Estonian startups

Estonian-founded cybersecurity startup RangeForce raises USD1.5M in seed funding

RangeForce, an Estonia and New York-based startup, has raised USD1.5 million in seed funding for cybersecurity simulation-based learning platform.

The Estonian-founded startup raised the funding from Paladin Capital Group, with participation from Trind Ventures.

RangeForce helps companies deal with their cybersecurity and information security vulnerabilities by training their security specialists and IT professionals to learn the latest and most effective skills in cyber siege warfare to anticipate and fend off attacks on business-critical assets. The company said in a statement that the cash injection will be used to recruit additional talent to expand the product platform.

The company’s learning platform provides a progression of realistic cyber siege scenarios to train and assess technical teams’ decision-making and security skills over the entire spectrum of threat lifecycle management operations. RangeForce’s performance-based skills measurement analytics engine provides continuous evidence that teams are prepared against cybersecurity threats.

Nurturing cyber talent

“One-size-fits-all classroom training models are obsolete, because they don’t provide actionable skills required to hold threats at bay,” Taavi Must, the CEO and a co-founder of RangeForce, said in a statement. “Our problem-based learning approach provides enterprise IT and cybersecurity teams with tangible defensive cyber warfare experience. Cloud-based simulation training in a real-time setting has shown to be the most effective cybersecurity training method at scale.”

He added that finding skilled cybersecurity staff is only getting harder by the day and his company’s performance-based testing system supports security and tech leaders in recognising and nurturing their cyber talent. “We aim to become the industry standard to assess the most important element of cybersecurity readiness – human skill level.”

RangeForce said it already had a global customer base across the financial, technology and health-care sectors; the clients include Microsoft, Barclays, Santander and Pipedrive.

The company was founded in 2015 by Taavi Must, Jaanus Kink and Margus Ernits who had a combined expertise in cybersecurity and enterprise software development.

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Cover: RangeForce’s team.

Estonian-founded TransferWise is now the most valuable fintech startup in Europe

The Estonian-founded money transfer startup, TransferWise, is now the most valuable fintech startup in Europe after a new investment round that values the company at USD3.5 billion.

The Estonian-founded, London-based company, raised USD292 in a round of funding, giving it a valuation of 3.5 billion US dollars. To date, the company has raised USD689 million in venture funding.

The USD3.5 billion valuation is more than double the company achieved in late 2017 at the time of its USD280 million Series E round.

The new secondly funding – with no new cash entering TransferWise’s balance sheet as a number of existing shareholders sell all or a portion of their holding – was led by growth capital investors Lead Edge Capital, Lone Pine Capital and Vitruvian Partners.

Existing investors Andreessen Horowitz and Baillie Gifford expanded their holdings in TransferWise, while investment was also provided from funds managed by BlackRock.

Earning a profit

According to the media, the company earned a net profit of USD7.9 million in the fiscal year ending in March 2018 and its annual revenue almost doubled to USD148 million. According to the company, it is signing up 10,000 new business customers a month and now has five million total customers, processing over USD5 billion in monthly transactions.

TransferWise was founded by Estonians Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann in 2011, and it’s based in London, the UK. It currently has more than 1,600 employees worldwide.

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Cover: Kristo Käärmann and Taavet Hinrikus, the founders of TransferWise.

Latitude59 tech conference in Tallinn to feature 250 investors and over 700 startup entrepreneurs

The Estonian tech and startup conference, Latitude59, is to take place from 16-17 May and is expected to be visited by 2,500 people.

The event, taking place at the Kultuurikatel event space in Tallinn, Estonia, will present a programme covering different topics – startups, digital governance, sustainable business development, innovation in education as well as smart cities.

Among the speakers are entrepreneurs, scientists and professionals from around the world. They include Morten Lund, a Danish entrepreneur who has founded or co-invested in more than 100 high-tech start-ups in the last 15 years; Péter Halácsy, co-founder and CTO of the Prezi presentation software company; Fleur Pellerin, a French businesswoman, former civil servant and a socialist politician who served as French government minister from 2012 to 2016; the Finnish entrepreneur, Peter Vesterbacka, and many others.

In addition to the conference programme, Latitude59 will also feature a pitch competition for early-stage startups, an investor-startup matchmaking and a demo area for the region’s early and seed stage startups.

Latitude59 is the largest annual tech and startup event in Estonia, held for the 12th consecutive year in 2019.

