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Bootstrapped Entrepreneurship from Estonia: Lauri Kinkar, CEO of Messente (Part 5)

Posted on Friday, Mar 6th 2020

Sramana Mitra: Estonia has made huge progress in building a startup ecosystem. Can you talk a little bit about what has enabled that? What are the highlights of the ecosystem?

Lauri Kinkar: We have to take a few steps back. Back when Estonia regained its independence in the early 90’s, it was a unique situation. It’s a very tiny country trying to figure out how it should evolve.

Then what was perhaps one of the foundations of all of this very early on was making schools as digital as possible. It started out as a distribution of computers to all schools. It also means that it kickstarted the popularity of technical education. This is one of the things that I could put a finger on when looking at what kickstarted it.

Much later, there were a few success stories which serve as inspiration to this crowd that values tech education. One of those success stories was Skype. A few of the initial founders of Skype were Estonians. Seeing their story, it inspired the whole scene that we have today.

The third aspect is that Estonia is super tiny with a population of 1.3 million people, which means that if you do anything, it doesn’t have the right size to be a comfortable market to work with. You immediately have to design things that need to work abroad. This means that it’s a mindset thing as well.

If you founded the startup at a large market, you’re always tempted to stay there. If you have the luxury of starting out in a very large market like the United States, India, or Germany, then sometimes you can make a very considerable business. That’s fine as well.

If you want to grow like wildfire, then trying to be international from day one is the kind of mindset that helps you a lot.

Sramana Mitra: How many unicorns do you have?

Lauri Kinkar: The official count is four. 

Sramana Mitra: What are the areas where the unicorns are happening?

Lauri Kinkar: One of them is Bolt. They’re a very successful Uber contender in Europe, Africa, and Asia. They’re all about mobility. There’s TransferWise, which is about making money borderless. 

Sramana Mitra: That’s very well-known.

Lauri Kinkar: Absolutely. Then there’s PipeDrive. I think it’s about to become one. They are a CRM. I think Skype is considered one too. I’m not even sure whether I can tell you what might be the fourth in full certainty. I don’t think that they are in the same industry. 

Sramana Mitra: There are two biases that I’m hearing. One is telecommunications. The second one is mobile payments. They’re interrelated. The mobile payment ecosystem works on top of the telecommunication ecosystem.

Lauri Kinkar: There might be a bias. What needs to be said as well is, a country so small can be fairly agile, which means it’s a good testing ground for new ideas related to technology.

One of the things that’s interesting is their e-residency program. It allows you to be an e-resident while never physically being here. You can set up companies fairly fast and get a bank fairly fast. It disrupts the idea of citizenship and what it means. There is an interesting story around that.

Sramana Mitra: How many entrepreneurs are operating in Estonia right now?

Lauri Kinkar: It’s just about startups. In the startup scene, there might be a thousand startups who are actively trying to do something. In a country of a million people, that’s quite a thing.

Sramana Mitra: It was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for your time.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Bootstrapped Entrepreneurship from Estonia: Lauri Kinkar, CEO of Messente
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