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Real Business Case Study: Daniel Abrahams & Stevan Litobac
Daniel Abrahams and Stevan Litobac are the co-Founders of MyCurrencyTransfer.com & MyTravelMoney.co.uk. Founded in September 2010 (with a little help from Companies Made Simple!), the award winning foreign exchange comparison site helps over 100,000 visitors per month find a fairer, cheaper and more transparent deal on currency. Last October, the site won an OPP (Overseas Property Professional) award for ‘Best Online Service.’ Recently, the duo opened their first international office in Tel Aviv.
We caught up with Daniel and Stevan at their offices in Covent Garden, London.
Where did the idea for a foreign exchange comparison website come from?
Daniel: It was borne out of personal pain felt by Stevan and I when exchanging currencies. Separately, we got ripped off on travel money and international payments. I was studying in Australia and Stevan was short changed when holidaying around Europe.
Stevan: Daniel and I couldn’t believe the exchange rate markups added by suppliers to the ‘real’ mid-market exchange rate. This sparked our curiosity to research the market in more depth and what emerged was our comparison model to solve the opaqueness in the foreign exchange market.
What was your background before mycurrencytransfer?
D: I graduated from the University of Manchester – studying international management.
S: Similar to Daniel, I also graduated from the University of Manchester, studying Computer Science. We both had previous experience in helping to build web-based startups.
But you didn’t meet at uni, how did you meet?
D: Funnily enough, soon after University. Stevan and I met ”online” on a web forum that matches up tech with commercial co-founders. We’d both had previous experience in helping to grow online startups in different niches and had a common connection on day one. We have a really good balance of skills and that is probably the reason we are still together and enjoying this journey so much.
I am a firm believer that the three key ingredients of a successful web based business are: designer, developer, commercial guy. We’re fortunate to have covered all bases and I think that’s the reason we were able to get traction in the early days without too much delay.
How did you secure funding?
D: To date, we haven’t raised any funding. Growth has been fuelled by re-investing profits and my advice to would-be-entrepreneurs is to try and hold off as long as possible. For certain businesses, investment is critical even in the very early stages. However, with the business plan we drew up on day one (it’s been iterated a fair few times!), we built a model that allowed us to be cash generative very early on.
Tell us a bit about the business
S: Banks and airport bureaus are terribly expensive. To solve this problem, MyCurrencyTransfer.com helps customers find a fairer, cheaper and more transparent deal on international payments. Think Kayak for currency!
D: For launch, we targeted Brits buying overseas property and emigrating. Over time, this expanded out to small businesses making and receiving international payments. Most recently, we expanded our comparison service out to travel money comparison with the launch of sister site, MyTravelMoney.co.uk. The amount of money we are saving Brits every day is extremely satisfying. For euro travel money orders, we are proud to be saving customers £50 on every £500 bought.
What is the most rewarding part of running your own business?
D: Once again, I love how every day, we are helping people save an absolute fortune on their foreign exchange transactions. On one transaction, we helped an overseas property buyer save over £8,000 on his money transfer to Spain.
S: It’s also great to see us organically building a profitable business and a really inspiring team who we have great fun with every day. The bedrock of every successful business is its people. We think we’re building a committed, passionate and ambitious in-house team.
What’s next for the company? Future growth plans etc
S: We’re now in a position to bring more in-house tech and marketing talent. Recruitment will be very key for us in the next 12 months and this will be used to better our product offering and help increase distribution. Recently, we relocated our whole team for 3 months to Tel Aviv, which was a fantastic experience for our staff.
Why Tel Aviv?
D: Tel Aviv is the startup and tech capital of the world. It has more companies listed on Nasdaq than all of Europe combined and houses more startups per capita than anywhere in the world. It truly is a vibrant hub of entrepreneurship and we saw it as a great way to tap into the local talent pool.
Have there been any unexpected results or surprises since moving to Tel Aviv?
S: Tel Aviv has been great. What started out as a temporary 3-month relocation has evolved into something far more permanent. We now have a small marketing team on the ground, and we’re working with some excellent local freelance talent.
D: It’s no surprise Israel is an important base for some of the major tech giants: Google, Apple and IBM. It’s definitely a welcome surprise to go for a run on the beach before work each morning.
How is working with your colleagues in another country different to the UK?
D: I think working abroad with your colleagues brings teams close together. It was such a fantastic opportunity for the whole company to get to know each other each other, not just on a professional, but on a personal level too. In the first month while we were adjusting, we spent day and night in each others company.
S: Working out things like where the cheapest place to buy groceries is, and where you can eat pork. It was certainly a collaborative effort amongst the team and locals. I think we’re certainly a tighter knit group because of the experience. We like to think we went abroad not only with colleagues, but also our friends.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to relocate? UK or abroad?
D: Do your research and make a list of all the benefits and dangers a company relocation would have for your business. Putting together a budget is also extremely important.
S: Some of the top factors to consider would be: time zone, where similar companies in your niche are based, cost of living and language barriers.
We worked out Tel Aviv was only a 2 hour time difference so there’s no real issue touching base with partners and suppliers. The cost of living was cheaper than London, it was a major tech hub, English was widely spoken and the weather was 30 degrees plus. On many levels, it ticked the right boxes. Doing your research and making a pros and cons list is key.
What do you think your personal strengths are in terms of being an entrepreneur?
S: I think every successful entrepreneur tries to solve a problem that exists in the world. Whilst we definitely have a long, long way to go, it’s a fun challenge spotting the secret opaque spots in the money transfer space and discovering ways to simplify and unravel complexities for our visitors.
D: Launching new products is also a passion of mine. It was satisfying to launch MyTravelMoney as a sister site to MyCurrencyTransfer.com. Seeing our travel money comparison blossom and complement our money transfer offering has been very rewarding.
What have been the highlights/low points so far?
D: Every day is a pleasure and challenge. If I had to pinpoint a couple of major ones: When the first transactions that we helped facilitate came in, it was definitely a relief that we had validated our model and the early users found benefit in using our product. Saving one customer alone over £10,000 on an international payment was sweet.
S: Relocating our company to Tel Aviv was fantastic. Opening our first international office and the feedback we had about that was great. We also read that our move inspired one or two other startups back in the UK to try the same thing.
Any specific problems?
D: Not raising external funding has meant we’ve grown at a more organic pace. Whilst this isn’t a ‘specific problem’ per say, it’s definitely meant we’ve had to be more resourceful and frugal in how we grow the business.
Do you think there is enough support for startups in the UK?
D: I think so. Every day, there seems to be another event or meetup designed to bring the startup community closer together. If you look at the tech industry alone, there are tons of accelerator programs, competitions and co-working spaces.
S: Certainly. London is not the only “startup hub” in the UK. Across the country there are a number of tech specific meetups that help connect like-minded people. We were fortunate to start out at a community business incubator in Finchley, and then moved to the Google campus building to work at TechHub – another co-working space. With all these spots and events around the country, serendipity can find any aspiring entrepreneur with a little bit of initiative.
Do you think everyone has the potential to be an entrepreneur?
D: I think being an entrepreneur is largely built into a person’s DNA. Being an entrepreneur means you need to take risks, take no for an answer, be prepared to fail and make sacrifices for the benefit of your business. The business becomes a huge part of your life. I also think that many people’s entrepreneurial potential awakens whilst they are at ”regular” work, due to circumstances and events that may arise when being an employee.
A huge thank you to Daniel and Stevan for taking the time to chat with us. Interested in finding out more about MyCurrencyTransfer & MyTravelMoney? Take a look at their sites:
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