Miika Huttunen – TALKS WITH PETRI
Slush CEO Miika Huttunen talks about how to adapt to the new reality and change your business in 4 months, the relevance of esports & gaming and the future of business events. He also explores Second Reality and LAN-parties.
Miika Huttunen is the CEO of Slush, a global movement with a mission to create and help founders. Formerly Miika acted as Chief Operating Officer at Slush. Huttunen is highly curious about everything related to gaming: computer graphics, esports, communities, and many others. Miika also has an extensive background in various volunteer communities like Slush, Assembly, Vaasa Entrepreneurship Society, and World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers.
(NOTE: The text may contain errors, misconceptions and even comical unintended contexts. Please use it only as a reference to the actual audio conversation from where it has been transcribed.)
Petri: Hey Miika, how are you doing today?
Miika: I’m doing good.
Petri: You started earlier this year as the CEO of Slush, and pretty soon you figured out that you have to let go two-thirds of your staff. How did that feel?
Miika: Well, that’s quite a starter. It obviously felt really bad. At Slush, we work extremely close together and are even friends outside the office and at the office and spend a lot of time together. And obviously, it wasn’t something that I was planning for the year. I must say it didn’t feel that good but obviously that made me realise or that experience made me realise that once I was in the middle of the situation that I knew that it has to be done. Simply that we’re not able to do our main product this year and mainly a big part of the team was formed around that.
My key learning from that was that you simply as a CEO or as a leader you have to move towards the pain. There were moments when I wanted to just forget what’s happening or step aside, but as a CEO or as a leader when you know that something evident is happening you just have to walk towards the pain and do the decision. Even though it would feel quite bad.
Petri: You were preparing for the event. I would guess January and February as business as usual and then the world started to change. And you were among the first, if not the first from the bigger event producers to cancel your show for this year. And that was a really brave move. 95% of your revenues were gone.
There were no insights into what’s going to happen in the future. I was really taken by that and can you walk us through a bit how did you come to that conclusion? You also mentioned in the press release that you say that because we don’t know what’s going to happen it’s irresponsible from your side for the sponsors, for the attendees and everyone involved if that would be the case that later on you need to cancel it. It’s better to cancel it totally than postpone it for a while.
Miika: Yeah, it’s a good question. And I think it comes down to the question of what is actually brave and what is not. So I think the timeline, and I will explain that soon. The timeline was something like this. As mentioned, we started the year at full speed with a team of roughly 35 people.
And one really funny thing about that was that when we planned for the main theme for this year’s event, it was actually uncertainty. At that point, we did not actually know at all what will happen with the COVID. I had a call in January with our Slush China CEO, Chen Wang.
And Chen mentioned to me that there’s something happening in Wuhan. There is this virus ongoing and people are encouraged to be at their homes. But that didn’t yet cause a major reaction on business operations or any decision that I made, but it was something that I left thinking. And then pretty quickly when the virus spread to Europe and to Italy for example, and later the US and other countries we started doing scenario work and calculations more in-depth. We had done something before that We knew that there was something worrying related to the virus, but only at that point, when the virus actually spread to Italy for the first time, we actually went super deep down on the calculation and sending on the scenarios and the options.
What we first thought about was what if we actually downscale the event? What if the virus causes that many of the international visitors and investors and startups are not interested in joining in Helsinki, but we are still able to pull the event with a smaller scale. And more and more time we used, we realised a couple of things. First of all, we realised that many of the financial projections in different scenarios we’re steering towards company-betting strategy, which meant that if we cancelled the event super late we’re doomed.
Then it comes back to the question of bravery and what is actually courageous. And we realised like why to bet against something that is not in our control by any means. We realised pretty fast that by cancelling this event we can still pull something off for this year, but also save time for our visitors and partners who are planning for the event but at the same time be responsible and ensure that Slush will continue in the future as well.
Petri: I think that’s a really good insight into what you were doing. I remember from the episode with Wolt co-founder, Elias Aalto, he said, don’t bet the farm on any single venture. This is basically the same thing. So it’s better to survive than risk everything. Venturing anything with startups or any business is basically de-risking so that you’re not always putting all the eggs in the same basket.
Miika: It’s a really important thing every now and then what is actually brave? Do you actually have to take this bet? What is the upside, but what is actually the downside? And in our case, it was, if you only talk about the financial perspective. Sure, we would possibly have been able to do some kind of decent financial year.
That’s obviously a question mark but on the other side, there was in case the event would be cancelled that would threaten the whole future of the whole organisation. From that perspective, and especially when I think about it now, it’s totally evident that that has to be done.
