Estonia launched e-Residency so that anyone in the world can apply to gain access to our country’s e-services, across both the public and private sector.
The main reason for doing that so far has been to start and manage a trusted company entirely online and also access the tools needed to grow it globally. That’s improving the lives of people around the world who would otherwise be excluded from entrepreneurship — or at least face higher costs.
But what if e-Residency was not just about accessing e-services that help you conduct business globally? What if e-Residency was also about accessing a valuable e-community made up of other global entrepreneurs?
E-Residency is in beta mode so we’ve been listening carefully to feedback from e-residents over the past three years and continuously exploring how the programme can be improved.
We’ve also received significant support for improving e-Residency from the Estonian Academy of Arts, which dedicated an Interaction Design Masters course to this topic last year. The students conducted extensive research into how e-residents use the programme, which included interviewing e-residents and mapping out their experiences to find the biggest pain points, challenges and lost opportunities.
Their findings covered issues such as a lack of information (or conflicting information) about how to use e-Residency, the waiting period before receiving a digital ID card, the challenge of choosing the right service providers, and the desire to conduct more business with Estonians and other e-residents.
Based on this collective research, the students then developed a variety of solutions that they had to present at the end of the course. All of us at the e-Residency programme were incredibly impressed with their understanding of the issues facing e-residents and how they can be solved.
There was a clear recurring theme through many of the ideas, which was the need to develop e-Residency as a digital platform that can provide e-residents with increased opportunities to connect with each other as a community, learn how to use the programme and grow their companies globally. Instead of focusing on one solution, we have made the decision to use their collective research and invest in a platform that can support the e-resident community by combining several of the solutions provided by the students, as well as provide us with the possibility to develop it with more features in future.
Thank all the e-residents who took part in the study, as well as every student on the Interaction Design course — Ene Allas, Roland Arnoldt, Kaidi Ilves, Mirko Känd, Eerik Kändler, Britta Laumets, Riina Libe, Gloria Paul, Mariin Petoffer, Ene Raja, Raili Randmaa, Hans Tort, Timo Treit, and Kristina Valter. Thank you as well to their teachers, Dan Mikkin, Amid Moradganjeh, and Kristjan Mändmaa. They have all made a significant contribution to the future of our digital nation.
The importance of community
In many ways, the e-resident community is already growing.
E-residents are meeting each other right now both online across social media and offline around the world because they feel that they are part of something special and they want to connect with like-minded people who have also signed up.
Ernest Hemmingway famously (at least in Estonia) once wrote that “in every port in the world, at least two Estonians can be found.” However, it’s now even easier to find e-residents of our digital nation everywhere you go too.
By connecting, e-residents are forming friendships, finding new solutions together, and providing each other with business opportunities. This doesn’t just help them individually, but also helps the entire e-Residency programme because this community adds more value to being an e-resident and helps us all learn more about the best ways to benefit from the programme.
For most e-residents though, the opportunities to connect with other e-residents are still limited.
There’s a great Facebook group called Estonian e-residents, for example, and one of the most common types of post there is simply asking who else is an e-resident from their own country. There simply has to be an easier way for e-residents to find each other based on their needs and not just because they happen to see a one-off post.
For some e-residents, this community has the potential to be one of the most valuable parts of the programme. Even if not everyone wants to start a company straight away, they may still be very keen to explore opportunities that can come from connecting with other e-residents.
We know that many e-residents are already part of various business communities, both online and off, from Facebook groups to Chambers of Commerce so they see the value of e-Residency as a business community too. Many e-residents are already paying a fair amount of money in membership fees to those networking organisations outside of e-Residency that can connect them with like-minded entrepreneurs.
As Sean Watson, Director of the Innovation Partnership Program at Singularity University, explained to us recently:
“I love being part of Estonia’s digital nation through e-Residency,but I don’t have a need for the e-services…at least not yet! .But who wouldn’t want to build connections with the dynamic and forward-thinking e-Residency community? We’re spread around the world, but we’re a self-selecting group that shares many of the same values. Instead of starting a company, I’m excited to share ideas and collaborate with like-minded e-Residents to see what we can create together.”
At one point, an eResNetwork was created by the private sector to provide e-residents with their own platform for connecting with each other. Although that project has come to an end, we have learnt a lot from this platform thanks to Erik Ehasoo and Kaspar Triebstock from the digital innovation group Rubiks Digital that built it.
Some e-residents have asked if efforts to develop our own community platform would replace the role of social media groups like Estonian e-residents. We think the opposite is true because a platform that makes it easier for e-residents to connect and access information would then create more space for more in-depth discussions.
In addition, we need to ensure that we think big by not just taking inspiration from online communities but also taking the best features of offline business networks into the digital age.
Our new community platform
The e-Residency programme is now developing a community platform that is focused on helping e-residents connect with each other, learn about how to use the programme and provide them with more tools and opportunities to grow their companies globally.
We want e-Residency to be not just the best way to start and manage a company, but also the best community of choice for location-independent entrepreneurs.
It’s worth noting that this is the same objective behind our ‘estcoin’ proposal to issue crypto tokens to e-residents in a way that incentivises the growth of the e-resident community and enables them to gain more value from the programme. If the estcoin proposal is to proceed then this community platform, which is aligned with many of the same objectives, would provide the foundation for it.
