One of Estonia's best-known tech entrepreneurs, Sten Tamkivi, has been moving back and forth between several countries with his family for years. It's an experience that's shown him all the annoying hassles that come with being constantly on the move. As the former general manager for Skype in Estonia, Tamkivi knew that software could be the key to help getting rid of those niggles.
The idea for a startup that could help people across the globe to choose the most suitable places to live and work started to come together late last year. At the time, Tamkivi, who is also one of the brains behind the Estonian e-residency concept, was working at the venture capital firm Andressen Horowitz as the 'entrepreneur in residence'. There he met Balaji S Srinivasan, a general partner at Andressen Horowitz who was working on an article for Wired about cloud communities - and became a founder for the startup. The third co-founder was Silver Keskküla who, like Tamkivi, was a Skype veteran who joined the VoIP company as a senior research engineer in 2005, the same year as Tamkivi.
Because of their work, the founders had moved around the globe several times, taking in a range of countries. Aside from his home of Estonia, Tamkivi has worked in the UK, Singapore, and the US; while Srinivasan had seen his career take him to China, Finland, France, India, Singapore, Sweden and the US.
The result was Teleport, a site for digital nomads, born of the troubles that the three founders had suffered in their many moves, and a vision of a world where workers were far more mobile between countries.
"If there was a company already working on creating that world, I would have probably joined it. As I couldn't find one, we had to create one with Silver and Balaji," Tamkivi said.
This November Teleport launched a tool that lets startup staff including developers, designers, product people, and marketers find where should they live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area — and how much money and time they could save if they changed where they're based. In addition to the rent costs and commuting time, Teleport lets users add extra filters to personalize their search further — from the number of restaurants and bars nearby to the air quality in the area and neighbourhood safety.
Tamkivi said he views the initial Teleport tool as a rather small milestone, as the company has been building its engineering team and this early product for just five months. As of now, the experience is only designed for a single urban professional in the Bay Area - someone who lives alone, rents, can work remotely in their startup job, and has minimal friction to moving.
"We call it a technology preview - not even a beta version - but we wanted to get something out, and we were looking for feedback from early users that we couldn't get by keeping our experiments behind a password," he said.
After Silicon Valley, Teleport is looking at expanding the service to cover more cities around the world.
"Think about it: you just don't hear about a successful startup these days that has all their employees, clients, investors, and freelancers located all in the same place. There just is no single place on Earth where a startup can stay put and win," said Tamkivi, adding that for software startups, Silicon Valley probably comes closest. "But even there you have to juggle downsides such as prohibitive living costs and killer hiring environment."
Still, he believes there is a positive side to being involved in the startup industry. "Startup people are lucky. Tasks they do behind their computers every day are not tied to a location, they can move around if they choose to. We'll help them figure this multi-location life out and help them be at the best place for every step of their journey."
Teleport itself is a good example of a company that doesn't tie its employees to a certain working location. The team consists of eight full-time staff and a few freelancers who are based in Tallinn, Estonia; Palo Alto, California; Munich, Germany; and Bern, Switzerland — and are frequently on the move.
This fall Teleport received $2.5m early stage funding from Andreessen Horowitz, SV Angel, Seedcamp, and several angel investors including Scott and Cyan Banister and Rain Rannu, a founder of another successful Estonian startup, Fortumo.
At the moment Teleport is focusing on startup employees, but in its long-term vision, the company wants to "make every single government compete for every single citizen in the world".
"Create a wonderful environment for certain people and they will come. Mess up the value you offer for residents, and they will move elsewhere," said Tamkivi.