Once upon a time... Wait, this isn’t that kind of story
WeTransfer's founding story
Here we are, at the big 1-0! To celebrate our 10th birthday, we created an awesome print magazine, but the stories were too good not to bring them to life online.
Once upon a time... Wait, this isn’t that kind of story. In the beginning... No, that doesn’t feel right either.
Here’s what you need to know.
Go back far enough, well 10 years to be precise, and you can distill WeTransfer down to two pretty smart people.
First there’s Bas. Bas has an agency called Oy, which means he has a lot of large design files to share. Back then, that meant either sending a hard copy of files across the country (or ocean) with a courier, or signing up to a convoluted content management system with an absurd amount of features and unnecessarily complex procedures.
Sick of the hassle disrupting his hustle, Bas set about building what he couldn’t find: a simple online service that could handle sending large files from A to B. But it couldn’t just be about the service, there had to be something more.
That’s where young Nalden comes in.
At the tender age of 13, Nalden started tinkering with websites. By 16 his eponymous blog Nalden.net was profitable. He knew everything there was to know about the emerging tech and design scenes and was a dab hand at making unique and exciting digital things.
But savvy as he was, Nalden had passion for the obvious. For big, bold visuals but also things he could talk about with his Dad.
Bas and Nalden soon joined forces and together they reduced the utility of sending files down to its absolute core. The result was an interface that broke the norm. A simple, safe, free file-sharing service that even their parents could use, meaning people could share their ideas effortlessly then get back to what they were doing.
And so in 2009, Oytransfer was born. (And then scrapped, and reborn as WeTransfer.)
Now, building a tech company from the ground up isn’t as easy as we might have made it sound. In fact things had to be rebuilt. Twice. And then there was the money. People weren’t giving a lot of it away for free.
A steady income would keep our books rolling and also give us the freedom to grow and experiment as we wanted without the pressure of pleasing investors too early on. And so we took a left turn – albeit reluctantly – toward the world of advertising. From the get-go, we decided our way of doing things would be different. We’d go against everything we knew (and hated) about the industry, and from the inside we’d learned a lot of sh*t.
Casting aside big data, tracking and intrusion, we opted for respect. For our users, for creativity, and for the brands whose products we were selling. We were upfront with people – as they transferred files, we’d use full screen advertising.
This was a bold gesture. But by some mad stroke of luck (a word we hear humble folk often use to describe hard work) we got Nike on board to try our new model. The result? 10 years on and Nike is still one of our number one clients.
Being creatives at heart, we knew it couldn’t all be about the money. So even while our advertising model was still in its infancy, 30% of all inventory was donated to creative projects we admired.
At the time this was mostly helping out friends and friends of friends, but it quickly amassed into something much larger. In 2018 alone, we gave away more than five billion impressions to artists and causes we care about – including global campaigns to support gun reform, net neutrality and climate change.
In that time we’ve also grown from a simple file-sharing service to a whole set of creative tools to take care of other tricky parts of the creative process. There’s Paper to capture your ideas, Paste to communicate your ideas and Collect to, well, you can probably guess that one. We also launched WePresent, to tell creative stories and spark new ideas.
Once a modest handful of folk, today WeTransfer is made up of over 180 people with offices dotted across the globe.
Creativity remains the common thread in everything we do, inspiring our mission to get behind every great idea. As for the next 10 years? We’ve got a pretty good feeling about those.
Words by Robyn Collinge, copywriter. Illustrations by Maria Medem.