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Cover: Participants at Latitude59 in 2018.

Bolt and Pipedrive listed in the FT 1000 Europe’s fastest-growing companies

Estonian companies Bolt and Pipedrive have made it to the Financial Times third annual list of a thousand fastest-growing European companies.

On the third place in the list is the Estonian ridesharing company Taxify, now known as Bolt, with the absolute revenue growth of 12,231% between 2014 and 2017.

Bolt, launched by Estonian startup entrepreneurs Markus and Martin Villig in 2013, has to date raised US$175 million to fuel its expansion across Europe and Africa. It has most recently launched its services in Finland, Sweden and Croatia, while the company already has more than 25 million customers in more than 30 countries.

Ranked 168th is the Estonian CRM and sales software startup Pipedrive, with the absolute revenue growth of 775%.

Pipedrive is a cloud-based sales software company with offices in Tallinn and Tartu, Estonia; New York City, New York; Lisbon, Portugal and London, United Kingdom. It is the maker of the web application and mobile app Pipedrive, a sales customer relationship management tool for salespeople in scaling companies. The company, founded in 2010, has over 85,000 clients in 170 countries.

None of the Estonian companies listed this year were featured in the list in the two previous years.

The fastest-growing company in Europe in 2019 is a UK-based point-of-sale car finance company called Blue Motor Finance. Its absolute revenue growth between 2014 and 2017 was a whopping 51,364%. The British food delivery startup, Deliveroo, that topped the list in 2018, was pushed to the second place.

London remains the top city for headquarters

According to the Financial Times, the FT 1000 continues to be dominated by the technology sector, which accounts for 149 of the businesses, and that is without counting the fintech and ecommerce categories. “Again, Germany has the lion’s share of company headquarters at 230, while London remains the top city, with 63 businesses based there – down from last year’s 74,” the newspaper says.

The FT points out that Europe’s growth companies have big challenges ahead: “from the potential disruption of Brexit to the end of the era of easy money”, but the 2019 FT 1000 ranking “suggests that there are still many routes to increasing revenues at a rapid pace”.

The FT 1000, compiled with Statista, lists the European companies that achieved the highest compound annual growth rate in revenue between 2014 and 2017. “The hurdle to securing a place was a little higher this year: the bottom-ranked company achieved a growth rate of 37.7 per cent, compared with 34.6 per cent last year.”

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Cover: Pipedrive’s office in Tallinn (the image is illustrative).

Estonian transportation startup Bolt launches in Russia

The Tallinn-based transportation platform, Bolt, formerly known as Taxify, started operations in Russia on 18 April by launching its ride-hailing services in the country’s second-largest city, St Petersburg.

Bolt will offer competition in a market dominated by the Russia-based company, Yandex.Taxi.

“Russia is a rapidly growing on-demand transportation marketplace. Bolt’s launch in St Petersburg will bring more choice to both customers and drivers,” Jevgeni Beloussov, the head of Central and Eastern Europe at Bolt, said in a statement.

Bolt, launched by Estonian startup entrepreneurs Markus and Martin Villig as Taxify in 2013, has to date raised US$175 million to fuel its expansion across Europe and Africa. It has most recently launched its services in Finland, Sweden and Croatia, while the company already has more than 25 million customers in more than 30 countries. Bolt has also rolled out an electric kick scooter service in Paris and Madrid and announced plans to launch a food delivery service across its core markets.

St Petersburg is home to five million people and is the fourth-largest city in Europe, after Istanbul, Moscow and London. In 2018, it hosted more than eight million tourists.

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Cover: View from the Colonnade, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Saint Petersburg (the image is illustrative/Wikimedia).

Estonian delivery startup Starship is rolling into university campuses

The Estonian delivery startup, Starship Technologies, is rolling into university campuses with its delivery robots, having launched at Northern Arizona University recently.

Starship, together with Sodexo, a provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services, launched the delivery robots at the end of March with Einstein Bros Bagels and five other campus restaurants, the company said in a statement,

Starship and Sodexo say that an extra 1,500 breakfast orders have been delivered autonomously since the two companies joined forces to debut the Starship delivery robots on the campus of George Mason University at the end of January. This follows a similar pattern seen at corporate campuses where delivery robots were added.

