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Estonian business stories around the world

Estonia proves that it’s possible to cut spending and continue to grow

The on-going Eurozone crisis proves all those who highlighted the design flaws of the single currency were right. They said it would be impossible to maintain common competitiveness between disparate economies like Germany and Greece without fiscal transfers. The result would be significant and damaging imbalances. This was not inevitable, but it was always unlikely the Southern European states would achieve the lasting structural reforms required to make it work. So it proved.

The Spanish austerity measures announced yesterday, for example, highlight how the Southern countries are now belatedly undertaking internal devaluation policies to try to restore competitiveness. But the political failure to liberalise during the good years has meant that these are proving excruciatingly painful. The scale of the adjustment required is economically damaging and politically toxic for national governments and the European project.

In this context, it has proven easy for many Keynesian economists to use the example of the Southern European countries to suggest that austerity in the wake of the downturn is always “self-defeating”. We have a “demand problem”, they say, and the public finances and ballooning debts can only be sorted once growth returns.

But curiously, those who propose Keynesian solutions neglect to highlight the examples of the Baltic countries. Estonia, for example, is a clear case-study of a country which has fully embraced austerity within a fixed exchange rate structure.

Tallinn.

The Estonian economy had been growing at an average rate of 8.2 per cent per annum between 2004 and 2007. As with the experience of other Eurozone countries, its open capital account, decreased risk profile and currency board (the precursor to euro entry) facilitated substantial capital inflows, which led to large booms in credit and real estate beyond its fundamentals. It had a current account deficit of around 18 per cent of GDP in 2007, and these huge capital inflows were passed through into domestic loans, causing an explosion of private sector debt and damaging inflation.

When the artificial boom unravelled the results were devastating. A tightening of lending conditions in 2007 by the Nordic banks, followed by the financial crisis, led to credit and exports collapsing. GDP in the first quarter of 2009 was 15.1 per cent lower than a year before.

Faced with shrinking revenues, the IMF forecast Estonia’s budget deficit would be 10 per cent of GDP in 2009 on unchanged policies – which would mean delaying euro entry. Given the scale of the economic challenge facing the government, many were convinced that devaluation of the kroon and traditional Keynesian remedies were required to restore lost output.

But the Estonian government had other ideas. Instead, it cut its spending drastically, explaining to the Estonian people that the surging revenue growth of the previous years had been driven by illusory prosperity. Total spending was cut by 10 per cent in just two years, with operational expenditures in the public sector taking the biggest hit. Civil servants and ministerial salaries were slashed. VAT was increased from 18 per cent to 20 per cent, but the country maintained its flat tax at 21 per cent.

This did, of course, come at a large short-term price. From peak to trough output fell by 17.4 per cent, and unemployment spiked at 19 per cent in 2010. But since then, unemployment has fallen back quickly to just over 10 per cent today, and the economy grew by 3.3 per cent in 2010, 8.3 per cent in 2011, and is forecast to grow by 1.6 per cent in 2012 and 3.8 per cent in 2013. The budget was back in surplus by 2011. Public debt as a proportion of GDP is just 6 per cent and the current account deficits have been quickly reversed.

Of course, the country has challenges. But Estonia proves that a turnaround through swift, sharp austerity is possible for a country provided it has stable pre-existing conditions, or is willing to undertake radical supply-side reform alongside curbing spending. It’s these conditions that are wrong in southern European countries, which have excessive borrowing, unsustainable welfare states, high debt burdens, unreformed and illiberal labour markets, excessive and burdensome regulation and dysfunctional banking sectors. Reform on these fronts is just as important as reining in spending.

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The article was first published by London’s City A.M. newspaper.

Photos: VisitEstonia.

Intellectual property world is our oyster: meet Taavi Raidma, co-founder and CEO of the UK based CrowdIPR

When Taavi Raidma (27) was 10 years old, he was dreaming to set up his own bank, together with his brother. Perhaps it was just a bit too early to start his own business – after he had persuaded his grandparents to become their first clients, his parents put a stop for further expansion plans. But fast forward 17 years and he is the co-founder and CEO of the UK based firm CrowdIPR (Crowd Intellectual Property Research) and the company is truly expanding – not in a courtyard anymore, but around the globe. It was worth to have a dream.

