Hi, I’m Martin Villig.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for more than 20 years and studied International Business Administration at the Estonian Business School (EBS).
Besides work, I like travelling and enjoy outdoor activities (hiking and biking), various sports (pilates, soccer, tennis, running, swimming, disc golf, etc.). My other major passion is doing good for our planet and its inhabitants, wherever possible. From using a bike for my daily commute, to recycling, to co-founding a number of community-based organisations.
My main passions in life include:
- Promoting entrepreneurship, mentoring young founders, and making angel investments.
- Boosting education initiatives and policy via the Estonian Education Foundation.
- Doing good personally and promoting a mindset of effective giving.
Growing upI was born in Tallinn, Estonia in 1978. At that time, Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union.
In the late 1980s, I was fortunate enough to participate in famous Estonian independence movement events, such as the "singing revolution" and the "Baltic chain". Estonia went on to successfully re-gain independence in 1991 without taking any casualties.
I’ve been active and entrepreneurial for as long as I can remember. By the age of 10, I was busy finding inventive ways to earn money to buy Lego and my first tennis racket.
During primary and secondary school, I was a DJ, organised school parties, and published an alternative newspaper. In the mid-90s, I learned about computers and designed websites as the Internet reached Estonian schools.
University & 1st exitIn 1997, I participated in and won the Estonian Business Olympiad. My prize was a one-year scholarship to study at the Estonian Business School (EBS).
In 1998, during my first year at EBS, my friend and designer Kristjan Vaga and I founded a web design company, ZERO. Soon after, Priit Vaikmaa and Siim Viidu (the founders of XXL.EE, Estonia’s first Internet portal) joined the company.
In the summer of 1999, ZERO was acquired by Pennu Computer Technology — the only IT company listed on the NASDAQ Tallinn Stock Exchange (TSE).
A private equity fund wanted to turn the computer manufacturing company into a fully-digital Internet business. So I became a director of the listed IT company, where we expanded our Digital Services unit to 75 people, across the three Baltic states.
Unfortunately, the previous computer manufacturing business had amounted large debts, which we couldn't fully cover with the profits from our digital services, so the company went bankrupt in 2001.
Regardless of the outcome, it was a great experience for a young business student.
NASDAQI’ve only ever applied for a job once, and that was for the NASDAQ Tallinn Stock Exchange. I joined as the Manager of e-Services and our small team built Estonia's second-pillar pension registry and several other financial web services.
Within four years, the TSE was acquired by the Helsinki Stock Exchange, and then that joint company was acquired by the Stockholm Stock Exchange, creating Nordic-Baltic operations.
SkypeIn the summer of 2005, Toivo Annus invited me to join Skype.
I became the Web Backend Team Lead and was employee number 60. Wow, that was a real rocket ride! In that role, I helped build up Skype’s self-service and payment features, had to contend with massive user growth, payment fraud and various other challenges.
In September 2005, Skype was acquired by eBay for $2.6 billion dollars. With that acquisition, we became part of a Nasdaq listed company with various compliance processes and quarterly reporting procedures.
In just two years, Skype’s team grew to 660 people, which brought me a large number of international contacts, as well as increased self-confidence in my ability to build global tech products.
STARTUPS - FAILURES
CSA PartnersIn 2007, I decided to leave Skype for my next venture, CSA Partners, which built insider list management software aimed at listed companies.
We got good traction and 15+ clients early on. Unfortunately, the other three co-founders were unwilling to leave their well-paid corporate jobs. Additionally, the 2008 financial crisis had forced companies to cut back on their compliance costs.
The company is still in operation, but it never really reached its full potential.
Key takeaway: Make sure your co-founders are equally committed and ready to take risks.
INKSPIN1 - Skype on TVIn 2008, I was invited to run a startup, where we put Skype video calls into big screens of living-room TV-sets. Sadly, that failed due to the business model and Skype licensing issues.
Key takeaway: don't build a business around somebody else’s technology, create a core value proposition yourself to control your own destiny.
E-commerceIn 2009-2011 we built an e-commerce portal Equilibria for the Russian market enabling customers to redeem their bank and airline loyalty points via eCommerce purchases like fashion goods, flights, hotels and more. The business model looked promising, but it ultimately failed as the founding team had conflicting values.
Key takeaway: when choosing your business partners, always make sure you share the same values and commitments!
BoltEarly 2012 I joined Fortumo, a leading carrier billing startup, helping them expand into India, plus supporting their business development activities for bigger Western merchants.
In the summer of 2012, while on a trip to Kiev, I had the idea of building an application that connected taxi drivers to potential riders.
I discussed the idea with my brother, Markus. We made some preparations and launched Bolt (formerly mTakso/Taxify) in summer 2013.
Today, Bolt is a leading urban mobility platform with over 1.5 million drivers and more than 50 million passengers in 40 markets across Europe and Africa. It’s also the first multi-modal platform to offer ride-hailing, micromobility rental (electric scooters and bikes) and food delivery services.
Check Bolt's blog for the latest company updates or read Bolt’s founding story.
Key takeaway: Don't give up your dreams. If something fails, keep pushing and try again.
RECOGNITION & Awards
The Young Outstanding Your Person 2015 by JCI Estonia
EY Estonian Entrepreneur of the Year 2018, together with his brother Markus Villig||
The Order of the White Star IV class, 2019 by President of Estonia|
Read more about my passions:
- Promoting entrepreneurship and angel investments
- Boosting education initiatives & policy via Estonian Education Foundation
- Doing good personally and promoting the mindset of effective giving