Though Testlio is registered as a company in San Francisco, CA, the concept was born in the head of an Estonian woman eager to make a difference in the world of testing. When our founder, Kristel Kruustük, pitched Testlio at the AngelHack workshop in the US with her co-founder Marko, only a few had heard of the small Baltic nation they came from — a country transformed by digital innovation. 

Whether you live in Estonia or have never even heard of Estonia, we invite you to come on a drive with us to explore the country through Kristel’s eyes. And, if you’d like to extend the drive and learn a bit more about the country, check out this video produced by our pals at Porsche that explores further — including commentary from Kristel.

The video produced by Porsche featuring Kristel

Porsche Estonia has nominated Kristel for the Global Startup Awards in the category of Diversity Role Model of the Year. The winner is decided via the combination of public and jury vote.

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Summers with grandparents in the countryside

Some of Kristel’s first and sweetest memories are of times spent in Viljandi with her grandparents.

“I used to spend all my summers there, months at a time. My grandfather and late grandmother taught me so much about the circle of life. I will never forget having to wake up at 7:00 a.m. with the rooster crowing and riding my bike to pick up fresh cow milk from the farm next to us,” said Kruustük.

Her grandparents traded money or eggs for a 3-liter milk bottle from neighbors. After breakfast, they would head over to the farm field to weed, pick berries, prune and treat flowers, and bail hay. Of course, the afternoons were for play. 

“My grandparents taught me two important things: you will always harvest what you plant, and the work you do can benefit your whole family. I have very fond memories of those times,” she continued.

Estonia, the original startup

“Estonia is surrounded by water from 3 sides, there are a lot of forests and no mountains (the highest peak is 318m). Our population is only 1.3M and our capital, Tallinn, dates back to the 15th century,” Kruustük said.

There are a lot of typical sectors that a country like Estonia could excel in. Fishery, lumber, natural resources. But with brilliant minds, Estonians flocked toward technology.

Despite its small population, Estonia has emerged as a leading innovator in technology and startup culture. Kristel likes to say that Estonia is like a tiny startup itself. 

The birthplace of Skype

“When people ask me what lies behind the Estonian success story I often start with Skype,” Kruustük said. 

Skype was founded in the early 2000s by Estonian engineers, and quickly found success with its innovative video calling software and eventual acquisition by Microsoft in 2011. The success of Skype inspired many Estonians to believe that tech could open doors of success to anyone, even those from a small country at the intersection of the East and West.

In the decades that followed, Estonians have become steeped in startup culture. Currently, about 6,300 Estonians work for startups, and just 1% of the Estonian working population creates 2-3% of Estonian GDP. Impressive, right?

The most advanced digital society in the world

The contradiction between Estonia’s digital-first mindset and old-world architecture has intrigued many visitors. In a profile naming Estonia the most advanced digital society in the world, Wired touched on the paradox of Estonia:

“When author Violaine Chempetier de Ribes first visited Estonia – known as one of the world’s first digital societies – she was expecting a futuristic city to fit the title.

‘You’re expecting a spaceship and instead, the first thing you see when you get to [the capital] Tallinn is a medieval old town, like Game of Thrones.'”

Wired, 2020

“The way Wired describes Estonia is absolutely true,” agrees Kruustük. Ancient fortress ruins cover the country. Even the urban areas still have medieval castles, old churches, and perfectly preserved 600-year-old towers.

Despite its 15th century aesthetic, Estonia is deeply digital. Ninety-nine percent of public services are available online. Voting is online. ID cards are online. All public health records are accessible online.

Setting up a company: 3 minutes. 

Declaring taxes: 3 minutes. 

Estonian people: still waters run deep

Kristel describes Estonians as quiet, hard-working, and reserved.

“We like saunas, mushroom picking, bog adventures, dancing, and singing. Our US colleagues have described Estonians as straightforward. We speak without filters, but are also very warm and kind,” Kruustük noted.

Speaking of work, Estonians have a very well-known saying that describes the importance of their careers quite clearly— work hard and love will follow.

Testlio wouldn’t be here today without the Estonian people. Nearly 1/3 of our full-time employees — more than any other nationality — are Estonians. We have been fortunate to receive constant support from Estonia and its people from the beginning. Groups like Enterprise Estonia and the Founders Community have helped Testlio blossom into what it is today.

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