While still at high school in Tartu, Estonia, Raidma was already eager to travel and see the world (to date he has travelled or lived in over 30 countries) and he managed to become an exchange student in the US via United World Colleges. Raidma spent 2 years in New Mexico where his international network of friends first started to take shape – 84 nationalities were represented. From then on he rolled onto Wheaton College (Massachusetts, US), where he studied Economics & Management. While there, Taavi set up an investors club and his final year diploma topic was about microloans in South African Republic. In the process he researched how small loans (about 50 euros per 6 months) would able to encourage entrepreneurship and lift poverty in Africa. His interest in the subject continued when he worked for a non-profit organisation in Ghana, dealing with poverty issues. Raidma earned his MSc in Local Economic Development from the London School of Economics. Various stints as a business consultant for different companies in Estonia followed, including setting up a marketing company called Meedium Marketing, which is still a viable company on its own right.

In 2011 Taavi Raidma was working as a consultant for universities and start-ups in Estonia. While developing IP (intellectual property) strategies for universities with a commissioner of patents, they realised that the IP world is actually quite messy – there was a room for an improvement. Crowdsourcing seemed like a good solution: what if there was a global online community of technology and intellectual property experts who would give their feedback on new projects, to find out whether it is innovative, or not. Cheaper and simpler system, in other words. The first business model was prepared within a week. An early investment from the UK was found.Thus a firm called CrowdIPR (Crowd Intellectual Property Research) was born. Three months later it had its first paying client.

CrowdIPR connects technology experts with companies in need of a quick and high-quality patent and technology search. Businesses or universities who have come up with a new idea or product can sign up to CrowdIPR, and conduct patent research directly through the platform. CrowdIPR’s global base of over 2000 researchers from all around the world can then provide information about similar products that already exist, in the form of patent documents or academic research. Patent researchers have different backgrounds and experiences, such as graduate students, patent professionals, and law professors – but typically they’re all academically qualified to a high standard and are specialists in a chosen field, be it engineering or computing.

Each project reply can be commented on and rated, with the researchers providing the most relevant references and users giving the most valuable feedback being rewarded with cash. Taavi Raidma’s partner in the business is Taavet Kikas who is the IT-brain and data miner behind CrowdIPR. He has worked out the smart algorithms that help them to determine which researchers are the key contributors behind each research project. These clever algorithms also evaluate the relative strength and value of submitted patents, suggest other similar documents and provide an automatic competence score on experts.

CrowdIPR is using a freemium model (a business model by which a product or service – typically a digital offering such as software, media, games or web services – is provided free of charge, but a premium is charged for advanced features or functionality). Those looking to use the site for intellectual property research – also called ‘prior art’ research – can sign up to the Basic package for free, which offers up to 30 references, or the Professional option, which includes unlimited references, ratings data and web and phone support. This model makes it accessible for start-ups and university research groups who have a very little money to spare for gathering information.

And where’s the  profit for CrowdIPR? They charge 3-30% transaction fee from each project. To date they have looked after 55 projects, mainly from the UK, Estonia, Russia. They are now planning to introduce a new “Marketplace” premium service – the idea is that IP research companies or experts can make a bid to various projects on CrowdIPR plarform – and then the client will pick up a suitable one to work with.

CrowdIPR moved to the UK in 2011, first to Newcastle which is a growing tech hub in the north-east of England, and now has also got offices in London and Tallinn. Why UK and not Estonia? Taavi says that even though they are an online firm, face-to-face meetings with potential and existing clients are still very much a reality. Large number of CrowdIPR clients are based in the UK, such as universities, technology firms, and law firms – hence the location. The fact that the team is from Estonia, has certainly not caused any obstructions though, neither in Silicon Valley or London – many people chuckle when they hear that another tech firm is representing what is known as #estonianmafia. Besides, potential clients are normally won over by the professional product that they have created.