Petri: Was there a lot of discussion within the team or was everyone pretty quickly in the side of let’s cancel it and do something else. And let’s forget this thing and get over it and have a short grief period and then we start to build new stuff.
Miika: Obviously not everybody agreed. We start to talk about the option of not having the event at all before the lay-offs we had to do. And opinions around what we should do were pretty divided. There were talks about having it as a smaller event, having it actually in a different location and going even smaller. Options for cancelling it right away. And to answer your question, it was really divided because we were in a totally new situation. There were different opinions, like when actually the virus will be gone. Is it actually gone already by summer?
Is it gone by August or is it actually gone next year? And it took some time to be able to explain what I mentioned earlier about hedging these risks and ensuring the health of a good future for this organization among many other things. Definitely not all agreed.
Petri: Now you have already started to have new services and build something for the next years as well. It’s not just event for two days, but it’s helping startup founders year-round. What do you think of events? What is the future with business functions? A lot of the dynamics of a physical business event where you’re synchronously at the same time and the same place with people, oftentimes travelling from abroad…If you take that physical aspect away I think there’s not that much left of the old model if you just copy-paste it to the digital world. And you said you were doing scenario planning, did you come to the conclusion that it’s better to not just copy-paste, but start to do something from a blank page, and start to question everything and assume that something else needs to be done to fulfil your mission.
Miika: There are two sides for this. One is what we did and what we’re going to do this year in the online world. And then there’s the question about how the world of offline events will change and how they possibly would merge together to this so-called hybrid model. For the online events and what we thought about was… well, we did the layoffs. We started with this smaller team again, rebooted in the mid-April. And we actually started to think about what to do now. Once again, 95% of the revenue is gone and the main product is not happening, but we still have time to execute something and we know that founders need help.
The first and most evident thing was first to think about can we replace Slush with an online event. Maybe the same days going just online. But nobody of us actually got really excited of the idea because it’s most likely the best way to fail if you try to replicate how things are happening in the offline to how things are happening in the online or how they should happen in order to replicate what’s happening in the offline world. We realised that people don’t really want to sit in front of their computers for 12 hours to watch content. What you can basically watch whenever you want. People would like to have maybe other options instead of like sitting two days straight in Zoom and do matchmaking.
This was the starting point to where we started to think how would the online option work? What we also realised about the offline world that we want to replicate to the online is that a lot of people come to conferences and Slush and other events for the reason that they want to get access to some members in that event.
It’s a two-day window to get access to some people where you happen to bump to some random investor or some speaker or just somebody serendipitously. And how we can replicate that feeling to online was something. We also started to think about when we eventually started building Node. Some of the core aspects of that is creating a curated community where not everybody is able to join. But they have a common interest to do something. For investors, it’s mainly to find something to invest and help, and for startups, it’s to build and to discuss with these people. And when they have a vested interest, they have also vested interest to help each other.
These are some of the elements that we started to think about like how we can actually put these to the product. Finally, the last part was okay, so people don’t want to watch content for 12 hours straight. How are we going to do this in our product? We started to think about like, okay, there’re two ways to do this online.
One is that you should have a lot of content of which you can choose and it should be somehow special. Instead of doing it for two days, we’re going to do it for the whole fall. And you can pick and choose when it’s a good time for you.
The second thing is that we want to make it special in a way we want to ensure that it’s conversational. At Slush at the offline event or at big conferences, you usually just sit like maybe 20 meters away from the speaker.
And there is no contact. It’s really hard to grasp and even ask questions or be close to the speaker and that’s something we want to create in all our worlds. So you can actually discuss with people who are helping or giving advice.
Petri: You did some customer surveys. You asked around with startups and VCs earlier this year that what are your pain points? What’s happening? What do you think is going to happen? What do you need? What you just described was that your hypothesis, or was that coming out of the process you were doing in discovering the new model?
Miika: It was an emergent process. What I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t like the early hypothesis. It started from the fact that we were not excited of replicating Slush as a two-day online event.
Petri: So it felt wrong?
Miika: Yeah. It started from the fact that nobody of us has been into a two-day event or in online event before that was good.
That was the first thing. And the second thing was the like underlying energy of the team and excitement towards that idea. And from that moment, we started to unbundle different dynamics how we could do things and we started to build towards this. While we were like unbundling how we could do this we discussed with many investors and startups. What are their pain points? What they would like to maybe use? How they’re currently using online in the midst of Corona, where do they get help, how they’re raising funding and based on that eventually came up Node in its current form.
