9 sure-fire ways of cocking up Startup Sauna (advice from the front-lines)

This is a guest blog post by Peter Seenan from Leadfeeder, a Helsinki-based startup that shows you which companies visit your website. Peter was an ever-present force at Startup Sauna and his entertaining pitch helped Leadfeeder win a trip to Silicon Valley.

Behold, startup entrepreneurs! Try to avoid these mistakes if you make it to Startup Sauna.

1. Believe you have all the answers

At Startup Sauna you’re going to get asked a lot of questions and by a lot I mean it’s going to be non-stop. At times it can get a tad boring answering the same questions, so the temptation might be to repeat standard answers parrot-style because you think that’s what the expert opposite you wants to hear.

You might even look bored while doing it because you already know the answers but you just haven’t had time to put them into practice, right?

That’s definitely the wrong way to go about things. While you may already have a lot of answers nailed, it pays not to be dismissive or look bored out of your mind. It’s important to open up, to allow yourself to be challenged constantly and occasionally admit that you have no clue about something.

You’ll probably learn something in return and have a much more enjoyable experience.

2. Think pitching practise is a piss-poor way to spend time

There was a heavy emphasis on pitching during this accelerator and for a lot of startups the experience really sucked up time. But while you’re very unlikely to be doing a pitch on stage every week of your startup life, it does pay to figure out what exactly you want to say when someone asks, what do you do. And that’s what pitching was really about.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s 10 seconds or 3 minutes you have, the same principles apply: captivate your audience and keep it simple.

3. Ask the same questions to different people over and over again ad infinitum

You’re going to have the opportunity to speak to some really world-class people with a vast depth of expertise and variety of backgrounds, so it’s critical you do your homework. That way you won’t get stuck asking the same irrelevant questions to experts who are thinking what the hell are you asking me this for.

Know whom you’re talking to and do your research. Think what’s relevant for the individual you’re going to be sitting across the table from and ask questions that’ll indicate to them that you’ve actually taken time to understand their background.

Remember, the experts you have on-tap are giving up their own time and there’s nothing they hate more than you asking them about the colour scheme of your website when their expertise is how to launch in the United States.

4. Forget to ask for advice from your fellow startups

Some of the best advice we got at Startup Sauna came from our fellow startup entrepreneurs who could really identify with the challenges Leadfeeder is facing as a rapidly growing startup.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there is this incredible pool of shared wisdom from all over Europe and speaking to fellow early-stage entrepreneurs can be a good place to test initial ideas and receive honest, detailed feedback that coaches don’t have time to give.

The advice you ask for needn’t even be complex. It can be as straightforward as asking a native English speaker to check your website text or practicing pitching together.

5. Have zero vision of what you want to get out of Startup Sauna and why you’re there

It’s all very well getting accepted into Startup Sauna but then the hard work really begins: you’ve got to juggle building your startup with pretty much a full-time schedule at Startup Sauna. Plus your family is probably far away and there are a whole host of other challenges that make your startup life hard.

It really pays to keep your eye on what your primary objectives are for Startup Sauna because it will ensure you keep focus during the many tough moments you will face. Write them down somewhere so you can easily remind yourself.

Do you want to get introductions to Finnish companies via the Startup Sauna network, do you want people to test your product or do you want to learn how to launch on Product Hunt? It’s important to have a concrete vision instead of something vague like I want Startup Sauna to take us global.

The days whizz by and quickly turn into weeks so if you don’t get your shit together early on you might be left kicking yourself.

6. Fail to demonstrate the progress of your startup during the 5 weeks

By setting some goals you’ll know what you want to measure at Startup Sauna and thereby you’ll be able to chart your progress and demonstrate your improvement.

Coaches will be crying out to see that you’re putting what you’ve learnt into practice and taking their advice on board. If you’re not showing improvement you won’t be selected for the Silicon Valley trip and coaches won’t be recommending you to fellow entrepreneurs and investors.

Come across as willing to take on board new advice and recognise your failures and wins as you go.

7. Miss the opportunity to join the incredible network created by Startup Sauna

Want to know the guys behind Slush? Fancy an ‘in’ at Kiosked? Need to speak to Smartly.io or Enbrite.ly?

Sure enough, Jaakko, Panu and Kasper might resemble a dishevelled bunch of booze-hounds so it’s easy to overlook their power but the guys actually do some amazing work, head up a ground-breaking organisation and know a few important people in Finland and beyond. In other words, they get shit done and know shit.

You’ll be amazed when you realise how limitless the possibilities actually are. All it requires of you is to have a clear vision of why an introduction is important to you and what’s in it for the other person. Oh and don’t turn up to a meeting late. Tardiness in Finland is ruthlessly crushed.

8. Get hammered and naked every night

Okay, this is actually quite a good idea. You’re in Finland after all. But perhaps not every night.

9. Forget to make a big song and dance about getting accepted into Startup Sauna

You know what? It’s actually quite a big deal getting into Startup Sauna.

Many try and fail and even when you get there the challenge is only just beginning. It’s a fascinating experience that only a lucky handful get to experience every year. So talk about it publicly.

This spring the stats were 545 startups applied and 14 startups were accepted; that’s about 2.5% who make it. Be proud of your achievement rather than thinking, we expected this.

Sing like a bird about Startup Sauna to anyone who’ll listen. It’s a great publicity opportunity and Startup Sauna’s a fascinating ecosystem for people interested in the startup scene. Don’t underestimate how much people love a good success story and how media-friendly the image of an entrepreneurial co-working space is.

If you’re ever in any doubt about how fascinated people are, just take a look at the visiting presidents, prime ministers and other foreign delegations who troop through the place every day.


Want to put this advice into practice? Apply to Startup Sauna’s fall ’15 program through our local eventsor by filling the Open Application.

You can read more about Leadfeeder’s startup journey on Twitter (@leadfeederapp) and find out what companies are visiting your website by signing up for Leadfeeder’s free 30-day trial.