WorldRemit — Making a real difference

Ismail Ahmed from WorldRemit talk about his startup and shares tips

Another relatively new venture in our portfolio is the online money transfer service WorldRemit, founded in 2010. WorldRemit is an online service that lets people send money to friends and family living abroad, using a computer, smartphone or tablet. The startup recently launched its service in the US and is now available in 50 countries and sends to more than 110 receive markets. Have a look at our interview with Ismail, co-founder and CEO of the London-based company.

Ismail Ahmed, WorldRemit founder
Ismail Ahmed

How did you get the idea of founding World Remit? Where did you meet as a founders team? What’s your founder’s story?

Sending money back home — to Somaliland in my case — used to be one of the most inconvenient things to do while I was a young student in London. Like many people, I used traditional high street money transfer agents, which meant time-consuming journeys every time I wanted to send a transfer. As well as being inconvenient, the training of agents was patchy and fees tended to be needlessly high. I went on to work in the remittances industry as an advisor and researcher and, incredibly, 20 years later nothing had changed. So, in 2010, I founded WorldRemit while studying for an executive MBA at London Business School. Together with Catherine Wines (now COO) and Richard Igoe (first CTO) we started to build our business and eventually secured a $40M investment by Accel Partners in March 2014 — the largest-ever Series A funding round accomplished by any financial technology startup in Europe.

What did you do before?

At university, I studied economics and graduated with an MSc and a PhD from the University of London. In the latter, I worked as an academic and published research on the role of remittances to Somalia. I also served as an advisor for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). At the UN, my role was to help companies comply with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing regulations introduced in many countries after the 9/11 attacks.

How do you collaborate with Project A Ventures?

WorldRemit maintains a healthy collaboration with Project A. The team from Berlin has been supporting the development and optimisation of various performance marketing channels and helped generate significant growth across the business. We have a number of Project A software engineers in the office who contributed to the creation of an internal data warehouse and provide valuable support to various business intelligence functions in the business.

What do you like most on your daily business?

Making a real difference to the way people connect with their friends and family abroad. Sending money home is an important part in the lives of many people who work outside their home country — and WorldRemit offers them a simple and convenient way to transfer money back home. At WorldRemit, a great team is working at making this happen every day.

What are the biggest challenges in the initial stage of founding a business?

Moving beyond the seed-funding stage of any business to a substantial investment can be a big challenge for founders and new companies. For WorldRemit, the March 2010 $40m Series A funding round has proved an important stepping stone since foundation. Having said that — the need for hard work and dedication doesn’t stop with your first big investment.

Do you have tips for entrepreneurs and people interested in entrepreneurship or in founding a company?

If you think you have the solution to a problem — don’t hesitate to act on it. Recognising trends and needs in human behaviour and technology is the first step to becoming an entrepreneur. Genuine conviction and passion will ultimately be the strongest forces driving your startup and your most important asset on the road to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

WorldRemit was recently nominated as “Start-up of the Week” in Wired Magazine UK. If you would like to read more about Ismail, check out BBC News’s article on “The man changing the world of remittances”.