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From Silicon Valley, With Sisu

Often called the mecca for start-ups, Silicon Valley is home to some of the best known companies in the world. Finland is also known for its vibrant start-up scene. What happens when these two worlds collide?


Published : 23.02.2017

Finns have a special word for not giving up: Sisu. Persistence is certainly useful when building up a start-up company. Are there other characteristics shared by the Finns who have made it as entrepreneurs? Liisa Jokinen and Hanna Artman are both long-term habitants of Silicon Valley. They have collected the experiences of Finnish entrepreneurs into a book, Lannistumattomat (loosely translated “The Indomitable”.).

For the book, Jokinen and Artman spoke to 14 Finnish start-up founders who have at least for a time lived in Silicon Valley. We asked the authors five questions on the topic of cultural differences.

1. Are cultures so different? How do they affect business and entrepreneurship?

“Surely cultures differ, but we don’t feel that the differences are so big that they would affect co-operation. In Silicon Valley people are very tolerant towards different cultures, religions and minorities. This is seen as one of the many strengths of this area.”

2. Are cultures an issue in Silicon Valley?

“Cultural differences are approached with care. It is not considered polite to ask strangers about their religious background or home country. Small talk is opened with only a subtle mention towards each other’s backgrounds – one might ask “where is your accent from”, rather than asking where you are from.”

3. What kind of culture clashes have you witnessed, or have you?

“We have not noticed any culture clashes in Silicon Valley – different cultures are enriching! By encountering other cultures one sees oneself and one’s own culture from a different viewpoint and learns something new of those both. And perhaps also of the world.”

4. What does Finland look like when looking at it from a far?

“Finland appears considerably more interesting from afar than from within! The nature, the level of civilisation, the age of the cities and architecture – just to name a few Finnish features that are really special. History and culture are present everywhere, especially in the capital, Helsinki. People too are very stylish. Finnish design is the best in the world. Finland is actually a better place than America to follow the American dream – because of the social welfare system as a safety net that helps the entrepreneur through difficult times.”

5. What is special in the Finnish culture? What are the pros and cons for an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley?

“Finns are honest, international and good listeners. Because we Finns generally keep what we promise, doing business with us is easy. We Finns have a good reputation also here in Silicon Valley. Our culture sparks interest ranging from architecture all the way to the national ethos.”

Text: Kaisa Alapartanen

This text was originally published in Haaga-Helia Signals magazine 1/2017. Teksti on alunperin julkaistu Haaga-Helian Signals-lehdessä 1/2017.