We don’t know how it will work and will people like it. But there is something that we believe is the future of how these things should be done. I’m sure there are a lot of things to fix and fine-tune but it’s a good start.
Petri: Can you describe the sales pitch, because you’ve been doing cold sales earlier in your career? You were calling investors and selling things and the calls were 15 seconds to two minutes so you have to really get to the point. To me as a startup founder, why should I join Node or to me as an investor, what is the value for me?
Miika: It always starts from the fact that you have to know or I would have to ask you what is your current problem? If I know that as it is with most of the early-stage founders they have roughly six months of runway. When I know that I will most likely point out that first before, and then describing Node. Node is a curated community for founders and founders only where investors and ecosystem players also help you for the next stage.
It’s a place for you to meet different people to help you go from A to B. And after that, to the C. We want to ensure that you meet investors both by just simply sending messages to the investors and arranging meetings, but also us helping you with warm introductions to some of the biggest and most prestigious investors in Europe.
I think that’s the pitch. And it comes down to the fact that we believe that we must do a lot of things that don’t scale and a lot of handwork to ensure that people actually meet each other first before we actually understand the dynamics of how people work in this new online environment.
Petri: Sounds like you’re doing an MVP at this stage.
Miika: Exactly. My belief or how I see product development and creating new products is this mantra that everything is MVP always. Or everything is work in progress always type of mentality. I think just Jeff Bezos in Amazon says that it’s day one mentality, but for me, it’s always work in progress.
Petri: What are your thoughts on community? You’ve been doing community building earlier in Vaasa Entrepreneur Society. You also have been a part of the Assembly demoscene. And you are also an avid gamer. There’s a lot of learnings and a lot of good stuff already happening for many years, if not decades, online and partly offline as a hybrid model in different parts. And I think gaming is a pretty good example of how you can connect and communicate and entertain yourself and be part of a society in a way without actually physically meeting.
Miika: I agree. A hundred per cent. I think gaming is one of the most interesting communities where you feel a sense of belonging and you feel that you are part of this group and you feel that people are really similar to you, although you have never met them.
And it comes from the fact that it’s a passion for a lot of these people. They share same language. Something that you cannot discuss with just somebody that you bump on the road or on the street. But you have your own way of communicating. That’s one of the beauties of all of the gaming communities.
Petri: Is Slush Node now the new online business disco game, open-world?
Miika: I don’t hope that it’s called that way but I hope it’s an inclusive place for founders to find help and meet, also each other.
Petri: How long do you think it takes that you become friends? It’s the same thing. It’s about building trust. If you’re meeting a startup founder and you’re meeting partners or you’re meeting investors, you start talking to each other. You start to learn from each other and it’s not too far from dating. And then you’ll get married. If you got the investment, you’re using the metaphor till the end, hopefully not divorcing. Have you planned already a customer transformation or the user journey through Node?
Miika: Yes and no. I think there is a lot still to build and plan. What we try to create with Node is that when you join Node you have always somebody that you can ask for help. We start with that. If you’re a founder, you can always send a message to the Slush team and the extended team of Slush who can help you forward.
After that, we try to actually create and plan those social dynamics that you start to form connections inside of that community as well. But it’s really difficult because you cannot force that. The best way is based on my hypothesis is to gather founders or people with some same topic, for example, the same problem that they’re currently trying to solve. Let’s say you’re trying to scale your organization from a hiring perspective, or you are thinking about like when to hire your first chief people officer or something even more difficult problems than that and gather those people in a group. And let them discuss and help each other. That’s by far the best way to form connections and friendships and that’s something we are going to do a lot this fall.
Petri: Now I start to get what he was saying earlier before we went online that you have this new hypothesis that’s curators are the new creators. You’re building sub-communities or smaller groups with the same interests. It’s like when you go to Twitch and you’ll find that, okay, people are playing Fortnite or Call of Duty, the same thing.
These are from the edtech, these people are with fintech and they have this stage. So it’s pretty much the same thing that there’s more stuff you can learn from each other and you have more fun. You actually might be a bit competing as well, but you share so much in common.
Miika: Yes, a hundred per cent. I think Slush is mostly an organisation that curates information and people, and it’s something we’re pretty good at it in my opinion. It’s really interesting what you said. Curators are the new creators because it’s something that is also happening a lot currently in tech, especially, and then in video games and in live streaming because the real scarcity is not the content anymore.