Northern Arizona University’s nearly 25,000 students and faculty can now use the Starship app to order food and drinks from local retailers to be delivered anywhere on campus, within minutes. Each on-demand delivery costs just $1.99 and also works in conjunction with the student meal plan. Other participating on-campus retailers include national chain Star Ginger, as well as restaurants Cobrizo Mexican Grill, Turnip the Greens, G’s NY Style Deli, and the Wedge Market and Pizza.

First time in Arizona

This also marks one of the first times that sidewalk delivery robots are operating in Arizona. The state is one of seven that have approved the operation of delivery robots.

Starship operates commercially on a daily basis around the world and its robots have traveled over 150,000 miles.

Sodexo is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 72 countries; it’s a provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organisational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily.

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Cover: A Starship robot.

Estonian ride-sharing company Bolt awarded as the best young-led startup

At the Startup Europe Awards ceremony, held in Romania, the Estonian ride-sharing company Bolt was awarded as the best young-led startup in Europe.

At the awards ceremony in late March, the European Commission and the Finnova Foundation awarded five significant startups in Europe for their social impact. Bolt – formerly known as Taxify – was awarded the best young-led startup.

The ceremony was chaired by the European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel, together with the mayor of Cluj-Napoca, Emil Boc, and the minister of communication and information society of Romania, Alexandru Petrescu, the company said in a statement.

The most outstanding startups from the EU and neighbouring countries were chosen out of 70 applicants through an open call for a special edition focused on social impact.

The honoured startups were:

OKRA Technologies (female-led startup) from the UK

Bolt (the founder under 30 startup) from Estonia

NorthQ (a UN sustainable development goals startup) from Denmark

Kidibot (a social inclusion startup) from Romania

Mama Organa (a job growth startup) from North Macedonia

Bolt was founded as Taxify in 2013 in Estonia by Markus and Martin Villig. By today, the company is operating in 30 cities in the world, including Paris, Cape Town, and cities in Canada and Australia.

In 2018, the German automotive corporation, Daimler AG, acquired 10% of the company for over €100 million, making the market capitalisation of the startup over €1 billion.

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Cover: Bolt driver and passenger (the image is illustrative).

Estonia: a springboard for global startups and AI applications

Artificial intelligence is taking the world by storm; Triin Mahlakõiv analyses where Estonia stands in the AI ecosystem and whether the Estonian businesses are ready for AI.

We know tech giants like Amazon, Baidu, Facebook and Google have AI advantages like collecting enormous amounts of data, access to top talent, huge investments in research and development, over smaller companies. However, the possibilities offered by AI are not reserved only for the largest companies and biggest economies.

Estonia is looking for ways how to attract international talent and investments; and on the other hand, its small size with limited resources requires the public administration and government to work efficiently. No wonder that in Estonia, both the government and companies have noticed the potential of AI technologies to solve these current demographic and economic challenges, as the impact of AI on GDP in the Nordics alone is expected to be considerable: 9.9% of GDP (1.8 trillion).

Where does Estonia stand today in terms of AI readiness?

There is a large spread of AI readiness in Europe, but even the most advanced countries are lagging the US in AI frontier. Yet, Europe’s ability to capture the full potential of AI varies significantly among countries. According to the mapping of Europe’s AI ecosystem, four countries stand out as dominant players  –  UK, France, Germany and Spain  –  and are known to have most vibrant and mature AI landscapes in Europe.

According to a study by Roland Berger and France Digitale, Estonia has excellent prerequisites for benefiting from the application of artificial intelligence and is becoming influential AI player in Europe.

Whereas EU leaders of AI application are home to 67% of AI startups, Estonia with other Nordic and Baltic countries shows density dynamism – ie high number of startups per population size.

Compared with dominant players and other governments working on their AI strategies, Estonia sees its strength as an AI implementation leader for startups and AI applications.

For example, by 2020, the Estonian government is aiming to have launched 50 different AI applications in public services and the country’s most well-known scaleups (Taxify, TransferWise, Pipedrive) as well as early stage AI-powered startups (Sixfold, AlphaBlues, Feelingstream) have turned to data and machine learning to maximise their product delivery.

At the same time, Estonia doesn’t let the AI frenzy and need to speedy implementation of AI compromise data privacy and safety. Estonia plans to keep AI applications safe for its people and for the protection of private data. Estonia wishes to be the place where AI applications are developed in accordance with privacy and safety requirements.

