Learn to say “no”. I founded my first company based on a high school project and became the youngest inventor of my country at the age of 16. That made me very famous, very fast. I mean — I was speaking at the European Parliament at the age of 19! Was listed in BusinessWeek’s 20 top Entrepreneurs Under 25 in Europe when I was 23! I got so busy being famous that I think I forgot what I was famous for. I said yes to every speaking engagement, interesting meeting request and interview without thinking whether or not this will actually help my business. Today I’ve become the master of saying no. The request has to qualify one of the two brackets: 1) Will it help Jobbatical to grow? 2) Will it help my family? If it doesn’t fit in one or the other, then it is a no. It has helped me become much more efficient.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Karoli Hindriks, CEO and co-founder of Jobbatical — a marketplace for international career adventures. She founded her first company at the age of sixteen and officially becoming the youngest inventor of Estonia and she hasn’t slowed down since. In 2017 she was nominated as a speaker for Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women International Summit and listed as one of the Inspiring Fifty women in technology in Europe. She is passionate about building a borderless world through jobs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Karoli! What is your “backstory”?
My story has an accidental start. First of all, I was born behind the Iron Curtain as my native country Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union where both travel and entrepreneurship opportunities did not even exist — entrepreneurship was considered an illegal activity and people lived behind a closed border, with very few getting special permits overseen by the KGB to travel. After Estonia restored its independence, things started to change, including the education system. One October afternoon when I was yawning during the last class of the day — economics — we were given an assignment to create a student company. For some peculiar reason, my classmates elected me as president of the company. It inspired me so much and sparked an idea to create a fashionable traffic safety accessory. My dad suggested I go with this idea to the patent office and it turned out to be a unique idea. I became the youngest inventor in my country and that was the best marketing (in addition to the story of a small town girl who invents a product that saves lives). At 19 I was speaking at the European Parliament on behalf of young entrepreneurs. At 23 I became the CEO of MTV Estonia, the youngest MTV CEO in the world. In that years that followed, I led the launch of six other TV channels across the Baltic states, including the National Geographic channels.
Today I am the co-founder and CEO of Jobbatical, a company on a mission to distribute knowledge & know-how to teams in far-flung cities across the globe. A company I founded because I believe that the world will be richer when knowledge and human values can be expanded across the borders. Three years after its launch, Jobbatical is connecting talent from almost every country in the world to organizations across 49 countries. My company has raised $7.9m from some of the top investors in the world from NYC to Tokyo.
I often think back about what changed on that day. And the answer is very simple. My late father could have told me that I am just a girl, from Eastern Europe and I should focus on my studies and not on this silly project. Without that encouragement I would have had a completely different story to share today. Finding out that I don’t need a PhD or a fancy background to make a difference in the world changed the course of my life.
Why did you found your company?
It was the idea around the movement of people that sparked the inspiration for Jobbatical, the company I am building. After I decided to finish with television business in the Baltic states I took some time off. I would have loved to find a team in a faraway country who could have benefited from my knowledge and in exchange I would have got a professional experience outside my comfort zone. But no such platform — connecting borderless people like me — existed. I was lucky to get into the Singularity University and spend the whole summer in the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, learning from some of the smartest innovators in the world. It was there, in Silicon Valley, when I asked myself: why are changes happening here? Why aren’t Google and other gigantic powerhouses emerging from anywhere else on the planet? The answer, I realized, was knowledgeable people who are drawn to this location. So in this more fluid world, what would the impact be if we took a person with certain knowledge and expertise to a place lacking that knowledge and expertise? Wouldn’t that be the start of a change? It was human beings who built Google, so if we distribute knowledgeable humans — they could potentially build Silicon Valleys anywhere in the world. That is when I decided that we could just collect the borderless talented people into a community and distribute them to the far-flung cities of the world.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
We are helping countries to rethink how they validate people and building a liquid job market. This in turn helps us build a borderless world through jobs.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
I have been lucky to meet some amazing people and I don’t usually hesitate to ask for help. Starting with my mother and late father and all up to my mentor, Lucy P. Marcus, who some years ago gave me some of the best advice regarding how to plan my life; also April Rinne, who helped me to really start thinking global with Jobbatical; another mentor, and now Jobbatical Board member, Alec Ross who’s been my sounding board in all sorts of things over the years. I am also lucky to have some of the best investors from different parts of the world who also act as my mentors on this Jobbatical journey.
How are you going to shake things up next?
We are only at the beginning of shaking things up — just you wait! There’s more shaking coming!
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Learn to say “no”. I founded my first company based on a high school project and became the youngest inventor of my country at the age of 16. That made me very famous, very fast. I mean — I was speaking at the European Parliament at the age of 19! Was listed in BusinessWeek’s 20 top Entrepreneurs Under 25 in Europe when I was 23! I got so busy being famous that I think I forgot what I was famous for. I said yes to every speaking engagement, interesting meeting request and interview without thinking whether or not this will actually help my business. Today I’ve become the master of saying no. The request has to qualify one of the two brackets: 1) Will it help Jobbatical to grow? 2) Will it help my family? If it doesn’t fit in one or the other, then it is a no. It has helped me become much more efficient.
- Hire slow, fire fast. Will skip the stories, but making mistakes here is painful.
- Years ago I was considering whether I should do an MBA. I asked my mentor Lucy Marcus about it and she told me bluntly: “Karoli, you should be speaking to the MBA students and not sitting in the classroom!” She suggested I continue building stuff and maybe do a fellowship program, which I kind of did at the Singularity University. I am really glad that she helped me to save those two years!
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
It was years ago when I first read Richard Branson’s “Losing My Virginity”. This book gave me the good kick-in-the-butt feeling that everything starts with the belief that you can make a difference in the world. “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari helped me to look at the world differently and help put in words why Jobbatical’s vision is likely to become our future. The podcast that every founder should listen to is Reid Hoffmann’s “Masters of Scale” — a lot of silly mistakes can be avoided by listening to this.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I will choose two people. Ashton Kutcher — because he did a “jobbatical” of his own at Lenovo in China and we’d love to find him another inspiring team in a far-flung city (or island) of the world which he could join and contribute to its growth. Secondly, Angelina Jolie. I was at the beginning of the Jobbatical journey when I heard her speech where, among other powerful things, she said, “I have never understood why some people are lucky enough to be born with the chance that I had, to have this path in life. And why across the world there’s a woman just like me, with the same abilities and the same desires, same work ethic and love for her family, who would most likely make better films, and better speeches — only she sits in a refugee camp. She has no voice.” I remember thinking — yes, this is exactly why I am building Jobbatical: to give a voice and career opportunities to talented people from any background, despite what passport they accidentally might have born to have.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!