The first time I used my Estonian digital ID card was more than four years ago in London. I wanted to start a company, but had no previous experience running a business and I’m not really a tech person. To be honest, I still struggle to work my TV remote control.
Back then, I knew everything about the business I wanted to build — its name, services, potential first clients, marketing plans — but almost nothing about the business administration needed to set it up — articles of association, share capital, field of activity code. I didn’t even know how to digitally sign documents.
Fortunately, I had a bit of help.
I had recently attended an event in London for the British-Estonian Chamber of Commerce and met an Estonian entrepreneur there named Ivar Veskioja who knew everything there was possible to know about starting Estonian companies. So I gave him a call and he kindly guided me through the process. After that, my business was up and running.
If only everyone could get that kind of support when starting a company, I thought.
A lot has changed since then. It wasn’t long until I was the person helping other people start Estonian companies online. I moved to Estonia and ended up joining the e-Residency programme as its Chief Evangelist. E-Residency is an official status from the Republic of Estonia for citizens of other countries. Like Estonia’s citizens and residents, our e-residents around the world are issued with an Estonian digital ID card for authenticating their identity and legally signing documents online. They can use it to establish and manage an Estonian (EU) company entirely online with no paperwork, minimal hassle, low costs — and without ever having to step foot in Estonia (unless they want to). The programme has been a driving force for improving ease of doing business for international entrepreneurs and it’s success is based not just on state innovation, but also encouraging the private sector to innovate around it in support of e-residents.
As for Ivar, he led one of the most successful companies serving e-residents so also played a key role in the development of e-Residency.
He’s now launched his next big idea: Unicount.
Unicount provides easy Estonian company formation through the Estonian Business Register API for citizens, residents and e-residents of Estonia around the world. It is, arguably, the easiest way in the world to start a company right now — although it’s also under continuous development with exciting plans for the future.
Ivar and his team have done an incredible job developing the service and they’ve teamed up with leading Estonian accounting firm Pallas & Partnerid — with whom Unicount now shares an office. Coincidentally, they are the same accounting firm that I chose for my own company (which exports Estonian sauna design and technology), but they’ve focused on serving citizens and residents of Estonia until now.
Ivar has now asked me to join Unicount as Communications Director and I decided that I couldn’t miss this opportunity to help more e-residents get their businesses started. My role will mainly involve engaging e-residents, as well as journalists and other stakeholders, about the benefits of e-Residency and the service offered by Unicount.
Fortunately, I now know a lot more about starting Estonian companies and also how to use a digital ID card (although I still can’t work out that TV remote).
Unicount has been developed on the Estonian state’s X-road digital infrastructure, which connects Unicount to the Business Register via an API. Anyone can register a company directly through the state Business Register if they wish, but Unicount offers more.
Unicount is incredibly user-friendly, has plenty of useful guidance (in English, Estonian or Russian) and also offers access to the private sector tools and services needed to fully complete the process of setting up a company, including a virtual office and contact person.
Your company will share our address in Tallinn show below. It’s just above the Estonian Police and Border Guard service point where many e-residents collect their digital ID cards (if they choose to come to Estonia).
You’ll see our accounting partner, Pallas & Partnerid, on the list of services you can choose. This is the company I genuinely recommend anyway, even before being asked to join Unicount, because they have always delivered outstanding service to my company at good value-for-money.
It’s your choice though. If you don’t live in Estonia then the virtual office and contact person is mandatory, but everything else is optional — including an accounting subscription. We know that many e-residents may wish to register their company before they can start trading and so don’t need to do much accounting (or pay the bills for it) yet. Many others will start with a low trading volume and may therefore only require support with their annual report — not monthly VAT reporting that is only mandatory when taxable turnover is above €40,000 per calendar year.
At present, Unicount is available for solo entrepreneurs due to API limits. However, Estonia’s new e-notary service under development makes it easier for solo entrepreneurs to add an additional shareholder after starting a company without the need to travel to Estonia or transfer power of attorney.
You may have seen Unicount in the news last week because the first ever company was registered with Smart-ID through Unicount.
Smart-ID is a great option for e-residents because you can authenticate your identity and digitally sign documents using your mobile phone or tablet, instead of plugging your card into a computer. Most Estonians have already switched to using their phones.
If you’d like to learn more, here’s a short video with an overview of how Unicount works:
If you’re ready to get started, go to Unicount.eu and say hello to me (or one of my colleagues) on the chat window. And if you managed to read all the way down here, then here’s my promo code you can use if you are an e-resident: ADAMSGIFT.
I can’t talk at the moment about business — or anything — without addressing the serious crisis that we are facing regarding the coronavirus. These are going to be tough times so I just want to share my personal reflection.
First and foremost, our thoughts are with brave medical workers and the people who need them around the world. Please stay safe, look out for people around you, and #staythefuckhome as much as possible.
For many people, the economic situation might make it considerably more difficult to start and grow some types of businesses. For many others, starting and growing their own business online may now be more important than ever.
I know some people fear a return to a world of physical borders though. However, I think it’s more likely that a temporary world of borders will inspire us to build an even more borderless world in future. And I think many of the ‘temporary’ changes needed during this period will lead to lasting long term change, such as more people ditching the office and working remotely.
No matter what happens though, our digital nation will remain open online for you and we’re going to get on with our job serving e-residents. Thanks to Estonia’s digital solutions, the government is functioning, schools are continuing to teach, and business is still going on. There are no borders online.
People are remarkably resilient in times of crisis. That is what we are seeing already in the areas most affected. Tough times can be the making of great people and great companies. We will get through this and, when we do, businesses of all types must be ready to help our communities bounce back.