The secret behind exceptional growth of Teltonika

The secret behind exceptional growth of Teltonika

Teltonika IoT Group accelerates the technological progress in Lithuania by developing unique Internet of Things solutions. With the headquarters located in Vilnius, Teltonika IoT Group has local offices spanning from Mexico to Singapore (27 offices in 18 different countries).

If unaware of the term Internet of Things (IoT), you might imagine it as cat 🐱 videos and memes on the Web. Instead, let’s think about wearable health monitors, pet tracking collars, or any other appliances that are connected to the Internet to make our life easier. 

Basically, the IoT is all around us! It is part of revolutionary Industry 4.0, and it is predicted that half of new businesses in 2020 will run on the Internet of Things. 🔥

Despite the tough competition in the IoT field, the past two years were extraordinary for Teltonika IoT Group, as their workforce grew from 750 employees to 1300. What are the obstacles this growth comes with? How does the company find the top talents and which HR problems they face?

 

Interview with Julius Svagzdys, Chief Corporate Marketer

 

Congratulations on the amazing growth! What does this expansion mean to Teltonika?

The people in the Teltonika company group are the most important business asset. And it is not surprising that workforce expansion, first of all, stands for business acceleration. 

We are very proud of our HR department team who always seek the maximum result and can find the most talented employees in more than 18 operating countries. For us, this first stage of global expansion means that soon we will be recognized as a worldwide leader in IoT technology development. 

Furthermore, we do not intend to stop at this milestone, but we’ll be continuously expanding our team. This is why we have more than 50 open vacancies from engineering to management spheres. It is also a great challenge for our HR development department.

 

What are the main challenges HR department has to face? How have they tackled the growth problems?

Challenges always come together with problems. It means that when your organization is continuously expanding, it opens more business opportunities, but at the same time it brings more problems related to new talents’ acquisition, training, leadership development, integration into the organizational culture, and much more.

The Teltonika company group is always looking for new methods to attract talents through social media, postings on job boards, special advertising, and even other traditional methods, such as recommendations from our current employees. We even have a dedicated team that is working on talent acquisition campaigns on social media.

Another opportunity vs challenge is employee growth and professional development. In every Teltonika company, we offer constant trainings that will reflect career advancement opportunities in the future. In our case, the organization is expanding very quickly, so it is a big challenge to provide every employee with professional trainings. Today we are proud to say that more than 90 percent of our managers started their vertical career paths inside the company.

From our long-term company experience, I can ensure you that the culture of organization influences the performance of new talents. Today in the Teltonika company group we are working in a mutual trust and respect culture. We are not only investing in new employees’ understanding of our organizational culture processes but also doing our best to show how effective it is. Every organization is performing by following a certain internal culture, so it is a huge challenge to show our organization’s cultural path to every employee.

Great workplaces with great culture are more effective and successful compared with an organization without it.

 

 

How has C-19 affected the IoT field?

Covid-19 continues to make an unprecedented impact on our society and the global economy. As a result, the Internet of Things industry was also involved in the consequences of the pandemic. However, this industry is full of undiscovered use case opportunities that Teltonika companies have taken up during the pandemic period. 

First of all, we started our new business niche called Teltonika Telemedic which is now responsible for professional telemedicine devices development. It gave us a chance to start developing professional artificial lung ventilators, proximity solutions, and other useful devices that can help people during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Following this period, we demonstrated that by focusing on the possibilities, we were able to reach more than 30 percent yearly growth and hire more than 300 employees only in Lithuania. And of course, those achievements are the reflection of a great team spirit and significant effort from our employees.

 

 

What is that special something that Teltonika offers to its team members?

Many companies are concerned about the side environment or activities that help to integrate the organization internally. All of this is really important, but during the COVID-19 pandemic period, most employees are working remotely, which requires a new employee integration strategy. 

As we all know, a good team spirit and the environment that promotes well-being are the key elements for employee engagement with a company. However, another necessary element that builds integrity within a company and increases employee engagement is exceptional challenges.

Let’s imagine that everything you are doing is about innovation and different ways of helping people. I personally believe that such exceptional challenges are definitely one of the most convincing arguments for choosing the Teltonika company group. Today we are performing in 5 different technology spheres, and you can become a part of various projects such as e-scooter sharing devices, insurance telematics, development of medical gadgets, and professional networking device programming.

 

Teltonika seems to be very good at educating the community as you are investing into, not one, but two educational programs. Could you please tell us more about the Teltonika IoT and B2B Academy?

