A Brit Moves to Estonia to Help Build a New Digital Nation

by Dea Martinjonis July 19, 2017

Estonia may be a small nation but it has dared to dream big. Having popped out a couple of unicorn startups like Skype and TransferWise, it applies a startup-like mentality to governing, too. A couple of years ago this country of 1.3 million launched a program called e-Residency, along with a bold promise it’ll help grow its population to 10 million. The team behind it has grown twelve-fold since — with the new international hires found through Jobbatical. We talked to the Brit in charge of their Communications. It may or may not have involved some sauna time.

Many Heads of State have been given Estonian e-Residency. Here’s the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel receiving hers from the former Prime Minister of Estonia, Taavi Rõivas.

In a nutshell, e-Residency is a transnational digital identity that anyone in the world can apply for. E-residents then have access to the EU business environment and can use public e-services through their digital identity. The primary reason e-residents are joining this community is to run a trusted location-independent EU business online with all the tools needed to conduct business globally. Today, there are over 20,000 e-residents from 138 countries and together they run over 3,000 companies, including 1,600 that were newly established through e-Residency. The program has attracted a lot of attention and has other countries — like Singapore and Dubai — already exploring how they can roll out their own versions of it.

Adam explains e-Residency to a journalist.

Since the program was launched with Kaspar Korjus as the Managing Director and only employee, his e-Residency team has now grown twelve-fold (with plans to grow twenty-one-fold!) into a very international bunch with the new hires found through Jobbatical. This includes Ukrainian-Canadian Oleg Gutsol, a successful entrepreneur who founded 500px in his earlier life and flew in from Bali, Frenchman Arnaud Castaignet who worked as the PR manager of the country’s former president François Hollande, Mexican Daniela Godoy who has led the program’s partnership with the UN, Aleksey Voronkov who has been appointed as the program’s first country manager in Ukraine, and then there’s our current protagonist — the Brit who moved to Estonia (with a slightly longer layover in the UK) from South Africa — Adam Rang, the Head of Communications and Community Engagement at e-Residency.

Adam (in the middle) with his colleagues Oleg Gutsol and Aleksey Voronkov in Ukraine — e-Residency gets loads of applications from this country.

“I never imagined such high-level people would apply to work with us,” says Kaspar Korjus. “The competition has been so high”. The program actually published only two job positions on Jobbatical, but ended up receiving 144 applications for these and now four of them are part of the team.

Adam during his journalist days in South Africa. In the midst of an important interview, clearly.

“We’re all passionate about building a borderless digital nation where no one is held back from their entrepreneurial potential just because of where they live,” says Adam Rang who worked as a journalist in South Africa where he spent five years, before moving back to his native UK to work in communications. This included four years handling communications for global defence firm BAE Systems — after which he decided to move again. This time to Estonia, to establish his own media house. He’d followed the rise of e-Estonia and the #estonianmafia, as well as the publicity generated by e-Residency — so he was convinced this was the right location to start up. “While I really enjoyed running my own company in Estonia, I came to realize that e-Residency is a far bigger idea than anything I could do on my own. So I applied for a position there and got hired. Estonia is a great place to run a business so it’s ironic that I now have a job that enables me to spread those exact same benefits — of running an Estonian company to anyone in the world,” Adam says.

Adam Rang in his every day working element — explaining the advantages of running a global business from Estonia.

“I’ve always worked in the private sector, yet the Estonian government is the most entrepreneurial and ambitious employer I’ve ever had!” Rang claims.

Brexit leads to a surge in UK applicants for e-Residency

The e-Residency program was launched as a startup — in beta mode, so it’s being continuously improved based on the experience of real e-residents around the world. e-Residency has generated a lot of headlines since it was launched so people are surprised to discover this has all been achieved by a very small team until relatively recently.

“Everything about our team feels more like a startup than government, such as our lean approach, our workplace culture and even our new website,” Adam says. “Growing the program in beta mode means we can be completely open about what is working and what needs improving, but there are major improvements underway, including easier access to online banking, so we’re really excited about the opportunities we now have to build up our e-Residency community.”

Adam (on the right) with his French colleague Arnaud have been using Estonia’s EU Council Presidency to tell even more people about e-Residency.

“Brexit has led to a surge in UK applications for e-Residency so journalists do sometimes find it amusing when I discuss this from an Estonian perspective in a British accent. The reality though is that e-Residency is far bigger than Brexit, even for Brits signing up. E-Residency is significantly lowering the costs and hassle of conducting business online globally, as well as providing access to a trusted business environment and fintech services to people who would otherwise be financially excluded. That’s Estonia’s gift to the world.”

Back to the roots

Curiously enough, Adam has Estonian citizenship and family heritage from both Estonia and Latvia as his grandparents fled after World War II.

“During my own lifetime, Estonia has transformed from a closed country under occupation to one of the world’s most open and dynamic independent nations. That’s a remarkable comeback, so it is a real honour to be here contributing to the future,” Adam tells. “Some of my friends in Estonia had grandparents in the same displaced peoples’ camps as mine and have also chosen to return because of the opportunities that Estonia can now offer.”

Roots or no roots, living in a foreign country and culture can be challenging. Adam says that he has found Estonians to be very straight talking and not into small talk. “This can sometimes be misinterpreted as rude to non-Estonians at first, but they soon realise how refreshing it is to know exactly what people are thinking, especially in a work environment. Estonians say what they mean and mean what they say! That makes everything more efficient, especially in business.”

After moving to Estonia, Adam has become quite a sauna aficionado. In the winter hardcore sauna-goers go and roll in the snow to cool down. So does Adam, naturally. Here posing in the Union Jack just because.

He also likes to point out his biggest personal achievement whilst part of the team. “I’ve managed to convert the entire office into drinking English tea with milk. Seeing my US colleague, Alex, now often drinking tea instead of coffee is an important reminder that anything is possible!”

Adam has the mindset of a purebred jobbaticler and says that he wishes we’d been around earlier when he decided to take his journalistic skills from Great Britain to South Africa twelve years ago. And he was only 18 then! “That experience was more valuable than the next three years at university,” he says, adding “And this is also why I think a jobbatical is better than taking a course.”

Now, having taken advantage of Jobbatical, he shares some insider advice for all of you considering working somewhere else. “Don’t delay your application. The world is changing so fast thanks to advances in digital technology and more welcoming workplace cultures that understand the value of diverse, international teams. That means we’ve never had so much freedom to live and work across borders. Seize those opportunities!”

And here’s a bonus track for Adam’s story. Guess what Estonia has done to him? “I don’t think I could ever live in a home without a sauna again.”


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