Inspired by travel #8: MyTravelMoney.co.uk
How two entrepreneurs who didn't know each other were struck with the same business idea at the same time - while travelling at opposite ends of the globe
Founders: Daniel Abrahams and Stevan Litobac
Started in: 2010
Young entrepreneurs Stevan Litobac and Daniel Abrahams were travelling separately around Europe and Australia when they were struck almost simultaneously by the same idea.
Horrified at the overwhelming cost of exchanging foreign currency, the pair dreamed of building a fast and easy way to search and compare the cheapest travel money and international money transfer deals on the market.
However, on return to their respective homes, there was one barrier holding Litobac and Abrahams back from launching their money saving business: the pair were, at the time, complete strangers.
After meeting online and discovering their shared passion for democratising the opaque retail currency market, Litobac and Abrahams joined forces and launched money transfer platform MyCurrencyTransfer.com, followed by foreign exchange site MyTravelMoney.co.uk.
Now, MyTravelMoney.co.uk and MyCurrencyTransfer.com help hundreds of thousands of individuals and businesses each month find the cheapest and fairest deals on currency.
Abrahams tells the story of the divine intervention that brought the duo together:
Where were you when you got the idea?
Both Stevan and I were travelling and felt the true pain involved in making a foreign currency purchase – I was in Australia on an exchange programme. I needed to go back to the UK a couple times which meant I had to exchange Aussie Dollars into pounds and vice versa. Stevan was travelling around Europe and needed to make a series of travel money purchases.
On both the travel money and international money transfers, we felt horrified at the exchange rate mark-ups banks and airport bureaus were applying to the ‘real exchange rate’. For travel money, this was around 10% of the value of the transaction, and on the larger money transfers, we’re talking up to a 5% mark-up. We were sure there had to be a better, cheaper and more reliable way.
Why were you so inspired?
The whole industry just felt like it needed more transparency and what we like to call ‘democratisation’. The feeling of getting ripped off and seeing tourist exchange rates so wildly off the ‘real mid-market’ rate of exchange was extremely hard to stomach. They say all great tech entrepreneurs start out by trying to solve a problem. On deeper research, we worked out this was a multi-billion dollar a year problem!
Were you actively looking for a start-up idea or did it just seem too good to pass up?
The timing worked out very well. Stevan and I were both actively looking to start our own business and found each other online. No joke! There was a website called Find your co-founder and after multiple emails back and forth, we set up a meeting, or blind date. After the third or fourth get-together, we were super-inspired to go for it and I think we both agree it was the best decision we ever made.
How easy was it to start the business on your return?
Setting up the business was relatively straightforward. Seeing as we complement each other’s skills so well, with Dan as marketing co-founder and I as technical co-founder, we just got on with it and worked hard to establish a very rough around the edges first version of MyCurrencyTransfer.com.
As it was our first company incorporation, we probably spent too much time interviewing suppliers such as accountants. But hey, we learn!
What research did you have to carry out to learn more about the sector and the market opportunity?
Most of the research was done from our desks and involved a fair bit of mystery shopping. At times, it was dreadfully embarrassing taking pictures of airport bureau exchange rates on our smartphones. I often said I was travelling in the next couple days and wanted to compare rates.
How did you replicate what you’d seen overseas or use your experience there? Did you modify the idea for the UK market?
We spoke to a lot of fellow travellers and in Australia, other exchange students. It was important to understand their pain points when making travel money and money transfer purchases.
From hearing horror stories of funds not arriving for more than 10 days to one airport supplier adding a 15% exchange rate mark-up, it was all noted down!
We looked closely at the size of the money transfer and travel money market. We quickly learnt that we’re talking about a multi-billion dollar industry globally so then it was about analysing the competition, namely currency brokers, travel money suppliers and other comparison websites.
With the huge surge in aggregators (from car insurance to current accounts) it was useful to see how the main players displayed information and marketed their services. Don’t worry, we won’t be creating a rival to the Meerkat!
How much did you invest in getting started?
We started out with £200 and a big vision! If I recall, this was to pay for the domain, hosting, business cards and some shiny brochures (probably unnecessary as a web-based business). Stevan and I deliberately didn’t want to go down the angel investment route on day one as it would have distracted us from our core focus.
In the very early days, it was all about creating a minimum viable product, getting the first transactions through the door and proving we had a business model. The nature of our business means that we take a small success fee on each transaction and it allowed us to monetise the business very early on.
How quickly after starting did you experience what you’d describe as ‘success’?
We definitely look back to a collection of mini wins in the first few months after we started out. The day we launched the money transfer platform MyCurrencyTransfer.com was definitely a mini win.
This was quickly followed by the first lead through the door: a customer looking to send £50,000 to Spain! We also quickly learnt from our web analytics that there was a demand for both a travel money and money transfer comparison solution.
It validated our assumptions and sped up the launch of MyTravelMoney.co.uk. For example, customers coming through the door would one day need only £500 worth of Euros (cash) for a holiday in Italy, and the next month need to make a large value payment on an overseas property.
Where did you go for advice?
We are very fortunate to have been incubated by an organisation called TrainE-TraidE in North London. They are a fantastic, local start-up accelerator in North London that exists to help the community become more sustainable.
We gave a Dragons’ Den style pitch and one month later, were building a home for ourselves in their state of the art premises. Now, we are based at TechHub in Old Street. We go to a lot of techie and travel events in the area and love learning from other entrepreneurs.
What advice would you give to others who travel looking for start-up ideas?
It’s a cliché, but figure out what problem you are going to solve for the customer. Where are TripAdvisor or Booking.com missing a trick? What’s your angle? There’s so much room for innovation in the travel tech world, and each day I’m amazed at some of the creativity in our industry. For sure, there will be a new travel tech company out there we haven’t heard about that is the next Kayak.
From a product launch perspective, don’t delay for too long. As Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn puts it: ”If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
What are your future plans?
To hire smart and build products that delight our visitors. We’re looking to bring on additional developers and product managers who can develop and roll out a series of new releases for both MyCurrencyTransfer and MyTravelMoney.
Providing the best in class currency information and deals is our core focus. And of course, we want to bulk up the marketing and partnership team to distribute our product globally.