Digital nomads land dream jobs thanks to Estonian start-ups

WARSAW/TALLINN (AFP) - Upwardly-mobile, tech-savvy young professionals across the globe are swapping their briefcases and brogues for backpacks and sneakers, setting themselves up as digital nomads who can operate from wherever their laptops can go.

Jobbatical and Teleport, two recent tech start-ups, promise to take the guess-work out of digital job hunting on a global scale.

Both hail from tiny tech titan Estonia and are part of a crop of cutting-edge online sites catering to digital nomads, typically young males who work remotely and move around regions like South-east Asia every few months.

Their creators insist the startups have the potential to shake things up on the global job market, similar to how Estonians previously transformed global communications with Skype and digital international money transfers via Transferwise.

Tallinn-based entrepreneur Karoli Hindriks said she launched Jobbatical two years ago to fill the growing gaps she noticed in global recruiting.

With employment offers from Greece, to Thailand and Costa Rica among others, it takes just a few clicks of the mouse for product or account managers, programmers and other tech professionals to land a dream job, whether programming in Malaysia's tropical paradise of Penang or managing an adventure travel operation in Bali.

Jobbatical targets "adventurous tech, business, and creative professionals with over five years of working experience", Hindriks told AFP at the Latitude59 technology conference in Estonia's capital Tallinn.

She points to "a generational mindset shift" as key to her client base of 70,000 unique users each month across 150 countries.

"The Millennial's view of success isn't necessarily a house, a well-paying job and a picket fence," she said.

"There's a huge shift towards defining success as working in terms of things that one truly believes in, and appreciating experiences over material possessions."

New technologies, less expensive international travel and communications mean that moving around to work is "becoming smoother and cheaper than ever", she added.

Most Jobbatical offers involve positions that, like sabbaticals, last around 12 months, creating a revolving client base.

The company takes a "success" fee of 5 per cent of the annual salary upon hiring.

Vicente Gracia, a much-travelled 28-year-old business strategist from Chile, has been surfing more than just the Internet since he began using Jobbatical.

Dissatisfied with the terms he was being offered by South American companies, Gracia used it to find a job based in Bali.

"New generations are looking for more than just a paycheck," Gracia told AFP via Skype.

A keen surfer, he now enjoys riding the waves on a Bali beach every morning during a break in his commute to work.

"For me, being able to prioritise my career and a healthy lifestyle is crucial."

Insisting that Jobbatical is unique, Hindriks shuns comparisons to online job sites like Monster, insisting that "it's like comparing Craigslist to Airbnb".

Describing Jobbatical as a "matchmaker for companies", Hindriks insists that short-term "jobbaticals" encourage professionals to choose countries off the beaten path - like her own Estonia - that they may not have considered were the positions permanent.

"If you look at the reality, there are no permanent jobs any more, so in that sense we're bringing honesty to the conversation," she said.

Teleport meanwhile takes stock of the personal preferences and expectations of digital job-seekers and then suggests ideal places for them to live and work.

Teleport "scouts", or local experts, are just a click away to iron out any wrinkles. For a modest fee, they can help with everything from visas to finding the right apartment or the nearest vegan restaurant.

A veteran tech entrepreneur who headed up Skype's Estonia operations from 2005-12, Teleport CEO Sten Tamkivi insisted his startup goes further than competitors like NomadList, which essentially works like a traditional travel guide.

Tamkivi told AFP that aside from calculating ideal locations based on personal preferences and its "scouts", its "flock" service also locates the nearest coworking spaces.

Anthony Lapenna, a Frenchman working in New Zealand, is one happy Teleport user.

The service meant he could keep his job, but change hemispheres, shifting from Paris to Auckland, New Zealand, where he continues his role as a software engineer.

"I wanted to go to an English-speaking country in order to improve my English, plus I was kind of sick of the big city of Paris," he told AFP via e-mail.

"New Zealand is located at the world's end, which is pretty exciting. I also had a curiosity about the landscape, because I'm fond of hiking.

"I'll probably move again, but not before I've explored as much of New Zealand as I can." And Lapenna is not alone. As Google predicts the world's online population will double to five billion by 2020, digital nomads are likely to be a growing tribe.