If you haven’t heard yet, the capital of Estonia, Tallinn, is a hidden startup wonderland located in the Northern part of Europe. With many home-ground entrepreneurs, it’s now becoming a popular location for global founders as well.
We recently had the chance to speak with Calum Cameron, CEO of meduza.ai, who has been living in Tallinn for 10 years. Originally from the NT, Calum moved to Adelaide for school before taking the leap to Europe.
Calum has been living in Estonia for 10 years after three tours of duty in London from the early 90s and a couple of years in Luxembourg in between. With a background in delivering and supporting web platforms and applications for the financial and energy industries in Australia and the UK, he got the entrepreneurial bug scaling operations for a couple of startups and went on to manage Europe’s leading B2B accelerator, the Startup Wise Guys. Calum is now building his own cybersecurity company.
Here’s what he had to say:
What made you decide to move your business to Tallinn?
Estonia has an amazing self-belief missing from most countries. With Skype, Transferwise, GrabCAD, Fortumo, Guardtime, Pipedrive, Zeroturnaround et al. we know we can build massive companies from this tiny country.
And being so small, everyone is accessible. This means we can get stuff done fast here. As a result we see early stage companies from across the world – 40+ countries from all continents – coming to the Startup Wise Guys accelerator in Tallinn to launch their startup from here.
For a cybersecurity business like meduza.ai, access to people here and in Latvia, who are already active defending against nation-state cyber attacks is a serious advantage.
How important has your Australian network been to get started over here?
Not massively because I already had a strong Estonian network before moving here. It doesn’t take a lot of hand-holding to get into the scene here either as there loads of events connecting entrepreneurs. In saying that, we have a network of Australians helping out new comers with tips on visas and bureaucracy which must be pretty useful.
Have you raised money in Europe and how did you find it compared to Australia?
I never raised funding in Australia but have spoken with the angel groups and accelerators out there and it sounds like we have it easier in Estonia because there is a history of successful startups coming from here. European VCs and corporate investors are also pretty visible here so funding is available for quality teams. To get their attention, though, you have to prove you can get out of the Estonian market (too small). Once you do, the Estonian brand becomes a real asset for raising.
What is it like to do business in Estonia?
Estonia has this bizarre contradiction of being a very conservative culture but able to pump out seriously successful startups. I think this comes down to their blunt approach to themselves and one another: there is some serious execution quality and a willingness to help those who are committed, but you’ll be told quickly if you are bullshitting.
In particular though, there is easy access to key decision makers and entrepreneurs who have been successful before. Australia can learn from the success here to remove hurdles to sharing knowledge. If teams can get access to the right people fast, they can move their business forward faster. That’s good for all of us.
Are you working as a remote team or did the team move over with you?
Meduza.ai is very young and built from scratch in Estonia but with Latvians. We will hire locally or regionally in the coming six months. There is lots of talent but we want the stars.
Startups who have come through the Startup Wise Guys program have often distributed their teams between Estonia and their home countries, or built their operations here in Estonia and sent their sales teams to target markets. Prices are going up but Estonia still offers more bang-for-buck than most European countries.
What do you love about living in Estonia?
The quality of life is hard to beat: if you live in the centre of Tallinn you can walk nearly everywhere and meet everyone you need. In short, you can move and build faster than almost anywhere else in Europe.
For Aussies coming to Europe, the biggest tip is to just dive in. Use the Australian community to connect you but don’t hide out in Earls Court. If you can, sort out your paperwork before coming over and even set-up your EU business in Estonia before landing.
Thank you to Calum Cameron for this interview. You can contact him at meduza.ai.