The era of AI implementation

In his book, “AI Superpowers”, technologist Kai-Fu Lee argues that “Much of the difficult but abstract work of AI research has been done, and it’s now time for entrepreneurs to roll up their sleeves and get down to the dirty work of turning algorithms into sustainable businesses”.

Which Estonian companies are riding on the implementation wave right now?

But first you might ask, what makes a startup into an “AI startup”. For this article’s purposes, we call both producers and users of artificial intelligence as “AI startups”. It’s hard to calculate the total number of startups and companies in Estonia as AI is not a single technology but consists of various elements.

We’ll examine 13 examples of AI-powered companies from early stage startups to mature scale-ups and bring out a few government AI applications that are using data and machine learning to either reshape product, automate and, on the other hand, bring out some more transformative companies who have created new business models with data.

Starship Technologies

Starship built the world’s first package delivery robot that is ready to serve you anytime, anywhere.

Starship robots are advanced devices that can carry items within a three-kilometre (two-mile) radius. Its delivery platform will launch a new era of instant, unscheduled delivery while significantly lowering the costs of shipments.

To make the robots as safe and autonomous as possible, the robots must understand where they are and what’s going on in the surrounding world –  humans, cars, bicyclists, obstacles –  and predict what will happen next. To make that happen, Starship built a software that processes inputs from cameras, radars and other sensors to driving decisions in real time. They also analyse historical data to understand specifically how they can improve the robot even further.

Taxify

The Estonian-born Taxify (rebranded as Bolt as of 7 March 2019 –  editor) has become the world’s fastest growing unicorn with over 15 million passengers in more than 25 countries.

Taxify uses data and cutting-edge technology to understand how millions of people move around cities and utilise this insight to improve urban transport. This means close to a billion peak requests, tens of terabytes of data, billions of coordinates. The company develops real-time machine learning improving the product, operations and decision making  –  for example predicting drive durations, pricing the rides, optimising marketing campaigns etc.

Data science and machine learning help Taxify predict passengers’ demand to have the right amount of vehicles available at any time at any place, calculate the price up front and improve the efficiency by helping riders find optimal pickup locations based on millions of previously completed trips in the city and then generating the best routes for drivers to reach those points based on a dynamic, weighted city graph. These are just some of the examples of their data-driven solutions.

TransferWise

TransferWise is a financial company for people and businesses that travel, live and work internationally. It claims to be the fairest, easiest way to manage your money across borders.

TransferWise customers transfer more than £3 billion every month, where each transfer is instantly scored by multiple machine learning models. Machine learning is used in many domains throughout its business. Examples include detecting fraudulent behaviour and money laundering attempts, optimising business processes to reduce costs and predicting all kinds of customer behaviour to fuel company’s growth.

Veriff

Veriff is online identity verification with superpowers. Whether you’re offering your home to rent, hailing a taxi driver or a buying online – the people you trust with your home, safety, or property can be verified by the company safely and seamlessly in seconds.

Core applications of machine learning in Veriff are for automation and fraud detection: from finding documents in images to reading out all the data to detecting many different types of fraud attempts. There are over 3,200 different document types issued in the world, which makes automation of a product a real challenge.

A verification’s journey goes through several steps. Each step in this journey needs to be done automatically for the best customer experience and lowest cost, though without sacrificing quality. The machine learning team at Veriff does just that: makes decisions automatically when they can be, and delegates to human eyes when a more thorough examination is needed.

Monese

Estonian Norris Koppel launched neo-banking company Monese as Britain’s first mobile-only bank in 2015. Rather than targeting millennials or early adopters, as Monzo and Starling Bank later would, Monese did things differently. Monese lets expats (or anyone) open a UK bank account in a matter of moments without needing a UK address, something no major high street bank would do at the time.

The main focus of AI in Monese is safety. As a responsible company, Monese wants to protect their customers against financial fraud and minimise the risk of illegal transactions. In order to do that accurately, they’ve built intelligent computer systems that analyse customers’ profile data, transaction sequences, and social connections. Using AI to detect fraudulent transactions has had a great positive impact to their business.

Besides safety, Monese also uses AI to automatically analyse document scans during customer on-boarding process. First, the quality of the scan is evaluated, then the original image is enhanced, and lastly, the important text fields are read from the scanned document. In the future, the company plans to develop our own algorithms for matching document pictures with video selfie images in order to detect fake ID-s and fight identity theft.