We believe that professionalism is the main criterion of building exceptional IoT devices and directing them to the right client. This is why we are taking care of our employees’ education from the very first days. 

As a result, we have successfully launched IoT and B2B academies that are taking care of our youngest employees who are learning about IoT technologies and professional B2B sales. 

Right now, we have 5 operating academies in Kaunas and Vilnius which have successfully trained more than 500 students. 

The IoT academy offers 8 different technical programs that help students to obtain more knowledge about IoT devices programming, supporting, designing, and more. 

Whereas the B2B academy is an exceptional project for students who would like to challenge themselves in professional sales. Our main value is to help the people and by supporting our academies, we are helping students to make their first career step.

 

You mentioned that Teltonika has plenty of open vacancies. Where could one reach out to you if they wish to join your team?

Now we have open positions for PHP and front-end developers in our brand awareness department. If You are looking for an opportunity to show your programming superpowers, just let me know!

 

 

And finally, what is the most useful IoT gadget that you use in your daily life? What IoT appliance (that is not made yet) would you like to use in the future?

Nowadays I cannot imagine flexible connectivity without Teltonika Networks equipment which is traveling together with me and keeping all my gadgets online wherever I go, from home office to the holidays on a boat. In the future, I will definitely use one of our upcoming smartwatches detecting atrial fibrillation.😄

Interview: Jüri Tarkpea, the VP of Platform Engineering at Fleet Complete

Interview: Jüri Tarkpea, the VP of Platform Engineering at Fleet Complete

Just 20 years ago Jüri Tarkpea, now the VP of Platform Engineering at Fleet Complete, had a software company in a small Estonian town called Tartu. Their one-of-a-kind GPS tracker first caught the eye of Skype founder Toivo Annus and just 3 years ago the whole business was acquired by a huge global player Fleet Complete. Talk about a success story! 📈

Fleet Complete is the global leader in providing IoT solutions with the goal to reduce waste around anything that involves vehicles 🚚.. As their product falls on the B2B side, the wider audience might not be aware of all the Fleet Complete devices that surround us. But be well assured, they make our daily life a lot easier. 

According to Jüri, Fleet Complete is like a fox 🦊  agile and adaptive to every situation. Small enough to be flexible and fast. Big enough to serve huge global partners.

Read the interview to find out how the team gets stuff done and how they work with influential clients like Ford, AT&T and many more.

 

Interview

 

No mission statement is better than an insider giving us the overview of the company. Please tell us what does Fleet Complete do? Where could one find your product?

Essentially, we have two core values that we provide to our customers. 

Firstly, reducing waste around everything that involves vehicles and other assets of a company. In addition to that, we also try to maximize the benefits that come out of these assets. Usually, it involves location tracking. 

Location visibility is the cornerstone of our service, because once you get to the location, you can do business calculations, maintenance reminders and all sorts of reporting about anything related to the vehicles and assets. So, what we really do is help fleets thrive. 

 

What exactly do you mean by “fleets”?

In our case they are bicycles, cars, heavy trucks, helicopters, boats and everything in between. If one knew where to look, this is exactly where our products are to be found — attached to all sorts of vehicles. Of course, in reality there are few who know where to search. 

In fact, as we operate on the B2B side of the business world, the knowledge about us in general public is not high at all so that sometimes even the employees of the companies that use our products don’t know about all the systems we are providing them. They might know that some devices are being used but not if they are provided by Fleet Complete or somebody else. 

We look at it as a good thing, after all, one of our ideals is that we take away the problems, not replace them with new ones. In that sense, being unknown is a really good thing — because everybody remembers troublemakers.

 

What is your career story in the company? How did you find Fleet Complete or how did Fleet Complete find you? 

My career started almost 20 years ago as a developer with two friends. At the time we had a little software company in Tartu with a few map applications. There was one specific app that allowed one to see one’s location on an old soviet military map, using GPS trackers. At that time, it was a unique offering. 

What is maybe interesting to mention is that Toivo Annus, the founder of Skype and one of the first business leaders in technology, used to have a hobby for off-road vehicles’ orientation back in 2004-2005. People who drove those vehicles started buying the software to know where the bogs and trenches are and this is how Toivo found out about us. 

One of the companies he had invested in was Oskando which was focusing on GPS trackers´ hardware, so at one point it was only natural that he came to us and made an offer to merge.

