Hemant Kumar: From India to Estonia to SWG program in Riga
Hemant is the CEO of WhatTheBus – a startup that was part of Startup Wise Guys batch 7 which took place (for the first time) in Riga, Latvia. Being Indian origin, Hemant moved to Estonia to work at TransferWise and later established his own company here. Thus it was doubly interesting to hear about his experience going through acceleration program in neighbouring Riga – just 4h drive away from Tallinn. This is his story..
I moved to Tallinn in 2015 to join TransferWise as an engineer and it was because of the entrepreneurial culture of TransferWise and Estonia’s favourable startup ecosystem which led to the foundation of WhatTheBus.
We joined Startup Wise Guys accelerator with just a prototype and a different idea, and just after two weeks we pivoted to a solving a niche problem for group travelers. This probably would not have happened or might have happened much later if we had not joined the program.
Accelerating in Riga also gave us a quick and easy access to Latvian market and local talent. Not only we got our initial few customers from Riga, but also many of our current recurring customers come from Latvia. Entering into a new market without local expertise and language skills otherwise would have been challenging and expensive.
During the program, we realized it early that being foreigner founders we need Latvian speaking people in the team in order to do operations. With the help of mentors and our friends at TechHub Riga, we managed to hire two interns in just 10 days. Hiring is normally a time-consuming process and would have been much difficult to build a local team without the SWG network in Latvia.
After the program was over, we applied similar practices in Estonia where we are based, and this helped us achieve a good initial traction in both countries. In the beginning, we would have preferred to have the program in Tallinn and it would have been relatively easier on a personal level. But now we look back and realize that we wouldn’t have been able to reach our Latvian market that early, had we not been in Riga for the program.
Personally I believe while Tallinn is already leading the startup ecosystem in the Baltics, Riga is fastly catching up. With Tech conferences such as Latitude 59 and Tech Chill and various co-working spaces such as Spring Hub, Lift 99, and TechHub Riga which hosts events and talks targeted towards entrepreneurs and startups there is a lot of free mentorship and advice available on various challenges an early stage startup may face. Not only this is useful and inviting for the local community to start their venture but also attracts many foreign entrepreneurs to come here and make use of it and start their own company.
In a nutshell, if you are an early stage startup with just an idea or a working prototype, then apply to the next batch of Startup Wise Guys. If you think you are too early, you can already start building a relationship and make the most of it when you think you are ready. Applications are still open for a week at startupwiseguys.com/apply