Pipedrive

Pipedrive is a sales CRM tool that began as a tiny startup in a garage in Estonia in 2010. Now, the company has expanded globally with over 75,000 customers in over 170 countries.

Pipedrive uses AI both for its business needs and for the purposes of helping customers forecast their sales success. Pipedrive established a dedicated AI team for these purposes. For example, they know how likely their potential trial customers will convert to paying customers based on the activities they performed in Pipedrive. Additionally, they have built a churn model that predicts if a customer is about to stop using Pipedrive software.

Both models produce actionable insights for sales and marketing teams, allowing them to engage better with customers. For customers, Pipedrive is implementing AI based solutions to forecast their sales success and revenue. Since sales is largely based on communication, they are working now on utilising AI methods to extract insights and boost the efficiency.

Lingvist

Lingvist was designed by an Estonian nuclear physicist to drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to learn a language. It is building technology to make learning 10 times faster using machine learning. Its first step has been to apply the technology to language learning.

Lingvist is using AI to model what’s happening in people’s brains while they’re learning, how their memory works, how they learn and forget things, how they create patterns to use their knowledge efficiently. Lingvist’s advanced machine learning algorithm learns which words you need to practice and when it’s time for a new word. Each person’s experience is completely different.

AI helps us understand what people know and don’t know without asking them directly. It helps make the learning content very personal and match very precisely the user’s level. Lingvist calls it knowledge mapping technology and its goal is to empower every person to learn more, faster and smarter.

Sixfold

Sixfold helps some of the largest producers in the world have real time visibility over their shipments. For each such shipper, Sixfold tracks thousands of trucks belonging to hundreds of different carriers and combines it into a single actionable data stream. Sixfold keeps both shippers and their end customers continuously informed – detects the statuses of each shipment, predicts delivery ETAs and alerts about upcoming delays and other problems.

Sixfold uses data science to build solutions for inferring useful information from dozens of real-time data sources, such as determining the current status of shipments and predicting the resting behaviour of truck drivers.

Feelingstream

Feelingstream is an enterprise SaaS platform that helps sales managers catch signals of sales potential from existing customer conversations including calls, web requests, support tickets, emails, chat etc, and convert them into new sales leads. They analyse voice and textual data for near real-time actions or suggestions to employees.

Large service providers (like banks, telecoms, transportation, utility etc) can use this information to increase retention rate and sales results. Feelingstream has developed a unique platform for Nordic languages that uses AI to predict sales potential and churn risk from customer service.

Timbeter

Although timber is cut using state of the art machinery and hardware, then measuring and managing timber is something that is still in the Middle Ages. Timbeter provides a solution that allows you to measure timber quickly and accurately with the help of smart device and manage all data in digital form. Timbeter uses photo-optical detection to measure the log count, volume and diameter of each log that is the most important information for the supply chain management.

Timbeter has collected and is continuously collecting data from the timber industry and existing clients. That data is used to teach the machine how to detect logs. Through the machine-learned data, it implements artificial intelligence to measure the logs on the picture.

North Star AI

In order to support AI implementation in organisations and businesses, Estonian leading AI experts launched the independent non-profit North Star AI in 2017. They gathered together the leading technology companies in the world and Northern Europe to kick-start the road to the highest quality technical event in machine learning in the world to take place in Tallinn each year in March.

The goal is to stimulate AI adoption in the region and educate the population to understand the opportunities offered by AI and provide them with necessary skills to partner with machines. By bringing together practitioners of AI and focusing on the real-world application of data science and machine learning, North Star AI intends to lower entry barriers to developers, engineers, CTO-s, data-driven startup founders and product managers.

AlphaBlues

AlphaBlues is developing virtual customer assistants to help banks and telecoms provide customer support chat on their website 24/7 with our product that understands human language. The company is one of the first to have fully integrated AI virtual assistants and live chat seamlessly into a coherent solution.

A proprietary in-house developed natural language processing engine and virtual assistant platform is bundled with a live chat product for human agents. This enables to fully automate customer journey into one flow – from website visit with a virtual assistant to a chat with a human agent. The GDPR-compliant solution also enables building voice operated virtual assistants. The solution is already used by several banks and telecom companies.

Proekspert

Proekspert is the prominent provider of full industrial IT solution in Estonia. In industrial setting, the data science is falling into three broad categories: production optimisation, advanced solutions for maintenance and product improvement and quality.