Following that, we expanded to Baltics and found the first resellers in Eastern Europe and Nordics. Then we merged with a Danish company and we started growing bigger than just a Baltics’ company. 

Three years ago, this whole thing was acquired by Fleet Complete and today I serve as the Global VP of Engineering. I think that most of the people working in the Estonian office today are on the same trajectory of one day contributing to this company and team at the highest possible level. 

 

Wow, that’s one interesting journey you had! What is the common value that connects different international experts in the team? 

“Getting stuff done”. In the corporate environment it can be really hard to maintain our own face and the personal style of communication. 

Luckily, I believe that we have managed to do that. We are not afraid to express our opinions and we all bring our best to the table for the mutual goal of getting stuff done. So, I guess it is the common mindset that most connects us. 

 

During these unprecedented times, how are things going with Fleet Complete?

When the first wave of COVID hit, very soon after, we started breaking many monthly records in sales. Our products and services proved to be extra valuable during these unprecedented times when life needed to become more digitalized in order to minimize physical contact between people. 

So, the year has turned out quite well. In fact, so well that we have started a new hiring cycle to keep up with the customer demands. 

At the same time internally, we switched to remote work mode from day 1 without any impact on the business. So, we are very flexible and allow everyone to decide what is the best working setup for them. Also, during that time we were offering virtual workout sessions with coaches on wellbeing as well as physical exercise. 

While the company’s headquarter is in Toronto, Fleet Complete has 12 offices all around the world. Picture from Tartu office opening.

 

The company is rapidly expanding and Fleet Complete just opened a new office in Tallinn. Congratulations! Who are you looking for to join the team?

Indeed, thank you! 

As I mentioned earlier, “getting stuff done” mindset plays a big role in our company. Therefore, we are first and foremost looking for people who align with that mindset. 

In addition to that I want to say that we have seen too many success stories over the years of people who on the paper should have not been hired but aligned with the mindset, had grit and have now achieved great things. 

Working in a company that is growing that fast is not always easy. It means that we also look for people who are searching for professional challenges. We do not have the luxury to decide everything for our employees, on the contrary, we are counting on them to make up their own mind and in case of urgency have the confidence to make the decision on their own.

If you are looking for professional challenges, share the “getting stuff done” mindset and are ready to take the lead when needed, we are a perfect match.

Specifically, we are looking at the moment: mobile developers, QA engineers, full-stack developers, UX lead and many more. Feel free to join the team:

 

 

You said that switching to remote work happened rather smoothly. Do you have any secrets on how you did that?

We support productivity. You should work where you are the most productive, be it the office, home or remote office — it doesn’t matter. 

In addition to that I believe we are a supportive bunch that want to achieve great things and to have fun along the way. 

Also, the self-development aspect is worth mentioning. During a short period of time you can see the strengths of each employee and we try to play on their strengths, we try to encourage their personal growth. From a materialistic perspective, our employees can choose their work equipment. We don’t offer golden laptops, but we’ll do as much as possible to help our employees to be more productive.

 

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! To end the interview, we’ve got 5 rapid-fire questions to you.

 

If Fleet Complete would be an animal, what animal would it be? 

A fox, because of agility and ability to find solutions. Adaptive to every situation. 

 

What is the best thing that happened to the whole team this month? 

Excellent question! We just launched our next generation web platform product for retail customers of AT&T of US.  

 

Who is Fleet Complete’s biggest client in the world, in Estonia?

AT&T globally and Eesti Energia in Estonia.

 

What’s your favourite part of your current job? 

Never had a boring day.

 

What do you believe is the biggest strength of your company right now? 

Small enough to be agile and be able to execute rapidly. We are also big enough that we serve as partners for world’s biggest car manufacturers (Ford, General Motors, Daimler, Mitsubishi) and telecom companies. 

 

Personality vs Tech Skills in Software Development: Interview with Danas Venclovas, Head of IT Recruitment at People Link

Personality vs Tech Skills in Software Development: Interview with Danas Venclovas, Head of IT Recruitment at People Link

Software speciality is a major force in the job market. Unfortunately the field is strongly stereotyped. It is commonly believed that software engineers are introverts that work silently in the corner – somewhat typical nerds 🤓.

#ILookLikeAnEngineer was called into life to stop this appearance-based bias. Now let’s investigate the performance-based tilt.

It is commonly believed that great knowledge of tech skills is all you need to be a successful software developer. However, the HR & recruitment experts from People Link have pointed out an interesting shift 👀 in the IT recruitment field.

