TransferWise co-founder and CEO Taavet Hinrikus took the stage at Disrupt London to tell his company’s founding story. TransferWise has had a big year, and it looks like 2016 will be a big one, as well.
TransferWise lets you save on bank fees when you need to make international transfers between multiple bank accounts. The startup’s secret sauce is a peer-to-peer model. For instance, if you have GBP and want to send EUR, TransferWise will automatically match you with people who want GBP and give you EUR in exchange.
But it doesn’t stop here, as TransferWise is totally transparent. Making transfers takes minutes, as the company takes care of everything once you have entered all the details. But how did Hinrikus come up with TransferWise’s idea?
“During my time at Skype when I realized this problem, at one point I moved from Tallinn to London. I had to go to a bank branch every month and move my money,” he said. “I looked at my statement and wow — first of all, it takes way too long for the money to arrive, and second I realized some money was missing.”
Since then, the company has grown quite a bit, becoming a fintech darling. “This year has been the year we’re becoming a global business. In a pretty short time, we’ve gone from a European player to a truly global player,” Hinrikus said. “We launched in the U.S. this year. We launched in Australia last week.”
TransferWise is looking for expansion plans in New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and more.
This year, TransferWise also raised $58 million from Andreessen Horowitz and existing investors. And Hinrikus thinks his company is in a great position right now when it comes to competition from other startups.
“I think it’s a very highly defensible business. It’s very hard to build a brand online,” he said. “I challenge you to find another financial startup that has a 5 percent market share. Making sure that we move tens of millions every day is hard as well. I’m actually feeling pretty good.”
And then, there’s competition from the banks. At some point, TransferWise employees got naked in the City saying that they have nothing to hide, which isn’t true for banks. “We took off some clothes to make a point,” Hinrikus said.
Hinrikus also commented on bitcoin, saying that it didn’t make sense for TransferWise to keep supporting bitcoin. “And the trouble with bitcoin is that nobody is asking for it,” he said.