Optimism and romanticism at Slush 2017
From 30th November to 1st December, Slush took place for the 10th time in Helsinki. The conference has grown to a massive event, gathering 20,000 attendees from around the globe for two days of entrepreneurship and bliss. This year’s event was characterized by inexorable belief in the future of the European technology industry, but has the optimism caused a fog of romanticism to settle over the industry?
European entrepreneurs are raising the bar as the technology sector matures
In addition to being the 10th anniversary of Slush, this year’s conference also marked Finland’s 100 anniversary as an independent nation, and which was appropriately celebrated. The technology community dedicated the hashtag #BragForFinland to celebrating all things good about Finland, and Martin Lau of Tencent stated that Finland with its egalitarian culture is giving an aspiration to the world of where it should be going towards.
For the European tech industry, the last years have been uplifting. Last year is the strongest year of the industry thus far, with both the amount of venture capital invested and the number of IPOs are at an all-time high. On the basis of the last years’ development, venture capitalists Atomico asserted that Europe is now marching to its own beat and ready to take on the global tech incumbents. In accordance with the burgeoning optimism, the question on many people’s lips was: when will Europe create the next Google, Facebook or Tencent?
Are growth ambitions blurring our vision?
In the midst of the excitement, it might seem that the optimism morphed into romanticism. While there are some benefits that come with creating the next Google, I hardly believe that those are the right aspirations to have.
Firstly, tech behemoths such as Google and Amazon have grown so dominant that it is becoming hard for newcomers to compete. An increasing number of people in tech and politics are now calling for such companies to be regulated as public utilities. Rather than hoping for the next Google to be European, we should hope for the end of such titans. Secondly, the location of a company’s headquarters is secondary to the product or service it is providing. Instead of being concerned with whether the company is European or not, we should focus on the actual problem that the company is solving. Silicon Valley’s credo making the world a better place have grown less credible over the years, as cautionary tales such as the rise and fall of Juicero have unfolded. Therefore, European entrepreneurs should primarily be concerned with making sure that they are solving the right kind of problems, then worry about growth. What the world need is not another Zynga or Supercell.
The buoyancy displayed at Slush is contagious, and the 10th edition of the conference can’t help but leave you optimistic about the future. However, it might also lead you to become myopic. Without a deliberate focus on the societal context, the tech industry might end up enveloping itself in a bubble, disconnected from the problems that are worth solving.