Kärtu Vaikmaa

Inspirational Woman: Kärtu Vaikmaa | Chief Operating Officer, TextMagic

Kärtu Vaikmaa

TextMagic is a family business. I joined my husband, Priit (our CEO), four years ago as Chief Operating Officer.

I’m responsible for daily business operations and our fantastic marketing team. My background is in Account Management and Marketing in the creative sector, and I completed the Master’s in International Business Administration from the Estonian Business School in 2013. Working and studying was seriously hard going at times, but I’d recommend it to anyone. It was incredibly rewarding.

Working for advertising agencies put me in front of some pretty demanding clients, but it taught me a lot about having a commercial goal and understanding the hundreds of ways in which to achieve it – something that’s stood me in good stead in the SaaS industry. I think any COO needs to be intensely client-focused, and that’s what I try to be. I take nothing for granted, and I’m always looking for ways to improve our communication channels and provide a top-class customer experience. It’s a constant cycle of development.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, very early on, but then actual life happens! I’ve always had a firm understanding of what I was good at – communication and business operations – but I’ve never had a definite goal of wanting to work at a specific company, or fulfilling a certain role for the rest of my life. Opportunities present themselves along the way, and if they’re a good fit, you take them with both hands. I have two wonderful kids (6 and 11), and working in a family business has been a great help in getting the right balance between my personal life and my professional life.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I joined TextMagic as part of the C-suite team during a time of unprecedented expansion, and I needed to hit the ground running. I’d held senior managerial positions before, but when you become a director of a company, you suddenly realize the weight of responsibility on your shoulders. There’s nobody else to blame if things go wrong – which, thankfully, they didn’t!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Without a doubt, being part of the team that took TextMagic public in 2021. I’d never experienced an IPO before, so it was a learning experience from the outset – all the legal stipulations, marketing, financial due diligence, etc. It was a real headache at times, but for a good reason – a successful IPO (as ours was) provides you with the capital resources to take a company to the next level. We raised €49.5 million in investment. It was a huge achievement for everyone involved.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in your achieving success?

Can I cheat and pick two things? Having a fantastic product and employing good people. Unless a multinational business has those two things in their back pocket, they are going to struggle because the global market for SaaS services is so competitive.

If you have one but not the other, it shows. If we had a world-beating product but didn’t have the right team in place to support and develop it, our revenues would fall, and our customer base would dwindle. If our team was full of superstars (which it is!) but our product wasn’t solving meaningful commercial problems, then we’d struggle to sell it.

TextMagic team

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Never stop learning. I came into the SaaS sector having had some exposure to the fundamentals of commercial technology, but there was an awful lot of industry-specific knowledge to soak up, and I loved it. Expose yourself to emerging technologies, subscribe to tech news sources, read articles, contribute to online tech communities and be innovation-focused. A year in technology is probably closer to a decade in certain other industries, and things move incredibly fast.

Other than that, it’s all about good old-fashioned common sense. If you’re thinking about changing a workflow or introducing an amendment to a product, ask yourself what impact it’ll have on your customer base. I think the tech industry is sometimes guilty of looking inwards rather than outwards. Everything you do as a SaaS business needs to funnel back into the customer experience. It’s not about patting yourself on the back for a great piece of development work, it’s about enacting meaningful change.

Do you believe there are still barriers to success for women working in tech? If so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, but I think the problem goes a lot deeper than gender representation in the workplace. It’s an educational issue. Entry-level tech jobs usually require a form of further or higher education as a minimum requirement, but the reality is only 10% of female graduates study a STEM subject. We need to promote and incentivize tech degrees and diplomas among teenage girls and women, and we need to emphasize the importance of IT in elementary school if we’re going to have any chance of closing the gap between men and women in the industry. Technology is magical, we just need to get our children interested in the practicalities of it – programming, systems design, etc.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I think that slowly but surely, we’re seeing the death of the so-called “bro culture” in the tech industry, and we need to continue eradicating it wherever and however it rears its head. It also severely inhibits a business’s ability to employ the best person for the job. If you’re limiting the amount of talent that your business can recruit and retain because you’re not doing enough to stamp out discrimination or untoward behavior, then you only have yourself to blame!

There are currently only 15% of women working in tech. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to speed up the pace of change for women in the industry?

It all has to start from the ground up. We need to change the way we teach technology in primary schools and promote female tech figures in the classroom. At the moment, every time a teacher gives a lesson on technology, they usually use male business people as their reference points – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, etc. We have to show young girls some female success stories and show that tech isn’t just something that “boys usually do”. That’s such an outdated way of looking at the world.

Give universities and higher education institutions massive incentives to enroll female students onto STEM and Computer Science degrees. Launch a huge PR campaign to highlight the benefits of working in the tech industry for any teenage girl, school, college, or university that would care to listen.

I can speak for TextMagic and say that all we care about is how effective a candidate is going to be at their job – man, woman, or however they self-identify – a good employee is a good employee. We’re proud to employ some truly brilliant women at TextMagic, including my fellow C-suite team member, our CMO Ioana Sima.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

‘Women in Tech’ by Tarah Wheeler is a fantastic read that has loads of tips on how to navigate the tech industry as a female – everything from salary negotiations to getting a foot in the door through interviews and advice on how women should start their own company. It’s a great resource. Try it!