For many Americans with families abroad, sending money home might be a crucial lifeline for loved ones. Yet the process so often relies on wire transfer services like Western Union, a logjam of forms and banking fees. Seattle startup Remitly makes the process of sending money to Mexico, India, or the Philippines more like transferring funds from a checking account to a savings account on your phone. With more than $38 million in new funding to begin extending service to other countries, cofounder and CEO Matt Oppenheimer thinks it’s finally time to rethink what it means to wire money. As told to Darren Davis
My grandfather started a company in Boise that my father and uncle now run, part food distribution and part real estate development. I saw the value they added to their employees’ lives, their customers’ lives, and the community. That impacted me from a professional and personal perspective. I always knew I’d go into business.
I started a lobbying organization in high school to get people under the age of 18 involved in the political process and have a voice. It actually became a relatively well-known organization in Idaho at the time. In 2000 the Idaho Democratic Party asked me to give the keynote speech at the state convention. Charlton Heston gave the keynote speech for the Republican Party that year.
A Year in Nairobi
I’ve always loved getting to know different cultures, traveling, living other places. After my MBA at Harvard, I found this job in Kenya with Barclays. I took it because they had a presence in 10 African countries, and I ended up as the head of mobile and Internet banking initiatives. I went down to Nairobi in 2010 and launched Internet banking there, which they didn’t have set up yet. You’d think that would have happened a long time ago, but things aren’t exactly like they are in the U.S.
Traveling to all these countries, I was astounded to see how far remittances went in people’s lives in terms of pulling them out of poverty. In the Philippines, overseas workers send home one out of every 10 dollars earned. People have talked about disrupting the Western Unions and Money-Grams for 160 years, but we haven’t had the ability until mobile made us more connected. I saw the huge opportunity, the impact it would make on the planet.
I started the company in Boise, but this was not going to be a business that would scale up there. I think the talent base in Seattle is world class. There’s less capital here than in the Bay Area, but that creates an advantage. A startup like ours can raise capital because you can attract and retain talent. It’s also an extremely diverse city. A lot of our customer base is here, and that was important to me. We’ve got a great foundation, and now it’ll be about scaling up and establishing a global footprint.