Bolt: Markus Villig skipped university at 19 to take on Uber and become the youngest unicorn founder in Europe

Bolt: Markus Villig skipped university at 19 to take on Uber and become the youngest unicorn founder in Europe

Markus Villig was 19 when he decided to spend the $5,000 his parents had saved up for university on starting a business instead. His initial goal for Bolt, then called Taxify, was to solve Tallinn’s (Estonia) taxi problem. By 25 he was the youngest unicorn founder in Europe and had shown that Uber wasn’t going to win everywhere.

“Today, Bolt is the fastest growing mobility company in the world. We have more than 50 million customers on the platform. We operate in more than 40 countries. And we’ve raised more than $600 million of funding with a team of about 2000 people.”

Markus knew from an early age he wanted to start a company and build a product.

“The only things that were really, really clear for me were that it needed to be in technology, I really wanted it to be a consumer product. And it needed in some ways to make the world a better place. But other than that, I was pretty agnostic of which space to get into.”

He chose transportation, not only because he can’t drive, but because hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on transportation globally by consumers each year, and what they get in return isn’t good.

From the problems caused by private cars, to taking on Uber, their unusual funding routes, making big mistakes in his early hires, and why his strategy to focus on Africa paid off.

“The last straw for me was when I was in Serbia, in Belgrade, meeting one of the local taxi companies. And halfway through the meeting, I realised that these guys are essentially mafia, the guy had a revolver on the table and a big safe in the corner of his office.”

This is a tale of tenacity and grit, and a CEO’s unwavering belief in his vision. Don’t miss it. It’s a good one.

We chat about:

  • Building his first company at 17
  • Taking on Uber
  • The hardest challenges he faced as CEO
  • Scaling and fundraising when no VC will touch you
  • Not diluting the company’s focus too much

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The Secret Leaders podcast features interviews with key figures from the UK tech and creative ecosystem. From entrepreneurs (both early and latter stage), to journalists, VCs - and even royalty - the series profiles those who have helped shape the nation's culture of innovation and growth.

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