Lauri takes us into a country that has done amazingly well in developing a technology and startup culture. Fascinating!
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised? What is the background?
Lauri Kinkar: I grew up and am based in Estonia, which is a country with a population slightly more than a million. I’m from a small university town.
Sramana Mitra: So you’ve done your entrepreneur journey from and in Estonia?
Lauri Kinkar: Pretty much. As the companies that we’ve founded all had to do with technology, it’s a fairly international industry. We have clients all over the world.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s do the journey. You grew up in a small university town in Estonia. Tell me more about what happened. Where did you do your education? What did you study? How did you find your way to entrepreneurship?
Lauri Kinkar: My journey to entrepreneurship was not a very conscious and planned one. In university, I studied Public Administration. I also studied Economics briefly in the Netherlands.
Someone that I met during my university studies had recently founded a telecommunications company. That was about 20 years ago. In terms of technology, those were ancient times – it was the pre-smartphone era. I decided to join. I was one of the first people to join the company.
Sramana Mitra: What year was that?
Lauri Kinkar: That was in 2001.
Sramana Mitra: What was the company doing and what were you doing there?
Lauri Kinkar: The company was trying to figure out how to pay for things using your mobile phone. Back in 2000 to 2001, you sent a premium-priced SMS, and then the operator will charge you and share the revenue.
We also had a few solutions for advertising agencies to run SMS-based text-to-win campaigns. I was the first sales guy in the company.
Sramana Mitra: Whom were you selling to? It sounds like a consumer product but whom did you sell it to?
Lauri Kinkar: We sold it to brands and advertising agencies. When we started out, we were pretty local. We had customers in Estonia and a couple of nearby countries. That was pretty much it. This is now a group of about 8 to 9 different companies.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s go back though to 2001. When did you leave this company? What is the next step?
Lauri Kinkar: We started the company that I initially joined back in 2001. The same company grew into a group of companies over the next 20 years. I’ve been active in founding some of those and running some of them too. Essentially, the past 20 years have been about expanding what we started 20 years ago. Again, 8 or 9 companies have grown out of it.