Currently, personality is getting more weight in taking a decision whom to hire as an engineer. 

We discussed with Danas Venclovas, head of IT recruitment at People Link, how the software engineers’ personality has become the primary focus during the recruitment process.

 

Danas Venclovas from People Link has strong expertise in the IT sector recruitment.

 

Software engineering speciality has become a very broad field of study. Years ago a solo task is now an interaction between many stakeholders: designers, users, product owners, etc. How has that changed the profile of a software engineer?

That’s right, stakeholders are more and more involved in contributing to tasks meaning more collaboration is needed. If we look back 3-4 years, most of the companies tried to fill roles with people handling very specific skill set (i.e. software engineer with 3 years of .NET 4.x, or ASP.NET and even in some specific business domain experience) and that was complete standart in the market. 

Currently, in recruitment we see a huge shift to what is required to fulfil tasks – companies now appreciate technical eclecticism. Meaning we are not looking for a PHP Symfony specialist or Java engineer, companies are looking for a Software Engineer who would feel comfortable with a combination of programming languages and would be able to choose different tools for different problems (i.e. use Node.JS on one microservice and Python for the other, while working on the same platform). 

Another thing that changed over the past few years is the view on engineer’s personality. Companies used to focus on a specific skill whilst turning a blind eye on what they are as a person. Currently, personality is getting more weight in taking a decision whom to hire as an engineer. 

As every company is using a different technical stack and in almost every case when a person joins the team, they have to adapt to the company’s stack and learn new things, Hiring Managers tend to take in consideration their communication, collaboration skills, ability to learn, flexibility, agility, etc.

 

 

Study suggests that although interests and personality types may play a role in the selection of a career, they may not predict success in that area. Would you agree with this? Do you see any prominent characteristics among software developers that secure a higher rate of success?

I really think that personality influences the selection of the career path – for example, in our recruitment we use a Tripod assessment center that assesses personality based on the Big 5 personality theory. Combined with mental and/or spatial ability tests can give us a very good indication on how a person will perform in a new role, will they adapt quickly and what might hinder their success.

Overall, higher scores in Arithmetical and Spatial abilities is a good predictor of one’s opportunities to have a good career in the IT industry. Hence if one is considering to transition to IT, I would very much advise them to take such a test- it would be a very useful guideline for them.

Developers like any other people share a very wide range of interests and hobbies – sports, hardware, gaming, cooking, you name it. None of these interests can predict developers’ ability to succeed at work. During my career I interviewed a lot of diverse people who in no way support the stereotypes of developers. I’ve seen very communicative, extroverted people enjoying coding all day and complete introverts who successfully manage teams and develop businesses. 

But there is one factor which can definitely describe a person’s success in IT, actually in any field – and it’s a very simple thing – constant learning and finding ways to challenge oneself. Best candidates and leaders of the market always say the same – the more I’ve learned along the way, the more I still don’t know. And as IT is a very fast paced industry with constantly developing technologies, tools, and frameworks, one must keep up with all of it if you want to stay in the game. 

 

People Link consists of experts in HR Recruitment and Sourcing, providing full Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) services to wide range of sectors.

 

As an expert in recruitment, you have probably done numerous successful hirings. What are the biggest stumbling blocks that people make during an interview or in the applying process?

There are numerous ways one can fail in interviews or any other stage of the recruitment process. I could tell you stories for hours about candidates who come to a video interview without wearing a T-shirt, lights up a cigarette while being interviewed, curses, appears late by 30-40 mins or forgets to show up at all. So it’s not easy to surprise me anymore 😀 

The interesting thing is that these stories are much more common in the IT industry than any others. It’s hard to tell why.

I think the biggest mistakes that people make during an interview is coming in without any preparation – not having taken a look at the company or position they’ll be interviewed for. I had cases when a person shows up on a video interview and doesn’t remember what company we will be talking to, and in most cases this strongly indicates that candidates have little motivation to change jobs and are just “window shopping”. In most cases, talking with recruiters means one of the following: either you improve your salary and benefits by going to a better position/company or you increase your salary in the current company by going to your boss and saying – company X is headhunting me. So why not make some effort and show your best qualities. 

At People Link we do a lot of surveys on the Lithuanian labour market  and a few years back we were looking into what personal qualities employers look for in their employees. And the results showed that most desired qualities are responsibility, efficiency, independency, diligence and proactivity. So try to show these qualities during interviews with companies in addition to your technical skills and you will earn much more than you’ll lose: you’ll improve your working conditions, your salary, or at least – your reputation that in the long run might positively  improve your working conditions and/or salary.