Raidma thinks that there are quite a few reasons why Estonian start-up scene has received such a boost in last couple of years. In his opinion it’s a great advantage that Estonia is small – her start-up scene is a close-knit community, keen and open to share their knowledge, experience and network with others, creating a dynamic and boosting spirit. Also, he does not buy an idea that Estonians don’t co-operate while abroad – vice versa, he thinks that at least in the case of business start-up community the opposite is true. While having his office and working in a Google Campus in London, he has already become accustomed of meeting another bustling Estonian entrepreneur or start-upper there by chance. When thinking of going international, the size of Estonia contributes again – the home market is just too small for many innovative products or services to become viable, hence the global push. A certain global hype around Estonian technology and start-up scene, which started to snowball by Skype-effect, also helps. But just like ERPLY’s founder Kris Hiiemaa, Taavi Raidma also thinks that aspiring Estonian start-up firms should be quicker to snatch this positive hype for their advantage, and use every opportunity – especially on fundraising, now – because it might not last forever.

What about future? Raidma’s firm has in the past received a £100 000 ($160 000) funding from Northstar Ventures and IP Group, both UK-based venture capital firms. Although not profitable yet, Taavi is confident that a bright future waits for his venture: apparently the technology and patent research market is worth a whopping $4,5 bn a year. Raidma says that in the past twenty years the fight over intellectual property has really intensified – to a full blown battlefield, as we recently saw in Apple vs. Samsung case, for example. Although he is not impressed with the ongoing patent war between those technology giants, he also thinks that it will make more people aware of the intellectual property issues, and therefore will potentially expand CrowdIPR’s opportunities – with a change in the market, there’s a growing need for new and innovative ways for gathering and analyzing IP data. Their future plans also include setting up a base in the US, as well as in India – apparently about 50% of the IP research outsourcing originates from the world’s largest democracy.

Taavi Raidma’s ambition for CrowdIPR is to be the leader on IP (Intellectual Property) market. With only handful of competitors with a similar business model, CrowdIPR really seems to have of what it takes.

Lady who created “loungerie” and helps Saudi Arabian women to find their sensuality – meet lingerie designer Kriss Soonik

It’s a nice spring day when I meet Kriss at a stylish café in one of those architecturally inspiring Georgian townhouses in London. She arrives by bicycle, and you could excuse yourself by mistakenly thinking of her as just another beautiful girl dreaming her day away in a bohemian district of Soho. Only that she has just arrived from Berlin and is on her way to New York the very next day. To take part of a fashion show and promote her brand, not to chase butterflies.

From Che Guevara to Chanel

Born in Tallinn, fashion and art was not always her natural choice by default — in fact, she studied languages and business at the Estonian Business School. “I never felt 100% as an artist in a kind of bohemian sense, when I grew up. I always felt a bit entrepreneurial and knew that when the time is right, I would start my own,” says Kriss. Although Kriss rejects any claims for being a creative genius while she was a child, she admittedly always tried new things. ”At one point my mother even christened it a Che Guevara period, because the way I dressed”, laughs Kriss.

She was lucky in a sense that her mother decided to enroll her into one of the best English language schools in Estonia — this was still during a period of communist occupation, when Russian was seen as more important language of the two. This decision provided Kriss with a global language and understanding of Anglo-American culture from early on.

Kriss Soonik

It was during her high school years, when Soonik first started to flirt with a fashion — by chance, as one quite often does in life. Her friend was competing in a womenswear design competition and asked Kriss to help along as an assistant. If this experience didn’t quite yet produce a blossoming Chanel, she nevertheless felt aspired. As she carried on with her own experiments, designing a collection or two, she soon found her niche with a lingerie design.

