An entrepreneurial “animal” broke out and I realized I am not going back to my corporate position
Kaidi Ruusalepp, Founder and CEO of Funderbeam. Interviewed by Evita Lune. Edited by Veronika Suhareva.
Kaidi is a former CEO of Nasdaq Tallinn Stock Exchange and of the Central Securities Depository; Co-Founder of Estonian Service Industry Association; and Member of the Startup Europe Advisory Board at European Commission. A lawyer by education, she co-authored the Estonian Digital Signatures Act of 2000 — landmark legislation that enables secure digital identities and, in turn, the country’s booming electronic economy. Now she has created Funderbeam, fueling the companies of the future with one blockchain-powered exchange.
Funderbeam is introducing tradable private investments to the world. The platform allows investors to access fast, standardised deals in highly curated companies that can be instantly traded. Founders can raise funds to fuel their growth from both retail and professional investors in more than 100 countries. Furthermore, Funderbeam provides a free to use data intelligence tool, giving valuable insights for both founders and investors.
Evita: You were in the top executive position in Estonia — CEO of Nasdaq OMX Tallinn — and you decided to leave it in order to establish your own company. How did you come to such a decision?
Kaidi: I was on maternity leave with my second child, walking with the baby carriage, when the entrepreneurial “animal” inside me broke out and I realized that I am not getting back into the corporate world. To do something professionally meaningful I had basically 3 choiches — to have another 10 year at the International corporation, go abroad or build my own company. I choose the last one. Because I thought — if I don’t do it now I will regret it for the rest of my life.
Evita: Funderbeam has a unique business model — you are calling it a baby of Bloomberg, Angellistings and Nasdaq. How did you come up with such an idea?
Kaidi: Initially our idea was to develop a stock trading game for youngsters and teenagers, so that they could do all mistakes in the game, but not on the main markets with loosing lot of money. So we thought that investing in startups (virtually) would be a good start. But while analyzing the market, pain, and needs we discovered, that we are going to built a real trading platform and not a game. And so we developed a global stock exchange for startups.
Evita: When it comes to a global value or mission of Funderbeam — are you disrupting any of the existing intermediates in stock financing business? Or even more — are you facilitating growth of economy by enabling more free financing of companies?
Kaidi: There is a large cap of accessing capital all around the world. As we are more and more globally connected, also the business ideas and capital should be connected globally. The other problem is “liquidity” for investors — once you have private investments in your portfolio, how do you get out? So getting an access for global capital with liquidity is the pain we solve for investors and startups.
We saw too many inefficiencies in the process of money moving from investor to enterprise with the traditional stock exchange system. Moreover, the stock exchanges are moving more for exiting rather than raising money for the business growth. With the Blockchain technology it is possible to significantly shorter the number of steps from investor to company, plus it is possible to ensure the liquidity in startup funding.
And one more value — we are giving an opportunity for the coolest and craziest business ideas to get funded, which would otherwise be overlooked by venture capitalists. Our platform allows a free flow of capital from anywhere to anywhere. For example, you as a Latvian can have investments in Africa if you wish.
Evita: Please tell me about the most embarrassing 15 minutes in your life, which you experienced in front of a venture capital investor…
Kaidi: Obviously as an executive at Nasdaq OMX I have had experienced various challenging and stressful situations before, but going for the first time to Silicon Valley and understanding the thinking of investors was a totally new experience. In the startup environment there’s a presentation called pitching, which is resenting your business idea in 3 minutes and then investors ask their questions. All in front of the audience. We had 3 weeks old idea and the way the investors were grilling me was the most embarrassing experience in my whole life, but also a great lesson for me. Startup environment is totally different from a corporate career and I just had to start from scratch.
Evita: You have been recognized as one of the TOP-50 European female startup entrepreneurs, moreover, Funderbeam has won European startup FinTech awards in 2017. Are you motivated by international recognition? How are you feeling as a celebrity not just on Estonian, but on a global scale?
Kaidi: I never thought of developing something so global or winning any awards. It all happened by itself, one action triggered the other and we just became more and more global and more noticeable. I just returned from Japan, our headoffice is based in London, we have established cooperation with investors, stock exchanges ,and companies all around the world. Our investors are our ambassadors, business partners and the clients. Once I dreamed of partnering up with strongest stock exchanges in the world — this dream is soon to become true. I am a public face of the company and there are our fantastic team members doing the work. The leader is strong only if the team is strong, so alone I’m nothing.
Evita: In some of the future tech congresses I’ve attended, they were speaking about sharing economy, about money loosing its original value and its power as a tool to create order in the society. Younger generation does not aspire to own assets, but to share them. Do you see this coming?
Kaidi: Yes, I see different attitude towards money by younger generation. Many youngsters consider assets they are using as freely available value. I also see the trend of tokenization of assets. For example, in future we may hold tokens in the Blockchain which could, for example, contain a share in a flat or harvesting rights or piece of clean nature, and we would be exchanging tokens with these shared assets, but not money anymore. In a way it’s going back to pre-money era in the human history.
It’s the technology that gives us the tools to re-engineer the way we are living. And takes us a lot of thinking, patience, and courage to make the difference. It’s a big challenge and not everything will be reinvented. I’m not sure we will have fully decentralized life, because we are not used to it, but I’m sure we will have more global, connected, and more frictionless/borderless way of living.
Evita: Your profession must be very demanding — you are an entrepreneur, who needs to know how to run a company, your business model requires advanced knowledge in finance, technology, law, analytics, and perhaps many other skills. How do you keep up with the pace in light of your personal development?
Kaidi: If you want to manage a company on a strategic level, you must understand the business, otherwise you can manage the company only on operational level. Team and expertise are the most important things to be bring in the company. Shared knowledge is much stronger than the knowledge stored in one person. In Funderbeam we have global and talented team. Our Co-founder is an ex-regulator, I rely on a competence of our CTO since technology is in the core of our business, our CFO is an ex-investment banker in London, and CLO is one of the top legal experts in the region. I think it is important to attract top-notch team and give them the freedom and trust to execute.
Evita: Why do we see so few women in technology and in entrepreneurship?
Kaidi: Because women think too much. We would analyze many times if we are smart enough, educated enough, talented enough to pursue our dreams. And the more we think, the more excuses and imaginary problems we find in ourselves. Just stop thinking, go and do it.
Evita: I also heared that in the startup environment it is very difficult for young women to get funding, since the investors think that women will get babies and their priorities will change…
Kaidi: Right, and as a next step a female startup entrepreneur in her forties with two children, such as myself, is seen more as a busy mother rather than a full fledged entrepreneur. So sometimes it feels like you have 2 levels to pass — a lady filter and a mother filter before anyone starts to talk business to you. It’s about minorities we are not used to see in the business.
But behind the minorities there is a person with a business idea and drive. Give them a chance without asking how do they manage the family! Belive me — if a woman decides to step into the business battlefield, she is there to win.
Evita: I am sure your family is proud of you…
Kaidi: Well, I can do what I’m doing only because of the supporting family. My husband has been an entrepreneur himself so he knows every detail of the life. Children do not view things the way we do. They see me on a stage, but I am still just a mom, not any professional for them. My sons are 10 and 7 years old now, they have seen the world because I try to take them with me as often as I could. I’m glad they discuss AI and business and new world. They are not surprised to see the different races, religion or culture, and they see the world as one, open environment.