May 27, 2021

How Estonia became Europe's Silicon Valley, the Global Hack, Pipedrive, Amber Bikes, and more with Helery Pops

How Estonia became Europe's Silicon Valley, the Global Hack, Pipedrive, Amber Bikes, and more with Helery Pops

Estonia is a very small country with a population of roughly 1.3 million people. So why is Tallinn, the capital, considered the Silicon Valley of Europe?

Helery Pops (@LinkedIn) is a Product Manager, surfer, and all-around software extraordinaire. Her career in software began in 2016 when she took a role as an inside sales consultant for startup Pipedrive. After advancing her career and taking on additional responsibilities including Product Manager (Pipedrive is now valued at over $1.5 Billion), she now serves as the Software Product Manager for Ampler Bikes where she leads a team of developers that’s responsible for developing the e-commerce system, stock management system, and services for partners. 


In her own words: “Building e-bikes without truly delightful software to back it up is like eating pancakes without any toppings. It’s nutritious, but not really what eating pancakes is about. It’s about the Nutella and fresh berries.”


Throughout her experience, Helery has volunteered and been exposed to events such as the Global Hack an online hackathon that originated in Estonia and was put together to help solve global problems facing society.


Please enjoy!



 I heard Estonia is really nice. Number one, air quality in the world has the most Lakeside of any other country. So I'm just curious. When you go to other places, do you notice the air quality? Is it bad or is it good?

Are you ever comparing that back to back home? Not at all. Actually. I guess I haven't been to the countries where they are quality is really bad, such as China, for example. But if I travel around in Europe, I don't really notice it. I just know the jokes that we could sell the Estonian airs, just pack it up in a plastic bag and sell it to other countries.

But I'm afraid it's not something you noticed. I've never noticed it myself, but I think you would have some buyers, a friend of mine who I run with here in Buka DAS. One day I texted him. I said, you want to go for a run? And he responded and said, no, the air quality is bad today. And I thought he was joking.

I thought he was,  I thought he was kidding. I didn't believe him, but no, he looked and whatever the quality was bad, he was adamant about not running. Whereas I've never once even consider it with your qualities. Like I'm worried about the heat index, like how bad is the humidity and if it's like super hot and then I definitely don't want to be out there, but air quality never even thought of that.

One of the things that I wanted to ask you about is that I read somewhere that, the city of baleen is, did I say that right? That lead. Okay. The capital Darlene is considered the Silicon valley of Europe, right? Because it has more startups per head of population there.

Is that something that most Estonians know and take pride in? Oh, that's me. I think we definitely know it. And so think about where it all began. I would like to contribute that to possibly a former president  who started this program called titler in the nineties. Not sure if you've heard of it before, but the BT has a new independent country.

He took was able to secure a part of the budgets. Of the country to make sure that we have computers and internet, that's. Where that started from that the kids grew up with internet with the knowledge of what's going on outside. And it's my generation actually. So now if I look around then I grew up with not only Skype, that's invented in Estonia, but today also pipe drive and Betty and boy that employs millions of people.

And it just seems like everything is possible. This one little change in mentality was made in the nineties. And now I think everybody knows how to make a difference. Oh my God. So you're saying that when you were like in the fourth or fifth or sixth grade, you had access to the internet and kids were already doing some sort of exercises on the computers 

yes. And this has grown exponentially as well. I had my cousin who was, I think, seven at the time once came to me and said, look, I created a game. What I expected was that he would come to me with a piece of paper and see this is like tic-tac-toe or something, but it turned out. Yeah, it actually coded a game.

So now two years later, he's 11 and he's , light years ahead of me when it comes to anything to do with computers. How many people would you say actually go into some sort of engineering, computer engineering, developing? Because coding is the one thing where you don't have to have a college background and you can make really good money and have a really good career.

So do a lot of people in Estonia pursue that path. That's right. It's a really good career, but I think not enough people pursue that path because I work in software development myself and we are constantly in a lack of developers. I wish we had more actually, because the country itself is quite small.

We're just 1.3 million people. So finding the developers is really hard. However, I think it's going to get better pretty soon because a group of entrepreneurs took it upon themselves to create an it school in Estonia, actually in the middle of nowhere in the Eastern part of Estonia where they will be choosing a number of people to teach them math development with no tuition no tutors, just project based school.

And that's I think I'm not sure about the numbers, but in two years we should have like maybe 300 more developers to work with, which is great. Yeah. Yeah, my son, yeah, he just turned four. In fact, today's his birthday. He just turned four. What age should we try to get him exposed to coding classes?

I need to look here in Bucharest to see if they exist. But you said that your cousin seven and he already created some sort of program or coded a game already. So what age did he start? How young are you seeing these kids participating in such programs? I don't think that for them, there's a line between coding education and just regular games and and just living, what they already grow up with with the phones and that's where they get started.

They understand that UX much better than we do probably, and that they will get into. Building their own games pretty quick. If you just give them the right tools. So I wouldn't even say that you have to send your kids somewhere. I would just say that give him a nice program that teaches him to create his first game.

