TransferWise To Pay It Forward With $100M In Free Money Transfers For European Startups

TransferWise, the online currency exchange, has been pitching itself as the preferred method of money transfer for European startups for a while now. And today, born of its co-founder Taavet Hinrikus‘s own experience, the company is putting its money where its mouth is by launching a campaign to waive the fees for a total of $100 million worth of international money transfers for qualifying European startups using the TransferWise platform.

Also lending support to the idea — in name only, we should add, however it’s being spun — is 25 other well-known figures and companies in the startup community, including Niklas Zennström (CEO of Atomico and co-founder of Skype), Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal), Richard Moross (founder of MOO), Sherry Coutu (serial entrepreneur), Jon Bradford (Techstars), and Eileen Burbidge (partner at Passion Capital).

The offer is being made for 1,000 European startups on a “first-come, first-served basis,” says TransferWise, and will come in the form of a voucher that can be used on the platform for free transfers up to $100,000. To qualify, startups must have launched less than two years ago.

Registration closes on 10th of May 2013, with vouchers expiring on 10th April 2014.

Noteworthy is that the full $100,000 voucher doesn’t need to be used in one go — making the offer not just useful for a large transfer, such as the receipt of capital from a foreign investor where bank exchange rates and charges are known to hammer startups (I talk from direct experience), but could also be apportioned to wave the cost of money transfers related to things like paying contractors or partners abroad, or attending an international event.

“The campaign was really born from personal experiences,” Hinrikus, who before co-founding TransferWise was Skype’s director of strategy, tells TechCrunch. “Initially when getting Skype going, this was way before it was successful, we already had a multi-country operation that was costly. And at that point every pound/kronor/euro was scarce. That’s where it first starting itching.”

“We built the technology to make a difference and we remember how hard it was to start out,” he adds. “Now we are in the very privileged position to do something about it, so this is our way of trying to do that. To ignore where you came from is one of the worst things in the world, and there is not a single member of the TransferWise team who doesn’t remember the acute difficulties in starting out. We’re a better company for that.”

Of course, by paying it forward, TransferWise should stand to benefit by raising awareness of its wares amongst the wider startup community and winning new customers longer term.

To that end, TransferWise bills itself as the “Skype of money transfer” and enables individuals and businesses to send money between countries for a fraction of the price that banks and others charge, using a peer-to-peer, “crowdsourced” model — where money destined for transfer doesn’t unnecessarily actually leave each country — to get the best rate on the exchange. It passes on these savings by charging a small flat fee per transfer.

Currency transfers are supported between the euro, British Pound, Polish Zloty, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian Krone. In addition, last November it added support for transfers to U.S. Dollars, while transfers from U.S. Dollars to its list of supported European currencies are said to be “coming soon”.

The other figures and companies “supporting” the campaign are: TCIO; Saul Klein, partner at Index Ventures; investor Michael Jackson; Seedcamp; Mendeley; 3Beards; Jason Goodman, founder of Albion; Robin Klein, founder of The Accelerator Group; Christian Thaler-Wolski, Wellington Partners; Nikhil Shah, co-founder of Mixcloud; Roger Ehrenberg, partner at IA Ventures; Funding Circle; Stripe; Skimlinks; Pioneers Festival; Garage48; Kima Ventures; GrabCAD; Wayra; and Erply.