Estonian startup comedy “Chasing Unicorns” has received positive reviews from all around the world, offering the pleasure of self-recognition on screen for many startuppers and investors alike. Why? Because the stories and characters in the movie are all based on real-life events that have, in one way or another, happened to people in the startup community.
Rain Rannu is perhaps the most well-known and successful Estonian startup entrepreneur turned angel investor and venture capitalist turned … movie director!
It can be said that Rannu is one of the first startup founders in Estonia: he created the mobile payment space Mobi Solution in 2000 (‘space’ and not ‘app’ because it was still a time before smartphones). Seven years later, he co-founded Fortumo – also a mobile payment service, but this time for digital content and app stores, available now in over 90 countries. Today, as a managing partner at the early-stage investment fund and company-builder Superangel, he shares his time between mentoring and looking for promising start-ups alongside his most recent passion – making films.
Rain, could you start by explaining – why a startup movie and a comedy?
When we started with the movie, our goal was not to make it in any particular genre. The goal was more to tell authentic stories about startup life. But the movie had to be fun to watch for anyone – inside or outside of startup community. So that’s how it is – these are real-life stories, maybe just a little bit exaggerated. Overall, I’m happy with the result! Of course, there are some things that could’ve been done differently, but this can all be fixed in the next movie.
How could I not ask now – what will your next movie be about?
It is too early to talk about it in detail yet, but yes, there will be a next one!
And you always write the scripts yourself?
Yes, but it’s also a lot like the startup process, because for “Unicorns” we shared the drafts with many people in the startup community and we got a lot of feedback and new stories and recommendations. And I noticed that it is exactly like startups – you make an early prototype, you test it, improve it, test it again, etc.
The movie is mainly located in Estonia, there are many scenes with its natural and urban landscapes? Is it a little bit like an advertisement for Estonia as a country as well?
Clearly, we are excited, if because of the movie more and more people discover Estonia and maybe find a startup in Estonia! We have one of the best ecosystems in the world for startups, we have e-Residency which makes starting a company very easy, we have a strong investor community and a strong track record of building globally successful startups.
I don’t want to give any spoilers, but aren’t you afraid that the movie shows too stereotypical ‘startupper’ vs. ‘big industry boss’ characters? Do you think that your movie helps so-called ‘traditional industry’ leaders to understand the new and disruptive culture?
Yes and no about the stereotypes. On the one hand, the stories are gathered from real-life events and, in the movie, we portray certain types like startupper Tõnu or industry-leader Aadu Mäeveski. But you have to use stereotypes, because it helps to make the point of the movie clearer. But on the other hand, it is not a commercial movie to promote startups. I believe that some people, after seeing that movie, want to make their own startup and some of them would never do it. Which is good, because most people actually shouldn’t be startup founders in the first place.
Why is that so?
Whether you have or don’t have what it takes to be a founder is based on what you want to do in life. Because you can only be good at stuff you are very excited about. And founding a startup is super hard, you can’t do it from 9 to 5. And the more successful you are, the harder it may often be, because people already expect things from you and you have much more responsibility. And it is absolutely fine if you are not up for this kind of life.
You have said before that you can’t be driven by money. It’s actually a little surprising considering how much money there is in this business!
If you are driven by money, you probably won’t last. You can go work for a startup where you can be motivated by money or options.
You are also a venture capitalist, one of the founders of the Superangels Fund. How do you divide your time between making films and making investment decisions?
I would say it’s half and half. Superangel invests in top Estonian global founders who will make the next TransferWises and Bolts. Our goal as investors is to find the best startups at the early stage and help them to build global business. As of right now, we have invested in nearly 30 companies!
Have you as an investor sometimes felt FOMO – fear of missing out – and therefore made some not-so-good investments? It is one of the key themes in the movie.
I’m not sure if we have done investments driven by FOMO, but if you don’t make investments that fail and look only for the safe ones then yes, you miss out on the good ones. In venture funds, the math is that if 1-2 investments out of 30-50 are super successful, they cover for others.
On the photo: young startup entrepreneur Tõnu (Hendrik Kalmet) from “Chasing Unicorns”.
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