And he will just take up interest himself because it's like Legos. They want to do it. That's my guess. At least. Yeah, he started saying, come daddy, come look what I made, look what I made. And he's always splitting something different with Legos and totally loves it. 

Okay. So back to pipe drive, you mentioned this startup in Estonia it's is a very innovative software tech company. I think it reached unicorn status valued at almost one and a half billion dollars. Maybe even more today. Tell me about your experience there because you were there for quite some time.

What was that right? I loved it. I think I loved every moment of it because I when I was studying in Madrid, I did my career in finances and accounting, and I hated that. I knew that I wasn't going to work in that field at all. Somebody told me like, why don't you join pipe drive? And I was like, sure, I'll do whatever.

And I got accepted to this sales, that inbound sales team. I had the course that I needed to review as I should do in pipe drive it. Wasn't too easy to get into it. But what was interesting to me in the interview process was that they never asked me what I did in university. They just looked at me as a person and wanted to understand whether I'm a.

I didn't know, bright enough to grow into the role, which I guess I was, so I was in sales for, I think, a year, maybe even over that a little bit. And then I transitioned to a researcher's role in the marketing team, always with really good bosses who allowed me to learn a lot. And somehow that grew my opportunity to become a product manager.

And if I look back at this journey, it makes perfect sense because we're talking about the sales software and I was selling the sales software. So I already knew how the customers were thinking before doing research and with research, I got even more into their heads. So after that building the software, it just came naturally.

And I think there's three and a half or four years altogether at pipes. I've sorry, it roll from 130 to a 600 people. That's a lot. That's major growth. That is significant growth at that time. So you're talking about, it could be a handful to maybe a dozen new people starting almost every week, right during that period.

Sure. We had quite the bootcamps, maybe every two weeks or every month. I don't remember, but it was a three-day event where everybody came together. You met not only the people joining here in Estonia, but also the people who joined the company in London or New York or Portugal. Everybody came together.

They had courses, they got to know the company, the culture we had this event where all the founders came together and gave a talk. So really this bootcamp I gave you, first of all, the sense of community and sense of mission already. So I think that was a big part of growing the team because people after seeing that coming to Estonia community want yeah.

 So let's talk about the culture a little bit, because there seems to be an open-mindedness to launching products for Estonia in general, that can solve not just local humanitarian challenges, but global issues.

So for example, is Sonia launched a global hackathon last year, that involved participants for more than 100 countries. And you were a part of this initiative, Hillary, can you tell me about your experience? Yeah, sure. I think you could do probably an entire show on the global hack and how it went from from beginning to end because I didn't join from the very beginning.

My story actually started in Thailand. I was one of the last people who could enter a stoner before the lockdown, and then I was under, quite strict. Great team. I had to self isolate. Then I was already in a point where I was taking apart, all my cupboards and taking my food out, then putting them back and organizing my entire apartment.

When a friend called me and was like Pritchard times a better use. Why don't you just join us at the global hub? I agreed. And at first I thought I could do it along with my actual job at anther bikes, but really quickly, I think in a matter of days it became so intense that I took a vacation from my regular job and just committed 100% to the global heck.

And I was in the communications team, which was great as well, because I didn't have experience with it before. So it was such a great learning experience then It was two weeks for me, a schedule you wouldn't imagine sleeping maximum four hours every day heating. I don't know whatever was in the fridge, but if I think about what made me do it, of course the mission I was really inspired, but by it, but more so the people around me, the boss that I had there, for example, she, even in the most busiest time, she would always start the call with how are you doing? Have you slept? Have you eaten? So you're working.

If you're working with people like that, then at the end of the day, you don't even realize how hard you're working because you just really want to do it. And the result was a noticing. Of course. Yeah. I read that there was over a hundred different solutions that came about. Do you recall any projects that, that you thought were just really interesting and you hope that they got implemented, even if it wasn't as in Estonia, but it may be another, some other part of the world.

Of course, I would like to point out the stowing and people rights because we're such a small community. And I really do think that one idea that took off and I believe they're working until today as well. It's called Bob we a B. And what they did was create the database of medical professionals or not even professionals, just people with some kind of medical training to be able to.

Call them out if necessary. So for example, if you have some kind of medical training than medical institutions, wouldn't know it, unless you're a real doctor or a nurse but what you can do is you can sign yourself up into the database. And as soon as there's a cold. For any professionals, you get the email and you can register.

So if too many people come into the hospitals and they don't really have anyone to use, but it's not, you don't need to be a surgeon for it to just get, to have the basic training, then that's how you can find the people. So it's just connecting the ducks and creating a database of people who can help.

And I think that was really clever and really necessary. And. Quite easy to do maybe in Estonia, which is us such a small country, right? I'd say it would be a shame if we didn't have something like this implemented. I see that being a necessary for everywhere are all parts of the world. I think in the U S there's going to be a shortage of nurses that they foresee as the the older demographic that population continues to increase over the next 20 years.

There's just not enough nurses to treat these people. And that kind of technology in that application would be very useful, not just for the nursing, but in almost any sort of situation where somebody has some kind of training in a medical field  that's fascinating.

