Slush CSO on Taiwan’s Startups: Youth Must Take the Lead

Slush CSO on Taiwan’s Startups: Youth Must Take the Lead
Photo Credit: Beyonder Times

What you need to know

'Taiwan’s young people, don’t be afraid, go ahead and give it a try; Taiwan’s seniors, let go, trust what youths can do!'

Oct. 7, 2015, MOSA (Movement, Open, Startup and Accelerate) held the first Taiwan-based international startup event organized by entrepreneurs. The event ended with exciting music and enthusiastic applause. Backstage, a young foreign guy was high-fiving and hugging the conference staff. This was Martin Talvari, the Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) of the world-famous Finnish startup community, Slush. His story, however, is not only about Slush.

Originally from Estonia, Talvari got his first part-time job at the age of 12, and went abroad to Finland for the first time when he was 16. After obtaining his structural engineering degree, he worked for several years, both in Finland. After this few years of work he traveled to 82 countries within the next three years. “I rarely stay in a same place for more than a month. There may be little money in my bank account, but I’ve earned my life experiences,” he smiled with satisfaction.

Train Accident? Deportation? Whatever could happen!

“In January (this year), I was on a bus with a group of people heading for the World Economic Forum in Davos. We got stuck on the train tracks, and it was total darkness outside. Suddenly we saw a speeding train heading straight towards the bus. It happened only in seconds. Everyone jumped up from their seats and ran to the front yelling, ‘Open the door!' But the driver was in shock and couldn’t react immediately. The train slid after the emergency break, and eventually managed to stop right in front of us. It was a crazy way to begin our Davos WEF, but that also made our group much closer.”

“In 2014, I travelled from Argentina to organize an event in Qatar which the prime minister of Qatar would also attend. After 30 hours of flight to Doha, I was supposed to get a 72-hour business visa on arrival, but Customs didn’t believe me for some reason – that this kid with shorts was there to do something with the prime minister. They deported me and put me on a six-hour flight to Germany. When I landed there, people of the Qatar government called me, telling me that they were so sorry and asked me to fly back again. Unfortunately there were no available flights back at that point, so I just went back home to Helsinki.”

“Then, at the end of 2014, I went close to the Syrian border to visit a recently discovered city, Hamoukar. Though it was located in Jordan, I was at first afraid of going anywhere close to Syria because ISIS was just expanding. But locals told me it was safe to go. So I did. One thing I’ve learned is that the world talks about the region as if all of it is bad and dangerous. In fact there are so many wonderful peaceful places; yet the media only shows the terror of the Middle East.”

Talvari shared many of his recent travel experiences with us, many of which were about the unfair treatment he had faced. Estonia is a small country that has been independent from Russia for only 25 years. “Customs often don’t recognize my Estonian passport right away. Due to my nationality, I’ve been barred from entry, or deported and called back far too many times,” he shrugged.

Global travel brings him a different perspective of 'nationality'

We can see that when Talvari travels around the world, he is also constantly having the nationality issue haunting him. How does he look at the nationality issue now?

He said, like many Taiwanese people, when he meets a foreigner, he often has to start from explaining “where my country is.” After traveling globally, however, he has started to see his nationality in a different way.

“The definition of one-nationality is fading out as the world travels and relocates like never before. Half-this-half-that will become the normal. Let’s imagine that my partner is from Taiwan and we have kids born in Switzerland, and they will grow up between New Zealand and our summer home in Spain. How do I explain to my kids about their nationality?” He even believes that “multiple nationality registration” will be possible, and he is already thinking about applying for the permanent residency in three to four countries. Through traveling and making detailed records, he has started designing his future life in those countries.

He then showed us an excel form like nothing we have ever seen before — his “country matrix,” a rating chart that ranks all countries he has been to, based on different measurements, such as safety, weather, transportation, consumption level, and so on. You can even see the food scores were weighted. “With this chart I can judge which country suits me the most.” What about the ranking of Taiwan in his chart? “I’ve been to 21 countries in Asia. If I have to choose one country to live in longer, I’ll choose Taiwan.” He further explained, “You have freedom of speech in Taiwan. It’s convenient to live here, and not to mention the good food. Can you find a country where you can go to the mountains from seaside in an hour? I think the diversity of lifestyle makes Taiwan very competitive.”

The current ecosystem of Taiwan’s startups needs to be changed

As we moved forward to ask Talvari about his point of view on Taiwan’s startup community, the CSO of Slush shared with us the success Slush has achieved and the problems he had seen in Taiwan in the past few months.

Slush ended her 2015 event with success. The mesmerizing lighting and music made the venue seem like a nightclub. But Slush is not an event company. It’s a non-profit community that helps the next generation of great companies to have the ecosystem they need to achieve global success.

Slush 2015 attracted 15,000 attendees, including over 700 investors, 1,700 startups, and around 700 journalists. Entrepreneurs believe that they can be seen by the right people in Slush. Now Slush has successfully made herself an ecosystem that allows young entrepreneurs to take the lead to shape the annual events.

Back to Taiwan. In May 2015, when Talvari was invited by Taiwan’s National Development Council to curate Slush Taiwan, he soon realized that what Taiwan needs is not a copy of the Slush brand, but a Slush that belongs to Taiwan, which has given birth to MOSA in October. Though this event has won many positive comments on social media, he told us, “MOSA has been an interesting experiment. However, we didn’t make it to build a sustainable ecosystem for Taiwanese startup community. This one-time event was only a small step.”

He explained the reason to us specifically.

In Taiwan, he found that young people aren’t used to standing at the front and taking the lead. Is it caused by the “hierarchy of seniority?” Or “business ethics?” Those who stand on the stage holding the microphones are often the “successful” adults. As long as the seniors always outshine the youngsters, it is hard for young people to recognize an event like MOSA and form a sustainable community that could further become more influential in society. “It is a problem often seen in developing countries. We have to make a change: Let young people hold the steering wheel, and seniors should just sit in the back seat.”

Then what role should the government play? Taking Finland as an example, Tavalri told us that in 2013, the president of Finland invited his officials to visit the Slush office, and only did one thing after that: sending the Slush event invitations to all embassies in Finland, helping to promote Slush at the national level. Tavalri emphasized, “The point is not about the money. Funding is not the only thing that a government should do. Seriously, there is no startup that can just be raised by the government. If a startup can’t even manage its cash flow, how can it possibly succeed?”

Staying in Taiwan for several months, he did see the disappointing side of Taiwan’s current status, but he is still quite positive about Taiwan’s future development.

“At least I have figured out the problem in a short period of time, and that’s where I will start to make a difference.”

He hopes to apply for the entrepreneur visa next year, and create a foundation that assists young startups, creating a real ecosystem for the local startup community.

At the end of the interview, he couldn’t help but remind us again, “Taiwan’s young people, don’t be afraid, go ahead and give it a try; Taiwan’s seniors, let go, trust what youths can do!”

Beyonder Times has authorized publication of this article. The original text is published here.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole