Hate mobile QA testing? There's a startup for that

One Estonian startup is hoping to change the way companies think about quality assurance and mobile testing.

Three years ago, Kristel Viidik already had several years of software testing under her belt. Spurred on by her experiences, she decided to do something about the many problems with quality assurance she had encountered - and which had impacted her and her team's results and efficiency.

Firstly, she felt that her time wasn't appreciated enough - she was paid for every bug she found, yet each bug took a different amount of time to uncover. Also she found the lack of co-operation among testers really frustrating - everyone was focused on their own results rather than cooperating with their team to get a lot more done overall.

She talked over the problems with her partner Marko Kruustük and they decided to launch a product aimed at tackling these problems - and giving the traditional QA industry a jumpstart by outsourcing quality control. Testlio was born.

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Testlio focuses on mobile applications testing for companies, pitching itself as a way to save businesses money by avoiding the need to hire their own testing team or buy devices to test on. Customers pay Testlio according to the hours spent on testing, with the work done by Testlio's hundreds of registered members from all over the world, whose skills have been verified by the company before they're entrusted with any projects. The testers can do their work from wherever they want, and are paid by the hour by Testlio.

Viidik and Kruustük tested their idea in hackathons, where it proved successful. They were among the winners of Angelhack London and the global Angelhack final in San Francisco in early 2013.

"We didn't have a plan B. We were all-in from the beginning. All the things happened quite smoothly and the fact that we were among the winners in both London and San Francisco was the factor that gave us the most faith in our undertaking," said Viidik.

Estonians are known for being modest and reserved, which can sometimes backfire in international startup competitions. But although the Testlio founders admit it wasn't easy to get through all the rounds of pitches, their strong belief in their idea helped them to succeed.

"I wouldn't say it was a natural and easy accomplishment for us. But neither me or Marko [Kruustük, Testlio's co-founder] like to enjoy the comfort zone and I think that was a great help for us."

They invested the $25,000 prize they got from the San Francisco hackathon in establishing their own testing environment. Viidik decided to quit her day job in London that spring and the couple packed their bags and moved to Estonia to lower their costs, while they worked on customer development.

In the summer, they headed to the US to be closer to the market and customers, and speed up the business processes that were suffering due to operating in a different time zone to clients.

At the same time they decided to apply to the Techstars Austin accelerator - in the last minutes before the deadline for applications closed. While the accelerator got pitches from more than 850 companies, Testlio was among the ten chosen to participate.

The experience and networking that Techstars provided have proven valuable. Largely thanks to the accelerator, Testlio closed a $1m investment round in late March this year. Most of the investors are from US, among them Techstars, Geekdom Fund, former president of Rackspace Lew Moorman, Bullet Time Ventures, and others.

Viidik says that after the investment round, the co-founders still own "a fair share" of Testlio, while its ten staff members have also been compensated as "they're the reason for the company's fast growth".

While Viidik didn't provide numbers for the company's sales and profit, she said that its revenue has grown around 70 percent from month to month recently, and it has added several big names to its customer list, Microsoft and Voxox among them.

The $1m investment will be spent on setting up offices in the US and Estonia, and on doubling the company's headcount.

As with most successful Estonian startups, the sales and marketing team is based near to the majority of customers, in the US, while the development team is situated in Estonia. This year, Testlio is focusing more on its products and looking for talented developers and project managers.

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"I think it is a really big market - look at Bench.co or GlamSquad, for example. People want to be free and work whenever and from wherever they find suitable for them and we are offering them those possibilities."

"Finding talented employees anywhere is hard. There will always be companies in the US who will pay more than you, so we have to focus on getting people to sacrifice that pay increase for our unique culture. We focus a lot on that, and so far it has really paid off because we have built an incredibly talented team," said Viidik.

The biggest challenge the team has faced so far is changing people's opinions of what outsourcing means for QA, and how Testlio is different.

"While people can still see us as outsourcing, we're actually a facilitator to building a flexible QA team," she said, adding that on-demand services in general are getting more and more popular.

Viidik hopes that in the next few years Testlio will completely change traditional QA as it is known today.

"We may release a new product down the line, but the majority of our focus will be on refining our product/service to where our customers can't imagine the world of QA without us," she said.

Viidik is determined to achieve that goal. "I'm not counting my working hours. I always do as much as I can and sometimes more. I haven't had time for any of my hobbies, but in the next few months I will try to find some time in Estonia to go horse riding and to play the piano."

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