 So you're doing this global hack. It was taking a lot of your time. You then go back to anther bikes. And this is how I first discovered you because when I saw emperor bikes, I thought this is the cleanest looking e-bike.

That I've ever seen. You can't even see the battery. I think there's some models like the stellar where the battery is actually hidden inside the frame. And I just thought this is such a beautiful bike and I was really interested in learning more about it. What's it like being a part of that team, creating these fabulous looking bikes that I'm a little bit jealous because you only sell them in Europe.

Of course, since I'm in Romania, I could probably get one, but for my friends back in the us right now, they can't get one. But how has that experience been? Like, because you talk about pipe drive as if you're having a really good experience there, but now you're with Amper bikes. How did you make that transition and why?

I think I made the transition in the best way. You can never transition from one company to another where I didn't actually want to leave pipe drive. I was still fulfilled there and I liked it, but amply just offered me something. I couldn't say no to, because at the same as you, I fell in love with the product immediately.

And I fell in love with the mentality as well. The three founders that built the bikes are so down to earth. And think in the same way about a business that I would. So I just wanted to be a part of that success story. Okay. Where are they? Where are they offering the bikes right now? And what countries is it mostly?

The Baltics or what other parts of Europe? So the company is dystopian and we're building all the bikes here as well. But our main market is actually Germany. Then after that, of course the Netherlands and Denmark and Austria, but much, much less here in Estonia. Unfortunately I think it has something to do with both the price.

It is, if you think about bike, then you don't think that you would pay almost 3000 euros for it. But in Germany, I think the mentality is a little bit different. They don't see that as a regular bike. They see almost a substitute to a car because they also have infrastructure in place and they have schemes by the government that help them support the purchase of these kinds of bikes.

So I think that's where I would like to see a stone MBA as well. 


Is there something unique about the software in comparison to other e-bikes?

I would like to answer about the internal tools.

From our side and the functionality so good. But when it comes to the internal tools, then there's really no place where we could copy it. There's other bike manufacturers won't share how they are managing their warehouse or how they're managing their customer information or anything. So that's something we haven't had to come up with ourselves.

And I think it's a really interesting challenge. Okay. And I read somewhere that somebody can try the bike for up to two weeks. And if they're not happy or satisfied with it, they can return it. Is that true? That's right. And we do hope that it's returned in good conditions. And you really, it has happened actually that somebody has ordered the bike, taken it apart into pieces to see what's going on inside, put it back together.

Maybe not even correct me and then send it back. So we're not too happy about those cases. Of course, if you don't like the bike, then I'm sure that there's another bike for you out there. And we don't. One or need to be for everyone. We just want to make sure that the people who do decide to get our bikes are really happy with them.

And that's actually the mentality than 24 pipe drive as well. So if it doesn't fit for you, that's completely fine. We'll be happy to help you find something else that does as long as you really what you're doing. Okay. Can you share any details or any information about a possible expansion? Initiatives, in other markets that, that the company may be going into.

Yeah, sure. It's a funny thing that I haven't seen this problem in my career yet that we don't really have problems with selling the bikes. The market is so big, even here in Estonia in Europe and in Germany specifically, we'd rather have problems right now with shipping the bikes because of the situation in the world.

However, we are hoping that we could expand to Switzerland next or any other country near there where bicycles are really protected. Okay. Got you.  Okay. Hillary, not now for just a little bit of fun stuff. So that the audience can get to know you. Can you tell me about maybe a favorite TV show or movie that you can watch again and again?

For me, it's parks and recreation, for sure. Okay. Yeah. I definitely know the show. Okay. Is there a food that you don't like a food and actually discuss you? Yes, there is actually I think only one. And it's called I don't know if it exists in other parts of the world, but it's meat, jelly, Sonya, and I think it's disgusting.

I think it exists here in Romania. They have this jelly with this, yeah, this bones, and meat inside of it. And I. Luckily, my in-laws don't make that, but I've heard about it and I'm glad that they don't make that because I would not want to offend them at the table. And of course, being the good son-in-law that I am, I would eat it.

And I have to force the smile on my face saying, oh, this is delicious. And I know that. Okay. Any any quirky or crazy or funny memories from your time in Madrid that anything that stands out 

  I think one of the most memorable. Times was when I remembered that I got paid for my work. And then I went to the store and got two avocados. And that seemed like the most extravagant thing that you could have. You would just buy avocados to accompany or pasta or not even pasta, just macaroni.

When I was when I was poor, a poor student as well, I would make macaroni and cheese and mix it with tuna. And I was like good for two days. And that was like one of my dishes when I was a poor student Hillary, if people want to learn more about you, where should they go? Where should they go?

So LinkedIn? Yes. And for antler, more employer Instagram, or just, if anyone happens to be in Europe in either Berlin or cologne or even talent, then visiting us in the showroom is always great. Fantastic. Okay. Hillary, thank you so much for being on innovators can laugh. We're excited to have you on the show.

We hope that everybody learned about Hilary Estonia and ampler bikes until next week. This is Eric saying goodbye and la revedere.