Here’s some encouraging news for the European startup scene, and London in particular. TransferWise, the online currency exchange that uses the crowd to undercut traditional money transfer services, has announced that it’s closed a $6 million series A round led by Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures — the first investment in Europe by the PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor’s international fund.
We also understand that Ron Conway’s SV Angel has joined this round, along with a small number of angels, and TransferWise’s existing backers IA Ventures, Index, Seedcamp, and TAG. This brings the total raised by the company to $7.35 million since its launch just two years ago.
Originally billing itself as the “Skype of money transfer,” TransferWise 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. It passes on these saving by charging a small flat fee per transfer.
(It’s the P2P element that playfully draws the Skype comparison, as well as the fact that TransferWise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus was the Internet calling giant’s first employee, while other members of his team also worked at the company.)
The company also pitches itself as the preferred method of money transfer for European startups, recently garnering some decent PR with an offer to waive the fees for a total of $100 million worth of international money transfers for qualifying startups using the TransferWise platform. Interestingly, Thiel was one of a host of names publicly endorsing the campaign, so we probably should have known something was going down.
Hinrikus tell me that the new funding will enable TransferWise to continue expanding, both in terms of the number of currencies it plans to support, and in raw head-count. It started out offering British Pound and Euro transfers, and has since added support for the U.S. Dollar, Swiss Franc, Polish Zloty, and Danish, Swedish and Norwegian Krone. In total, the company claims to have transferred over £125m worth of customers’ money, saving £5 million-plus in banking fees (though it isn’t without competition). Meanwhile, the team has grown to 33 members of staff.
“There’s another dozen currencies to be launched this year and 20 more people needed in the team,” says Hinrikus. “Also we need to launch locally in key European markets – Germany, France and Spain.” Hinrikus says TransferWise continues to grow between 20-30 percent a month, which to date equals roughly 10x year-on-year growth. “Doing what’s in the pipeline puts us on track to do another 5-10x this year,” he says.
Staying on message, London-based TransferWise (with an office also in Tallinn, Estonia) is now calling itself a Tech City startup. Tech City, headed up by Joanna Shields, ex-Google, AOL/Bebo, and most recently Facebook’s head of EMEA operations, is the UK government’s re-branding of the London tech scene and, specifically, East London’s “Silicon Roundabout” area.
Cue the now prerequisite statement from Shields: “Transferwise is a shining example of the successful businesses that make Tech City a thriving ecosystem. London has a real strength in financial services and technology, with many companies like Transferwise transforming financial services for consumers, for the better.”
That said, TransferWise’s HQ is on Shoreditch High Street, which doesn’t get any more Silicon Roundabout than that. And certainly, a $6 million series A is no mean feat for a European startup, and nor is attracting a top tier Silicon Valley investor like Peter Thiel .