From the Production Lines of the Unicorn Factory: Ten Success Stories of a Master of Launching Billion Dollar Startups - Estonia (2023)

🦄 10 Glia: Building the Future of Customer Service

“The future of customer service is digital, and those who still need to take steps to modernize their support and engagement strategies already have,” said Dan Michaeli, co-founder and CEO ofGlia, a digital customer service provider valued at over $1 billion as of March 2022.

“Our rapid growth and successful relationships with all types of financial services companies demonstrate the urgent need for digital customer service. Building on a decade of innovation, this capital will further expand our reach and help even more companies around the world rethink the way they connect with customers digitally,” said Michaeli.

Glia believes that at a time when customers are used to talking in their personal lives via chat, voice and video, they should be able to do the same in the companies they work with. With Glia, businesses can easily engage customers and members wherever they are and help them achieve successful service outcomes. Founded in 2012, the New York-based Estonian company has powered more than 10 billion digital customer interactions. Customers are spread across 12 countries, but the company is focusing on geographic expansion and doubling its workforce to support growth.

🦄 9 Verification: Enabling Online Trust

“In 2021, organizations and consumers will need to verify their online identities more than ever – from deploying remote workers to creating a secure gaming space in the metaworld and running their business entirely online – enabling trust building and digital transparency of is of crucial importance”, says Kaarel. Kotkas, CEO and FounderVerify. “The gigantic boom in digital services has increased the need for IDV for every business operating on the internet, and every person on the planet can be a Veriff user.”

However, the pandemic has only accelerated Veriff's growth – the business case has been around for a long time: while a person's true identity may not be that important when selling a few books or CDs online, it becomes relevant when it comes to FinTech go. applications for example. This is where companies that offer identity verification services – like Veriff – come to the rescue.

🦄 8 Gelato: Print On Demand (and More)

In april 2020ice cream, a company that provides services to e-commerce companies, became the eighth (and ninth in Norway) unicorn in Estonia. With more than 100 manufacturing partners in 32 countries, the Gelato platform helps ecommerce businesses connect with manufacturers near buyers' locations. One of the founders of the company, Mike Arbuzov, is from Estonia, and Gelato also has a company registered in Estonia.

🦄 7 export of the main idea behind Estonia's digital success

Digital IDs are a big deal in the US, where millions of dollars have been invested in ID companies; one of the latest success storiesID.ja. The company is valued at $1.4 to $1.6 billion after its latest funding round, which includesCapital G, the independent growth fund of Google's parent companyAlphabet sp.

If you're a Californian and you're logging in remotely to update your address or change your registration with your local DMV, chances are you're using And you're not alone: ​​the number of people using the service is growing rapidly, with about a million new users every two weeks.

Tanel Suurhans described the essence of the site he co-foundedRadio on a working day: "This allows me to prove that I am Tanel Suurhans, and that the information I share online - for example with the IRS, the US tax authority - is my information." was founded in 2010 as TroopSwap, a military solution that checks veterans of the US Armed Forces for discounts. Estonian co-founder and CTO Tanel Suurhans joined the company in 2013 – and that's when things started to change towards the we know today. What co-founder Suurhans brought with him, in addition to great technical skills and experience from various software projects in Estonia (including planning and executing the modernization of the largest digital content management and publishing platform used in the Baltics), is real experience in the field of using secure digital identities and electronic signatures, solutions that are self-evident for Estonians and can be regarded as important cornerstones of e-Estonia. And of course it proved useful when co-creating a site like

As Suurhans himself explained on Äripäev radio, "When I moved here in 2013, I had a vision of Estonia in my head." This view, of course, changed after being exposed to the realities of the United States, including the differences between states, the bureaucracy at the state level, technical issues such as the lack of a unique national identification number, etc. Suurhans soon realized that for several reasons there was it is not envisaged that a nationwide electronic identification system, such as the one in Estonia, would be introduced in the states – but solutions are still needed to ensure a secure e-identity.'s rapid growth was driven by the Covid-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has brought new state-level social security programs, which in turn has led to an increase in fraud attempts – and thus a demand for secure online identification services.'s workforce has grown rapidly in the past year: the company has grown from approximately 100 to 800 employees. The level of 1500-2000 will be reached by the end of 2021.

The future looks bright for the unicorn as, according to Suurhans, the United States under President Joe Biden seeks to move toward an online federal services system, similar to how (but to a lesser extent) government-provided services have moved online. Estonia. This again means virtually unlimited possibilities for As Suurhans said,'s next target is a $10 billion valuation.

