Karoli Hindriks is no stranger to the startup scene. In fact, she’s been conquering the entrepreneurial world since before she could legally buy a drink, having started her first company in high school.
Today, as founder and CEO of employee visa automation platform Jobbatical, Karoli is elevating an entire industry. By automating the most crucial steps of the visa process—from assessments to form filing—Jobbatical whittles time spent on visa paperwork down to half of what legacy providers offer (and at a third of the price, too).
For the past years, global tech game-changers like Pipedrive, N26, Glia, and Typeform have been trusting Jobbatical to relocate their employees from around the world, and Forbes once named it one of Europe’s 10 most exciting technology SMEs. Now, Jobbatical is ready to take on its biggest challenge yet: America.
While she’s been hard at work scaling her company and preparing to venture across the pond, Karoli hasn’t stopped reaching new milestones of her own: She’s been named one of the 50 most influential women in the European startup and VC space by EU-Startups; in 2020, the EU Council named Karoli one of the eight most inspiring women in Europe, and in 2021 she delivered her paradigm-busting TED Talk that has been translated into fourteen languages.
Steadfastly honest about the highs and lows of forging her entrepreneurial path, Karoli doesn’t shy away from sharing her hardest-won lessons. After eight years at Jobbatical, she’s digging into which of her mistakes turned into the best lessons and helped build arguably the most scalable product in the global mobility industry.
Know your sheet
When it comes to scaling a company, Karoli had to find out the hard way that any solution has to work in a spreadsheet first. “That was my biggest mistake with Jobbatical before we pivoted,” she says.
“We started building a product based on my idea, but the market hadn’t validated the actual need for such a solution.”
Having built the first iteration of her company on an idea that the market ultimately didn’t need, Karoli and her team soon pivoted the entire company with a premise that was first thoroughly battle-tested.
“You have to be able to prove the value proposition first in an unscalable way and only then start to scale it.”
Learn the three T’s – transparency, truth, and trust
Since founding and taking the helm at Jobbatical in 2014, Karoli has learned several crucial management lessons the hard way.
Jobbatical probably shares more information with its employees than most other companies.
“We believe that if people have enough information, they make the best possible decisions for the company and themselves. Transparency removes the fertile ground for gossip and office politics, both of which are harmful for productivity and culture,” Karoli says.
Karoli has found that truth between employees, in the form of giving and receiving feedback, is essential for an organization’s growth. “I tell all our new employees that if there’s one thing I hope they take with them from Jobbatical, it’s the ability to give and receive feedback,” says Karoli.
“Sounds easy, but people are often uncomfortable both giving and receiving difficult feedback, sometimes forgetting to give positive feedback as well. But it’s honest feedback that enables us to grow the most as humans and as an organization.”
At Jobbatical, Karoli encourages her employees to make decisions and to put their best into their work every day, but to do this they must also embrace failure.
“People can operate independently when they feel they are trusted and when it is safe to fail,” says Karoli. “I like how our investor and Board Member Andy Weissman puts it: ‘Mistakes are great, let’s just not make them twice.’”
Fight burnout before it happens
There are countless horror stories of founders burning out due to the stresses of running and growing a fast-paced startup or becoming addicted to the grind, which is why Karoli has developed a daily routine to keep her balanced.
This is a combination of early morning meditation, running, and a swim in the sea—no small feat in Estonia, where winter swimming means plunging into freezing cold waters.
“I believe you can only take care of your organization as a leader if you take care of yourself as a human being,” says Karoli. “By the time I start my day I feel amazing. Starting the day by prioritizing my mental and physical well-being has helped me become a better leader.”
Embrace the power of no
The more successful a founder becomes, the more invites and opportunities inevitably start coming their way. Speeches, interviews, meetings, mentoring—a founder’s inbox is permanently flooded with requests.
“Though these opportunities satisfied my ego, they started eating up my time and focus,” Karoli says. “They began eating up my path to success. So I learned to say no a lot.”
To determine whether a new opportunity makes sense for her to pursue, Karoli now asks herself three questions about it:
- “Does it help Jobbatical?”
- “Does it help my daughter (directly or indirectly by contributing to her future and the world she will live in)?”
- “Does it help with my own happiness and well-being?”
If there isn’t a resounding yes to any of these, it’s going to be a no from Karoli, who has learned that her time is a precious and painfully finite resource.
“A lot of people do not respond well to no,” she says. “But over time you stop worrying about what other people think and get better at putting yourself first.”