Somehow it was clear to Kriss from the start that her home market would be too small to experiment with her products — especially as she wasn’t long established fashion designer. Thus, after her business studies Kriss Soonik moved to London — to do a master’s degree at the London College of Fashion. A job for the British lingerie brand Agent Provocateur followed, accumulating invaluable know-how. “There are some things you couldn’t possibly have in Estonia — like for example your tutor mingling with fashion designer Alexander McQueen on a casual basis,” says Kriss.

Loungerie is born

As her subconscious business mind slowly took over her thinking, by the end of 2008 Kriss decided that the time was ripe to connect her two sides — creative and business — and start her own lingerie brand. For her first collection she collaborated with a chic lingerie boutique Glamorous Amorous — and despite a beginning of the recession it sold out very quickly. Already with her first collection, she gave the “underwear as outerwear” concept a fresh and modern twist. When the traditional approach has been about corsets as evening wear, Kriss started a new wave — wearing velour gowns to a chic Sunday brunch, for example. In line with her styling, in 2009 the term “loungerie” was born — hence the brand name Kriss Soonik Loungerie. She has actually been credited by some fashion magazines, as one of the creators of the term — and indeed, Kriss belongs to the creative fashion designers group called The Lingerie Collective.

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Soonik describes “loungerie” as such: ”Loungerie is a luxurious loungewear at its freshest, blurring the boundaries with fashion. It’s not cute and sweet — rather, it’s sexy and powerful. It is loungewear with an edge. It has also got a bit of sexy cheekiness on it.”

Bringing sensuality to Saudi Arabia

Kriss Soonik Loungerie is now represented in 15 countries — from Italy to Holland and UK to US — and including, rather surprisingly, Saudi Arabia. “Well, Saudi Arabian women want to feel sensual too and I guess that the country is slowly becoming a bit modern now,” says Kriss with a smile.

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Over the years she’s taken inspiration from Manga comics, superheroines and cult film figures to challenge the traditional attitudes associated with lingerie and loungewear. All of her designs are finished with the trademark cat or beautifully plump bow in patent leather, satin, silk or perhaps chiffon.

Although Kriss Soonik admits that the fashion journalists can be “a bit bitchy sometimes”, she has again had her fair share of luck — her creations have been featured on both Vogue and Elle. And what about the celebrity fans? “Micha Barton is a confirmed one, but I’m not allowed to disclose you others,” smiles Kriss discreetly.

Kriss does not deny that occasional glamour and travelling aside, it has been a hard work in building up her  brand: “The 3 years I’ve been running the business, I’ve spent most of the time behind my computer. It makes sense with such an international brand but it’s also a bit sad. There are so many inspirational people, things to see and experience. So I decided to change that and introduce “Social Fridays”. Once a month we´ll be working from a cool and inspiring London location – a café, museum, maybe the park when we get extra dose of sun. I might even travel to a city near my clients for a cup of tea and hear their suggestions how to wear our items, what colours they´d like to see in the next collections, or just chat about all things pretty.”

Talents are talents everywhere

And what about Estonia? Now London-based, Kriss thinks that it doesn’t matter where one physically lives in today’s cosmopolitan world — she maintains that she would always be an Estonian, no matter where she chooses to live geographically. Kriss also points out that she stands by having all of her designs produced in her native country, although she sources the materials from across the globe.

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Photos by Kristel Raesaar.

John Mauldin and George Friedman’s take on European crisis

John Mauldin is a leading financial analyst, New York Times best-selling author and a pioneering online commentator. George Friedman is an American political scientist, author and CEO of Stratfor, a private intelligence and forecasting company.

I recently saw a very good video on the European Crisis that gave a really simple overview for the root causes of the crisis. I would like to share the main points of the talk with you.

To start with, it should be said that the two men have a very different perspective on the subject. John is looking Europe from a financial and George from a geopolitical perspective.

John Mauldin states that the problem with Europe is that finance is not the driving force in decision making, politics is. So the world has turned upside down in a way.  John Mauldin: “It is the end of the world as we know it, the operating word being “the way we know it”. And thank God, because that world sucks. Who knows what these politicians are going to do. I can pretty much tell you economically what should happen, but politicians are not economically rational.”