 

 

Give some hints to students or those who are considering a career change. Where in the IT sector do you see that companies’ demand is high, but the potential amount of talent is low?

In all the areas in the IT market demand is higher than supply. Choosing almost any field in IT to study has a tremendous potential. Of course, you should consider studying modern technologies like Golang, Node.JS, React.JS, Python, since the demand of these skills in the market are higher than other technologies but if you choose PHP, Java or .NET as your main technology, you will still have plenty of opportunities in the market. One of the “not such a good” choices would be going for Mainframe or other legacy technologies.

But, as I mentioned before, not only your technology stack is important, think of ways how to improve and show your personal qualities. And not only that but also invest some time into data literacy. If you’re thinking about IT, huge chances are that you’ll be working with data, algorithms and databases, unless you go for Front-end and Design. In this case you’ll have less data 🙂 

 

 

If a company is struggling to find talent to join their team, how can People Link help in these situations?

At People Link we provide a number of services to the companies but the main is the full recruitment process. But I always say that companies we work with benefit the most from the partnership we have, since we help not only with finding and assessing candidates but we work with companies to make the best Employer Value proposition, help with recruitment process and strategy, we consult companies on the market trends, salaries and challenges, efficiency and effectiveness of their HR processes, etc. We have experience building teams for start-ups from scratch, helping market leaders to find and hire the right people and we cover many more functions from consulting to organizational research. 

 

Want to know more about recruitment trends? Contact team of People Link for more info.

 

What are your predictions for the future? How will the IT sector recruitment trends change? What struggles/changes we have to be ready for?

The main struggle that recruitment will face is less time for filling the role. Two years ago it was completely normal for recruitment to take 3-4 weeks, year ago it was 2-3 weeks. Now if a candidate doesn’t have an answer whether he or she gets the offer or not in 2 weeks, you can practically forget about them – they’ve forgotten about you and lost their interest in the role. From the candidates point of view it’s completely fair to ask for a faster process since nobody wants to go through 1 month of recruitment and find out that the company chose someone else. It’s even worse when candidates don’t get any feedback at all. 

Another thing that’s not a future trend but todays’ reality – recruiters need to work alongside hiring managers in order to recruit and engage the best people in the market. The age where recruitment agencies were just service providers is over and now every head-hunter needs to be as much as possible included in the recruitment process because only by having all the information we can help companies and candidates and actually be partners in dealing with market’s challenges. 

And for the future in IT predictions, I really feel that Data literacy will become more important as everything is moving towards Big data, Data Science, AI and we all, doesn’t matter if you are a developer, a customer support, or HR Generalist, everyone will have to work with data and its analysis. Another trend – technical eclecticism – problems in the IT field evolve and become harder to solve but by sticking to one or two technologies as your technical stack means that soon you’ll be not competitive in the market. This means that, again, keep learning new things, keep up-to-date with new trends and invest time in learning. 

 

Let’s summarise with 5 main takeaways: 

 

💡 Currently, companies appreciate technical eclecticism – the ability of combining things from many different areas or systems. Constant improvement and finding ways to challenge oneself is the key.

💡 Danas has interviewed a lot of diverse people during his recruitment career and these people, in no way, support the stereotypes of developers.

💡 The recruitment process has become faster and faster. Two years ago it was completely normal for recruitment to take 3-4 weeks, year ago it was 2-3 weeks. Now if a candidate doesn’t have an answer whether he or she gets the offer or not in 2 weeks, you can practically forget about them.

💡 According to People Link survey results, the most desired and valued qualities are responsibility, efficiency, independency, diligence and proactivity.

💡 Not only your technology stack is important, but think of ways how to improve and show your personal qualities.

 

People Link is constantly helping to connect the right talent to relevant companies:

 

 

 

Relocation during Covid-19: Interview with Justin Zehmke, the Head of Content at Estateguru

Relocation during Covid-19: Interview with Justin Zehmke, the Head of Content at Estateguru

Several studies suggest that experts build knowledge, skills and networks, and benefit economically from geographic moves. Relocation sounds amazing, right? 

