From reflective clothing to recruitment: Estonian entrepreneur’s dream to ‘make a difference in the world’
Estonian Karoli Hindriks says she got into business ‘because life is too short not to make a difference in the world.’ CEO and founder of Jobbatical, a platform matching tech businesses with professionals looking to work abroad, Karoli is committed to tear down ‘walls’ and ‘borders’ to help people move across the globe.
Jobbatical was launched over two years ago, but Karoli’s entrepreneurial drive began much earlier in 1999 when she was only 16 years old. As part of a young enterprise scheme, she developed an idea to produce attractive, reflective accessories for students, who often need to walk to and from school in the dark.
The idea to combine safety and fashion earned Karoli recognition and after an exchange program in the US, she decided to launch her own business. ‘I was able to take this decision because when I went home at the age of 16 and told my family about this idea, my father said it was great. He encouraged me to call the patent office to see if this was something unique, instead of telling me to forget about it,’ she recalled.
She managed to patent her trendy reflectors that can be stuck onto clothing, negotiated a loan and got state funds to launch her brand GoodMood. The business achieved international success as reflective products started selling outside of Estonia in Iceland, Switzerland, Belgium, Portugal, the UK and Sweden.
‘I realised when I was 16 that my ideas can actually change something in the world. I also learnt how easy it is to make something happen. And I haven’t stopped since,’ said Karoli.
Afterwards she went on to help launch MTV Estonia and Fox International channels across the Baltic countries. After nearly a decade working in the media, Karoli went back to her entrepreneurial roots to co-found Jobbatical in 2014.
‘Estonia is a small country and this is where my idea came from: we have international friends and no longer think only about our country in terms of professional opportunities. I started to think about working abroad, but then thought my country lacks talent because we’re just 1 million people. So why don’t we inspire foreign people to stay, work and live here?’ she recalled.
Karoli was born at a time when Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union. Today, she believes in a world without ‘walls or borders’: ‘we want to help people move to other countries because we think this helps businesses be more innovative and societies more tolerant.’
In addition to matching tech businesses with international professionals, Jobbatical also helps employees move abroad, taking care not only of the recruitment process but also of immigration procedures.
Created by Karoli and co-founders Allan Māeots and Ronald Hindriks (Karoli’s brother), the Tallinn-based international recruitment company today employs 27 people from 11 countries.
Looking back, Karoli acknowledges that getting investors to believe in her idea was one of the major challenges she encountered. The company got its first investors in Finland, UK and Russia. She said: ‘But I think the greatest challenge an entrepreneur faces – at least for me – is to deal with our own self-confidence, especially in the beginning.’
To empower women moving forward, she believes education and building confidence from childhood are crucial. ‘I observe my four-year-old daughter and see how fairy tales put people into boxes: princesses and heroes. And so we need to question ourselves: is this the kind of fairy tale I want to read to my daughter? The foundation to build confidence to launch a business stars from your childhood.’