Rosie Wood is a (fictional) associate at the VC firm Mild Conviction. It’s a generalist, multistage fund with offices in London, Paris and Verbier. They’re not like normal VCs — they don’t need to do a tonne of due diligence to decide on an investment. Instead, they’re simply looking for companies and founders that are pretty good. Because pretty good is usually good enough. Catch up on her other dispatches here.
This week, the Mild Conviction team travelled to the biggest startup event of the season: Slush.
It’s always been a dream of mine to visit the student-led Finnish startup conference, and luckily our managing partner Rupert Nickerson was also on board. If we were going to be taken seriously, we needed to be at Slush.
The team got custom-branded Mild Conviction Patagonia jackets for the occasion and flew out on Monday. Since I’m the only woman on the team, we decided to only order men's sizes so we could save money by bulk-buying. I was a bit annoyed about the men’s small being too big on me, but my knees were thankful for it when we stepped out into the intense Finnish winter. It was minus 4 degrees, and even though it was 3:30 in the afternoon the sun was already setting. The perfect time to scout some rocketship founders.
We wanted to make the most of our time here, so we rented a sauna for office hours with founders on Tuesday. At Mild Conviction, we always want to be authentic and respect the local customs of founders, so we rented a traditional sauna facility in Helsinki where nudity was mandatory.
By the third founder's pitch I was feeling pretty faint. Luckily for me there weren’t any more women there to pitch to us
The partners were off meeting with some Finnish LPs, so it was on our other associate Fred and I to lead. I was so excited — I’d be able to knock my Nordic sourcing out for the year in just a few hours! We had scheduled 15-minute slots for them to pitch us while sweating in the sauna — every 15 minutes one founder would go in and one would come out.
Given the constraints (or lack thereof), I could only meet with female founders and Fred had to take all the male founders. That left me just three, compared with 27 for Fred.
I was fine for the first founder, but by the time number two (the UiPath for pet food) started I was beginning to get uncomfortable. By three (something about ecommerce and APIs), I was feeling pretty faint. Luckily for me there weren’t any more women there to pitch to us.
When I left to go check in at the hotel, Fred was looking quite red through the steam and there was a group of blonde founders doing final rereads of their pitch deck as they waited for their turn. I didn’t envy them.
A few lessons from the experience: 45 minutes in a sauna is probably too much, but being in a sauna with a founder gives you pretty good insight into their psychology. If you can keep cool under sauna pressure in the nude, you can probably scale a unicorn.
The partners used their Slush buddies — the kind young Finns who volunteer to help out attendees — to stand in line at the food court (Slush pro tip!)
The next few days were a blur of lasers, flashing lights, parties, men named Johan and Lars and inspiring talks. I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but I assume this is what it’s like, though with pitch decks and fewer slot machines.
We had a space in the investor area where our partners held meetings with important people. Rupert and the other partners used their Slush buddies (the kind young Finns who volunteer to help out new Slush attendees) to stand in line at the food court and bring them back sustenance. (Slush pro tip!)
The one annoying thing was having to wear a mask all the time at the venue, so I was happy when I got to take it off for the big party at the end of day one. After two gin and tonics (made with lingonberries and sustainably sourced repurposed gin), I was feeling tipsy and suddenly found myself grinding with the founder of a large delivery scaleup. Not very Covid-safe but he told me his couriers could get me rapid tests the next morning...
I’m writing this as we sit on the tarmac, while I send off 50 term sheets to all of the amazing founders we met this week (sadly, none of the women who I met made the grade). Everyone’s coughing, but I feel fine…
As always, let me know how I can be helpful!