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🦄 6 Zego: Creating a digital revolution in insurance and offering better prices along the way

One of the investorsIt wasand Advisory Board member, Taavet Hinrikus (who is also a co-founder of unicorn #3 -Wise) stated, "I've noticed that the insurance industry is facing the same problem as other areas: a rapid onslaught of technology delivering 10 times better services."

That seems true, given the way Zego runs his business — and how he grew up to be a unicorn. “While most traditional insurers only price their insurance products based on factors such as age and type of vehicle, and others also use telematics data on driving behavior, Zego can price policies not only on traditional factors, but also on driver behavior data. and data on work habits,” said Sten Saar, CEO and founder of ZegoTechCrunch. “All in all, the information Zego can collect is five times more data per vehicle than competitors, or 50 data points per second. This means we have a much better understanding of the risks than our competitors, enabling us to offer the best insurance coverage, from an hour to a year of insurance."

To date, Zego has delivered over 17 million insurance policies and covered more than 200,000 vehicles in five countries. With the insurance field becoming increasingly digital, Zego is expected to grow further.

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🦄 5 Pipedrive: For those who sell from those who know how to sell

First, we have to say that we are happy customers and big fansPipe driveat the Estonian Investment Agency, like digital sales processes at usUnited Nations awardedthe desk was largely built around him. Thanks Pipe Drive!

Founded in 2010 by Timo Rein, Urmas Purde, Ragnar Sass, Martin Henk and Martin Tajur, Pipedrive's main advantage is that it is a highly intuitive sales software built by salespeople for salespeople. According to the company, more than 100,000 organizations around the world use its solutions.

About 14 years ago, Pipedrive co-founder Ragnar Sass ventured into starting a business with his first startup, United Dogs and Cats. Basically, it had to be Facebook for… you guessed it: dogs and cats. “When it became clear that United Dogs and Cats would not continue its activities, in the spring of 2010, Purde and Rein contacted me about their CRM idea. Their biggest concern was that more than half of their CRM software wasn't actually being used or wasn't meeting salespeople's needs,” said Sass.Life in an Estonian magazine.

After exchanging emails with Purde, he discussed the idea with Henk and Tajur. The parties involved have decided that the concept is correct and will continue this as equal partners.

“Purde and Rein have been in sales for years. They started selling door to door. They had a clear vision in mind for which CRM they wanted to build. They even asked someone to write a 50 page technical spec of what they wanted to build. We decided not to use it, so as not to limit ourselves,” says Sass.

The influence of previous Estonian unicorn builders on Pipedrive cannot be underestimated, and especially the influence of former Skypers. It's an interesting coincidence (or maybe not) that one of Pipedrive's supporters was Swedish billionaire entrepreneur Niklas Zennström, who also supported Estonia's first unicorn.Skype'a, Pipedrive is his second investment in Estonia.

We can expect that just as the sale of Skype triggered the startup frenzy in Estonia, the sale and Pipedrive's status as a unicorn will have the same effect. The first successes are already visible.

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🦄 4 Bolt: Farewell to 'Kitty'

“We were able to reduce the number of classic taxi call centers – i.e. taxi company coordinators and owners – but we gave tens of thousands of drivers the opportunity to offer their services on our platform” - Markus Villig, co-founderScrewhe saidLife in an Estonian magazine.

Bolt (formerly known as Taxify) is a ride-sharing platform operating in more than 40 countries in Europe, Africa and South America, bringing together thousands of registered drivers and millions of passengers.

In 2012, Markus' brother and other Bolt co-founder, Martin Villig, organized an event in Kiev, Ukraine, and tried to order a taxi online, which turned out to be quite a hassle. Then he came up with an idea to make carpooling much easier.

Markus picked up on the idea and got involved. As he himself says, during his high school finals, he discovered that he had a lot of free time, so he decided to build a platform to "put the taxi business in order in Tallinn." At the time, there were more than thirty taxi companies in Tallinn, all operating in the old-style, call center, with an operator, often misogynisticly referred to as a "cat", who brokered the rides.

The early start was promising. Markus conducted a Google Docs survey at his school, to which he received 600 responses, 90% of which indicated that there was an urgent need for a new taxi platform. No one has heard of Uber yet.

