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Champagne for failure, beer for success – Can Germany learn from Finland's startup culture? Written by Charmaine Li on 18. November 2013


There’s a change in attitude towards startups in Finland and senior politicians are getting behind it. “They painted my nails,” recalled Alexander Stubb, Finland’s Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade, about his experience at annual tech conference Slush last year.

“Wild stuff,” he added, in an interview with us at the Hotel Hilton in Berlin a day before the much-hyped startup event in Helsinki was scheduled to take place last week.

“The whole startup scene – be it Startup Sauna or Slush – has changed its mentality… It’s kind of cool to have a startup in Finland nowadays, most of them are gung-ho – they’re wild, they’re crazy,” said Stubb. “You know, they come up with ideas and one out of 10 succeed, but that’s good enough. The whole atmosphere is changing and much thanks to these guys.”

One of “these guys” is undoubtedly gaming empire Supercell. The three-year-old Finnish company – behind games such as Clash of Clans and Hay Day – sold a 51 per cent to Japanese tech and telco giant SoftBank for $1.5bn in October, bringing its value to an impressive $3bn. Recently, Supercell was bringing $2.4m of revenue per day.

German and Finnish entrepreneurial attitudes – is there a difference?

Besides differences in the public funding infrastructure and legal framework between the German and Finnish startup scene, there may also be differences underpinning entrepreneurial culture.

width="152"In 2000, Tuomas Syrjänen (right) founded software development consultancy Futurice in Helsinki. Since then, the company has expanded to a team of more than 180 people and offices in Tampere, Berlin and London.

The German capital was the company’s first foray outside of Finland and is now home to 30 people. Having worked in both markets, we were curious to hear more about his experiences starting out in each country.

“I think one of the key differences we see, in Finland, is our culture is sort of based on low hierarchy, transparency, freedom and responsibility. These are perhaps stronger in Finland than in Germany,” Syrjänen explained. “Germany is a bit more traditional, it’s a bit more of a hierarchical approach in here.”

And what are some important areas of improvement for the startup scene in each respective country? Though the bureaucracy is “quite minimal” and government financial support for entrepreneurs is “quite nice” in Finland, Syrjänen said that the scene is still young and needs “more growth and entrepreneurial skills”. Unsurprisingly, when speaking of Germany, the first thing he named was the need to minimise bureaucracy.

Combating bureaucracy is not only a theme at government level but at the startup level. Echoing Syrjänen’s sentiments is Supercell founder and CEO Ilkka Paananen, who recently listed transparency, flat hierarchy, less fear of failure and less bureaucracy as key factors for Finland.

“Small independent cells is where the company name comes from,” said Paananen. “We say ‘get big by thinking small’, we value the speed of small teams and keeping things simple. Our employees don’t need layers of processes and layers of management.”

A shift in mentality

Following the startup fanfare that German politicians engaged in pre-election, which saw everything from talks of launching a German startup exchange to encouraging failure, they have remained rather quiet post-election.

By comparison, last week, Jyrki Katainen, who became Finland’s prime minister in 2011, and Stubb (below) made appearances at the Slush to show their support and continue the dialogue between startups and the government. Both are actively encouraging entrepreneurship in the Nordic country even though the next parliamentary election is not until 2015.

width="167"“Some people say there’s a lot of hot air with startups, I disagree with that because they create a certain entrepreneurial mentality. I’m not saying that we lack it in Finland, but their approach is certainly new. It’s an approach that appreciates success and accepts failure,” Stubb said.

“It used to be you envied success and were scornful at failure, and now, when a guy comes up with an idea, they get some seed money and the idea fails they say, ‘Ah, what the hell, we’ll come up with a new one’. A good example of this is Supercell, they celebrate failures with a bottle of champagne and success with a bottle of beer – and this kind of attitude is good.”

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Image credits: featured image – flickr user Alaskan Dude

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