WeTransfer, Scaling for Success: File Sharing

Gordon Willoughby - CEO, WeTransfer


WeTransfer was founded in 2009 based on the simple need for an easy platform to send big files without any sign-up. It’s a combination of a great idea for a simple file-transfer service from co-founder Bas Beerens, combined with the innovative full-screen wallpaper backgrounds from fellow co-founder Nalden. Most importantly, it was all about solving a real problem.


As many people offer ways to transfer files we had to be different. The foundation for our success (over 40 million users per month) has been the creation of the platform based on simple guidelines: no banner advertising, a lean data policy, no sign-up, no software install and beautifully crafted advertising. We use a dual income business model monetising free users through advertising, combined with a ‘trade-up’ SaaS business. This keeps acquisition costs low without the need for expensive enterprise sales teams.


Our relative maturity (we’re both profitable and cash-flow positive) combined with rapid growth mean we are squarely in the ‘scale-up’ phase. My background is in growing and scaling businesses internationally (I launched Kindle in Europe and after that led the Amazon advertising business across Europe where I worked with some great people) so I’m enjoying applying that pervious situational experience to WeTransfer.


Like most successful scale-ups building both organizational infrastructure and organizational capability are the main challenges. And this means talent acquisition. We’re based in Amsterdam, which is now quite the tech-hub, so competition is intense. We’re well known of course which it makes it easier, but because we have invested so much in making our service appear simple, we have to spend time explaining to engineers that making it simple for the user is hugely challenging.


And we’re still growing fast, we peaked at over 45 million monthly users last year, with the US, India, Mexico, and Brazil as our fastest growth markets, our European core continues to grow in healthy double digits.


The advantage of WeTransfer being bootstrapped and profitable meant that we could look for an investor that really was a great fit. When Highland Europe approached Bas and Nalden, there was an instant connection. In addition to supporting us with funding, they are very hands-on, offering us advice, their network and expertise to help us achieve our goals. We are using the investment to continue to innovate and develop our product and build the brand further, with our main focus on the U.S. We haven’t had to raise any more capital – which is a real luxury.


Regionally the US is a priority for the next 12 months and we’ll keep developing the product. We launched our mobile app in October which has millions of users and just last week (January 2018) launched our editorial platform WePresent. I am also proud that we donated more than 5 billion ad impressions, for free, to the creative community in the last 12 months


My advice to others in the scaleup phase is timing. You scale-up when you have discovered a sustainable business model. As you move into that phase you have to focus on user revenue at the same time as looking to the underlying infrastructure (technical, people, etc). As part of that you need to hire and build for what the business will be in 3-5 years not the next 12 months.


Image: WeTransfer