It’s attention. It’s impossible to absorb everything from the massive flood of information. And the best of what we can do is try to pick and choose what matters to us most. Where should I use times? Should I watch this video? Should I actually read this article? Should I actually have a lunch meeting with this person? But actually, the best even beyond that is to find people who can do curating for us. And you have probably seen a lot of these new newsletters, like Substack coming up where people curate content for you. They find interesting things to read for you or, or they write something for you based on many different things. And at Slush we’re doing exactly the same. At offline event or in online world, we try to find the most interesting people during that year to help you forward with your company. They come to speak, they deliver information. They give advice, but they are also there to meet you. So in a way, we’re doing curation all time when building these online and offline products not just only an event. But also what we do with Soaked, for example, our own digital media we have built really MVP resource bank to our website where we aggregate the most interesting articles of different fields of building your company. You can save a lot of time when somebody has already read the article and they know that it’s good. And they’re recommending it to you. I’m much more willing to read it and use time.
Petri: I think there’re quite many interesting trends happening here. One of them is, just picking up what you just discussed, de-platformisation if that’s even a word, but seeing that instagrams, facebooks and whatnots they’re not showing the content anymore. The content creators cannot be guaranteed that they reach the audience anymore by their means. Last year there was this celebrity thing called The Community, where famous people give their phone numbers and you can text them directly. And that was sort of a reaction or at least a new way of trying to get to the audience directly without anyone else deciding who should get the message or not.
And I think that’s partly the thing as well with all the substacks and all these content creators, they start to ask the question, why should I pay to reach my audience? It doesn’t make any sense. Newsletter is pretty much one of the oldest technology means in the digital world where you are more or less guaranteed to reach everyone and the least is in your control. It’s just a text file with the addresses. You can take it with you.
Miika: Yeah, exactly. And there is like interesting ways of how these creators currently utilise their communities and how they actually even monetise them. Two ways I’m using or how I have purchased this new way of creators monetising their expertise is one I have subscribed to the newsletter, which is written by Lenny Rachitsky.
He talks about product management and different strategies, how to build your product and how to get users and how to manage growth. But when do you subscribe to the newsletter instead of getting it only once a month to your mailbox, you get it every week with a different topic, but also you get the invitation to his private Slack group.
There’re roughly currently 400 subscribers in that private Slack group. It’s actually pretty interesting and exciting when for example I read that article and I get a question, I’m thinking something, for example, related to Slush or related to something totally different. And I can actually ask that question from a person like Lenny, and usually, he replies pretty quickly.
And the second thing, how I’m using this is live streaming and gaming. In Twitch, you’re able to subscribe to a certain streamer or you’re able to help them. You’re able to donate them and something that I’m also doing with these people is that when they’re not streaming publicly like they’re there not online at Twitch, they might do these community games or streams, where the streamer spends time with the people who have supported them or are part of their community. And that’s really fun as well.
Petri: Many episodes back, I think might be the number six with Ville Tolvanen. I was talking about community building and obviously he’s big in Finland in digital transformation. And he was saying, and that’s the title of the episode as well, make your work visible. And he was also talking about really tiny niches that you don’t need to know everything. You can just be really good at something and people will find you and that’s your way of becoming an expert. And you just show and do the work. And I think this is really what’s happening, and it’s really fascinating that you can now connect with the people who are on top of their game. And it doesn’t really matter where you are in the world. That’s really amazing actually.
Miika: I agree. I agree. I think some of the most interesting articles around like this passion economy or these like curators are the new creators things has been written by Andrew Chen from Andreessen Horowitz in different blog posts. And I’d recommend reading those for anybody who’s interested.
Petri: You were also writing about esports and the future of esports. Could you just briefly explain what is esports and how big it is and what’s the significance? Why should it be spent any time in this podcast to talk about?
Miika: I strongly believe that the future generations and even the current generations like myself we’ll be using not in 20 years, but actually in five to ten years, a significant proportion of their time, watching other people play games, especially other people play games competitively.
Petri: Now, I get it. It’s called sports: spectator sports.
Miika: Exactly. That’s why I think we should talk about it. Esports, in brief, is people playing against each other video games competitively. It started roughly 20 years ago with games like Quake and Counter-Strike. Back then it was mostly something that these nerds like myself did in their homes or at LAN parties, at local-area networks.
A lot of things happened around 2013 and 2014 when a game called League of Legends from Riot Games start to grow and get even more popular. Currently, It’s still a small part of gaming if the gaming is worth over 160 billion. Esports or the market of these parties is only 1 billion at this point, but it’s growing really rapidly and it’s getting more and more attention from young people. People want to watch others play, people play themselves and everything related to the esports is growing heavily.
