Above: Testlio’s process for testing apps.

Image Credit: Testlio

VB: It seems like your field might be like a lot of fields, where automation can replace people. Is that something that worries you, or have you figured out how to stay ahead of that? We hear a lot now about how AI can replace people in their jobs, but it can also assist people.

Kruustük: That’s how we see it, as well. It’s necessary to automate repetitive tasks, but when it comes down to really grasping the context of the product and figuring out what customers really need, you need human assistance.

When you think about building a company, the product can change very quickly. The design can change. That’s where you can’t really automate the process, because the return on investment ends up being very low. Instead of writing new tests, you’re just maintaining the old ones. That’s what a lot of companies struggle with. But the bigger customers we work with have automation in place and we help them do that as well, or our community does.

VB: Are you self-sustaining at this point, or do you plan to raise more money?

Kruustük: We’re not raising at the moment. We have enough in the bank. We have customers. At this point, it’s really about figuring out the machine first. As I said before, we want this to be scalable and to be automated where it makes sense. That’s our focus right now.

VB: How did you decide on San Francisco as a good place to have your headquarters?

Kruustük: Back in 2012, when we started the company, we moved back to Estonia at first. We’d quickly realized we needed to lower our costs and figure out what we were going to do next. We moved in with our parents for a bit, and then one of the entrepreneurs we’d met in Estonia — the founder of Pipedrive, actually — told us to apply to an accelerator in the U.S.

We ended up going to Techstars in Austin, Texas. After a three-month program we were sure we wanted to build the team there in Austin. The U.S. is a great market and companies want innovation. They want better services. They’re very knowledgeable about different competitors in the market and they know exactly what they want. It was clear that we needed to stay in the U.S.

When we started looking for a salesperson, we found a very good one here in San Francisco, so we ended up coming here. She has scaled her team to about seven people. That’s how we ended up here. It’s better as well, though, because we have a lot of customers here on the West Coast.

Above: Testlio

Image Credit: Testlio

VB: You’re relatively rare as a woman leading a tech startup. How has that been for you?

Kruustük: When I started my company, especially when we went to Techstars Austin, I really didn’t understand the importance of talking about the topic of women in tech. “Why do we have to force people to do something that we really don’t want to do?” I wanted to be in tech and I never let anyone stop me from doing that. But then I realized that there are so many different cultural issues. People grow up in different ways and it influences the way they think about possibilities in the world. That’s when I realized how important it is to talk about this.

I’ve personally never faced any issues of discrimination. There was only one incident, a couple of years back, where I met a local entrepreneur in Moldova and he told me I was only able to raise a seed round because I was a good-looking blond woman or something. That was a little surprising. But that’s the only incident I’ve ever had. Now the topic’s very close to my heart. That’s why I think it’s important for companies to make their organizations as diverse as possible. It’s proven that companies that have more diversity when it comes to culture and gender — it just makes you more successful.

At this point, we’re 40 percent women and 50 percent minorities in our organization, all told. I think we’ve done well. At any company, it’s something you need to think about from the beginning. For us, it came naturally, though, because between me and Marko — the fact that I’m a woman founder, I’ve already created the beginning of a more welcoming environment for people. Recently, we’ve had many candidates coming in here in the U.S., and they notice that the company’s so diverse. It makes them want to work here. I’m very happy about that.

VB: What about testing was interesting to you when you first got into it on your own?

Kruustük: You can’t actually go to school and learn testing. It’s something people stumble into. Whenever you meet another tester somewhere, you can ask them the same question, and 99 percent of the time they’ll say, “I just fell into it.” But like I said before, it’s a huge market.

The way it worked for me, in 2008 I graduated high school in Estonia. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, so I spent that summer working in London as a waitress and hanging out with my sister’s friends. They were all working tech, and they all told me, “Hey, you should be a part of the future with us. You should study computer science.”

I thought, “Okay, why not?” and put in my papers at a college in Estonia. I got in, and for the next two years I studied development. During that second year of school, although I hadn’t had too much practice at that point I wanted to start looking for a job. A lot of friends in class were telling me that if I wanted an entry-level job in tech, I should try testing. That’s an assumption a lot of people start with, that testing is an entry-level job.

