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four Classes You Can Study From Estonia's Tech Unicorns

Companies from this small nation have made a global impact by keeping an eye on the opportunities.

October
17, 2020

4 min read

The opinions expressed by the entrepreneur's contributors are their own.

If you're like most Americans, you may not have heard of Estonia or even put it on a map, but you may just be using a product made there without realizing it. Despite being a small European country of only 1.3 million people, "according to CNBC, the government boasts more technical unicorns, private companies valued at more than $ 1 billion per capita, than any other small country in the world ".

Of course, each of these companies started out as a startup. It's not a coincidence. Estonia has more than a thousand startups and it is known that the country has successfully turned into a digital paradise. Government services can be accessed online from anywhere with a secure digital identity issued to all citizens and residents. This allows various activities to be carried out online, from taxes to voting. Likewise, an Estonian company can now be set up and managed entirely online through the country's e-residency program with minimal effort and cost.

The Estonian digital transformation project began two decades ago. Internet access has been declared a basic human right for all citizens. These digital foundations have made a huge difference and are felt in both the public and private sectors. The country has a supportive culture that leads to innovation, collaboration and risk-taking.

From start to ubiquitous

Let's find out a little more about four of the Estonian tech unicorns.

Bolt: This is a European competitor to Uber. Users can access cheap trips from an app on their phone or laptop. This startup's mantra is simple: be the cheapest ride in any city. In May 2020, the company raised $ 100 million and is now valued at $ 1.9 billion. Skype: Almost everyone has heard of this Estonian startup that is now owned by tech heavyweight Microsoft. Originally developed by three Estonian entrepreneurs, the software has grown to become one of the most popular video and voice call hosting applications in the world, allowing you to be connected with up to 25 people at a time. TransferWise: This online money transfer service supports 750+ currency routes around the world, but (you guessed it) the technology was originally developed in Estonia. The founders came up with the idea while working borderlessly and developed the software to handle the challenges of paying in different currencies. The company now has more than 4 million customers and 11 branches on four continents. PlayTech: This software development company was founded in 1999 in Tartu, Estonia. Playtech offers software for online casinos, poker rooms, bingo games, sports betting and more. It is used by millions of people around the world every day.

Lessons from technical unicorns

With Estonia leading other countries in its digital-first approach and technical unicorns per capita, there are some lessons the rest of the world can learn in these unpredictable times:

If you see a void, fill it. Estonian tech entrepreneurs saw that something was missing from the market. In some cases the solution was new (Skype), and in other cases the founders thought there could be a better way to do something that already existed (Bolt). Hire the best people no matter where they are. As Estonia is a small country, it often had to look beyond its borders to find the right people for the job. Sometimes these workers are non-Estonians who moved to the country to learn firsthand about its culture of innovation. In other cases, the Estonians have taken their talents to other countries. Find a supportive network for collaboration, inspiration and innovation. In Estonia there is a close-knit community of technicians who support one another and encourage others to always strive for something better or to take a different look at how to overcome an obstacle. There may be challenges along the way, either real or perceived, but that shouldn't stop you. The Estonians had to face challenges almost at every turn, from fighting for their place on the world stage to building their country a generation ago. Estonian companies have made a global impact because they believe they can be successful and have a can-do attitude. If one way doesn't work, try another way. They don't think what could be against them, they just think what is possible.

These Estonian unicorn traits could help you and your business survive and thrive in these unpredictable times.

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