Swedish Startup Space

Henrik Bohman: ‘Richard Branson isn’t going to call you’

Written by on April 24, 2013

TransferWise – a new startup focusing on money transfer – from the people who built Skype and Paypal, have received a lot of attention over the last few weeks. The company are “using the Skype principle to slash the rates that people pay to send money abroad” and recently received backing from Richard Branson among a host of others. I caught up with Product guy Henrik Bohman (Swede Abroad!) for a chat.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’m 27 years old, born and raised in Sundsvall. As a teenager, when I wasn’t playing Counter-Stike, I was designing websites for local businesses. I liked it, but having seen people outsource work to India for a fraction of the price that I was charging (which was barely coffee money), I didn’t really consider it a viable living.

After having tried everything from analyzing fibre strengths for the paper industry, to crunching balance sheets in Uppsala, I applied to go study advertising at Berghs in Stockholm and was called for an interview. I was so nervous that the program director seriously asked me “Are you always like this?”. I lied and answered yes, something that apparently struck a chord. Two years later I moved from Stockholm to London to help two of Sweden’s bigger name in advertising start up a new agency. It was ridiculously long hours, in a tiny company, but meant meaningful hands on work for massive brands like Samsung, Google and Spotify.

By doing everything from designing “iPhone killer” smartphones to flogging highly questionable skincare products, I found that the best work we (and many others) were doing at the time, were products and services rather than campaigns. I was playing for the wrong side to make them come to life, so I decided to go product side.

Since, I founded I’ve founded (and failed) a startup, cold called about half the phone book, stalked back-end developers IRL and started waking up happy in the mornings. I’ve had the fortune of meeting more kind and amazing people than I can possibly keep track of within the London startup scene. Through which I found a home in TransferWise, where I’m currently a product manager.

Tell us the story of Transferwise and how it came about?

TransferWise is a peer-to-peer money transfer service used for sending money abroad, founded by the two friends Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann.

Taavet, who was Skype’s first employee, was living in London but was paid by Skype in euros. Kristo was working for Deloitte in London, getting paid in pounds, but needed to pay bills back in Estonia. Through fees and unfavourable exchange rates the banks were making a killing out their salaries, which the duo realised and figured out a better way. Kristo wanted Euros, Taavet had Euros. Taavet wanted pounds, Kristo had pounds. Using the global mid-market rate the two started trading currency with each other locally, instead making foreign transfers.

When the guys realised how much they were saving and how little it would take to start helping others to do the same (those who have negotiated our bank partnerships and licenses will tell you a different story), TransferWise was born. 2 years later we’re now 30 people, have helped to save over £3 million dollars in bank fees and we’re growing by 20% a month.

You’ve got some great investors and supporters, how are you doing so?

Under gun threat. No, we wear t-shirts to work and work at a startup pace. Yet, thanks to the experience of our team we able to manoeuvre the slow waters of the finance industry. This combined with a good product, a proven track record and a huge market which is ripe for disruption, has made definitely played to our advantage. Also, most of our investors are also happy customers of ours.

Apart from that, like in any good story there’s a villain and a hero. People are fed up with getting screwed by the banks, and have been for quite some time. In the past there hasn’t been much alternatives. Now that there are easy ways, which saves you lots of money, people are rallying behind the cause of plenty of businesses similar to ours.

Any tips for entrepreneurs that want to come in contact with say, a Richard Branson-type?

Contacts is everything, it’s cheesy but true. By building up a solid network with everyone from ex-colleagues and investors, to happy customers and politicians things become a lot easier.

The point is to get the six degrees of separation down, usually to about one or two. The rest comes down to the gut and persistence. Just to kill off any illusions, Richard Branson is not going to call you. You’re going to call him. Like 17 times.

Secondly, do stuff that matters. The true influencers of today may appear important, busy and spoiled with opportunity, but they’re still just flesh and blood. What motivates your average Joe will usually work for them as well. If putting their name behind what you’re doing will shine a positive light on them in the eye of their peers, chances are high they will. We gave away £100,000,000 of free transfers to support entrepreneurs and the startup eco system. Something that many entrepreneurs, including Mr. Branson, considered a cause worth putting their name behind because they recognised that we’re trying to do a big thing for the little guys. Would they have done the same for our new XYZ social media feature? Probably not.

What are the next steps for you guys?

Maybe not surprisingly, our number one goal is expanding the service so that we can help people all over the world, and offer a wider range of services. For example, sending Swedish kronor will be live soon. (Drop me a line on henrik@transferwise.com for early access) We’re doing great in the markets we cover, but we’ve only dipped our toes in the water so far.

Furthermore we want to make money easy. Because it really is. It’s banking that’s retarded. Just because something is complicated for us, doesn’t mean that we have to let you experience the same thing. This is something that banks and financial institutions have been overlooking for too long. We’re doing an OK job at this right now, but we will be improving it even more going forward.

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