Imagine that you have packed your bags and were off to an exciting new job at an inspiring location. But suddenly Covid-19 broke out and altered your plans⛔️…

This is exactly what happened with Justin Zehmke. He had to go through an extremely stressful journey while relocating from South Africa to Estonia and starting a new job at EstateGuru

Even on a normal day, moving to a new country is a nerve-racking experience. Luckily there’s companies like EstateGuru that make sure that new hires get the best support during relocation experience.

Not able to meet his family for six months, legal restrictions and not knowing what tomorrow will bring – if Justin had known about the COVID-19 troubles, would he still have applied for the position? Spoiler alert: the answer is YES! ✅

 

 

We did some investigation and EstateGuru was not your first connection with Estonia. How did a guy from South Africa find his way to Estonia?

Yes, this is my second stint in Estonia. I first moved here in 2016, when I got a job with Pipedrive as a copywriter. I had been actively trying to leave South Africa for about two years by that point. South Africa is beautiful and interesting, but it is also extremely dangerous and corrupt, while the economy is in a serious downward spiral. I wanted to secure a better future for my daughter, one that is safe and where she has opportunities for success and happiness.

My career there had been spent in digital media, and before I left I was working as the head of publishing at a large media company. After just under two years at Pipedrive, which I really enjoyed, I started freelancing in Estonia for a variety of marketing agencies and tech companies. By late 2018 we took the decision to go back to South Africa for about six months to allow my daughter, who was five at the time, to get to know her grandparents and extended family, who she hadn’t seen in three years and had very little memory of. I was lucky enough to be able to work remotely, but knew that I would have to find a full time job if we wanted to come back again.

Leaving the country for that long meant that our residence permits expired. Six months turned into a year, but by the start of 2020 it was definitely time to head back.

 

Despite Covid-19 restrictions, Justin and his family relocated from South-Africa to Estonia.

 

Okay, when we take “find your way to Estonia” literally, then Covid-19 did everything in its power to hinder your from getting here. Describe us the rollercoaster you had to go through while starting a new job at EstateGuru and relocating to Estonia.

When EstateGuru offered me a position, I jumped at the opportunity. I had done some work for the company before and knew the culture relatively well and saw it as a fantastic opportunity to be part of something exciting, new, and with huge growth potential. The offer was also extremely generous, in the sense that they were willing to pay the relocation costs for my whole family as well as hire Jobbatical to assist with the relocation process, particularly things like getting visas, applying for the residence permit etc. Whether it was paperwork, flight tickets, hotel bookings or whatever, everything was done quickly and smoothly. It looked like relocating would be a breeze.

But it was at this point that I took a decision which I was to regret bitterly. 

Having done the whole relocation thing before, we decided that it would be easiest if I went ahead and set everything up, like renting an apartment, registering my daughter for school and generally getting settled in. The plan was that my wife and daughter would join me a month later, a seamless relocation without stress or complications. It seemed so logical at the time. As there is no Estonian embassy in South Africa, I had to fly to Dublin first to apply for a visa. I did this in the last week of February, and the signs were already ominous. Covid-19 had just started its push through Europe and some countries were already implementing lockdowns, but no one could predict at this point how bad it would get.

I arrived in Estonia and EstateGuru had rented an apartment for me for two months to give me time to find my own long-term place. At this point I was still marvelling at how much easier it was than the first time I came here. I applied for the residence permit and everything was going great. Then, within a few weeks of arriving in Estonia, the emergency situation was declared and I was working from home, which is a strange way to start a new job. 

Estonia subsequently closed its borders, but I hadn’t really started stressing yet. There was still the expectation that this would be a short-term situation and, even during lockdown, family members of residents were allowed into the country. But then, as always, being South African came back to bite me. My home country introduced the strictest lockdown in the world. People were not allowed to leave their homes, even to do exercise. As the government seized the opportunity to conduct a theft of public funds on a truly massive scale, they also enacted some draconian and ridiculously oppressive measures. At one point the police and army were killing more South Africans than the coronavirus was. Worst of all, the borders were closed completely and, according to the government, indefinitely.

In a panic, I started exploring all possible options to get my family out. The South African government said they would be allowed to leave the country on a repatriation flight if they had residence permits or D-Visas for Estonia. The Estonian government said they would be allowed to enter here if they had residence permits or D-Visas. Seems simple really. But the catch was that the visas could only be issued at an Estonian embassy, and they weren’t allowed to travel to a country with an embassy without the visas they were trying to apply for. We were stuck. I contacted every possible person at the Police and Border guard and always received the same answer: “They should go to an embassy.” One month quickly turned to two, then three and eventually I hadn’t seen my family in six months while the situation in South Africa was deteriorating daily. I feared for their safety, while maintaining two separate households is also not that easy on the wallet. 

