HomeEstonia-StartupsBreaking down geographical barriers: An interview with Jobbatical's CEO and co-founder Karoli...

Breaking down geographical barriers: An interview with Jobbatical’s CEO and co-founder Karoli Hindriks

Jobbatical is a relocation and immigration platform reimagining how people live and work globally, it simplifies how high-growth companies move talent from one country to another, making the process twice as fast and three times more cost-effective by automating the most time-consuming tasks and using in-house immigration experts to bring clarity to an otherwise archaic and complex process. It has managed the relocation of more than 6000 workers and their families from companies like N26 and TravelPerk.

Founded by Karoli and Ronald Hindriks, later joined by Ankur Agarwal, in 2014 as an international recruitment platform in Estonia. They navigated a significant change in 2019, pivoting to focus on relocation and immigration services after recognising the challenges of global hiring. Jobbatical has raised over €20 million from investors like Inventure, Union Square Ventures, Swiss Post Ventures, Karma VC, Metaplanet, and Devotion Ventures, as well as a number of angel investors.

In 2023, she was part of the EU-Startups TOP 100: Europe’s most influential women in the startup and venture capital space. Karoli has previously also been a speaker at the main stage of TED on why the passport needs an upgrade and also at our annual EU-Startups Summit in 2021 and 2023.

We caught up with Karoli to learn more about navigating a pivot, Jobbatical’s growth, and how AI will change and shape the workforce.

In 2019, Jobbatical pivoted to focus on relocation and immigration services away from being an international recruitment platform. Could you tell us about how you navigate the pivot?

Jobbatical was born from my vision to make global living and working accessible to all. Having grown up in Estonia under Soviet Occupation, I don’t take the freedom of borderless living for granted.

I’ve been building and scaling businesses since I was 16 so creating a product to focus on this mission was a natural step. Jobbatical’s first iteration was a global recruitment platform. By 2018, we had 500K users and had facilitated job placements in 37 countries. That year Forbes named us one of Europe’s 10 Most Exciting Technology SMEs. Although successful, we lacked that hockey sticks growth founders talk so often about.

In 2019, the global talent shortage became critical. Businesses were desperately trying to fill positions and many were exploring global hiring as well as relocating existing employees.

While our clients were using our international recruitment platform they started to request if we could also help to do the whole hideous visa and work permit paperwork. To make this easier for our clients, we became fixated on streamlining the global visa and immigration process, a painfully archaic system that acts as the real barrier to living and working abroad for huge parts of the global population.

By bringing together in-house immigration experts and the best product people and engineers, we found a way to make relocating talent 2X faster and 3X less expensive for businesses. Word spread and our side business soon surpassed the revenue of our main recruitment platform. It turned out that the biggest pain of international hiring for our clients was not hiring, but actually getting people into the country.

By mid-2019 we were sure we had found our market fit, and pivoted to becoming a digital employee relocation platform for businesses. Supporting companies like Typeform, N26, and TravelPerk, in 2022 alone we helped over 6,000 employees and their families relocate to 19 countries.

How can other business leaders decide when a pivot is necessary? What advice can you share about how business leaders can succeed on a pivot?

Pivoting should never feel like a leap of faith, but rather a decision based on data, a deep understanding of the market and confidence in yourself and the team around you to execute.

Ultimately, whether to pivot comes down to market fit. The harsh truth is if you’re wondering whether you have a market fit, you probably don’t. With our global recruitment product, we were always wondering if we’d ever find hockey stick growth. When we pivoted to launch our global mobility services in 2019, we were absolutely certain we had market fit and we had the data to back it up.

Founders should know that pivoting is humbling. While you’re armed with a wealth of learnings from your first iteration of the business, in many ways you’re starting again. While we kept our name and brand, almost everything else – our team, our product, our mission – changed.

Hard decisions come with pivoting too. We had to reluctantly let go of a number of our team to focus on our new mission as well as tell our consumer customer base that our recruitment product no longer existed. Scaling back taught me how to do a lot with a little. Ultimately, it created a more resilient and effective team in the long run.

As a company that helps other high-growth companies to relocate staff from one country to another, could you share how you manage your talent acquisition strategy and culture?

The first thing is that I am a huge believer in culture add versus culture fit. I like how Patty McCord, my mentor, board member and former Chief People Officer of Netflix puts it: “What most people mean by “culture fit” is hiring people they’d like to have a beer with.” I’m sure I don’t have to point out that this approach doesn’t help to build diversity in an organisation!

That is a key reason we hire globally. Our very first employee travelled 6,000 miles from Buenos Aires to Tallinn to join us, and today we have over 24 nationalities at Jobbatical. I believe that it is the diverse DNA of our company that has pushed us to make the pivotal right decisions over the years.

