For the co-founders of money transfer company Wise, who will become billionaires when their fintech company goes public on the London Stock Exchange in the next few days, the company started out as a way to outsmart the big beasts of the city they are about to join. .
Wise Managing Director Kristo Käärmann wrote on his blog how he and his business partner, Taavet Hinrikus, created Wise due to the frustration over the “hidden exchange rate margins” that banks charge for wire transfers. cross-border.
While working for Deloitte in London, Käärmann wanted to transfer his £ 10,000 Christmas bonus to an Estonian account and was flabbergasted to be slapped with a charge of € 500.
At one party, he met Hinrikus, who already had startup success under his belt as Skype’s very first employee and his former chief strategy officer.
Hinrikus was also upset that he had been hit by unfavorable exchange rates transferring money to the UK. The couple, both 40, found an innovative workaround. Each month they searched for the real exchange rate. Hinrikus put money into Käärmann’s Estonian account in crowns, the local currency. Käärmann would top up Hinrikus’ UK account in pounds sterling.
“It was as if we had foiled a system designed to suffocate us,” writes Käärmann. “It felt good. “
Ten years later, the idea is set to make them billionaires, if they reach the £ 9bn valuation they hope for.
The two were once esteemed as Estonia’s richest men, thanks to the growth of Wise, previously known as TransferWise. The success of starting a cross-border tech company even led them to work with the Estonian government on Covid-19 immunity passports.
Progress was slow at first, they said. They faced multiple refusals from European investment groups and Käärmann responded to customer service calls from the early days.
These days he leads a very different life and also uses his Twitter account to help grow his wife’s lingerie business.
Käärmann is active on social media, which he uses to promote a business that now claims to have nearly 6 million active customers in 2021.