Throughout this entire ordeal EstateGuru was incredibly supportive, contacting people in government to see if they could help and retaining the services of Jobbatical throughout, but there was simply nothing to be done. Eventually I had no choice but to take a repatriation flight to South Africa in the hope that I could somehow get my family out once I was there. Again, EstateGuru supported this throughout, agreeing that I could work remotely for as long as it took.

So I flew back at the beginning of September. Two months later we had managed to get visas to Turkey for the whole family, and made an appointment at the Estonian embassy in Ankara. We flew to Amsterdam, then Istanbul, then Ankara. The visas were issued without stress and we managed to arrive in Estonia on 2 November.

 

Congratulations that you are once again united with your family! After months of waiting, do you now feel that you have finally settled in?

Oh yes. Even when I arrived at the end of February, it felt like coming home, and now that we are all here and have completed our quarantine, we can start living normally again. It’s just a pity that we have finally arrived just in time for winter.

The EstateGuru team is expanding rapidly.

 

If you would have known about the C-19 troubles you have to face, would you have still applied for the EstateGuru position?

Without a doubt, but I would change a few things. I would agree to an earlier start date and bring the whole family as soon as possible. I really enjoy the job and love working for EstateGuru, so no matter how tough it was to get here, it was all worth it.

 

While there are plenty of valid reasons for relocating, it’s important to remember the weird time right now. What would you say to our readers, who are considering relocation, but feel uncertain about the situation?

Move quickly and decisively. If you have an opportunity to relocate and it is what you really want, take the chance while it is there. The situation changes and shifts constantly so your window to move may be very small. Of course, relocation is always fraught with anxiety and doubt, and these feelings are hugely amplified during a crisis. So the relocation process is probably the most difficult it has ever been.

Also, make sure you have a contingency plan for when things go wrong. During our journey to Estonia we were constantly expecting to be stranded in whatever country we were in due to border closures, and had planned accordingly. We flew via Amsterdam because I have very good friends who live there and would have housed us if the borders closed while we were there. Turkey is relatively cheap so we would have been able to rent a place for a few months if needed, which is why we chose to visit the embassy there rather than the one in Ireland, as being stranded there would bankrupt you even on a very good Estonian salary.

And make sure your employer understands the process and is willing to help. I was able to easily continue my job from wherever I found myself at any given time and the financial and administrative support I received from EstateGuru was invaluable. Being able to go through this whole process without the added stress of worrying about losing my job was a massive help.

 

Kristjan Toop, Product Marketing Manager at EstateGuru:

 

As a rapidly growing company, we are doing lots of recruiting at the moment, and with offices in five countries, there is invariably relocation of candidates involved. There is a thorough understanding at a management level of how stressful and difficult this can be, so we provide complete support to staff throughout the process. We spend a lot of time ensuring we get the best candidates, and once the decision is taken, they need to feel that they have our full backing. The idea is that they should enjoy their jobs from day one, without outside stress impacting their experience. Obviously, the Covid situation has made this significantly more challenging, and in Justin’s case especially so, but we’re very happy that everything worked out and that we can use this as a template for future relocations. 

 

 

Want to be a part of this amazing team? Check out EstateGuru active job openings:

Interview: Tomas Unikauskis, CEO at Smart Brands Laboratory

Interview: Tomas Unikauskis, CEO at Smart Brands Laboratory

How do we define a microbrand?

 

The main characteristic is its small-scale. The brand might be known only at limited geographic locations or it might be selling niche products that a limited number of consumers are using.

Imagine selling delicacy cheese 🧀 from a small Swiss canton or producing custom rows of keys 🎹 for 19th century pianos…

Whatever your product or service is, you will find your consumers with the help of internet and hyper targeted marketing 📈. This gives the microbrands a bigger impact than one might think.

 

If proper online marketing has boosted microbrands like Cali’flour pizza crusts to the top of Amazon’s sales rankings, then should we all rethink our business plans 🤔? We wish that life could be that simple! Microbrands, or in other words direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies, are having tougher competition than ever before.  

 

This is the place where companies like Smart Brands Laboratory jump in. With their know-how in the field, they have created a micro niche brand development model that scales them through a series of growth methodologies in branding, multichannel sales, sourcing, and digital marketing efforts. 

