I recently got to interview Daniel Abrahams, who is the co founder of a couple foreign exchange comparison websites. Based in Google Campus in London's startup known, commonly know as TechCity Dan is looking to grow the company fast and expand internationally. Find out about how the idea came around, what challenges they face and how they plan to overcome it as well as what advice he has for any aspiring entrepreneurs:
Hi Dan, how are you doing today?
I’m doing great & thanks for the opportunity! It’s been a pretty manic day that’s coincided with the opening our first international office in Israel. However the sun is shining in Tel Aviv, and we have relocated our company HQ to Tel Aviv for three months. You can read more about our motives for doing so here.
First off, can you give me a bit of background about yourself?
I’m Daniel Abrahams, 26 years old & Co-Founder of foreign exchange comparison websites MyCurrencyTransfer.com & MyTravelMoney.co.uk. I’m half Israeli, half English. Prior to starting the business, I studied International Management at Manchester University with a year spent at the University of Sydney. Bondi was a pretty cool place to live. I think my entrepreneurial nature took over when my housemaster at school told me ‘‘You have a huge problem with authority.’’
So tell me more about Global Currency Partners Ltd and your sites MyCurrencyTransfer.com & MyTravelMoney.co.uk:
Absolutely. Our platform is all about creating a fairer and cheaper deal on both travel money and international payments. Rather than getting stung with poor exchange rates through banks or airport bureaus, our comparison website has so far helped over 1.2 million visitors dynamically find the best value currency deals on the market.
Whether you need to convert £100,000 into Euros to pay for a dream home in Spain, or need just £500 worth of holiday money, we aim to become the cheapest and most trusted comparison portal for both individual and business foreign exchange requirements.
What was the inspiration behind the idea?
When I was on my exchange program in Sydney, I was horrified at the exchange rate mark-up banks and airport bureaus were applying to the ‘real rate of exchange.’ On one specific transaction, an airport bureau in question added a 10% markup to the mid-market exchange rate. In real money terms, this cost me £50 on every £500 I would be converting. When sending money between the UK & Australia, the rates were just as shocking.
This coincided with meeting my co-founder Stevan who encountered similar difficulty. Researching the market, we found that this was an opaque, multi-billion pound a year industry that needed cleaning up. Having come across much cheaper and affordable ways to convert foreign currency, we set about building our currency portal.
Tell me more about the makeup of your team and how did you bring this team together?
My co-founder Stevan and I met on a website called ‘Find Your Co-Founder’ that matches up technical with commercial entrepreneurs. Quickly, the pair of us launched an MVP of our currency comparison service. For a year, we focused hard on building traffic to MyCurrencyTransfer.com & 12 months later, launched our travel money aggregator MyTravelMoney.co.uk. Recently, we’ve hired a full time front end designer, community manager & two additional developers.
We’re still a pretty lean team and really want to work hard on achieving our vision of being ‘small team, large brand.’
Tell me more about Find-Your-Co-Founder, and what do you see as the benefits and negatives of such a service:
The biggest benefit was meeting my wonderful co-founder, Stevan! We were very blessed, as most of the matching on that particular website occurs in San Franscisco & New York. Remarkably, we were one of the only UK based entrepreneurs on the ‘dating site’. On these types of platforms, while the talent is awesome, it’s generally pot luck. Having the right chemistry between your founding team is key. My one piece of advice to entrepreneurs looking to find their co-founder online would be to meet a series of times, hang out, grab a beer, socialise and be 1000% sure before you commit to starting a business together.
How long have you been going and what pickup/traction have you had so far?
We launched the very first version late 2010. Both MyCurrencyTransfer & MyTravelMoney now helps over 150,000 visitors each month find the best value holiday money and money transfer deals. This equates to around £250,000,000 worth of currency transactions.
We’ve won a string of awards that we’re super proud of. Last October, we won the OPP Award for Best Online Service (Overseas Property Professional). Most recently, we picked up the TrainE-TraidE Award for Startup of the Year, a lavish ceremony held at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane.
Wow that's fantastic, so how did you get your first customers?
Gosh, I remember that first enquiry coming through like it was yesterday! The jubilation I had on the driving range was awesome.
In the early days and with very limited startup funding (£200 to be exact), we worked hard on building good quality content to the site and focused on organic growth. We blogged pretty actively, built one on one relationships with key influencers and started to get involved on some key social networks.
So far you've bootstrapped your business; what tips would you give to startups when deciding where to spend a limited budget?
Keep the team nice and lean. Just hire the absolute essential. The moment you build some traction hoards of service providers and marketing proposals will come your way. It can be tempting, but only commit to mini test campaigns where there is strong measurability. Use interns – there are tonnes of clever grads and students out there. But treat them nicely and try to go above and beyond ‘ lunch and expenses’ where possible. It pays.
Do you think you would look for investment to scale the business or would you prefer to organically grow by reinvesting profits?
At the moment, we’re not actively looking to raise money. It’s something we constantly discuss in-house and have good relationships with investors. We’ve got strong cash reserves that will enable us to continue to grow organically and therefore haven’t had to go through the ‘traditional’ seed or angel round. At some point no doubt over the next 6-12 months, we’ll look very closely at the possibility of a large fundraising round.
What are the benefits and negatives of working in a shared workspace, as you do in TechHub?
Co-working spaces are a brilliant way to network and collaborate with other entrepreneurs in the tech & startup ecosystem. We’ve shared many a late night beer or pizza with other founders who have helped our business through knowledge sharing and usability testing. Being able to go through startup ‘war stories’ in such a convenient setting is absolutely brilliant.
There really aren't too many negatives for a new startup & I’m a huge advocate of startup hubs. However, when scaling a team, co-working spaces can become a little expensive as most are charged on a ‘per desk’ basis.
What has been your biggest challenge to date?
Definitely managing the growth we’re seeing with such a small team & finding smart talent to help build our business. There are a lot of candidates out there, it’s just picking the right people that will compliment our vision and help execute on our plans.
How do you plan to overcome this?
We’re starting to hire pretty fast and developing a scalable recruitment infrastructure. To help build our company culture, we want to shift the mindset from freelance & outsourced contractors to building the team in-house.
One of the reasons we’ve opened an office in Tel Aviv is to be close to the talent pool over here. Did you know Israel has the largest proportion of startups per capita in the world!
What advice would you give to any aspiring entrepreneurs?
Find a co-founder that you get on with both personally and professionally. Your going to spend 10+ hours with the person each day, so it’s important you have the right chemistry. Critically, try and achieve a balance of skills in your founding team between tech and commercial expertise.
Lastly, don’t delay and delay your product launch for too long. As Reid Hoffmann from LinkedIn says, ‘‘ If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late.’’ Before building the all singing and dancing version of your site, gauge user feedback using tools out there on the web and then iterate.