Petri: And that’s becoming the regular sports in a sense that the younger generations are not looking the old way, the physical sports. It’s basically the demographics of the old sports is getting older. New people are just converting to gaming. I think another fascinating thing about gaming is that it’s the same game as you can play. Obviously, it’s the same thing like with football. You can still play football locally and with your friends and you can relate easily. But I think it’s maybe it’s even more fascinating that you can do it electronically and it could be you if you’re just good enough or you can just relate. And when you are really into sharing the moments maybe it’s even more personal, more intimate than just watching some football in a huge stadium.
Miika: Yeah, I agree a hundred per cent. And one of the reasons, one of the really exciting parts of esports and even how big that industry can actually grow is that it’s insanely accessible. And also what you mentioned, you can share the experiences in a total different way than in traditional sports. First of all, accessibility due to the fact that esports is a digital-only game or way of doing that provides unprecedented accessibiity for that. You can be 150 centimeters tall or two meters. You are not judged by your physical ability how well you can play the game because only what you need is an in-depth understanding of the game. You need Internet access, a quite decent PC, and then just curiosity for doing that. And then of course, depending on the game interest to develop yourself in a similar fashion if you would be playing chess or some other similar games.
The accessibility for esports is amazing. You don’t have to use 500 euros or 1000 euros for ice hockey equipment or different things every year. You basically need like 500 euros for a PC, which you can use for four years and then get access to games that are mostly free-to-play.
Petri: Finland has been having, is it is actually from the eighties, Assembly, the demoscene. I think that could be probably attributed partly to the success of Finnish companies and individuals in the global gaming scene, a good share of per capita gaming companies coming from Finland.
You have been part of that scene. Can you explain a bit to the people who maybe don’t know Assembly, what’s behind that? How it’s been growing and maybe is that the roots for the success of Finland in gaming.
Miika: Yes. Assembly is a Finnish demoscene and gaming event. It started totally only as a demoscene event in 1992. Demoscene is in a short explanation, a form of art what you can do on your computer. it combines computer graphics, music, and different parts of creating these real-time audiovisual, art pieces. It’s an art of combining code, art and music. It started in 1992 as a small group of people who were really interested to do different things on your computers and learn from each other. It actually grew pretty quickly. Already in the nineties, it was in Helsinki Ice Hall for several thousand people, an ice hockey rink. Exactly. And then later, grew and grew it through to larger venues. And currently, it’s held in the Helsinki Exhibition Centre for roughly 8 000 people annually. It has shifted a bit from the demoscene to the gaming side and to the esports, what we discussed earlier. It attracts people from 12-years-old to 60-years-old, who share the common passion for games.
For example, what you can do at Assembly is to watch these demos in competitions, where people, for example, build new games and then they compete in game development competitions. There is a competition where you have to create a demo with Commodore 64, so this old school demo combo or with Amiga. So with these old computers. And then there’re esports tournaments.
And to your question about has Assembly been in the core and one of the key reasons why there are so many successful gaming companies and I think it has had a big impact. Finland and the Finnish programmers were way ahead of many other countries in the nineties in computer graphics and many of these things due to the fact that people enjoy doing these demos in their free time.
And for example, a lot of these people just did them for free and as a hobby. But when they realised that actually, wait a minute, can I get paid for this? For example, in the ’95, there were a lot of companies formed that are still existing in the Finnish gaming scene, like Remedy Entertainment or even earlier than that there were Terramarque and Bloodhouse, which later merge into Housemarque, which is still around after 25 years and currently creating a quite awesome looking game for PS5.
Petri: Can you name a few of their famous games? Maybe people don’t recognise the company names, but they may recognise the titles.
Miika: Absolutely. For example, Remedy has made…one of their breakthrough game was Max Payne and Max Payne II. And then later they have made games like Alan Wake and just recently a game called Control. That’s an example of Remedy.
Petri: There were also a few aspects. One of them was that early into computing there were scarce resources. You really didn’t have that much computing power. You didn’t really have that much memory. You really have to be inventive.
You have to be almost like a genius, Steve Woz type that gets something amazing out of these tiny things and then came mobiles. And it was the same thing in the beginning, you had a tiny black and white screen and there was no memory either. That was the perfect scene for some from the art and hobby to the business world and get your worm game to the world. And, then came obviously later on the PC…
There have been almost three decades of history and the scarcity is here one of the key things. You have to be creative when something is not in place.
