Interview with TransferGuru Founder Omid Pakseresht — Part Three — The Team, The Project, The Future: TransferGuru
The final part of our three-part interview series with TransferGuru Founder Omid Pakseresht — stickiness, strategy and the story behind the start-up saving everyone from expensive money transfers.
“It upsets me that 45,000 people search online, but only 1,000 search for a newer company, even though they’re offering a much better deal.”
To TransferGuru. So why a comparison service, specifically? Why didn’t you set up another TransferWise?
Because there are TransferWises. There are 10, 20, 50 Transferwises, and there are more and more of them happening every day. But the key is that people don’t know about them. Even if they did know about them, they wouldn’t necessarily trust them, or go to them as their first choice.
So the opportunity is in assisting people and helping them use this industry, which is growing so fast. So that’s how you could explain it. Or you could say, ‘Hey, it upsets me that 45,000 people search for, say, Western Union online on a monthly basis, but only 1,000 search for a newer company, even though they’re offering a much better deal.’ That stickiness needs to change. It seems like it’s purely because people don’t actually know what options are available to them. It’s what they’ve been used to for 30, 40, 50 years. Sure, the old guard supported people. It was fantastic. They’ve got a great history, whatever they did.
Now, it’s a different story.
For the last 5 years, people haven’t had to do that any more, but they do.
So to pick up on the word ‘stickiness’, by stickiness you mean loyalty to the more expensive option, the option they’ve always used?
Yeah. Loyalty could be a very strong word, actually, but just ‘habit’.
So you want to ‘break a habit’?
You’re only going to be able to break it if you bring something better to someone’s attention, offer them new information, and offer them a safe alternative. If you do that, the stickiness will become irrelevant.
“I think the greatest asset that we have is that we rely on the community a lot”
TransferGuru essentially provides a quick and easy answer to the best price for remittance, and we’ve seen just how big the remittance market is. So there’s a need there, and there’s considerable activity there. All the elements are there for a really useful service. Are you happy with the traffic to the site — is there anything slowing it down?
I think it’s a trust issue, and I think it’s an awareness issue. And I think both of them are things that are moving in the right direction. And I think we are helping that process. There are other secondary parameters. The other parameters, like customer service and so on, which will come into play. But yeah, it’s really just an issue of trust and awareness.
So what are you doing to overcome that?
We’ll get there. We’re giving people what they need to know. And they’ll come. They’re coming already, and they’ll come more. I think the greatest asset that we have is that we rely on the community a lot. Whether it’s our followers on social media, whether it’s reviews that we generate on the website, there is a strong reliance on community building.
Everybody who makes a transfer has got to check first. That’s the target. If someone knows that they’re getting the best deal, fair enough, go and get it. But the target would be to raise awareness to the point where people know that there are other choices available to them.
How do you differentiate yourself from other people trying to do the same thing, or a similar thing?
I know that the service that we provide is more comprehensive and more efficient, compared to every other comparison service out there already. In terms of differentiating yourself from other people, it’s the user base that you build, that you build a relationship with, that you build trust with, and it’s a question of being able to service that user base so you retain those customers. And those are things that we’re doing very well.
Other sites — They look at brokers, and they look at people who need to send thousands of pounds abroad in one single transaction. They look at making a big cut out of that. We’re not doing any of those things. We’re not making a cut out of it, we’re just making referrals. We’re focussed on people who need this the most, who send money regularly and who get charged the highest rates already.
Also, we are getting live rates. We almost have live rates already. No one’s got that tech. We’ve got very, very talented people working on tech. But that’s something that will show in the coming months as well.
“I think we’re working towards increasing the financial capability of people, and that’s always been the ultimate goal”
When I read the taglines of each of the companies you link to, it’s often a competition between them to say they’re the best or they’re the cheapest. And they can’t always be the best or the cheapest, obviously. So this can be very frustrating, as a potential user. So it seems likeTransferGuru has an interesting solution, which is to say we’ll find and we’ll tell you the objectively cheapest, or the best, which it can do with data in a way that sports analysts or film critics or anything more contestable can’t.
Will that always be the case? Will you always be able to provide the guaranteed best rate?
Yeah, absolutely. There are two questions there. I think that needs to go hand in hand with that trust issue, again. Because you have a company like Xendpay, you have companies like Transferwise, Azimo, you have these companies out there who are honestly all cheap enough, as far as I’m concerned. They’re all below 1%. They’re not really competing on fees any more, right? If I cut the fee from 0.5%, and say it’s 0.4% compared to what that company charges, that doesn’t make the decision for people. The question will come to trust, customer service and customer satisfaction. That’s what the big focus is going to be on, over the coming months. I remember 5/6 years ago, I would go on trustpilot if I didn’t know a website, and be like ‘okay, has someone written something about this? Because it looks dead to me’. And that was much more the case back in the day. This is happening to finance now, to fintech now, to personal finance now, and these are companies that are opening literally day by day, and someone needs to be reviewing them in a way that’s specific to that industry, and this is exactly what we’re doing with international money transfer. We’re looking at companies, we’re looking at which corridors they operate in, we’re looking at people’s satisfaction with the way that they are operating, and I think that will be much more of a deciding factor in the way that people choose these companies in about six months to a year, than the actual price, because the competition on price between these companies is almost not there any more. They’re all very competitive.
