Katre Laan

Katre Laan is curious as a cat and enjoys meeting new people. When she is not writing she will be in a yoga class or reading. She is not a fan of TV but is addicted to the Game of Thrones.

Up to 5,000 global citizens to convene in Tallinn to tackle sustainability challenges

In November, a team of 250 volunteers will organise the largest congress ever hosted in Estonia – the Junior Chamber International’s (JCI) World Congress. In early November, a huge group of international speakers and leaders fly to Estonia to share at the Junior Chamber International’s (JCI) World Congress the best …

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The startup that ships physical and delightful apologies

If you need to say “We’re sorry, we messed up” to your customers, now there’s company, founded in Estonia, that helps you do it.

Sometimes the unexpected can create a sensational feeling. It’s especially the case when someone goes the extra mile for you. Since Sorry As A Service, a startup founded in Tallinn and now headquartered in London, launched over two years ago, the word “sorry” has adopted a new meaning in customer service. The startup helps companies, such as Transferwise and BT, dispatch personal apologies, birthday wishes, welcome messages via local product makers in Europe.

Simply put, the startup ships “sorrys” when companies mess up, Martin McGloin, the firm’s cofounder and CEO, tells Estonian World. According to him, Sorry As A Service has introduced a whole new way to help companies personalise the customer’s journey and increase brand loyalty. “We asked ourselves, how can companies retain their customers better?” he explains.

Starting with big dreams in Tallinn in October 2014, the startup first entered the Estonian market, followed by offices in Riga and London. “If you are starting any kind of company, whether it’s a startup or a business, you have to think internationally straight away,” McGloin says. Currently, the team’s energy is focused on the UK market, where demand for a company’s good reputation and goodwill payment is higher.

The “sorry button”

According to McGloin, his startup sees a problem where most companies don’t. “It’s where things go wrong in customer experience. The companies might give you financial compensation like a goodwill pay or they might just give you cash. Our point is that when you are actually building a lasting customer relationship, it’s better to think about how you build the emotional relationship rather than irrationally throw money out.”

Sorry As A Service’s CRM system, fully integrated into the client’s exciting software, enables the customer advisor to send an apology order via the “sorry button”. Orders vary from expressing regret for a mistake to a gesture of goodwill. From there the customer advisor retrieves the shipment data, selects a gift from a local apology partner, finds the best apology and writes a short message.

“We let companies go above and beyond by just saying, ‘oops. Our bad (mistake)!’ or sending a generic “welcome” email showing we are human too,” McGloin says. “In an age where our interactions with products, services and brand are digitally mediated, the power of the physical and the personal can be immense, and that’s why we made it incredibly easy.”

Launched at a Garage48 hackathon

The four founders of Sorry As A Service – two Estonians, a Latvian and an Irish-Norwegian – blend their different backgrounds into one big melting pot. They all met in October 2014 in Pärnu, the summer capital of Estonia. “We launched at the Garage48 hackathon. I was working for TransferWise as a developer at a time and I was going to hire software developers,” McGloin recalls.

Having spent 72 hours in Pärnu, he decided to jump in, have some fun and pitch his own idea – despite the fact that the specific hackathon was a women’s special, and especially women in tech. They got a team together, discussed whether they would like to give the idea a go, and that idea became a winner. It was unusual situation for McGloin, however. “Oh well, I was meant to hire more developers, not lose anyone.”

In the first week they had their first client, followed by a first investment, which gave the team reassurance to pursue the idea further. “I think everyone has an ambition to do something for themselves and when the opportunity kind of comes there… You have a customer who is willing to pay you, willing to invest in you even though you have an awesome job somewhere else. One should probably give it a try, right?” McGloin notes.

Soon, the team joined the Startup Wise Guys, an Estonian accelerator programme, which provided the startup with €35,000 investment and an office space. They had three months to develop the platform. McGloin recalls how this period was all about working with the team, getting more customers, building the product and the software. By May 2015, the startup had already an office space in the UK, as well another investor under their belt.

Business can benefit from delighting customers

Sorry As A Service is also looking into ways how companies could optimise customer satisfaction. “One big issue we see with e-commerce stores is that they spend so much money on Google and Facebook advertising to get customers. For example, they might spend €20 for a click. And then once they have got the first order the customer might go shop around and never come back again. But how do you build and make sure they place the second or third order?” the cofounder explains.

“So what we have done with an e-commerce store in the UK is that whenever a customer has placed their first order, for about two weeks later we send them a beautifully handwritten card saying: ‘I hope you are enjoying this item you bought’, mentioning the item they bought and the journey they have had. This is signed by the CEO. By just sending this simple card, we have tripled their first and second orders,” McGloin claims.

McGloin says that their ultimate goal is to show companies how their business can benefit by delighting customers at every stage of their lifecycle. “A simple handwritten cookie can have a powerful effect on a customer’s loyalty and make them never want to leave in a world where switching providers is easier than ever before.”

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Images courtesy of Sorry As A Service.