However, in order to do any of those three, the data architecture supporting the production and products must be sound. Therefore, as a very first step, Proekspert provides support for customers to get their data collection done right. Only after that they will provide the following capabilities:

  • Production optimisation essentially means better planning. They use the shop floor data to provide predictive and, if conditions permit, prescriptive decision support about the production flow on the shop floor. The cycle times for discrete manufacturing, especially in highly diversified product mix settings, have high degrees of interdependencies and patterns that go beyond the capacities of classical production managers’ toolkits such as spreadsheets. Instead they use modelling techniques such as gradient boosted trees to identify those patterns and provide actionable insight for more accurate planning.
  • Equipment failures and downtimes are obvious drivers for production costs. From the data gathered from the equipment they identify the parts, assemblies or full equipment sets that are experiencing degradation or otherwise abnormal behaviour. That is turned into a probability model for equipment failure and MTBF times, which in turn is used as an input for maintenance scheduling. The data that we monitor tends to meet the criteria of Big Data with high velocity (vibration data), volume (multidimensional time series) and variety (vibrations versus text logs from test equipment).
  • Product and quality improvement. In situations where the equipment produced has been already deployed to a customer and collecting data, Proekspert provides insight support for the manufacturer on how the equipment is being used (eg. usage patterns), how it performs (efficiency) and how it fails. As with most AI solutions, it boils down to either pattern detection and classification, clustering or anomaly detection. These results can be used as insight for better lifecycle support planning and also as an input for engineering and design to build better products.

Government AI applications

State institutions gather large amounts of data every day and the government is improving the state’s capability to analyse public data. Ongoing cooperation between the ministry of economic affairs and Statistics Estonia will lay the foundation for real-time, practical and ethical application of data for the government as well as the private sector.

For example, AI applications can efficiently detect icy roads by analysing satellite pictures or provide better job matchings or the online tax system (e-Tax) that provides pre-calculated tax duties.

Each year, around 95% of all tax declarations in Estonia are filed electronically. Using a secure ID, a taxpayer logs onto the system, reviews their data in pre-filled forms, makes any necessary changes, and approves the declaration form. The process typically takes three to five minutes. Even one-click tax returns have been possible since 2015 – the data that is already in the system is displayed for the user along with the calculated result, then all the users must do is click on the confirmation button. All of this can take less than a minute.

Data and AI help maintain a small government

With its current developments in AI adoption in public and private sphere, Estonia has the potential to become even more influential participate in AI ecosystem in Europe.

In order to support AI application on EU levels and attract AI startups all over the world, Estonia aims to meet the standards of data availability, secure exchange of data, access to public data and AI-friendly regulations to support development of global AI applications from Estonia.

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Cover: A woman using Taxify (rebranded as Bolt as of 7 March 2019) app in London (the image is illustrative).

Almost a 1,000 people have moved to Estonia on the two-year-old startup visa

The Estonian startup visa has allowed 931 people to move to the country within the past two years since it was launched.

Altogether, the startup visa programme received 1,108 applications, Startup Estonia said in a blog post.

“When in 2017 we had 167 employees and 107 founders relocate to Estonia, then in 2018, the numbers were significantly larger – 483 employees and 174 founders, meaning we saw a 236% growth in a year,” according to the organisation.

“The range of industries is very wide for the applications coming in, but there are some areas where the amount of applications exceeds others,” Startup Estonia said. “The most popular industries are fintech, business software/software as a service, medtech, consumer goods and hospitality with agritech, edtech and energy sector being the likely success stories in 2019.”

The top five countries where the employees and founders relocate to Estonia from are Ukraine, Brazil, Russia, United States and India.

Bringing in talent

The startup visa was launched on 18 January 2017. It was seen as a new opportunity for Estonian startups and the whole Estonian startup ecosystem for bringing in talent from all over the world and start developing an even more international and diverse community.

The applications are assessed by the seven-member committee (the members are Tehnopol, Garage48, Startup Leaders Club, Estonian Business Angels Network, Startup Wise Guys, Superangel and Startup Estonia). Companies applying to the startup status come from over 80 countries from all over the world, the top countries however have constantly been India, Russia and Turkey among many others.

Startup Estonia is a governmental initiative financed by the European Regional Development Fund, aimed at supercharging the Estonian startup ecosystem.

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Cover: Top 10 countries by number of applications and success rate (courtesy of Startup Estonia).

