Thuong Tan: Do you want to go fast or far?

5/8/2017
This African proverb gave me a wake up call: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

I was inspired by my colleague to start training for half marathon while he is up for the full one.

Sundays are my regular weekend run at the Stanford Dish. It would have been a lazy 6K run by myself without the stranger who was unknowingly pacing me. I was competing with her from the beginning and decided to finish the Dish first. She passed me every time I slowed down during the uphills. When it was the last 1K to go, she started to slow down. My first reaction was: "Yes, the downhill will be just a breeze and I will win this race". Instead, I decided that being a bitch will not get me far.

I ran beside her and signaled "Let's go, we can do this!" So she did. It was one of the best sprint ever down the hill and we did double high fives at the gate for the sign of crossing the finish line, together.

My work at Tekes Silicon Valley, part of Team Finland gives me great 360 view of Finland from Silicon Valley - I have the privilege to meet hundreds of Finnish companies annually. Many of them at the Nordic Innovation House - a soft landing space for Nordic companies which also offers Nordic programs such as TINC incubator for startups, REACH program for university tech projects and Nordic collaboration at big conference events such as CES - Consumer Electronic Show, GDC - Game Developers Conference and SXSW - South by South West.

Team Finland has been part of the Nordic Innovation House since 2014 but physically moved to the same office in the summer of 2016. During a year of co-working with Nordic colleagues - I can only say good things and the great dynamics of working together as Nordic stronghold.

Same Silicon Valley mindset is happening within the Finnish startup and researcher networks in the San Francisco Bay Area where monthly "Finnilänlöylyt" meetups take place. The gathering brings together "The Green Frogs" - newbies in town, "The Grey Foxes" - experienced ones, and "The Grounded Owls" - rooted ones with the insider knowledge and networks to share. It has to be this diverse amount of people that creates new collaboration, connections, ideas, innovation and the best ones to execution. The art of collaborative sharing.

In addition to the hundreds of Finnish startups we meet as Team Finland, there are also numerous delegation from universities, company executives, the board of directors, executive MBAs, government officials, you name it. The amount of visitors got me thinking how great it is that throughout all levels of Finnish societies, people are hungry to learn and benchmark from Silicon Valley.

I am sure that not all of the ideas, initiatives and executions made it to the media outlets when the delegation is back in Finland. However, I am positive that every Silicon Valley trip is an eye opening once you have done the home work, have your pitch ready to share and determine to be curious throughout the trip. And when you go back, pass on the baton and share your top learnings from Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley needs these curious benchmarkers as much as they need to come here and refresh their thinking. One of the good example was when the government official shared his updated information about the EU directives and regulations that was relevant to the host we were meeting.

I am always bragging about Finland and the Finns to everyone I meet, everywhere I go. If I don't do it, I doubt the fellow Nordics would do that for me. Why am I bragging? Among tons of good things, the Finns have invented the collaboration of doing - remember "talkoot"? The word "volunteering" does not give enough credits. The Finns do things with great sense of quality, promise and trust.

Like the startup house, Mustakarhu in Palo Alto and Silicon Valley SaunaBus. Mustakarhu was started by Oulu startup actives but it represents all the Finns in Silicon Valley. No other country has its own startup house let alone sauna bus in the heart of Palo Alto.

We need startup communities in Finland to embrace this. To realize that you are not competing against each other but you should collaborate more together, as Finnish Companies taking over the global market! I am talking to all of you New Factory in Tampere, Jyväskylä KasvuOpen, Salo Startups, Boost Turku, Oulu Startup Week, the Slush and Shift communities, Startup Sauna etc. When you are in Silicon Valley, the locals usually know about the Finnish education - make them know more about what comes from Finland.

Let's show the world how the Finnish collaborative sharing works since we want to go far, not just fast.

What comes to my Dish run. I exchanged numbers with the former stranger. I have been running alone so far, I have decided to run far, together with Jo.

Thuong Tan (Tonxu)
Senior Advisor, Tekes Silicon Valley

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