The idea was developed by the founder of the company, Märt Saarepera and his collegues in Estonia when Mart was in Japan. Mart started out as an academic and a researcher, but became an entrepreneur in residence at my company Neoteny back when we were still incubating businesses. At the time, our team thought that the business was too early and passed on the investment and Mart set off on his own with support of his friends and family and some minimal support from myself.
Years later, it looks like the market is finally ready for Mart and his product. His idea has also developed from a rather theoretical idea to something they can show and ship.
Because of securities laws in Estonia, I needed to visit Estonia personally to open an account at a bank there. The banking in Estonia is really advanced, having been built from scratch after the Internet existed already. They use hardware password generators for their online banking and offer more services through the Internet than any other bank I’ve ever seen. Also, because they don’t have a lot of legacy crap like banks in Japan, they are very profitable and lean.
Tallinn was a very cool city. It is the capital of Estonia with a population of about 400,000. In many ways it reminds me of Helsinki except smaller and with Skype as the anchor IT global brand instead of Nokia.
The old town where I stayed was a beautiful district with the old architecture preserved and the random Russian government buildings scattered around typical of this former USSR region. Embedded in this old-architecture are very nice restaurants, shops and hotels built in the cool super-minimalist style of Nordic Europe that I love so much. I stayed at a hotel called Three Sisters and it was the best small hotel I’ve stayed in recently.
Another cool thing about Tallinn was that there was free wifi everywhere. The hotel, railway station, offices and airport all had free wifi. The Internet was faster than in Frankfurt airport, the Frankfurt Sheraton, in fact faster than just about anywhere that I’ve been recently other than my office in Tokyo.
I don’t know if it is the Estonian culture or Mart’s community, but everyone I met at GuardTime and Skype seemed happy and smart. There was a buzz of a strong culture and good work being done. I miss think sort of feeling “pure” feeling these days.
I’ve uploaded my photos in a Flickr set.