Six entrepreneurs give their advice for anyone thinking of founding a startup

L-R: Tugce Bulut, Andreas Saari, Luciana Lixandru, Christof Wittig, Christina Bechhold Russ, Colette Ballou.
L-R: Tugce Bulut, Andreas Saari, Luciana Lixandru, Christof Wittig, Christina Bechhold Russ, Colette Ballou.
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Every year, during some of the darkest months, the Finnish capital comes alive with innovation. Home to one of the world’s foremost tech conferences, over 3,100 startups descend on Slush in Helsinki to share ideas, collaborate, and find funding.

Anyone who has had an idea and tried to turn it into a business knows it’s a journey peppered with highs, lows, and big decisions. To help guide the next generation of entrepreneurs, we asked those who’ve made it one question: What is the one piece of advice you would give to prospective entrepreneurs? Here is what they said:

Tugce Bulut – founder and CEO, Streetbees

“I wish I’d known how difficult it can be to stay true to your vision, but also how important it is to do so. The nature of trying to turn any idea into a successful business is that lots of people will disagree with you about the best way to make it happen. It’s important to listen to those opinions – some of them will have merit and will make your company stronger. However, you also have confidence in your own strategy, and have the strength to resist any elements that might knock you off course.”

Andreas Saari – CEO, Slush & co-founder, WaveVentures

“Ask a ton of questions and hire carefully. If you go asking for advice, you’ll eventually come back with money, and the right people working with you determines everything.”

Luciana Lixandru – partner, Accel

“Establish a clear vision and then enable your team. The best entrepreneurs with which I’ve had the pleasure to work clearly define their vision, hire great people, and then get out of their way. They ensure everyone is on board with the mission, delegate effectively and are happy to listen to any person on the team with a good idea. A team that’s bought in and passionate will be there for the journey.”

Christof Wittig – founder and CEO, Hornet Networks

“Building a business and building a product are not the same thing. A unique product is a necessary but not a sufficient prerequisite for success. Products looking for markets have a much harder time than markets looking for products (with the caveat that they also attract more competition)“

Colette Ballou – founder, Ballou PR & Ballou Capital

“Pay particular attention when a business idea of yours sparks criticism, because this could mean you’re actually onto something. In my experience, the best ideas come not just with discourse and debate, but with criticism as well. It’s always worth asking, ‘Why is this person being so down on my idea?’ and analysing whether or not they have a point, and after that, working out whether the ‘You can’t do that’ is really about your idea, or whether it’s about them and their own insecurities. The founders of Netflix didn’t shut up shop when Blockbuster refused to buy them and referred to them as “niche” – this form of criticism, which you’ll no doubt be exposed to as an entrepreneur, shouldn’t stop you either.”

Christina Bechhold Russ – principal investor, Samsung NEXT

“Your story is as important as your product. Effectively telling your founder journey not only demonstrates how you discovered a problem that technology can solve; it allows investors to understand how you lead, how you build teams and how you’ll be a driver of growth and progress for your company.”

Click here to watch highlights from this year’s Slush conference.