UAE-based e-resident Krystel Assi's journey to e-Residency and Estonia with her business Amazon Sellers Society.
In the beginning, Krystel Assi wasn't very interested in Estonia and she had no plans to spend time there. Besides, it's a lot warmer in the United Arab Emirates. Assi was just looking for a way to manage her business, the Amazon Sellers Society, and to better engage with European and American customers. Estonian e-Residency seemed like a good fit.
"I wanted to have the flexibility for expansion and I didn't have that through a UAE company," Assi says.
Today, however, Assi is spending several months in the Northern European country, and is leading a team of five there focused on software design. While some are charmed by Estonia's medieval architecture, or forested landscapes, Assi says she fell in love with Estonia not necessarily as a place, but for what it has done for entrepreneurs in general, by allowing them to access its ecosystem of digital services as if they were physical residents, via the e-Residency program.
"If you are an entrepreneur, especially not a European entrepreneur, you highly appreciate all of the e-services that Estonia provides," says Assi.
Assi is Founder and Head of Business Development of the Amazon Sellers Society. The company serves as just that: a forum for companies to engage each other and experts about selling via the multinational e-commerce platform. While anyone can, and does, sell products on Amazon, the Amazon Sellers Society offers companies the society's core market, the opportunity to do it successfully.
"If you wanted to create your own logo, you could also technically do that, however, do you have the necessary skills to do that? Probably not unless you are a trained graphic designer," Assi explains. For the same reasons, a resource like the Amazon Sellers Society serves a need. "Amazon is a very technical platform that requires a lot of work and a lot of management," she says.
The Amazon Sellers Society offers all sorts of assistance on its platform to businesses that are selling via Amazon. Members answer each others' queries, organize meetings, and gain access to technical support.
Assi originally started her business in London in the mid-2010s, but relocated to Dubai to focus on the Middle East. Assi saw this region as an untapped market for Amazon. So, aligned with W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne's Blue Ocean Strategy marketing approach to tap into places where no competition exists or is irrelevant, she moved there to do just that.
"I have tried to find places where I can be in a blue ocean," remarks Assi, "literally where I can compete with no competition." The Middle East was such a place and was also familiar to Assi, who is originally from Lebanon and fluent in Arabic. In 2019, she relocated to Dubai for its favorable business climate and to seize her unique marketing opportunity.
But despite its location in the heart of the market, UAE could not provide the Amazon Sellers Society with the digital infrastructure for serving its diverse and international client base.
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By 2020, before the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, she had learned about and applied for e-Residency of Estonia. At that time, new e-residents in the region had to travel to embassies in Cairo or Ankara to receive their e-Residency kits from the Estonian government. Fortunately, this is no longer the case, as kits can now be picked up at the Estonian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE. It was in Ankara that Assi had her first real brush with the program, when she had to wait in a line that snaked around the embassy, full of digital nomads from all walks of life, carrying different passports.
"Almost nobody was Turkish and everyone was there for e-Residency," recalls Assi. "It was my first-ever tangible experience of the program and I thought, 'this is huge,'" she says. "There were a lot of digital nomads, and everyone wanted e-Residency for a different reason."
Once she received her e-Residency kit, things went smoothly.
"Just by plugging in that beautiful card, we registered the business and opened up bank accounts the next day with Wise. That is how our journey started," says Assi. "I got all of the services that I needed and we were able to expand our community."
The Amazon Sellers Society now operates as an Estonian company, but it has also acquired some Estonian roots. Assi has been working with a local software team to develop a software-as-a-service offering that will roll different Amazon-related programs into a single package. For example, profitability tools that allow sellers to monitor their income and sales-related fees. Amazon supports API integration, so Assi's concept is to gather data from Amazon, but display it using the new software platform in a way that is more comprehensible to the user.
She notes that while such profitability tools already exist for successful sellers on Amazon, she wanted to make something available for sellers who are just starting out. "When you are starting out you need the most help," she says. "I wanted to bridge that gap and focus on people who were starting out and create this as a new part of our company."
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Assi was unable to build the software in the UAE, so she looked to Estonia for help. Given the country's deep bench of IT talent, she decided to assemble a local team. Last year, she gained a startup visa so that she could stay in the country for long stretches while her team hammers out the software. The beta version of the tool went live to members of the Amazon Sellers Society in March. "That is why I am in Estonia and how our business progressed," says Assi of her journey. "I never wanted to come and live in Estonia. The only reason I came was because I wanted to create the software here," she says.
"I fell in love with the Estonian idea of what they are doing for entrepreneurs," she adds. "Estonia has created this amazing digital platform and companies that have foresight are turning to Estonia to help them."