 

In the light of  ‘attack of the micro brandswe talked with Tomas Unikauskis, the CEO at Smart Brands Laboratory.

 

The Interview with Tomas

 

Alien just landed on the Earth and your task is to explain to this totally clueless creature “What Smart Brands Laboratory does?” Go!

Smart Brands Laboratory is in the business of understanding people’s behavior. We’ve developed a proprietary niche brand scoring algorithm that identifies products that people around the world need, how they get what they need, and what the most efficient ways are to meet that need. We now own and manage 5 niche brands in the home & kitchen, vegan, pet, and sports product categories.

 

The source of your company’s success is the micro niche brand development model that you have created. What source of scaling magic is this? How does it differ from anything else on the market?

The primary objective of niche branding is to deliver a highly relevant message along with a value proposition that resonate closely with a narrowly defined audience. Our goal isn’t to build large brands that speak to masses and deliver products that are great for everyone. We’re driven by an eagerness to identify a subset of people that have a few specific things in common and speak about what matters to them. That’s the main competitive advantage of our business model.

 

Smart Brands Laboratory works with niche brands that have huge undiscovered potential. How do you find these unique labels? Do you agree that if a brand is too niche, it may die from lack of audience?

Even if you have the best brand of trombone oil in the world, every month there are only 300 people around the world looking online for trombone oil.  Our niche scoring model determines when a product developed for a certain audience is not a viable standalone business.

 

Looking at Smart Brands Laboratory’s DNA and that you help brands scale across multiple sales channels and geographies. What are the main markets you focus on?

Smart Brands Laboratory’s primary sales markets are the USA, Canada, Mexico, the EU, and we’re about to launch in Australia. We’re also laser-focused on choosing the right marketing mix in each market. For example, the demand for certain vegan products has been growing steadily in the US for the past few years, whereas it has only recently picked up in Germany.

 

 

The market is more and more tired of big corporations and instead turning their face towards microbrands. How do you see this microbrand explosion evolving?

The rise of direct-to-consumer brands started almost a decade ago. They utilized undervalued traffic strategies such as social media ads and influencer marketing. They spoke about a single problem and presented a clear-cut solution to that problem. DTC brands spoke in a way which resonated with their audiences and social media advertising algorithms facilitated delivering that message to these audiences efficiently. 

Also, customer behavior appears to have shifted towards experimenting with new unheard brands more frequently. A nationally known brand used to be the main driver for customer confidence. Now DTC brands that utilize user generated content, influencer marketing, and online product reviews can deliver the same feeling of confidence and convince new customers to purchase their products.

In the light of these niche branding and newly found customer confidence factors, more brands will continue to enter the e-commerce space. However, one of the main challenges for these brands will be determining the right product-market fit and balancing customer acquisition costs with their lifetime value. I think microbrands have a better chance at striking the right balance due to substantially lower competition in these niches. This is what we’re after at Smart Brands Laboratory.

 

Even during these unprecedented times, Smart Brands Laboratory is actively hiring and looking for new members – currently to the Sales, Marketing and Product development teams. Who are you looking for? What is the mindset that unites your current employees?

Since inception we’ve been inviting people to join the team in hiring sprees whenever we hit a significant milestone. We’ve doubled our team a few times already and we’re currently preparing for our 3rd round of hires. We’re looking to grow our product development and sourcing team to launch even more brands next year. We also want to expand multiple traffic strategies such as SEO, SEM, paid media, affiliate, and influencer partnerships. 

Regarding mindset – I’d say that it’s very important to be open and sincere with your peers when you’re working in a startup environment. The ride is bumpy, everyone has their ups and downs. It’s never easy. All these things are way more comfortable when people approach challenges with an open mind.

Here are some examples of out job openings that are active at the moment:

 

 

How do you find the talents to hire? Do you publish a job offer or what % of hired candidates has been sourced and headhunted?

I would say that a lot of people have come to us organically through word of mouth and conversations at local meetups. In addition, we post all open positions on MeetFrank and reshare them on LinkedIn. So far, we’ve hired over 50% of our staff through MeetFrank’s platform without using other headhunting services. 

 

What are Smart Brands Laboratory plans one month from now? What does 2021 look like?

Analysts predict that 1 out of 3 gifts in the United States will be purchased online. We expect a wild fourth quarter this year! I’m sure 2021 will be another year of growth for the company. We’re looking to grow our niche brand portfolio and open new sales channels.