Miika: It was all about like pushing your computer to the absolute limits at that point. How we can actually pull the absolute maximum of the computer for this demo. One of the most historic examples of that is a demo called Second Reality, which was published in 1993 by Future Crew. A lot of its members are really successful investors and entrepreneurs these days. And not just only entrepreneurs and investors, but also like musicians and many others.
Petri: Now we see the same thing happening in a different field but related: augmented reality and VR. And for example, Finnish Varjo is pushing the edge now with the same thing, once again, with limited resources. We don’t have enough computing power in affordable means to do things we would like to a get photorealistic video or augmented reality. It’s still going on and it’s pretty much the same people as well.
Miika: Yeah, exactly. There’s a lot of demo centres in these companies bringing that history and that experience to these companies. It’s really beneficial that the demoscene community was so strong in the eighties and nineties and even early 2000. Still, there are sub-communities in Finland, who are interested in the demoscene and I think Assembly is a really important event also for that purpose that these people actually meet each other. Even once a year old-school demo sceners come together and they discuss like how they’re doing and what they have been doing lately.
Talking about communities, Assembly’s an example of extremely important organisation and event and community for exactly this purpose. Because it brings people together who have been part of or are currently or want to be a part of this art of doing something great with your computer.
Petri: And with great passion. And that was the thing when you started to describe Assembly in the beginning, I was about to say that, Hey, are you actually talking about Slush? Just a few people starting and the same thing, passion to change the culture and do things.
This is pretty much how things get started. It’s when people get together, they start to do things and they’re really passionate about what they do. It’s not for the money. It’s not for the monetisation. They want to change something. They want to do something together and then they just find each other and more people are joining and that’s how many of the amazing things get started. A lot of work, a lot of passion and then it’s just in the right time amazing stuff happens.
Petri: Why I’m so fascinated about games and this world is the thing that is also pushing the edge in technology wise.
If you think about gamers, gaming computers obviously are quite powerful. If you are live streaming the latency needs to be really short. If you’re pushing it to the thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people at the same time it has to work. And in games, you see that if the video quality is not good enough you miss the action and you don’t really want to do that. Same thing with audio, same thing with chatting. If it’s crappy, it doesn’t work. There’re a lot of demand for high-quality services. How do you scale the community? Interaction, engagement. How do you keep the trolls away?
How do you deal with spam, how do you monetise it? The same thing also with the creators. The gamers themselves have become stars. It’s basically a low entry barrier to come to the field. How do you become successful there? It’s a really competitive and obviously B2C model.
There’s a lot of things regular B2B and B2C startups can learn from gaming and this world.
Miika: Hmm. Hmm.
Petri: Like Ville Tolvanen was saying that he was looking at the rock bands, e.g. Metallica. How they actually changed their business model after LPs, cassettes and CDs, when that model was basically killed and they needed to do some live events and touring and start to build communities around the fans. And monetise that even between the tours. What are all the means you can engage them with your community and build excitement and experiences together with people? And if that’s not a community what is? There’s a lot of exciting things happening in this decade and we may not even need to meet physically at all.
Miika: Yeah, gaming and game development, there’s a reason why it’s a forerunner in many things and why different industries seem to replicate some of the things that gaming has done or the gaming community has done before. I think there’re two reasons for that.
One is that the game development itself combines so many different expertise that you have to combine in order to create a great game. It combines like programming, from graphics to server-side, combines mathematics, it combines art, music, business, and marketing and all…
Petri: Storytelling as well…
Miika: and storytelling.
Petri: …and amazing storylines to get people hooked.
Miika: Exactly. And, these have to work together beautifully. That’s something that a lot of companies definitely get inspired from and I try to understand like how these organisations are built and how they work together and why actually they work together.
And the second thing why I think game development and gaming is a good testbed for many things we’re going to see in the future from other fields as well is that the gaming community and the fans and the players are usually really interested to try new things. You get a lot of testers and people early on to try your product.
These days happens for example, that if we’re building a new game, you already since the day one starts to build your community in Discord, where you can discuss with people, build the game together with them while they’re providing insights and different thoughts. These two things allow companies in gaming to try new things, push the limits, but also get pretty quick iterations and understanding are we actually doing the right thing currently?
Petri: You’ve been discovering and evaluating a lot of different platforms for building communities and communicating with people. It doesn’t need to be a community per se, but even just with your customers, can you recommend something? For example, how could I reach people? How can I connect with hundreds or thousands of people?
There is Slack, there’s Discord. There are different ways to do it. Even in the online platforms. There’s Hopin.to, Zoom. But somehow I feel that all of these are lacking the things we really desire. They have their downsides as well and it’s not so vibrant in the long-term. Getting back to those, always going to different places and you need to have a compelling reason.
