Ep 30: On Angry Birds, Slush Asia and how to walk the walk – with Antti Sonninen

antti sonninenWhen I first tried to prepare this interview, I didn’t really know where to start. My guest, although very young, has accumulated a tremendous amount of experience. From startup founder to country manager of a global gaming company, to event organizer, Antti Sonninen has done a “few things” as he likes to put it.

One day, while still in Finland, his home country, he met with the CMO of Rovio, the company behind the globally famous game: Angry Birds. Antti suggested that Japan would be an interesting market for the company to develop.  The next day he got an interview and about a month later he was in Japan doing some market research for the Company. As he could see the potential of Japan’s market, he built up a proposal to open a regional office in Tokyo and submitted it to the headquarter. Shortly after, he was appointed country manager.

This accelerated career boost gave him confidence to achieve more. So while attending many startup meetups, he started noticing that these events were broken. Most of them were invitation only, all in Japanese, too formal and the crowd far too homogenous. This led him to launch a first event that would change the rules. Partnering with a local startup accelerator, he managed to attract a crowd of a few hundreds of people. This was the premise of what later became the massive Slush Asia.

Slush Asia has been the largest international startup event taking place in Japan and it received the biggest media coverage. With over 3,200 attendees, public figures like Taizo Son (movida), Dave McClure (500 startups), Tomoko Namba (DeNA), the real achievement was to have an English-only event. Now, while Antti is planning the next Slush, others have followed him on his quest to make Japan more global, with similar events taking place around Tokyo.

More recently Antti traded his country manager hat to join a startup team. He felt that, before preaching the truth to other entrepreneurs at events, he should walk the walk and step into the shoes of an entrepreneur himself. He is also convinced that he would never get this type of learning by staying at his comfortable country manager position.

Antti believes that big goals is what drives people up and only those who plant the seeds can see the fruits. In this interview, he tells his story from his graduation days to his current active role in the Japan’s startup ecosystem. There was too much I wanted to ask him so I hope this will lead to a part two sometimes. But for now, I hope you’ll enjoy this episode.

Question: What are the greatest knowledge you can get as an entrepreneur that no book can ever teach? (reply in the comments)

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  • (3:23) Presentation of Antti Sonninen
  • (5:43) Starting as Not-for-Profit Entrepreneur
  • (09:12) Creating his first job at Rovio in Japan
  • (16:23) Opening Rovio Japan Office
  • (20:38) Visa, apartment and other admin hurdles
  • (24:45) Building a team
  • (21:21) Broken startup events in Japan
  • (30:35) Aalto University, and a new generation of entrepreneurs
  • (35:47) How Slush was born
  • (42:28) Bringing Slush to Asia
  • (44:42) From country manager to startup team member
  • (54:56) The most exciting thing!
  • (58:19) Quickfire questions

Thanks for listening!

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