Markus started driving through the taxi ranks and things started to get crazy: "Of course I didn't have a stage to show yet, and as a 19-year-old I interrupted the drivers who were reading the newspaper..." 8 out of 3 Ten taxi drivers would yell at him to get out of the car. He also quickly realized that his initial budget of €200 was simply not profitable to create an online platform. The developer he found 'somewhere outside the city' asked 7,000 euros for the prototype alone...

The bumpy road continued and eventually led to unicorn status. “My ambition from the very beginning was to build one of the largest technology companies in Europe,” Markus Villig was not shy to announce when the big announcement was finally made. Bolt's ambitions don't stop there: whether it's making services more user-friendly and secure, orbalanced.

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🦄 3 (Transfer)Wise: Europe's most valuable fintech ready for further development

"Ten years ago, Taavet [Hinrikus] and I decided to arrange international money transfers for all of us who were overpaying and whose banks were not providing enough service" - co-founder of the companyWiseKristo Käärmann schreef inBlog TransferWiseannouncing the rebranding of one of the most valuable startups ever founded by Estonians. “We called our idea 'TransferWise' – because our first customers were 'smart', knowing that their banks had hidden costs in the exchange rate margins. Today, our name refers to the people we already build for: communities of people and businesses living multi-currency lives.

But what is behind Wise's success? Co-founder Taavet Hinrikus explained it to us a few years ago at a tech conferenceLatitude 59: "There is something in the soil in Estonia that makes the Estonians much more capable of doing something great!" He added that the Estonians are used to doing things with few resources. Wise is just one example of a company that started with relatively few resources, but has grown into a global company.

2021 will be a year of further expansion for Wise with 165 new employeesTallinn office. 1 aprilReutersalso announced that Wise is on track to conduct an IPO in May 2021. However, this news has not yet been confirmed by the company. We know that Wise no longer wants to be 'just' a money transfer company, and the recent name change has highlighted the company's extensive portfolio of services.

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🦄 2 Playtech: Become the world's largest provider of online gaming software

Playtech is the world's largest provider of online gaming software, founded in Tartu, Estonia's second largest city, in 1999. The founder of the beginningPlay techwas Cypriot-Israeli entrepreneur Teddy Sagi, who wanted to bring together the best minds from the world of games, technology and multimedia to create a company without rival. Naturally, he chose Estonia as the location for the company.

It took Sagi and his team just two years to launch the company's first casino - but that was just the beginning, as several trends in technology and media usage were tapped along the way, changing the way online gaming software works, was renewed.

Just over twenty years later, Playtech is at its peakIndeks FTSE250and listed onLondon Stock Exchange. Playtech currently owns more than 300 gaming brands, has more than 150 global licensees and offices in 19 countries around the world.

One of Playtech's key success factors in recent years has been its ability to recruit and retain top talent from Estonia and abroad. The employees love Playtech - one of the main reasons why the gaming software provider seems to have a bright future ahead of it.

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🦄 1 Skype: Change calls - and play

Co-founder of the companyWise, said Daavet Hinrikus in an interview withCNBCa few years ago that he sees an uprisingSkype'aas one of the key chapters of Estonia's digitization, as well as its resurgence as a haven for tech startups and entrepreneurs.

The influence of Estonia's first unicorn, as well as its numerous alumni, is evident in Tallinn's vibrant startup scene and now in many other sectors of the economy.
Why is Skype important in the context of foreign direct investment? It is one of the first highly successful foreign investments in the Estonian startup ecosystem. Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis could have gone almost anywhere with their idea, but they chose Estonia, where bright minds like Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, Jaan Tallinn and Toivo Annus helped make their idea a reality. The $2.6 billion Skype Technologies sold to eBay was huge, especially in the context of Estonia in 2005.

Nowadays almost everyone knows what Skype is, and the current owner, Microsoft, still has part of his team working on messaging and video conferencing software in Estonia.

In 2021, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid awarded one of Skype's co-founders, Niklas Zennströmstate decorationfor perseverance in action and loyalty to contemporary Estonian values, such as openness and democracy, knowledge and entrepreneurship, care and perception.

"Skypen" has become a verb for Internet calling in English, Estonian and many other languages. Of course, looking back at how it turned out, we can also consider another meaning of the verb: running the production lines of the unicorn factory.

Do you want to do business in Estonia? Send us an inquirye-consultfor more information and a personal consultation with one of our investment advisers.

* – Unicorn with Estonian founders, headquarters or a significant part of the R&D department based in Estonia.

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