Welcome to the thirty-ninth edition of “Startup of the Week” which features many great startups and interviews with successful business heads.
This week I interviewed Urmo Parg, co-founder and Business Architect of LeapIN, a solution to start and remotely run your location independent company online. Urmo is passionate about designing successful organizations which have luckily resulted in successful businesses more often than failures.
Simply, what does your business do?
We provide a smart new way to start and run your micro-business. Delaware and London are favorable for corporate headquarters, Luxembourg for holding and financing vehicles, and so on, but what is the best location for a freelancer, a digital nomad or a micro-business owner? They need a fast setup, minimum cost, and maximum flexibility meaning that you can run your business from anywhere in the world and with no everyday business administration hassle.
The Estonian Government’s revolutionary e-Residency movement allows entrepreneurs from any country to establish and run a trusted business online. The key to this program is the state-issued secure digital identity that is available to non-residents and residents alike. Our team at LeapIN takes care of everything from setting up the e-Residents’ bank accounts to handling accounting details, securely and fast. Our customers range from a Spanish graphic designer working remotely for a German startup, to a Brazilian engineer who is selling his software subscriptions to customers in Asia.
In addition to lower costs, they’ll also be avoiding the hassle of paperwork. For example, changing one’s business address from one German city to another requires a vast amount of pointless documentation if your company is registered in Germany. So, why continue to follow old rules when more futuristic benefits are available?
In LeapIN, we believe that being an entrepreneur should be a social right, not a privilege and encouraged by all governments in the world, not only Estonia. Our mission is to provide the very best and cost-effective online business support service for freelancers and micro-business owners around the world.
How did the idea of LeapIN come about?
I would say that LeapIN was born as the result of several factors. Back in 2000, myself and two of my schoolmates founded a company called Webmedia (today is known as Nortal) which soon became the region’s leading software service provider. Mostly thanks to the fact that we eliminated the everyday administrative hassle and enabled our people to focus on creating truly great IT solutions.
We then discovered ourselves thinking out of the box, what if we take the corporation as the middleman out of the value chain – isn’t it a bigger win-win for both parties, the talent and the customer? As the software house was running well, we decided to go for a spin-off and experiment with a new innovative model. For three years we worked as a small network of freelancers, minimizing fixed labor costs and maximizing the available talent pool, with the same four guys who today make up the core team of LeapIN.
Then, exactly a year ago as the revolutionary Estonian e-Residency program skyrocketed enabling foreigners to use our country’s hassle-free public services, we saw an opportunity. We created a turn-key solution carefully keeping in mind the lessons we learned as freelancers and combined them with the best parts of the efficient (e-Estonian) way of running a location-independent business.
Did you have a business plan?
No, not in the traditional way – we’ve seen the Excel magic fail, numerous times. So we’ve followed a more iterative service design approach, focusing mainly and only on the needs of our target customer. We pictured the long-term vision for our customers and the solution and set only some key principles to follow on our path there. For instance, while pushing hard to grow the business as fast as possible, we keep in mind the profitability (positive cash flow) and aim for self-sustainability. This approach seems to be working great for us.
What were the challenges you faced when creating LeapIN?
So far our biggest hindering factor has been the mindset of our potential customers: freelancers, nomads and others. They don’t see themselves as entrepreneurs and hence aren’t too eager to try the new solutions. In parallel, the concepts such as e-Residency, paperless company administration, remote management, countries competing for talents, aren’t yet known so well globally and hence are being misinterpreted, undervalued.
As the legal environment is the critical foundation for Estonian e-Residency and LeapIN solution to prosper, our challenge is not only to design our own service but also improve the legal framework in cooperation with the public sector and other players from the private sector.
What is the difference between you and your competitors?
I guess globally we’re the closest to Stripe’s Atlas. They’re a great choice for e-commerce startups aiming to raise VC money in the near future, and our customers are micro-businesses, digital nomads and freelancers. However, Atlas only provides the business setup, whereas we assist our customers in all they need in the everyday business administration. For U.S. citizens, there are also And Co and Indinero, but these two don’t offer cross-border solutions.
What were you doing before LeapIN?
As I already mentioned, I’ve been a serial entrepreneur throughout my whole professional life and I’m especially passionate about designing great well-functioning organizations.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
First, definitely know your co-founder(s) well before you start the startup journey together. And I mean know them inside out. We had worked side by side for 16 years before we founded LeapIN.
Secondly, from a solopreneur’s perspective – the opportunity to collaborate with other solopreneurs for major projects or business goals hasn’t been practiced enough. People who choose an independent path take the lonely life for granted. Yet, it’s possible to work together and share the gains from joint efforts without a need to be shareholders stuck in the same legal entity. Collaborate, when it makes sense, and not because you are forced to.
In one word, describe your job?
Headquarters: Tallinn, Estonia
People: Today we’re a team of six with five working full-time and one part-time freelancer. We’re looking to hire two new team members in the next months: a marketer and a developer.
You already heard about my background so I asked my Co-Founders to say a few words about themselves:
Erik Mell, CEO: “I love that with LeapIN we’re part of a revolution of countries competing for citizens, where the customer/user (the citizen) can freely choose where to run their business according to the best conditions and interface. My goal is for us to build a mind-blowing and successful company with a working business model”.
Erko, CTO: ”I’m a full-stack developer who performs best under the pressure; I enjoy building solutions that provide real benefits for the end-users; I always try and understand the big picture and then drill down to the nitty-gritty detail level”.
Avo, Customer Experience Architect: ”What drives me is the urge to build an ecosystem, a set of tools that is accessible and usable for every freelancer, nomad or free global citizen desiring to set up their own business. Becoming and being an entrepreneur has to become a lot easier, globally”.
Although we run everything online we still love meeting up with our customers and getting to know people interested in the world of location-independent micro-businesses. Our HQ is close to the Tallinn Airport, so come by and have a chat!
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