Chasing Unicorns: A hilarious new movie about Estonian entrepreneurs taking on the world

Estonia’s startup community is already famous around the world, not least for producing four “unicorn” startups valued at more than USD1 billion; now, though, Estonia’s startup community has finally made it to the big screen.

“Chasing Unicorns” (“Ükssarvik” in Estonian) is a hilarious new movie told from the perspective of Õie, a young woman from rural Estonia who stumbles into the Tallinn startup scene before trying to take on the world with her own tech company.

The movie was shot in the summer of 2018 in Estonia and California with many of the scenes taking place at Telliskivi, Tallinn’s creative hub. Just like in the movie, the production of “Chasing Unicorns” was financed through several rounds of investment that was supported by a wide range of Estonian entrepreneurs.

Fictionalised versions of real people and places

The director, Rain Rannu, is himself an Estonian entrepreneur (he founded a successful mobile payment company, Fortumo) turned filmmaker and the movie is based on the real experiences of more than 30 Estonian entrepreneurs whose real-life stories overlap with Õie’s fictional journey.

A scene from “Chasing Unicorns”.

Most of the characters and locations are slightly fictionalised versions of real people and places in Estonia. Õie partners with a seemingly hopeless entrepreneur whose circumstances are similar to Ragnar Sass who, in real life, was pilloried in the Estonian press for his startup failure before going on to found one of Estonia’s most successful startups, Pipedrive.

In one memorable scene, the entrepreneurs are pitching their startup, “Bikedrive”, while inside a sauna. This is based on a real event that happened at Pipedrive when potential investors were taken to an Estonian smoke sauna. Sass’s dog, Riki, also features in the movie playing the same startup role he performs in real life at Pipedrive, which is “Chief Happiness Officer”.

A scene on “Chasing Unicorns”. Courtesy of Ragnar Sass.

There is one other character playing themselves in the movie. The former Estonian prime minister, Taavi Rõivas, who oversaw much of the development of Estonia as a startup hub, makes an amusing appearance as a customer service agent trying to work his way up from the bottom of the startup world after leaving politics.

Inspiring more people to pursue their business ideas

The movie hopes to inspire more people to pursue their business ideas – hence, 5,000 digital copies will be donated to high school students in Estonia and elsewhere around the world. The producers have also pledged to make the movie free to any school, teacher or student that wants to use it as a learning aid.

However, “Chasing Unicorns” also isn’t afraid to heavily poke fun at startup entrepreneurs and highlight the less than glamorous realities they face. In one scene, Õie and her business partner are explaining their company to older relatives in the countryside – loosely based on the circumstances in which Taxify (now branded as Bolt) was born – and the entrepreneurs have to explain that they don’t make money because they are “a pre-revenue company”. “So that’s something now, is it?” the sceptical father responds.

For Rain Rannu, it’s his second movie to produce. His production company, Tallifornia, previously made “Chasing Ponies”, a similarly styled movie about another type of work that is familiar to many Estonians – selling books door to door in the US.

“Chasing Unicorns” premiered in Tallinn on 11 September and the movie officially reaches the Estonian cinema screens on 13 September. Most of the movie is in Estonian, but there is a version with English subtitles where needed, which is being shown at Coca-Cola Plaza in Tallinn.

There are also plans to distribute the movie internationally soon.

This is a lightly edited version of the article originally published by Adam Rang in Medium. You can follow Adam’s take on Estonian sauna culture also on InstagramFacebook or Twitter.

Cover: A promotional shot of “Chasing Unicorns”.