What is it like to work for one of the fastest growing Estonian startups?

Kreet Prants, the verification operations lead at Veriff, the Estonian startup of the year, gives an overview of the fast-growing company’s goals, working culture and the kind of people it is looking for to join its team.

Veriff is one of the fastest growing startups in Estonia, providing web and mobile identity verification solutions that help reduce fraud and meet “Know Your Customer” (KYC) requirements, and offering innovative online identity verification solutions to other companies. I go investigating in its comfortable and bright office right in the middle of the Tallinn business district. I am greeted by Kreet Prants, the verification operations lead, to tell me more about Veriff, its goals, company culture and the kind of people it is looking for to join its team.

Kreet, could you tell a bit more about yourself. What is your background and why did you decide to join Veriff?

I have previously worked at TransferWise, also as verification operations lead, and this was where I got to know and understand the processes and complexities of verification better. I spent altogether four years at TransferWise and felt I wanted to put all the things that I learned during that time to good use somewhere else as well. Veriff so far has proven that this is the environment where I can do that and develop my skills.

The field of verification – making sure people’s documents are valid – is the same here, but the goals are different. Veriff has a very clear goal in mind: we want to make sure people are able to access the services they need to wherever and whenever. At the same time, we aim to give our client companies the sense of security they need to have to allow their customers to use their services. It is a very clear and strong goal and the whole company is coming together to make that happen. We are moving very fast towards making it a reality and it is very exciting to be here.

How would you describe the ideal candidate for the position of a verification specialist? 

First and foremost, we are looking for people who find verification really interesting. This can be for very different reasons, because the people in our team also have very different backgrounds and majority of them have not worked in this field before.

All of our team members work towards solving this puzzle together: we are figuring out very complex problems by breaking them down to smaller pieces and solving them one by one to get people verified safely and securely. We do not compromise on the security aspect.

So, the ideal candidate is enthusiastic about verification and understands the problems we are solving with our product. They should feel motivated by the opportunity to help other people – because this is what it’s all about. It is not only about helping the clients who want to get verified, but also helping your teammates and helping the companies who are using our service. The general attitude of helpfulness, paying attention to what is happening around you and being ready to pitch in when it is needed, is crucial.

The team is very diverse, and you all seem to be very open-minded.

Yes, the team is very diverse, and it is not a goal on its own, it has simply happened. I like it a lot as it shows that it does not matter what your background is or where you are coming from – if you share our common goals and characteristics, then you should fit right in very fast. It is all about the attitude!

We currently have people from 10 different nationalities – and this number might be outdated very soon already. In our team, it is still 50/50 – half of the people are local and the other half from outside of Estonia.

How is the work organised daily?

Our service runs 24/7, which means we are available around the clock, including weekends and public holidays. All the teams also must have this availability – this generally means we work in shifts. The shifts change in time, depending where customers need us the most. As our team grows, there is also more flexibility in scheduling. We do all the planning in advance to make sure the people can arrange their lives accordingly and have plenty of free time to spend outside of work.

The majority of our day focuses on actual reviews of different documents, analysing the facematching, looking at the bigger picture of the data we have gathered and making decisions based on this data – to understand if it makes sense, if there is a problem, and marking down these decisions so that companies can use it in order to make their own decisions.

We don’t expect people to come in and already know all of this by heart; we have different resources, reference materials and databases and we have a full training to get people up to speed. Eventually it just comes down to this personal interest in verification again – you should have this goal in mind that the world is not uniform, people come from very different countries and backgrounds – and use different documents. Access to different technical solutions is not the same everywhere, but we still want to give everyone an option to use our service. This is what our verification team is working on every day – putting all the knowledge we receive from doing the checks back into product development.

What kind of different teams you have?

We have one big verification team, but within it we also have smaller teams who are moving towards focusing on their specific areas of support, so that they can bring additional expertise – for example about different countries, specific document types and so on.

In general, we are working together, we are sharing different responsibilities, we are always flexible when helping each other out, but we are also taking on specific team focuses, so we can research some topics in depth.

What are the possibilities for growth and development within the company? How do you motivate people? 

In verification, there are a few parallel threads that are very relevant. One of the first things you can develop is to become an expert at what you are doing – really advancing your knowledge of different regions and countries as well as different document types. This knowledge will help you not only in Veriff, but also in different areas of compliance in many other companies as well.