Estonian startup LeapIN enables digital nomads to run their everyday business remotely

Becoming and being an entrepreneur has never been easier. The Estonian-founded startup, LeapIN, has launched a new solution – or a “vehicle” as the team calls it – for freelancers who wish to operate remotely. The company’s aim is to help creative entrepreneurs do their job and take care of the micro management for digital nomads and freelancers around the world.

This article is promoted by LeapIN.

As the remote employment increases around the world, LeapIN’s aim is to provide a good solution for cross-border business. “For example, if you are an Australian tech blogger living in Austria and you do your work for different customers and different countries, then LeapIN is good for you to operate with,” Erik Mell, one of the four cofounders – who have worked together for 16 years – says.

LeapIN team II

In the past, all LeapIN founders helped build a software company, Webmedia, together and ran a small IT consultancy for five years, providing large international companies and state institutions with information on the Estonian IT market. It was during a brainstorm in the consultancy business a year ago – on how to help people start and easily administer their freelancing business – when the idea for LeapIN was born.

Helping the e-residents

The company’s business model is closely associated with Estonian e-residency programme – the state-founded supranational programme that enables anyone in the world to become a digital resident of Estonia. Because of the European Union membership, this in turn effectively allows to conduct business in the EU, the political and economic union of 510 million people.

LeapIN aims to make the life simpler for recent and prospective e-residents: helping start a company in Estonia, open a bank account and handling accounting, taxes and compliance procedures.

e-residency starter kit

“Currently, our target customers are only the e-residents of Estonia, although in the long-run, we are not limiting ourselves to the Estonian e-residency. However, Estonia is the first country, to accept foreign citizens as e-residents and give them the opportunity to remotely start and run a reputable business entity in Europe,” Mell notes.

To make this happen, the team has worked closely with the e-residency team, as the legal environment is the critical foundation for Estonian digital solutions to prosper. “Our challenge is not only to design our own service, but also to improve the legal framework in cooperation with the public sector and other players from the private sector,” he explains.

“We see e-residency as a key or a door opener to our solution, but it’s not enough to have a key that opens the door and there’s nothing behind the door. So LeapIN provides that value to the possible e-residents and, at the same time, it’s an enabler. It’s actually a good example of a public and private collaboration,” Mell asserts.

Customers from around the world

When talking about potential customers, he draws parallels with another Estonian startup, Teleport, that helps digital nomads decide where to move. “Questions like ‘Where should I live?’ ‘Where should I school my kids?’ ‘Can I get health insurance there?’ ‘How can I keep or find a job?’ occur. And part of that is also being able to operate an existing or planned business.”

“More and more people are looking for a solution that helps them become freelancers or digital nomads and for this, they need a simple tool that will enable them to remotely manage their business and thus move to their desired location of living or staying. We hope LeapIN would be a trigger for those people to actually get going,” Mell says, adding that to become LeapIN’s customer, one can be anywhere in the world.

LeapIN VI

He proclaims that LeapIN’s aim is to make running a micro-business and freelancing as easy as possible – where the customer doesn’t even have to see the paperwork. “For example, if a freelancer uses Dropbox for its services, he can then provide Dropbox with the LeapIN email and all the expense reports will be directed to us without the customer even having to worry about it.” In the same vein, they would take care of the freelancer’s invoicing.

Until now, it wasn’t possible to open an Estonian bank account without face-to-face meeting in one of the bank branches in Estonia. Mell remarks that the company has dealt with extreme cases of customers actually having such a great need for a simple solution to manage their company that they fly in from Brazil, stay an hour in Tallinn just to open a bank account, and then fly back home. This is due to change, as the Estonian parliament recently passed a new law, allowing e-residents to open an account remotely in future.

LeapIN V

LeapIN has grown in a slow pace for the first year, focusing on utilising their personal contacts to pitch to people they know and who could also provide good value in return.

Mell explains that it took them some time to understand the pin-points of the customer and to come up with an eco-system that fits the needs. “I would say we are still on a learning curve. We have customers from over 50 different countries and we are gathering information how they think, act, what their businesses are about and how transparent they are towards us.”

“Analysing that data and using that data to build the solution that would perfectly fit the freelancers needs, has been our priority,” he adds.

LeapIN team III

The company plans to accelerate its growth in future, focusing on automating the adjoining processes and improving self-service platform to attract thousands of customers within the next 12 months.

“Freelancers and digital nomads can really start being entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world.”

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Cover: LeapIN’s team. Photos courtesy of LeapIN.

Estonian startup SprayPrinter is on a mission to fight against blank walls

SprayPrinter is a wireless device that delivers photos on the wall via a mobile app. It’s a one-of-a-kind tool that helps people release the artist within by moving the spray can against the wall and printing over 200 pixels in any colour on any wall. As a dynamic product, it’s gaining popularity among street artists, do-it-yourself enthusiasts and interior designers.

Estonian World met the company’s CEO, Richard Murutar, and co-founder, Henry Patzig, in Tallinn as the both of them were in high spirits over going to Austria and China to sign new deals with partners. So even though their so called “life-surviving” budgets are small, Murutar remains positive when saying: “It isn’t easy, nevertheless flying high with boundless ambitions involves costs that are reasonably high.”

