Interview: Asko Seeba, Co-founder of Mooncascade
1. Who are you, and what do you do?
I am Head of Data Science at Mooncascade, a company that I co-founded. Mooncascade started with a team of four founders at the end of 2009 / beginning of 2010. Now we have 90 people in our company; it has grown organically, without any external investor backing.
I am working on a machine-based learning product that helps customers predict, in real-time, risk behaviors such as fraud detection, credit scoring, money laundering, know-your-customer (KYC) use cases and general customer lifetime value (CLV) predicting for targeted marketing, etc.
My past experience includes working as a hacker and I was an engineering manager at Skype. I messed with block-chain technology from 1999-2001 (hash-chains based time-stamping, audit trails, Merkle trees – these are all components of bitcoin blockchains) 10 years before it was called block-chain (1999-2001). I also managed early development projects that spawned some of the prime Estonian e-government pillar systems, killed credit card fraud in Skype in 2005 with a technology method called Bayesian based ML (ten years before the activity was called data science) advised the first wave of start-up investments that emerged from Skype and Playtech exits, contributed to start-up-community building and participated in the founding of the Estonian Start-up Leaders Club and Garage48 hackathon series.
2. What will you be talking about at the Latitude 44 conference?
I am going to talk about how Estonia has grown from a country where 20 years ago no one even knew what the word "start-up" meant, to where we are now - a country that is in the top-three of start-ups per capita in Europe. As I have personally either been involved in or observed some of these pivotal moments from a close vantage point, I believe I can give some insightful - and often humorous - stories about this journey.
3. Why do you think Estonia is such a leader in technology?
There are obviously multiple different reasons for this. Although the small population of the country has been a challenge for building large successful businesses in Estonia, it has, on the other hand, been a blessing. There is much less cultural inertia in changing directions and developing the ecosystems. It also forces many businesses to think about international markets from day one, because our local market for many things is so small that it can’t provide enough of a comfort zone. People have to be smart and stretch their abilities all the time in order to be successful in pretty much any endeavor. Our small size and low-inertia factor also play important role in our e-government developments. Estonia probably has one of the fastest legislative turnovers among other countries, and this is especially favorable for getting our e-government services established and adopted in the efficient and effective way we have managed to do it.
4. What advice would you give to someone who is interested in getting into this field?
In order to be successful and stay motivated personally in any technology field you have to embrace the fact that things are continuously changing at a constantly accelerating pace. You also have to realize that every success comes at the price of an array of not-so-successful experiments. You have to keep an open mind, learn new things non-stop (no matter how mature or established you think you are) and maintain a stubborn persistence to always try out new things. There is a good old saying that is more applicable now than ever before: in order to be successful you have to have luck, but you have to make sure you have created enough chances for the luck to work for you. This is the reason you must stay persistent and not lose motivation if anything you do “fails.” Also, another important thing to remember is that good ideas are worth nothing, what matters is good execution. If you look closely at any start-up that is hyper-successful today, most of them didn’t really look much more successful in their early days than their now defunct competitors. What has granted them success is the persistence and relentlessness of the early founding teams and their talented team members.
5. What excites you about coming to Canada?
While considering different North American locations as possible bridge-heads for us and other Estonian tech companies on this side of the globe, I like Toronto for multiple reasons. I see Toronto as a very strong, homogeneous and concentrated center of the IT technology industry. Pretty much all the major North American IT companies have set up their development and/or data science centers in the Toronto area. The time zone is also more convenient for us in Estonia, as you are 7 hours behind us, as opposed to the west coast, which is 10 hours behind. It has a very strong and concentrated financial sector, both in terms of big banks and the fin-tech start-up industry. While our company’s machine learning-based products are focused toward helping financial services, it is an interesting neighborhood here. And, of course, the fact that Toronto has the largest Estonian expatriate community is also a rather strong emotional pull for me. It is great to see initiatives that the local community is taking to liven up the engagement and connection with young, new generations of businesses as well as the start-up community from Estonia. This is a really valuable option and an opportunity for Estonian entrepreneurs to look towards Toronto's tech scenery, and for Toronto-based investors and VCs to get to know Estonia as an interesting start-up hive for investment.