You want to go there. You want to hang out. You want to do those things. It’s after the initial excitement goes away, that’s hard to achieve. What are your thoughts? What do you think is working now? I’ve seen there’s a lot of companies who are building things now. Asking you this question maybe one year later it’s going to be completely different answers, but what are the good things to look at now?
Miika: It depends on how you are describing what exactly you want to find and what kind of communities you want to find? I agree with you that there is no, maybe, if you don’t take into account Clubhouse that is currently…
Petri: Send me an invite!
Miika: Yeah, exactly. You have to get invited, and that there’s a lot of FOMO for getting the invite. But that’s part of the story. A lot of these communities and these platforms work because not everybody’s able to join there.
And that’s the tough part of answering your question that if it’s accessible for many, usually there are a lot of problems with that. Maybe a lot of cluttered messages and you’re not knowing everybody or you might share different thoughts on or passions in the group.
Maybe not answering straight to your question, but maybe from the sidelines. I have been always really interested in like hanging around on the edges of the Internet. What that means is exactly being part of some really specific communities.
And for me how I find them is usually subreddits and Reddit itself. There are amazing, amazing communities on different topics. For example, I’m recording this podcast in my own room and I see around myself there are plants and there is like a sewer machine and there is a television.
And for each of these things, there are subreddits where people who are extremely passionate about, let’s say plants, they discuss together. And usually, through those subreddits, you find forums that are not like easily browsable from Google, or you cannot find them, or you find these Discord channels or you find Slack channels or whatever they are.
But I think the first thing, what do you have to do is going to understand what you’re looking at and then just dig deep in the edges of the Internet. That’s a bit different way to answer your question.
Petri: And another thing about building a community. If you are about to release your product, for example, and you need to gather the audience there and then somehow raise the interest as well. I think one of the key learnings is as well, that if you just open the floodgates if you’re in that lucky position that there’s a lot of people queueing and waiting for that may not be the best approach in the long-term.
In order for the community to grow and have a culture and values, you need to have a limited amount of people there first to define that. And, that’s probably something I think is important if you want to do this in the long-term as well. And was that the reason you also have been limiting in Slush, now in your Node, the amount of people you want to get in?
Miika: Yeah, absolutely. There are maybe two reasons for that. The first one is that we want to ensure that the amount of people we let in is an amount that we can actually curate and help by ourselves. If it explodes right away to 10 000 or 15 000 or 30 000 it dilutes the community in a way that it’s really hard to understand who is here, what they’re wanting. There are a lot of people who are looking for different things. We want to start with a smaller number and then scale the community after we on different stages, when we realise that we can actually help these people.
And the second thing, what is different to the offline version of Slush is that in the offline event, you have been able to buy the ticket for it before the event without applying if you have been buying a pass as an attendee, which is a category for our tickets. And not just as a startup or investor or media.
But for Node, it’s a bit different now because we have only tickets that have to be applied for startups, investors, and an access type what we call an ecosystem. Which is for accelerators and people working with startups and helping startups, but who are not the investors.
So that pretty naturally also limits how many people we are getting and how many people are applying. But yes, we want to ensure that the commute size is manageable and it doesn’t feel like a huge mess right away. Because I see a lot of those, for example, at LinkedIn currently. Personally, I use LinkedIn daily.
It’s just basically the place to find people, who are not just only in this ecosystem. Kind of see really quickly what they’re doing. But other than that, I think LinkedIn is absolute garbage. One of the reasons for that is that I get maybe 10 to 15 messages from people who I don’t know, who want to sell and most of them are bots. And that’s something we absolutely want to avoid when building Node.
Petri: This reminds me of something I think which is just emerging. It was actually Preston Byrne in just a few episodes back where he was talking about how junior lawyers don’t have a career path anymore because AI, machine learning algorithms, are getting so good that the work they’ve been doing, is not needed anymore.
And I think that is happening pretty quickly with the content as well. If you can push out good content, decent content, whether it’s a blog post, whether it’s whatever LinkedIn invites even with personalised messages that say, Hey, I really like your comment on this or in your blog post you mentioned this and that. That’s all bot, and I think that’s coming quickly as well.
Maybe this is the last moment really to reach people directly because it’s the same thing what happens with regular telephone calls. Spammers calling, telemarketers and it’s like, I don’t want to pick up the phone.
There’s no one there I want to speak to and it’s basically impossible to get through to people. This is now happening to the last of the means and it’s coming quicker than probably expected.