The last six months since the team first got together have been a roller-coaster. Not only did the startup win the most innovative Hardware Startup Award at the Tallinn Hardware LaunchPad 2016, they have also gained interest in many businesses and made it to the next part in the Estonian business competition TV show, Ajujaht.

SprayPrinter XII

Tartu is where Mihkel Joala, the inventor and another co-founder of SprayPrinter, stumbled over the idea when he was asked by his daughter to paint a picture on a wall. Even though Joala is an artist, he had no idea how to draw. But he does have a talent for inventing things. Already before SprayPrinter was founded, he had halfway discussions with investors, who claimed this prototype had a lot of potential.

“Thanks to many great mentors, we have been able to develop the business of SprayPrinter, Matthias Lepik being one them,” Murutar, who first met Lepik when starting first startup BoatArt, says. He reflects on the experience of how in his previous business he was also the CEO, responsible for accounting and the logistics system. “Basically I was limited to creating a realistic vision, a network and communicating with potential investors at the time.” He recalls this was one the reasons why his previous business failed. “I knew this time I must change that. Our current team enables everyone to do what will actually boost SprayPrinter’s future,” he adds.

SprayPrinter XI

The success wouldn’t have happened without their team, although Murutar says that finding each other was “almost a lifelong process”. The initial idea of the company saw its limelight in September 2014, when Murutar met Joala through a mutual friend on an island called Tondisaar in Võrtsjärv in central Estonia. Joala, being an inventor like Murutar’s previous business partner, united their interests to collaborate on a prototype development project. After meeting Patzig on the third day of a wedding they were attending, Murutar says, “this is when we started talking about what else we are doing in our daily lives. Naturally, it also came out that I practiced MMA (mixed martial arts) and Joala karate, so we were then keen to test out who was better.”

“Well, after the eighth round we discussed other topics,” Murutar recalls. “After the wedding we met up and Joala decided to join our team. And the third coincidence was when we found our COO, Alo Murutar, who is my father, but that’s not important. It’s important that he has got a lengthy experience running many businesses – he’s strong at something I am weak at.”

SprayPrinter I

Amid the entire buzz, the team has had the opportunity to participate in some of the best events in the startup business, pitching their product in London, San Francisco and Estonia. This recognition has expanded their network connections and connected with some of the world’s most influential people in the industry – from TechCrunch editor Mike Butcher to the CEO of Prototron, Siim Lepisk, to several (currently anonymous) partners – all of whom have showed great interest in SprayPrinter.

SprayPrinter V

The CEO of the startup vividly reflects the company’s breakthrough, which took place last September in the BuildIt hardware accelerator programme, the second biggest in Estonia, based in Tartu. “I know from a previous startup experience that accelerators help and knowing the founders of BuildIt myself, if they support your idea then you are in business. But it wasn’t an easy ride. They said they wouldn’t take us.” It took the guys three attempts to get accepted into the programme, and when they finally got in, they didn’t get any funding. Only two weeks into the programme, the team was told their idea was good, the product had potential and BuildIt wanted to invest in it. “Ever since this event our journey has prospered step by step,” Murutar says.

SprayPrinter VII

Now looking back, he describes three highlights – the BuildIt investment, the TechCrunch meetup with Mike Butcher and TechCrunch in San Francisco that really put them on the map. It was the meetup event where the team particularly caught Butcher’s attention, who then granted them the opportunity to pitch in December 2015 at the TechCrunch Disrupt booth in London, where SprayPrinter’s worldwide network saw its limelight. “It was an influential event for us, where we received a lot of strong feedback and awesome contacts, which we still use,” Murutar notes.

Patzig, on the other hand, feels especially strong about the recognition they received in the TechCrunch event in London where “pitching to different people experienced and knowledgeable in the industry, you see how excited and inspired they are by the idea, and inviting us to pitch elsewhere strongly raises our faith. Basically, what we are doing is heading in the right direction”.

SprayPrinter XIIIIn the near future, another investment will be sealed which will further the process of two very expensive developments, “in that the mobile app would work efficiently and the product’s mechanical parts mechatronics would be fixed and economically usable. All of which is a major expense”, Murutar explains. He states that because the technology is so universal it enables the business to widen its opportunities and implement in various business sectors. “My vision is that in five years’ time we will be big in the market, while in 10 years we would have completely changed the production of finished goods.”

The team plans to collaborate with different companies, like Toppan with headquarters in Tokyo, who are partners with Mercedes and Coca-Cola. Murutar adds that they also continue to work with focus groups and designers so as to validate their decisions. “For instance, one last case was when the person testing it, fell for it and bought it. Out of blue we had a card terminal with us to take the pre-payment.”

“It is this way that we can learn how to improve the products. Many interior designers are over the moon about the product. We want to collaborate with them. When the value of SprayPrinters as a business grows, so does our network,” Murutar asserts.

SprayPrinter X

Patzig adds that “spray equals graffiti” in street art, and that spray colours have gained greater recognition as outdoor decoration.

The crew aims to change public perception with a demonstration of spray paint on the facade of their office in Tallinn – let Joala unleash his creativity and use the walls like a playground.

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Pictures courtesy of SprayPrinter.

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