When thinking about different nations and the economics and the structures within these: Italy and the national character of Italians is different than that of the Dutch, which is different than that of the English etc.  We could say that the creation of the monetary union has been dysfunctional to begin with.

John Mauldin and George Friedman both agree that the Europeans have tried to abolish the nations. They have tried to argue with Karl Marx that capital has no country, but it does. Capital can be locked up by a country and in the end it comes to the fact that Spaniards are interested in how Spanish is doing and Germans are interested in how Germany is doing. And it is actually even deeper than that, it is frequently even local. When we think about European crisis we tend to think about the trade flows and financial flows and all of that whereas there is a more fundamental question: the Europeans are trying to bury hundreds of years of history. It seems as they wanted to abolish history but history keeps coming back and biting them.

John Mauldin admits that it is hard to forecast anything because it is a political decision in the end but the economic decision would be to go to a multi-tier Euro. Being economically rational, Germans should know that they would have to write a multi multi trillion € checks to save the Euro they way are trying to do it now.

Europe has got three different problems:

1) Sovereign debt, so there is too much debt

2) The banks have too much debt, so the banks are all technically bankrupt. It is not just Spanish, but French banks as well. But French can not save their banks, because they are three times the size of their GDP.

3) There is a trade imbalance.

It is impossible to solve the problem of Europe without solving all three of those problems. The ECB at the moment is addressing the first two of those problems but are leaving out what is fundamentally the most important problem.

You can see the full video at http://bcove.me/5v3etk12

Hope you got some new insights and thoughts on the ever-hot topic of European crisis.

Pictures from: Picture pictures www.pictures.com

Start-Up Chile is OK. Nothing more.

Start-Up Chile is a program of the Chilean Government to attract world-class early stage entrepreneurs to start their businesses in Chile

Chilean Government gives you up to $40,000 equity-free money (depending on the number of founders) and welcomes you to spend half a year in their country, providing your company a place in a co-working space, a one-year working visa and a local volunteer madrina/padrino to help you survive in the city for the first couple of weeks.

Almost 6 months ago me and my business partner took everything we had and moved to Santiago, the capital of Chile. Now looking back at the time I have spent in Chile, I have to admit – the experience turned out to be quite different from what I expected.

Around 300 companies per year participate in Start-Up Chile. The companies they accept are in very different stages – some have only an idea and they’ve never worked on a start-up before, others have been working on their current products for years. The same is with entrepreneurs – very young and “green” guys versus those who have been working in the industry for years. Plus some who join the program only to travel and hang out for the money.

All entrepreneurs in Start-Up Chile need to do two main things – work hard on their companies and educate local Chileans. Your stake to the society is measured by RVA points. This means every team-member needs to create and manage different events constantly to gather the amount of RVA points needed to get your money. We organized two events – “How to get into top U.S. accelerators” and a meet-up with a Skype co-founder Ahti Heinla.

A lot of Start-Up Chile participants assume that as soon as they land in Santiago, suitcases full of money are waiting for them in the airport. In reality, for a start you will spend every single peso from your own wallet – although you will most likely get it back later. The first reimbursement you are able to get from Start-Up Chile, is 2-3 months after you arrived. To start submitting invoices, paying salaries, contracting freelancers etc. you need to:

1)      Get your Chilean ID (takes about 2-3 weeks)

2)      Get a local bank account

3)      Get your company registered in an existing office space in Chile

4)      Go to SII and register yourself as an entrepreneur (this needs to be done to get your salary from Start-Up   Chile)

All this bureaucracy takes time – a lot. Not to mention that you need to find yourself an apartment, which itself is a real hassle – all 300 startups arriving in the center of Santiago and wanting to live near the office means that very few good apartments are left.

I think Start-Up Chile fills it’s main goal. Which is getting as many entrepreneurs to the country as possible.

