Glia is the 10th unicorn in Estonia, with excellent teams in Tallinn and Tartu consisting of both local and foreign talent. In today’s interview session, Glia’s CTO and co-founder Carlos Paniagua gives a glimpse of how it feels to be an expat in Estonia, in what way Glia manages its processes and growth in the light of today’s events in the world, and what are the main ways to keep the motivation and support high at all times within teams.
Estonia has become your home. What brought you to Estonia? Why have you decided to work in Estonia?
I am originally from Guatemala, but I have been in Estonia for roughly 12 years. When I finished school and started working, I thought about going abroad to learn something new, and Estonia looked like a great place to be. I had a classmate who was in Estonia before me, and he shared a lot about the country and culture. However, he was careful not to share too much about the weather. Nevertheless, Estonia sounded fascinating to me, and the University of Tartu looked relevant, so I packed my things and moved to Estonia. I have been living here for 7 or 8 years now after returning from the US, where I lived for a couple of years.
We live in a time when companies have to make big decisions. How has the current situation influenced your business growth decisions in Estonia? What has changed since the war began in Ukraine?
We have been in Estonia from the very beginning of the company. Back in 2012, we started to build our team over here, and throughout the years, we have worked hard to grow our company and increase the team size. Right now, fifty percent of the company is in Estonia, and we are planning to stay here.
One adjustment that our Estonian team has made is ensuring that our employees or candidates of Ukrainian origin, who have fled or are planning to leave, are aware of the opportunities and support we can offer and provide – relocation, immigration, and other processes.
Estonia now has ten unicorns, and Glia is one of them. Why did you choose to start building your product here?
My initial connection to Estonia started with my master’s degree in Computer Science at the University of Tartu. Towards the end of my degree, we began to build Glia and it brought me to NYC for a couple of years to develop the prototype. However, when we started to create a product, we knew that Estonians’ work ethic is high, and the communication style is excellent, so it made sense to start building it over here.
We already had some ties, relationships, and a great connection with the University of Tartu in Estonia. By the time, Estonia’s ecosystem was big enough, and the community we needed in the early stages was available. Additionally, in general, the country has a growth mindset that definitely felt attractive.
We all know that it is hard to attract outstanding talents into teams. So how are you going to recruit during the current competition in the job market?
Yes, the competition is aggressive and not only in Estonia but everywhere. It has been for the last two years, and this is not something new. In Glia, we are using different strategies to attract employees. We have a unique product that has a unique value proposition compared to the other companies in our ecosystem, and this has been the key to attracting outstanding talents. When people, particularly engineers, see a demo of the product, they get excited.
In addition, we have the best resources, and for instance, we have built a strong relationship with Jobbatical to better relocate candidates to Estonia. Our teams work hard to make new people from other countries feel welcome and immersed in this new culture. As an expat, I can relate that help and support are essential during the relocation process.
Besides expats, we also continue hiring from Estonia to find local talents. We know that people are more knowledgeable that we have a great product, healthy business, and excellent talent, which has built a strong value proposition for our Estonian team.
How do you support each other in the team? What are some events you are organizing? How do you create a sense of security within your team?
We have a great people operations team and collaborative nature in every team we have in the company. So we have different rituals that contribute to bringing people together. For example, we recently launched the expat event, where people can introduce their home country. Last time we had Ukrainian evening with some Ukrainian food and drinks. Our Ukrainians shared their culture and music, how they felt about relocating to Estonia, and the main differences between the Ukrainian and Estonian environments. In addition, we shared relevant and valuable information that every expat can use – this time, the practical topic was health care in Estonia, and we talked about how to get a family doctor and shared many other practical aspects about this topic.
Other events are more towards our culture: all-hands meeting every Monday and remote events. For example, the previous time we had churros making evening, where every team member received the ingredients to their home, and we all got our hands dirty while being at the Zoom call with 150 people. These events show how important it is for us to create a sense of community in Glia, and how we can support expats who come to Estonia. We are proud to say that 40% of our Estonian team consists of expats from 20+ different countries.
To increase security, the company has clear communication channels with our teams, and we make sure that everyone in the company has the correct information about what is happening, what they need, what we are doing to help, etc. One example of support is a mental health program that Glia offers. However, it’s not only the leadership who is active, but the glianeers are also self-organizing the activities, and every team has a budget that they can use to create events to bond. Recently, some teams have decided to use their budgets for donations to support Ukraine.
You have a strong team of internationals working here. Why do you think Estonia is appealing to expats?
One of the first things I found great here was the way people communicate and build relationships. Of course, it takes a long time to build relationships, but once you start making connections, it becomes more accessible to be part of different networks and communities because of how tight the groups are. Moreover, people are very straightforward, meaning that “yes” and “ok” are usually complete sentences, and everyone is fine with that.
Digitalization is also incredible. You can consider Estonia as the Silicon Valley of Europe, including Glia, and the fact that there are ten unicorns in Estonia is just amazing. Moreover, Estonia has a low level of bureaucracy, and the country’s social system works great. Thus, expats get the support that they need.
And last but not least, Estonia has peaceful nature and you can take time off just by driving 30 minutes out of the city. There is a reason why I have been here for such a long time, and I am here to stay.