Using the community platform will, of course, be optional for e-residents and everyone will be able to choose how much they wish to share with the rest of the community. However, we know many e-residents enjoy contributing to the community and we will design the platform to ensure that they are rewarded for doing so.
Below are the features for the community platform that we are currently exploring. Some of of these would be available at launch, while others will take longer to develop and then even more features can be added over time based on user feedback.
- Create profiles for yourself and then your company (or companies), then browse and search others, based on factors such as where they are in the world and who they are keen to connect with. Unlike other online networks, we want to ensure that users are real people with real identities. Company profiles would give those companies the opportunity to present themselves, but also share useful information with other e-residents, such as which services they use to run their companies. In time, we would also like to provide an extra layer of transparency by enabling customers to display key company information already submitted to the state, such as taxation, employees, and shareholders. This would further increase the level of trust within the network.
- Choose and rate e-services. Organisations that serve e-residents from both the public and private sector would be given their own digital space to present their services and interact with e-residents. E-residents would be able to rate them publicly so everyone benefits from greater transparency about the quality and scope of the services being offered. This would also enable us to invite a wider range of organisations into the e-Residency ecosystem and help e-residents find the best offers for their needs.
- Post and apply for work opportunities. We know the hardest part of building a business if often finding customers (especially that first customer) as well as finding the talent needed to support those customers once enough work is coming in. We want to help solve those problems for entrepreneurs by encouraging e-residents to conduct more business with each other within our trusted network. In fact, you might have noticed that this objective also forms a major part of the thinking behind estcoin, which we suggested could be used to reward e-residents for activities that grow the community, such as providing each other with business.
- Access information and discuss topics in forums. E-residency is democratising access to entrepreneurship, which means many e-residents are going through the process of starting a company for the first time. No matter how much experience you have as an entrepreneur though, conducting business globally is often more complex than it should be. We want to provide a library of knowledge through the platform — both from the programme but also by giving e-residents the freedom to share their own knowledge with each other. Everyone can choose which advice to follow and a transparent platform with real people running real companies makes it clearer where the advice is coming from.
- Create and consume content. We know there is a vast wealth of expertise within the e-Residency community so we want provide tools — such as webinar hosting — that will not just share that knowledge within the community but also provide e-residents with more exposure beyond the community.
- Organise and attend events. These could take place either online, such as the webinars mentioned above and ‘Ask Me Anything’ sessions, or offline around the world. The events could include meet ups, seminars, company launches, and special opportunities provided by e-residents and their companies.
- Shop. E-residents are proud members of our borderless digital nation and often like to show off their digital ID cards, both online and off. We would like to provide them with even more products to spread awareness of e-Residency.
Who is invited?
Our e-community platform is being designed to provide as much value as possible to our existing e-residents and their companies so they will be the only ones able to use all the features and gain the most value from the community.
However, there are good reasons to invite more people and companies into the platform.
For a start, I’ve mentioned that we are developing the platform with people and organisations across the entire e-Residency ecosystem. We encourage as many companies and organisations as possible to provide services to e-residents so the platform will be designed to facilitate this.
In addition, we’ve noticed a number of ways in which e-residents could benefit if the platform also provides limited access to the public.
We want to help e-residents gain greater visibility globally so it would be useful if features for promoting companies — like the profiles and webinars — could be viewed by anyone (if they wish).
Also, we want the platform to be used by people who are considering whether to become e-residents, as well as those still waiting for their application to be approved and their digital ID card to be issued. It would be useful if they could start speaking to e-residents and accessing information straight away, especially if it means finding e-residents in their region and industry who can share their experiences using the programme. People could join the community and create a personal profile straight away, but only use all the features and business tools once they become an e-resident and authenticate their identity.
Last, but definitely not least, there is another group of people that we want to benefit from the platform — Estonians. E-residents tell us they want more opportunities to connect with Estonians and the feeling is mutual.
There are ways we can achieve this objective early on by helping organisations in Estonia that can provide a gateway to entrepreneurs in Estonia — such as coworking spaces and business chambers — join the platform. We will also have a long term objective of developing ways for more people in every corner of Estonia to use the platform too.
Let’s build the future
Don’t worry if you weren’t part of the research study and still want to provide your feedback. You can sign up now as an e-tester at e-resident.gov.ee/community because we we will need your help in the months ahead to develop the platform.
After that, we are really looking forward to giving all e-residents access to the beta version of the platform in summer 2018. Continuous development will then take place after that and user feedback will enable us to understand which features are needed next.
There are already two new jobs being created at the e-Residency programme connected to this platform, which e-residents from anywhere in the world are welcome to apply for — although you’ll need to move to Tallinn for the role.
We need a Community Manager who will ensure that the community platform is running smoothly and a Global Offering Manager who will ensure that e-residents benefit from the widest choice of services in order to grow their companies.
Finally, let’s start the discussion about what features should be included in the new platform. You are welcome to leave comments below, use the hashtag #eResidency to discuss them on social media, or post feedback and ideas in the Estonian e-residents Facebook group.