I think it fails hard on using all this talent. There are least 600 young people moving to the country every year, many of them have great connections, big visions and super talented teams to build stuff that sells.

I don’t consider Start-Up Chile as a startup accelerator because next to money it provides a very little additional boost, if all. There aren’t any mentors, advisors and useful events organized by Start-Up Chile. Every interesting or useful event I have attended and advice I have got, has been managed by the participants. Which is cool – people do great stuff and network. But all this time and effort comes from building our own “next billion dollar” companies.

Our team members have experiences of three awesome accelerator programs – AngelPad, TechStars and Haxlr8r. This is why I think Start-Up Chile is not a startup accelerator, it’s rather an educational program for Chilean people. Or let’s say – a summer camp for entrepreneurs.

I believe companies with the following would get the most out of Start-Up Chile:

– Your market is in Latin America
– You want to co-operate or get in touch with large Latin American companies
– You want to put most of the effort on marketing and sales
– You don’t expect to meet top notch experienced advisors and investors
– You don’t plan to raise money after finishing the program
– You want to network with other entrepreneurs

What knocked me out:

– The program has very few connections with U.S. accelerators and investors

– Getting all the paperwork done to get the money at all, is a huge hassle. We spent over 100 working hours only on that part.

– The expectations for your company (from Start-Up Chile) are quite low

– Start-Up Chile entrepreneurs themselves do the main selection of companies getting into the next round

– Entrepreneurs don’t have relevant advisors and mentors provided by Start-Up Chile

– The office spaces don’t have decent lighting and it’s not safe – you can’t leave your stuff on the table even for 5 minutes, or otherwise it might get stolen

– Demo Day was in Spanish. Not to mention, most of the entrepreneurs didn’t speak Spanish.

I met some awesome entrepreneurs in Start-Up Chile. That’s mostly it.

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Estonian mentor-led start-up accelerator Startup Wise Guys completes its first program

The new Estonian accelerator program Startup Wise Guys, backed by the Estonian government-owned Estonian Development Fund and 11 Estonian angel investors, has completed its first developing program of whipping up some serious startups.

Its working model is similar to UK based Springboard, which through its program provides small seed capital and the magical ingredient of smart advice from mentors and other entrepreneurs. Startup Wise Guys is backed up by a roster of more than 60 mentors – home grown and international, and many of them seasoned start-up entrepreneurs. Springboard co-founder Jon Bradford is also involved.

Appropriately for the 21st century, it’s not all about “guys” anymore – Elise Sass is the startup “wise girl”, community manager at the Startup Wise Guys. Elise kindly shed some light on the program for us: “We received over 200 applications from all around the Europe and shortlisted 8 teams – from Germany, Ukraine, Netherlands, UK, Croatia, and Estonia. The program started in April and included three steps: shaping (3 weeks), building (4 weeks) and selling (3 weeks), supported by Wise Guys mentors. It culminated with investor days in Tallinn and London. There was a slight skepticism in London first but as we co-operated with Springboard and presented our teams on a same day as theirs, there was a good comparison moment and the feedback we received by the end of the day was very positive – according to potential investors and visitors our teams presented excellent and were comparable with London grown teams. I would also like to underline the fact that this was our first program, so there’s an opportunity to do better.”

Psychology graduate Elise, who also holds master’s degree in interactive media and knowledge environments, is in a way a typical of new generation of cosmopolitan Estonians – not confined within the borders of a small nation but eager to explore the world, take up new opportunities and make their mark. Her very own start-up experience started five years ago at United Dogs & Cats, Estonian website for dogs and cats “community”. From there on she got involved with Garage48 – an early stage start-up boot-camp and hackathon style event series, which started in Estonia and now organises events in many countries, including Africa – their idea is to build new web and mobile services/prototypes in just 48 hours. As the event organiser for Garage48, Elise has taken stints in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda, among others. Occasional social media expert post at a New York based real estate agency also occurred last year.