Miika: Exactly. That’s what we’re trying to crack with the product we’re building. How to ensure real human connection and valuable people to meet. And ensure that if you join for a session or you consume content, it’s already consumed by somebody else instead of just tossing it in front of you and then hoping that it’s valuable.
Petri: What makes you happy?
Miika: What makes me happy is having high ambition, interesting things to do daily and being with my girlfriend.
Petri: How do you define success?
Miika: That’s a really good question. Success is something when you feel a sense of fulfilment inside of yourself.
Petri: What are the things you’re struggling with?
Miika: I struggle a lot with managing time.
Petri: Is it just peculiar to this year and sort of compressed post-corona syndrome: new world, new levels, open-world game. You don’t know the rules, controllers are a bit off, you don’t really know what’s going to happen?
Miika: I think it comes from the fact that I don’t know what’s going to happen and I try to find different sources, pieces of information, discuss with people to understand what’s happening. But as nobody of us knows what will happen in next month or in three months it’s a big adventure and you can use as much time as you ever want.
The struggle with time comes from the fact that at some point, you just have to put a stop. And stop thinking and do something else. And that makes managing the time currently difficult.
Petri: I read somewhere that one of the reasons computer games are so successful is that you feel some sense of fulfilment and control because you can learn the game. You can try again and then you can succeed. So it’s a world where you are in control. Versus the real world open-world game where as you described, we don’t really know what’s going to happen.
There’re no easy ways to read walkthroughs that do this and it’s going to work. Nobody knows the playbook. You have to figure it out yourself and you can write about it. Then it’s already changed. But I think it’s part of the fun, the experience we’re having.
What is your favourite word?
Petri: What is your least favourite word?
Miika: I would say that’s mediocre.
Petri: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Miika: Nights and trance music.
Petri: What turns you off?
Petri: What is your favourite curse word?
Miika: I think nothing in English. But in Finnish, sorry for my language, it’s maybe voi vittu, which is roughly translated to oh fuck.
Petri: What sound or noise do you love?
Miika: My girlfriend’s laughter.
Petri: What sound or noise do you hate?
Miika: My phone notification sounds.
Petri: You can take them off!
Miika: I know.
Petri: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Miika: I would like to try to be an esports athlete.
Petri: What profession would you not like to do?
Miika: I’m not that good at crafts. Although, I would like to try many of those things. I don’t believe that I would enjoy specifically anything that requires really, really specific hand-eye coordination.
Petri: If you could be a co-founder of any startup in any era, which one would you choose?
Miika: Well, this is not maybe too surprising, but I would maybe choose either at the present moment or early 2000 and computer graphics.
Petri: Any particular company or just in the field?
Miika: Maybe just in the field or then Hybrid Graphics or early days of and Nvidia.
Petri: A related question to the alternative career, is there an actual upper limit? Is it the reaction time or something? Can you still in your fifties, sixties or seventies become an esports athlete?
Miika: Honestly, I don’t know. Nobody has tried before. It seems that there is a trend that after maybe 27 or 28 there’s a lot of esports athletes that are retiring. And they are not maybe performing at the level that they used to be. I think the optimal age, especially from the reaction time perspective seems to be like the early twenties.
But, I think that data might be a bit skewed in a way that many of these players also want to try something else in their life when they’re getting closer to their thirties or early thirties. But I do know I would love to try it out.
Petri: And I think there’re also different types of games. Not all of them require fast reactions in the sense that you need to shot someone to do something like that.
Miika: Yeah. In FPS games, it’s a lot of the reaction time. In these mobile games like League of Legends, it’s also reactions but it’s also the intelligence inside of the game and the tactics and then there are, of course, games like Hearthstone, which is this turn-based guard game where it’s most like chess.
You just have to think about like what the opponent is probably doing. What are my cards, what I can do. So obviously there are games that are also suitable for those that the best days of your reaction time might be already gone. So it’s time to maybe then turn to the card games.
Petri: Any final words for the audience?
Miika: If you are ever interested to learn about what the hell is esports and how it works, who is there, what companies are included, why people seems to be interested in it. Send me a message on Twitter or email or whatever. You will find me. Happy to provide insights.
Petri: There is also an excellent Medium article you wrote earlier this year.
Miika: Yeah, there is a Medium article about underlying drivers for why I believe esports will grow massively in the next 10 years written to the Maki.vc blog. That’s a good starter
Petri: Thank you, Miika!
Miika: Thank you, Petri. Thank you for inviting me. It was really fun.