Although tourists are increasingly discovering Estonia outside Tallinn, the tech sector is mainly concentrated in the capital city. However, this trend is starting to change. Carl Pucci, founder and CEO of EO59, a satellite radar company, and a board member of the American Chamber of Commerce Estonia talks about how he ended up establishing his global company in a tiny town in the middle of Estonia.
Undeveloped gems of the digital country
One of the benefits of a digitalised society is the availability of quality public services for businesses regardless of location. Not many people know that the headquarters of EO59, whose clients include global Space Agencies, which perform the highest detail satellite measurements, is situated in Rapla, a town with 5000 inhabitants. The owner of this company is Carl Pucci, originally from Rochester, NY, who travelled to Estonia first in 2011. Following his future wife, he stepped into the snow-laden airport of Tallinn, but quickly got into a bus to drive some 50 km outside the capital, and discovered a community he now calls home.
„Estonia’s small towns are like these undeveloped gems of the country,“ says Mr Pucci. “We have a beautiful and affordable office space here in Rapla with gigabit optical internet connection. Not everybody wants to live in a big city.”
Frictionless interaction with public services
Initially, after arriving in Estonia, Mr Pucci worked for Datel, a major software company. Through this, he was engaged in developing Estonian e-government himself. Now, as a business owner, he benefits from them regularly. Knowing the story of Estonia’s re-independence and the first steps in building its digital services, Mr Pucci recalls his first experiences with it. He is convinced that the ease of interacting with public services is indispensable for not only quality of life, but also the quality of running a business.
„I remember when my first child was born and they clicked the „Add a Human“ button in a state web portal in the hospital. I was amazed! But business is also life. Anybody who tries to say that operating a small business is separate from their existence doesn’t know what running a business means. If your entire life is surrounded by friction with the government, then it hurts your business. If your life has the least friction possible, then it assists you in being able to do business. And I feel that in this regard, Estonia has come really far.“
He talks fondly of the ease of using templates for hiring people or paying taxes online in seconds. As an American, Mr Pucci is especially intrigued by the fact that Estonian high-quality digital services have been developed without the state going into debt.
“This is why I like paying taxes in Estonia,” he says. “I feel like I am actually getting something in return!”
A global business engaged with the local community
EO59 has a branch in Virginia, and clients and contractors globally. The measurements EO59 provides are used, for example, in the investigation of collapsed Champlain Towers in Florida and the levee catastrophe during the siege of Azovstal, Ukraine. The millimetre-level accuracy helps to detect a need for road maintenance on State Highway-130, the fastest highway in the United States. They also sell equipment for satellite radar measurements to Space Agencies around the world.
Despite the international trade of EO59, Mr Pucci believes in being engaged with the local community. Besides operating his software and sales department in Rapla, the high-tech radar hardware EO59 sells, is constructed in another quaint town, Pärnu. This kind of engagement, according to his experience, is mutually beneficial.
“I remember when we needed to buy a desk for our office, our secretary suggested we get it from Ikea. But I said, no, we have a furniture shop down the street, let’s get it from there. I know it is more expensive, but in this way, we are part of the community, and when I need help with something unique, I can go to the furniture store and ask the lady,“ Mr Pucci explains.
“It is the same thing with producing in Estonia compared to, say, producing in China. If I produce radar instruments in China, nobody cares who I am. But the guy in Pärnu, when I have a problem, I can just pick up the phone and call and he helps me.“
As an example of the beauty of a small town, he talks about a meeting he organised for satellite radar scientists – a rather unique group of people. Since there is no hotel in Rapla, he talked to the manager of the local school dormitory who was thrilled to host such unexpected visitors.
“They made that dorm gorgeous. There were fresh flowers in everybody’s room! Fresh flowers and pastries for breakfast at a dorm owned by the government. Do you think the US government would have put flowers and pastries? No, absolutely not. But here, the community has helped us grow as a company,“ Mr Pucci is still amazed.
Personal connections with locals, in English
Being a foreigner in a small community may be challenging, especially with language barriers. But Mr Pucci recalls one of the critical moments that motivated him to fall in love with the country. This happened when he travelled some less travelled roads in rural southern Estonia during the re-independence day during his first visits.
“We’re driving through the middle of nowhere when on the side of the road there’s a milk stand, right? And at the milk stand, there are five or six little kids, some adults, listening to Estonian music on a boombox with little flags, with a sign that says, Happy Independence Day, Estonia. And they offered free cookies. I slammed on the brakes and turned around and went back to that little milk stand and got a cookie with those people who, to my amazement, spoke English!“ Mr Pucci recalls.
He talks fondly of personal connections he has developed over the years with Estonians, like the grandmother of his wife who knits woollen socks, including a pair he wore to the White House, and is always ready to listen to new developments in the satellite radar business.
Advice for entrepreneurs — get out of Tallinn!
„I’ve been on the management board of the American Chamber of Commerce for a decade. In that time, I’ve met a lot of people who are considering Estonia as the location for their business. And I have understood that no one makes a decision to locate a business for financial reasons only. People make decisions because they like it. They have to feel connected to it.“
For those entrepreneurs, Mr Pucci has always offered a suggestion.
„You must drive outside Tallinn in any direction and get out of the car. Then you can drive back. If you feel something in that 20 minutes, then Estonia is for you.“