So just to go back to the last question, so there’s this model of this e-assistant, if you like, who finds you the objectively cheaper rate, who reviews companies for you and finds the best one.
Is there a problem with that vision?
Not at all. I don’t think there is. I think the concern for us is being able to tackle subsections of personal finance that we understand, and being able to do that one by one, with enough research, with enough resources to be able to do that. I think we’re doing a very good job at international money transfer now, and I’m sure the expansion will be much more rapid than it will be over the next two or three months. But that requires us to build the expertise and the team that can tackle those issues. And I also believe that it’s not just a question of price and rates, so we need the community engagement that we’re looking for, that we’ve got to some extent already, for them to tell us what the next thing is.
Hey, I could choose seven things now if you asked me to, but I shouldn’t make that choice any more. It’s for the consumers to decide, and they will have decided within the next month or two. And that’s what I mean, that’s what we’re getting at.
That’s the goal?
I want TransferGuru to be a little agent that makes products simpler for people to understand, but at the same time equips them with the tools that they need to understand those products. And this is a question of education, and this is a question of awareness, and it’s a question of making the products understandable and simple. And if we do that, I think we’re working towards increasing the financial capability of people, and that’s always been the ultimate goal, regardless of how we do it. So that’s what we’re moving towards.
Interesting. So how would a successful and widely used transferguru change the state of things? If Transferguru took off, everyone was using it, what does the world look like?
Simple and fair.
“People can be considerably more influential in the world and on the people around them if they are doing what they are good at”
So let’s talk about the Transferguru team more specifically. I’d like to go back to the beginning. Was there a phase when it was just you working on it in the evenings and weekends?
The early days, absolutely.
And do you miss that? I mean, do you miss when it was just you working on Transferguru and it was your personal project?
No. I feel like I needed to go through that, and I did. When you’re on your own, you constantly question everything, right? That is the reason you come out of it stronger, because — so someone asks you a question, you will have asked yourself that question in the six months that you were working by yourself. That was really tough, but it meant that I had to answer every question. I’m not saying I figured out everything I needed to figure out, but it gave me a very very critical way of looking at things that I am able to tap into if we need to.
If you have the courage to do that, do that. Do it, and you will come out of it a considerably better person, and more well rounded. But it’s just every bit as you might imagine, working by yourself on a project that you don’t necessarily know all the answers to for six months. That’s tough.
So you were always itching to get other people on board. You always wanted to have a team?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I don’t see myself as a person who works independently. I don’t see myself as a person who even manages independently, which might sound quite strange, but I quite like having people that are pretty much the same level as me and I can work towards the same goal with them, rather than anything else. And those people are incredibly talented, passionate, caring people, and that’s the type of people that I want to work with. So that’s the biggest success to me, and that secured our future as well.
So — the classic question — what advice do you have for people trying to set up their own startup?
Okay. If I have advice for people, it wouldn’t be go set up a start-up. It would be go find a job that you enjoy doing. If you can’t find that, if you don’t fit the characteristics of a consultant, of a doctor, of this, of that, and you haven’t wanted to do that all your life, then think about what your perfect job is and go and create it. And that’s what I did. People can be considerably more influential in the world and on the people around them if they are doing what they are good at, if they are doing something they enjoy, if they are doing something they’re committed to and believe in.
“I don’t look at people as if they’re above me, and I don’t look at people as if they’re below me either. We’re a team”
There’s a lot of concern, quite rightly, about the struggles that women face to reach parity with men in a number of industries. Fintech appears to be no different. Your co-founder is a woman and has been there from the start. So let’s talk about Shreya, where you met Shreya, and what Shreya brings to the team.
Everything. When we worked together before on different projects, it got to the stage where the skills that we had and the way that we looked at things complemented each other enough that everything was made considerably easier.
I think there is a problem in finance, and there is a problem in tech. So fintech is not separated from that, particularly when you look at tech, and programming, and that type of role. But if there is one person who can tackle that problem here, it’s Shreya. And I will give her all the support that I have to be able to tackle that problem. But that’s something — yeah, big on the radar.
And now you have two of your brothers working for you. And you are the youngest of the three. How do they feel about that? How does Amir feel about working for his younger brother?
Haha -okay. I think I should say that this all goes back to how I see things within our team, but I don’t look at people as if they’re above me, and I don’t look at people as if they’re below me either. We’re a team. I co-ordinate, sure, but we work together. And no one’s had the sense that they have a boss — I hope that’s the case. This is a team working together, and I will take every opportunity to point that out to everyone as I can.
Is there any better proof, that your older brothers work with you?
Well, they fell for it! Absolutely. I understand that they may have had a certain amount of trust and respect for me to come and join the team in the first place, but it was never a question of whether I’m a good manager or not. I hope that it was a case of, ‘Hey, he’s building a team and he wants to work with me’, not ‘he wants me to work for him’. So that’s been the key motto for me, for bringing people on board. And I hope that we can make sure that people feel that way as well.
I think they do.