It was the Startup Wise Guys program which brought her firmly back to Estonia, at least for now. “Last autumn, before flying to South Africa through Estonia, I had a conversation with Jon Bradford (Springboard) and he reckoned that I would be suitable person to lead a start-up accelerator program here in Estonia. So I packed my bags in New York and flew back, because I saw a challenge in helping to develop Estonian start-up culture further. Together with the rest of our team we came up with the name – although “wise guys” has sometimes got a negative connotation, we are emphasising on the word wise – the ability to make good judgments, based on a deep understanding and experience. And this understanding and experience exchange should work both ways – between the qualifying teams and our mentors.” Startup Wise Guys provides a seed capital of up to 15,000 euros per team in return for the 8% equity but according to Elise Sass it’s the experience and advice which counts:”The teams have got a fine opportunity to meet experienced start-up mentors and investors during the 3 months program – for free. It’s up to the teams to take an advantage of this opportunity – luckily in most cases they seem to take it.” Elise runs the program together with Mike Reiner, a Dutch who moved to Estonia in January and has IBM and start-up background. “The team is excellent, and it makes us strong to provide support system for the start-ups – to get additional people and advice that they need”.

Startup Wise Guys application process runs in September-October and next accelerator program will start in January 2013. In future they are also hoping to attract more start-up firms from Russia and other eastern countries to participate – as the start-up culture in St. Petersburg and Moscow is on the rise. They are also hoping to tighten the relations between possible investors and the accelerator program. Elise is sure that the next batch of Startup Wise Guys accelerator program will give even more positive surprises.

Ivo Aulik leads another Estonian success story in London’s Canary Wharf

In less than five years, Ivo Aulik has built up one of the most successful minicab firms in London’s prosperous Canary Wharf business district, favourably rated by local corporations and hotels alike. His company is called Carrot Cars and although its cars are not sharing their colour with a vitamin rich vegetable, they offer sharp and highly sophisticated service otherwise.

Their call centre is using latest state-of-the-art technology to constantly track the movements of “carrot cabs”, and is therefore able to offer their clients precise timeline, from call out to driving from A to B.

Ivo Aulik is typical of a new breed of cosmopolitan Estonians, who left the country after the fall of Iron Curtain, and is making the best of it. After starting in the UK at the hospitality business, he quickly worked his way up, and first experiences in entrepreneurship soon followed. Using latest IT solutions and state-of-the–art technology is just another part of being a “typical Estonian” – birth country of Skype.

Ivo says that he was always confident that his taxi business would be a success. “It’s not a rocket science. Give a good service, control your business and make sure the drivers are not overcharging or doing anything improper. Working in the industry we saw the mini cab sector is failing in customer service and we thought that was something we could provide. I think we are now the biggest firm in both fleet and business in the area.”

Ivo has found that the most difficult area is hiring suitable staff. The average recruitment campaign sees him and his business partner speak to 50 applicants and inviting five for interview. Three make it through to the training programme and two would be taken on. “We have to be very selective. We need drivers with big smiles because they are the ones who earn the company its reputation.”

Ivo does not feel that his nationality plays any part when it comes to deal with business partners or employees: “London is a cosmopolitan city, there’s no sense here that you are a stranger.”

Chef Andrey Lesment runs the first Estonian-owned restaurant in London, UK

Andrey, who started his career in Sweden and Denmark, has been London based for the past 15 years. He has honed his skills at the Savoy Hotel, as well as working for Gordon Ramsay at Maze in the past. Having had a clear destination in mind, he worked towards his goal of opening up his own restaurant and managed this at the beginning of 2011. Verru, as his elegant 26-seat restaurant is called, is situated in the affluent area of Marylebone. Lesment’s menu reflects his background and influences from the Baltic and Scandinavian cuisine, yet he claims to have learned most of his cooking skills at the French influenced top restaurants of London. “The Estonian influence is in the nuances, mostly in the pure and organic ingredients”, says Andrey.

His cooking book of fusion Scandinavian-Estonian-French recipes is apparently also on the agenda.

 

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