As well as prioritising global hiring, we also are guided by three key cultural values. I call these the ‘Three Ts’.

  • Radical transparency: We share more information with our employees than most other companies. We believe having the full picture allows people to make informed decisions for the company.
  • Truth (via feedback): I tell all new employees that if there is one thing I hope they will take with them from Jobbatical, it is the ability to give and receive feedback. It sounds simple, but often people are not comfortable giving or receiving challenging feedback. Feedback enables us to grow as people and positively benefits an organisation.
  • Trust: Our employees have the autonomy to make decisions at every level of the organisation. We trust them to take action. But with this, we also have to embrace the potential of failure. People can operate independently when they feel they are trusted and when it is safe to fail. I like how our investor and Board Member, Andy Weissman puts it: “Mistakes are great, let’s just not do them twice.”

Everyone at Jobbatical knows our mission and these guiding values and this helps us to streamline decision making and create a culture everyone feels motivated to be part of.

How will AI change and shape the workforce?

The area I’m most interested in is how AI can continue to break down geographical barriers and friction of talent mobility. Whether it’s streamlining the immigration process, matching talent to global roles or breaking down language barriers via real-time AI-driven language translation, huge groups of people who would otherwise be held back by language or location could soon have access to roles they otherwise wouldn’t have. It would expand the workforce and have a major positive knock-on effect on the global economy. As the economist Michael Clemens from the Centre for Global Development claims that “barriers to emigration place one of the fattest of all wedges between humankind’s current welfare and its potential welfare.”

Could you tell us more about how you are thinking about using AI at Jobbatical?

We already use both automation and AI to streamline assessments, forms and applications but we’re excited about how AI will be helping us even more on our path to make moving to a new country as easy as booking a flight. Thinking about automating document verification, enhancing security checks, reducing human error and bias and improving decision-making processes through data analysis, there’s plenty we’re looking at in the next couple of years.

Immigration is typically confined due to government regulation and immigration laws. From your perspective, how can governments and businesses respond to prevent talent drain?

The whole argument and prejudices around immigration fundamentally need to change if businesses – and countries – are to reach their full economic potential. Points-based, age-based and occupation-based immigration policies are all flawed, in that they make decisions based on what’s on a piece of paper – without regard for the actual person and the qualities they possess.

One initiative that we actually built with the Estonian government and is gaining momentum around Europe is the Digital Nomad Visa. A way for countries to welcome skilled workers on a temporary basis. More can be done to make this programme a success, such as by making the application process simpler, extending the timeframe that digital nomads can spend in the country and perhaps introducing a synced-up Europe-wide visa programme.

Governments and businesses must also work much closer together to ensure that immigration policies are based on real-world needs; based on what actual businesses across all sectors need. And it shouldn’t just be the multinational companies that get a seat at this table. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and need critical support to help them access the talent they need in order to thrive.

In 2023, you decided to launch in the US, UK, and France. How did you navigate international expansion?

Jobbatical has been a global hybrid company from its inception, so international expansion hasn’t been as difficult as it may be for companies with more physical operations. The way my co-founder and our CPO designed our product is that we can start a new country with zero code, which makes our expansion significantly easier and more scalable than anyone else in our industry. We have a very clear country setup process and diversity and culture-add is in our DNA, so it is quite easy for new team members globally to plug into the organisation.

What does the future of work look like in the next 5-10 years?

We’re on the precipice of significant technological change, with AI responsible for what’s going to be the biggest shake-up to the world of work. Whilst AI is going to replace some jobs, technological advancements and emerging fields will demand new and specialised skills that traditional educational systems and training programs will struggle to keep up with without an overhaul.

These same technological innovations will further propel us into a remote, distributed and hopefully borderless way of working. Cross-border careers will become more commonplace as workers look to blend their professional and personal aspirations in a way that suits them. The same can be said for portfolio careers. With AI changing jobs of today and replacing manual, time-consuming activities, we may find that people begin building careers based on having multiple ‘jobs’ on the go at any given time. Lending their skills and expertise to missions that they align with, as opposed to giving their all to one single job. Cross-border portfolio careers may become commonplace.

What’s next for Jobbatical?

We’re taking on a massive challenge: to fix the global visa and immigration process for businesses. We’ve already taken big strides in the last few years but we’re really just at the beginning of this journey. Earlier this year we launched in the U.S., U.K. and France – three countries with notoriously slow, confusing and costly systems. We’re focused on building our team and scaling our reach in these new markets while making global relocations accessible to more businesses around the world.

Amanda Pun
Amanda Pun
Amanda is passionate about startups, particularly in the FinTech and B2C spaces. She was one of the first employees of fintech startup, Homeppl, and has expertise in Product Management and Operations. She is based in London and originally from Canada.

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