From Hong Kong To Estonia
The journey started with a Facebook Ad I stumbled upon after quitting my previous job. It was a role that I was planning to further explore. The fact that it was in an early-stage startup from an unfamiliar country made it even more attractive. I hit the “Apply” button straightaway.
Three months later, in March 2016, I landed Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia. It was a crisp night (or a fairly warm night by Estonian standards). Without a proper jacket, I couldn’t stop shivering on the way from the plane to the terminal building. But I was so excited to figure out the unknowns ahead.
I was joining Jobbatical as the first B2B marketer in the 11-person team, which had just moved into a new office. There was nothing in the new office for the first few weeks after I arrived. The team had to sit (or lie) on the floor for meetings. I loved the early-stage setup so much that I felt inspired to make as many contributions as possible.
In addition to the professional challenges of building a B2B marketing process from scratch, it was also fascinating to work with a very-multicultural team.
As an international recruitment platform, Jobbatical has been eating own dog food. The team grew from 10 people, mainly from Estonia, into a 25+ team from 10+ different countries.
I have been a huge believer in blending different cultures to make the world a better place. By immersing myself in such a multicultural working environment, I got to hear a lot of stories from my coworkers and found out how ignorant I had been. Understanding other cultures is definitely a fast track to a better self.
By the way, I also watched my first Eurovision in Tallinn, the most European TV show ever.
Some friends asked if I had any problems living in Estonia. Thanks to my fellow superb coworkers in Jobbatical, I couldn’t recall any issues other than being astonished.
Even when my bike got stolen in front of the office building, the case was cleared in 6 months without hassle. My coworkers called the police and filed a case online (yes! online!) right away once it had happened. I went to a police station to record my testimony and, after that, the thief was caught within 3 months. I got a letter (it would be even better as an email) from the court about the penalty for the thief another 3 months later.
Despite the incident, everything has been much better than I could imagine. There is nothing similar to the post-Soviet countries in those Hollywood movies. Estonia is so well-developed in many aspects. Electric cars and trams moving around. I don’t need to bring cash for anything, including food trucks. People are friendly and helpful. With modern buildings popping up in the city, the Old Town stays medieval, while the countryside remains green.
Last week, I booked a time slot for a haircut in one minute which I was, again, astonished by, even though I had been getting used to E-stonia. The coverage of online services is so broad, from small business to big companies, and from private sectors to government services.
I often overheard tech and startup-related conversations in random cafes. Not to mention how many times I bumped into random tech people on the street, in restaurants and even in the countryside. It is good to feel ideas flowing around.
Move fast and break things
I went for a walk the first night after I arrived in Tallinn. Some streets were so dark, with abandoned buildings on both sides. I had to pass those areas at a faster pace.
Some of those haunted houses have turned into modern apartment buildings now. There’s a nicely-designed market nearby and a few other construction sites around. I can see the city being so energetic, with new things introduced every now and then.
As one of the most digitalized countries in the world, buzzwords like blockchain, AI and ICO don’t sound that distant from the reality in Estonia. The residency card system has been built on blockchain technology, delivery robots are tested around the city and there is a plan to launch country-level ICO in Estonia.
New technologies usually come with a seed of doubt. A few weeks ago, e-Residency announced a piece of news about a potential security vulnerability in the system and some people were worried. It was unbelievable to see a government organization admitting to having issues. The transparency and the attitude toward fixing it actually earned my respect instead of making me panic.
It’s not the mistake that matters; it’s how you deal with it.
Do you want to stay in Tallinn or Hong Kong?
Someone asked me this question. But I didn’t get to pick only one. I picked both and some other cities. They should not be exclusive to each other. I gained tons of experience in Tallinn and San Francisco that I could never have had in Hong Kong and vice versa. There are always unexpected synergies from staying in multiple cities.
I’ll still be hanging around in Tallinn in the near future, helping teams organize knowledge with my cofounders in Hong Kong. Nothing beats the Estonian winter as the best place for staying focused and building the product. You are more than welcome to visit me and bring me some warmth. 👋 if you are in the city! 🇪🇪