I was honored to speak last night at the Estonian Independence Day reception thrown by the local Estonian society, aka Eesti By The Bay.
The below are my speaking notes, not a full transcript. Happy 95th Birthday, Estonia!
I have always been a believer that the tinier the country, the more important for it to think what it can contribute to the world. Many, especially those economically behind or fresh out of hardship, wars and occupations tend to take a position that the world owes them something, something that they need to get from others.
I am proud that Estonia thinks differently. Estonia gives.
What has Estonia given to California, to San Francisco, to the Bay Area and Silicon Valley? (And I do not just mean free video calls via Skype) What more can Estonia give?
Recently I’ve been thinking of three examples:
1) The Digital Citizen mindset
We’re in the middle of Silicon Valley here, the place from where an overwhelming majority of technologies that help us buy and sell things, network and search for information, spend time online are born. Yet, it can be so hard just to be a good citizen here, to do the things you have to do, not just want to do – would it be dealing with a bank, with on-street parking, IRS or DMV.
We, Estonians, have gotten used to being digital citizens and I believe there is a lot we can give here, helping, teaching and inspiring others to get further along.
If the word “mafia” gets mentioned in the context of any other Eastern European nation, it would make people look the other way, duck and cover.
#EstonianMafia, on the other hand, is something special – as coined by a Valley VC Dave McClure who was getting overwhelmed by the constant inflow of cool Estonian entrepreneurs he was seeing.
Estonia is just 0.2% of European population, but sometimes it feels we give 20% of new exciting European tech stories. I recently counted 20 new Estonian tech companies that just in recent years, in the tailwind of Skype have crossed their first $1M in revenue and/or raised $500k+ in venture capital.
We’re punching orders of magnitude above our weight and this does not remain unnoticed in the Valley.
3) The People
The sparkling beauty of Estonian men and the amazing smarts of Estonian women are known far and wide.
What also syncs well with the Valley around us is the habit to work hard. And – as I hope we will witness as this fine evening continues – also play hard.
All that said, as we know from philanthropy, business and love – only the one who has the backing of their own home in order can truly start giving to others.
Some of us are here for the long term, others just dropping by for a shorter adventure – but we all do think every day how things are going back in Estonia.
It is really simple: for us to be able to roam truly free under clear Californian skies, we need the free state of Estonia back home.
Happy Independence Day.