Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Wild East

In the New York Times today, a visit to Skype Estonia:
Foreign investors are swooping into Tallinn's tiny airport in search of the next Skype (rhymes with pipe). The company most often mentioned, Playtech, designs software for online gambling services. It is contemplating an initial public offering that bankers say could raise up to $1 billion.

Indeed, there is an outlaw mystique to some of Estonia's ventures, drawn here to Europe's eastern frontier. Whether it is online gambling, Internet voice calls or music file sharing--Skype's founders are also behind the most popular music service, Kazaa--Estonian entrepreneurs are testing the limits of business and law.

And by tapping its scientific legacy from Soviet times and making the best of its vest-pocket size, Estonia is developing an efficient technology industry that generates ingenious products-often dreamed up by a few friends--able to mutate via the Internet into major businesses.

These entrepreneurs grow out of an energetic, youthful society, which has embraced technology as the fastest way to catch up with the West. Eight of 10 Estonians carry cell phones, and even gas stations in Tallinn are equipped with Wi-Fi connections, allowing motorists to visit the Internet after they fill up.

Such ubiquitous connectivity makes Tallinn's location midway between Stockholm and St. Petersburg seem less remote.

Even the short icebound days play a part, people here say, because they shackle software developers to the warm glow of their computer screens. For the 150 people who work at Skype, Estonia is clearly where the action is.
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