Another similar thread has to do with anti-fraud where you can build on your knowledge of documentation and country-specific details and add general understanding about how our product works and what are the different checks we can build into the system, identifying the patterns how fraudsters are trying to bypass the checks.

We are always helping our customers, so there is always an option to focus more on the customer support aspect. Helping the businesses is somewhat similar to account management where you really have to get to know a specific customer very well. We have a handful of customers that we know in detail, so in many cases you can help them before they even come to you with an issue or a question, because you understand where they come from and where they might need some clarification.

On a wider scheme on things, there are also other teams in Veriff besides verification – you can always decide where your skills shine and where you feel you can benefit the most, so there are always opportunities in other teams as well.

It goes without saying that there is always the possibility to become a team lead. We are, for example, organising leadership skills bootcamps, for people who have not necessarily been in a leading role in the past, but feel like they want to develop their skills for the future. This is meant for people regardless of their roles, so that people feel confident when they take on this extra responsibility.

What motivates you and the team most about working at Veriff?

For me personally, I always want to see the impact of my work and feel it is meaningful and that again comes down to the goal that we are working towards.

When I have a very big, clear and relatable goal for myself and within the company, then this is a big driver for me. I know that by doing what I do, I can help a lot of people now and in the future with real problems – and this will help them save time, money and have a better life overall. Personal impact is very important.

Another crucial point to go along with it is that besides my personal impact, I can also feel that the whole team feels the same and is doing this together, so that I am not the only person responsible for everything. Everyone is hands-on-deck, if something needs to be fixed then the whole company comes together to solve that problem. This feeling of people having your back, helping and supporting you when you need it – especially in an environment where the tempo is fast and the goals we set for ourselves are high, is very reassuring.

What about other benefits – do you have team events and get-togethers?

We are currently trying out a lot of new things – as right now, our growth pace has become faster. Initially, we just had different team events and company events, but now we are adding all kinds of different formats in-between, so that even in smaller groups people can find time to come together and share ideas, learn together, different workshops, leadership bootcamp sessions, lunch sessions to learn from other team. We are constantly adding different formats where people can come together and learn from each other as well as get to know each other better.

Veriff also participated in project Career Hunt that was organised by Work in Estonia in order to attract more talents from other countries as well. How do you support and help people in the process of moving to Estonia and settling here? 

First, because our team already is very international, we have gathered first-hand experience about the challenges and difficulties of helping people to move to Estonia. Veriff, of course, helps with documentation, which is quite easy for Estonian startup new joiners. The new joiner simply has to take this leap of faith and decide they would like to come to Estonia themselves, but from that point on we will definitely help them get settled and our team members always make an effort to help everyone feel at home.

Can you give some insight or hints about the salary as well?

It is important that people understand that we really value the effort needed for night shifts, as it might affect your personal life and needs some extra adjustment – this we compensate with additional premium. In general, our salaries definitely match the complexity of the work – and overall, we are investing in the general working environment as well. Veriff employees have sports benefits compensations, healthy food and snacks in the office, they are able to take part in all kinds of different events to help them unwind as well.

What is the bigger picture for Veriff and where do you see the company is going and growing in the future?

We have very ambitious goals. I cannot give all of them away right away, but what we are working towards is figuring out how to give the opportunity of verification for people all around the world. In some countries, things are straightforward, and the documents are issued in a safe and secure way by the government. Many governments, however, are maybe not putting as much effort into security measures. Taking all of this into consideration and figuring out what are the alternatives we can bring to the table, so that companies feel that they can trust our checks and allow the people to get access to the necessary services.

Our clients still need to feel it is an effortless process which only takes a minute in their daily lives, it is easy to understand and fast. The bigger goal is to reach people in all of the countries and allow them to get access to different services they might need.

Currently Veriff service is already available all around the world, although the physical office is based only in Tallinn.This will also change, and we are planning to expand to other locations in the future.

Any last piece of advice?

I would like to invite people to consider joining Veriff (or any other company) based on what the real goal of this company is – and if it resonates with them. You can find different opportunities to grow and develop almost everywhere, and the salary usually will match the effort that you are putting into your work, but it all starts with the goal of the company. Is it something you really care about? Is it something you want to help come to life? If yes, then let yourself be heard!

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Cover: Verification operations lead Kreet Prants (in the middle with the white shirt) with her team.

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