For me, it sounded like a great opportunity, but quickly, after four months working as a tester — with that look into the industry I realized that there’s a huge opportunity. It’s something that a lot of people don’t talk about. I really enjoyed testing, so I decided not to continue my career path all the way into becoming a developer. I just wanted to become a really good tester.

Above: Kristel Kruustük started Testlio when she was 23.

Image Credit: Testlio

VB: Were you just working with any kind of software, or were you working with anything in particular?

Kruustük: The first company I worked for was a small software development boutique in Estonia. It was maybe six developers building websites for different travel companies. I was basically just thrown into the project. “Hey, just find issues for us.” That was the only expectation set for me at that point. So I went in and started finding issues.

Later on in my career, obviously, I realized that testing is way more than just finding issues. It’s really about understanding what our customers need. As I said before, everyone has lots of issues, and it comes down to prioritization. That’s where testers need to grasp the entire workflow and how our customers think and put things into perspective.

VB: Should your testers be people with computer science degrees, or do they just need to be consumers?

Kruustük: At this point, most of our testers have a background. They’ve been working as testers for at least two or three years. That’s the type of people we currently have in our community. They’re not just saying, “Hey, here’s this issue.” They can explain exactly why something isn’t working, where the issue is coming from, and what you can do to reproduce it. Then they send it to the developer to investigate so they can fix it.

VB: Is there a quality of debugging scale in there, in addition to just being someone who tests things and spots things?

Kruustük: Right. We don’t go into code, but we debug in the sense of, “Okay, I’ve run into this issue. Now I need to think back on the steps I took to make it happen.” That’s what makes testing more complicated. You have to be very organized and structured in your process of exploring and learning about the product you’re testing. Critical issues can happen for so many reasons. Maybe your device just has low CPU. There are so many aspects that can affect the performance of the product. It’s a tester’s responsibility to figure out where and why and what is happening.

VB: On the product side, I’ve seen some companies that have talked about products that capture and record and document a bug, so they make it easier to send off to someone who’s supposed to fix it.

Kruustük: Right, there are SDKs that have been built into some products. Different companies out there do that. But you still need testers to figure out how to find an issue and track it down. It’s a different part of the process. If your product crashes, then you need to get the logs and all this other data. A streaming application, for example, you need to understand if the streaming is coming from the right funnel. You need to grab the network logs and figure out where things are coming from.

Above: Testlio’s offices

Image Credit: Testlio

VB: Was there something in your background that led you to want to become an entrepreneur?

Kruustük: I didn’t necessarily aspire to be an entrepreneur. One thing, though, when I look at my parents, my father owned a company for some time in Estonia. I’ve always liked to organize things, to figure out things, to take charge. I love project management. It’s just something I was driven to, I think. But it’s not as if I dreamed about being an entrepreneur. I just wanted to be good at something I do, to find something I enjoyed.

Estonian culture definitely has that aspect. Estonia still has the most startups per capita in the world, I think, which is amazing. It comes out of the big success stories like Skype. Skype was founded a long time ago now, but it was the first company where people saw that you can really build a successful, global company from a place like Estonia.

The story of Skype has been a great inspiration for the entire ecosystem, and now there are so many other companies coming out of it — Pipedrive, TransferWise. Maybe you’ve heard of Starship Technologies, as well, with their robot that delivers food to your door. Or that’s the vision. There are so many great things happening. It’s very inspiring for Estonians. We have a very small population — only maybe 1.3 million — we’re innovative. We want to change the world.

If I’d known entrepreneurship was so hard maybe I wouldn’t have started, but I’ve enjoyed every minute, despite all the challenges. I’ve learned that the only way to go forward is to keep improving. I like what Microsoft’s CEO is always saying — that you have to be a “learn-it-all”, not a “know-it-all”. That’s a mantra I really like. When we’re hiring people, it’s something that I look out for. You’re never going to be perfect. You can always improve everything you do. When we develop the product, we can always improve it and make it better for our customers — faster, higher quality. There are all these possibilities. You have to keep an open mind.