Sten Tamkivi, Chief Product Officer of Topia: “Don’t say a bad word about anything you're not ready to do better yourself.”

Sten Tamkivi is the Chief Product Officer of Topia and the President of Estonian Startup Leaders Club. He is a true hero of Estonian business landscape – he has led Skype, founded a start-up called Teleport, which was bought by a British software company that offers relocation services to businesses, last year. Together, they acquired another American competitor and formed a new company – Topia, which is currently Sten's biggest challenge.

Sten’s work has been noticed in several occasions and has been awarded The Order of the White Star (IV class) in 2007, The Order of the Three Stars (IV class) in 2009 and The Outstanding Young Person of the Year, Estonia in 2009.

Sten values a tolerant, open and creative society, speaks up for entrepreneurship, supports the startup movement, occasionally invests and pushes for better tech education.

Currently, his mission is to build software that allows free people to move around the world. Topia sells software to the world's largest companies who need to understand where their thousands of employees are in the world, where they should be, and how much it will cost. “If necessary, we can also initiate the physical relocation services. On the executive team of Topia I’m in charge of product management, software development, design, and data science, ” Sten tells.
In every good science fiction book I read, half of the things that seemed impossible for the author 10 years ago are either possible now or immediately about to happen.

How did you become an entrepreneur – was it something that happened naturally or was it a well-deliberated decision?

I am from the generation who graduated from high school in the mid-1990s: Estonia had been free for a few years and looking around at the 20-year-old CEOs of freshly founded banks it seemed that we had missed a train. When I founded my first company in the summer between high school and university, it turned out that as an entrepreneur, the world can still be influenced above and beyond. At that time, thanks to the spread of the graphical web, the internet boom was ramping up, and I am still riding it in some way.

Apparently, the beginning was a combination of wishing to decide on what and with whom I want to work, and picking software as a tool for which I had interest and passion in my early school years.

What have been the biggest challenges and lessons learned for you as an entrepreneur?

In the history of every company, no matter how successful it finally looks, there are periods where you have a nose pointing down on the roller coaster and it is necessary to make painful decisions. One thing I will probably never get emotionally used to is to send hardworking people away from the company. The reason is that their skills are not exactly what the company needs for the next stage, or that their payroll is needed for something else.

My first company burst with an internet bubble. Since then, I have had to send colleagues away from both the Skype rocket ship and through the acquisitions that formed Topia. This is always 1000x harder than solving any growth pain.

Choose your battles carefully because every battle you take deserves full energy.


How to remain motivated and be happy while doing your job?

If at the beginning of my career I rather reacted to the occasions, then in the past ten years I have been more structured in my choices, where I invest my time.

If you take the time to think about what you want to achieve in life and how you want to operate, you will be less disappointed and the motivation will remain high. And when it comes time to make a difference, it is much less emotional and stressful because you know why you are taking the next step.

What are your three truths?

  • Leave your ego at the door.
  • Choose your battles carefully because every battle you take deserves full energy.
  • Don’t say a bad word about anything you're not ready to do better yourself.

I am inspired by...

People who selflessly do things for the benefit of other people.


What makes you excited about the future?

The fact that in every good science fiction book I read, half of the things that seemed impossible for the author 10 years ago are either possible now or immediately about to happen.

Hero of the Week is a column focused on inspirational entrepreneurial people around us – their journeys, success stories and lessons learned from failures; goals, inspiration and everything in between. Get inspired and be the Hero of your own life!