curious. We’ve already made some contacts which could result in business cooperation in the coming days.

One blog post is not enough to describe the experience from Slush. Volunteers make the spine of the organization, which is close to perfect. Everything ticks like a clockwork. Our event passes were waiting for us at the airport, and the girls and boys at the venue were so helpful with everything that one could ever need. But above all, audio/video experience was truly unique and out of this world. It was strange and different, but memorable. If you forget the dark and blackness, one could get all that he asked for : from motivational speakers, face-to-face meetings, over the Avatar-like “secret garden” made for rest, concluding with the Finnish sauna. There was afterwork entertainment, too, but we took care of ourselves on our own. Our recommendation: irish pub – Moly Malone’s.

When it comes to Helsinki itself… It’s special. If you wonder if it’s expensive city, let me put it this way: a pint of beer in Helsinki costs three times more than in Berlin, which means it’s 7-8 times more expensive than in the capital of Montenegro. Fridge magnet is around 7€. But, groceries and cosmetics in the supermarket are at the Montenegrin level prices. It’s safe to say that Helsinki is not that cold as you would expect. Outside temperature at the end of November is around zero, which didn’t pose a problem to the guys coming from continental Montenegro. And the most impressive thing about this city is that it gives you the feeling that you are in several cities at the same time. At one point you feel like you are in some Russian outback, next thing you know – you are in Belgrade, and then you get around the corner and you find yourself on the streets of one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Big heads up for those who intend to visit Finland is – DON’T CALL THEM SCANDINAVIANS! Finns are simply – Nordics. 

That was our adventure called Slush 2019. summed up. It was a really great experience with lots and lots of kilometers beneath our feet. But it was worth it. We got to know this new culture – both social and businesswise. We’ve met some really great people, inventors and those who could be catalysts of the new world order. With Finland in the books, we are looking forward to new countries, cities and people. Until then…

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