Estonia is home to a growing number of companies and government initiatives that believe location-independence is the future.
The world is getting smaller every day, and more people have an opportunity to work and live where they choose. A recent survey conducted by Malt, a pan-European organization of freelancers, said 37% of people chose to become freelancers simply to have the freedom to work from the location of their choice.
Despite this new found freedom, this new generation of mobile citizens faces many challenges, and a whole industry has cropped up to serve them, including many right here in Estonia, starting with the government.
Estonia is the first country to offer e-Residency, a government-issued digital ID card that offers access to public e-services in Estonia.
So far, more than 50,000 people from 157+ countries have applied for e-Residency, with the main motivation being an opportunity to establish and manage a location-independent company entirely online.
As the country already has 99% of its government services available digitally, the potential for the Estonian government to serve more people, no matter where they live or work, is only growing.
A few countries like to claim credit for their entrepreneurs developing Skype, but what we do know is that Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, and Jaan Tallinn, Estonians who previously developed the P2P music-sharing tool Kazaa, were key to and making the initial idea a success.
Skype offered the first chance for many people to experience making a phone call with added video and was instrumental in unlocking the potential for people to communicate effectively with clients and family members around the world.
While the company was eventually sold to eBay and finally to Microsoft in 2011, 44% of all employees are still based in Tallinn and Tartu, Estonia, and the company has served as a sort of practical business school for Estonia’s entrepreneurs. Many current companies in Estonia were founded by Skype’s early employees, and investors in the company have continued supporting the local startup ecosystem instead of simply resting on their laurels.
Today there are many competitors offering similar services, but Skype is still an important tool in the arsenal of people working and living abroad.
Wise (formerly Transferwise)
The story of Wise (formerly Transferwise) starts with two friends, Taavet and Kristo. Taavet was one of the first employees of Skype, but was working remotely from London, receiving his salary in Euros, and needed pounds to pay the bills. Kristo worked for Deloitte, lived in London, and received his salary in pounds, but had a mortgage to take care of back in Estonia.
Each month, Taavet put his euros into Kristo’s Estonian bank account, and Kristo added money to Taavet’s UK bank account using his pounds. Both got what they needed while avoiding the high fees offered by their traditional banks.
“There must be others just like us,” they thought, and that’s how Transferwise was born.
Eight years later, and the company has expanded beyond offering the lowest price on money transfers and is aiming to be the best solution for mobile people and global entrepreneurs doing cross-border business.
After achieving coveted “unicorn” status in 2017, the company has recently launched a new Borderless account that offers a payment card, transfer tool, and international bank details to receive money from over 30 countries with zero fees.
Jobbatical is the brainchild of Karoli Hindriks, an entrepreneur from Pärnu, Estonia, who got an early start in the world of entrepreneurship at 16 years old by designing a more fashionable version of the common safety reflector worn by pedestrians during Estonia’s long winter nights.
After spending some time at Singularity University in California, Karoli was so impressed with her experience living abroad that she wanted to make this opportunity available to more people around the world, something she appreciated, even more, having grown up in the closed-off world of the Soviet Union when Estonia was under occupation.
Today Jobbatical is a full-fledged recruitment and relocation service company specialized in connecting companies and talent who appreciate the benefits of a diverse workforce.
Toggl was launched in 2006 by Alari Aho and Krister Haav in Tallinn, Estonia, to be an “insanely simple time tracking tool” that “kills time sheets.” The product has grown to serve millions of active users in the time since and is increasingly used by remote entrepreneurs who need a solid way to track their time while on the move and working with multiple clients.
Having seen the benefit of the remote work lifestyle, the company also made a conscious decision in 2014 to switch from being a strictly Tallinn based company to a fully remote company, something made easier through Estonia’s digital business environment.
If you want to keep track of the time spent on your latest project vs. the time spent longing for the beach you see outside the window of your coworking space in Bali, Toggl is there for you.
Monese is another financial technology company from Estonia working to serve the new generation of global people and entrepreneurs.
After finding initial success by offering an easy way for expats and mobile citizens to access banking services, the company has recently launched a new account aimed at business owners for companies registered in the UK and has plans to eventually serve company owners across the EU.
As people continue to live and do business where they want, financial tools like Monese are filling the gap left by traditional banks.
After working in HR for many years, Estonian Kei Karlson noticed that companies really struggled when they needed extra personnel on a short notice. After meeting with yet another client who complained about this problem, she decided to do something about it.
She pitched the initial idea for GoWorkaBit as part of a Garage48 hackathon, one of many organizations supporting entrepreneurs in Estonia, and that’s where she met her eventual co-founders and where the initial concept was developed.
The company has grown since, and now serves companies around the world, including helping people find opportunities to dip their toes into the world of location independence doing short-term gigs, and continuing to believe that “that people should have the option to choose where, when and with whom they work.”
Lingvist and Speakly
There are only 1 million native speakers of Estonian in the world, so learning another language is key for Estonians who want to live abroad.
Lingvist and Speakly are two Estonian companies offering people a chance to learn a new language entirely online using the latest techniques. While these companies offer everything from English to Chinese, you can also use both of these tools to gain a new superpower and learn how to speak Estonian!
One of the steps people take when launching a new company, especially one that is location-independent and primarily offers services online, is the development of a new website. Voog is an Estonian based content management system (CMS) built by a team of “ 12 skilled craftsmen” that allows customers to build “beautiful websites that speak foreignese.”
If you want to get a website up and running with no coding skills required, and have an easy way offer your site in multiple languages, Voog is good place to start.
Want to learn more about living a location-independent life? Read our comprehensive guide to applying for e-Residency and establishing your company in Estonian entirely online.