Two Estonian-founded startups among the world’s unicorns

Two Estonian-founded companies – one based in Tallinn and the other one in London – are among the 403 startups with a valuation over USD1 billion.

A unicorn startup or unicorn company is a private company with a valuation over USD1 billion. In a list compiled by CB Insights, a New York City-based research firm, two Estonian-founded startups have made the cut – the London-based TransferWise and the Tallinn-based Bolt.

TransferWise, an online money transfer firm, founded by Kristo Käärmann and Taavet Hinrikus, is valued at USD3.5 billion. The transportation company Bolt, formerly known as Taxify, run by brothers Markus and Martin Villig, is valued at USD1 billion.

The list of 403 unicorns is heavily dominated by the US (201) and Chinese (98) companies. Also standing out for the number of unicorns are the UK (21 – includes the UK-registered TransferWise), India (19), Germany (11), South Korea (9), Israel (5), Switzerland (5) and France (5). But, for example, Japan has just three unicorns and Italy, not long ago a manufacturing powerhouse, has none. Estonia (Bolt), Luxembourg (OCSiAl) and Malta (Vista Global) are the only countries with a population less than five million that are bases for unicorns.

Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann.

TransferWise was launched in London in early 2011 by Estonians Taavet Hinrikus, the first employee of Skype; and Kristo Käärmann. The company started with making transfers between the UK pound and the euro but expanded its services with other currencies over the years. The company became profitable in 2017 and currently has over 1,000 staff in offices around the world.

Bolt (launched as Taxify) was founded in Tallinn back in 2013 by then 19-year-old student Markus Villig, who was frustrated by the waiting time and expense of taxis in the Estonian capital – especially in the weekend nights when returning from a night out. He launched a mobile app that allows people to request a taxi or private driver from their smartphone. The app also shows the price and waiting time. The company later also expanded into electric scooters and food delivery services. Following an international expansion, Bolt currently operates in over 30 countries and in more than 150 cities around the world.

Cover: Bolt’s cofounders, the brothers Martin and Markus Villig.