With all the activity in foreign exchange these days, it’s easy to lose perspective on where we came from. Back in the early 1990s, a new Canadian company began doing something kinda novel on the Internet: providing foreign exchange rates. Founded by two high school buddies, XE was an internet and fintech pioneer.
XE co-founder Beric Farmer joins us on the podcast this week to talk about his journey, some of the things he did right, and one major lesson he learned on the way to selling his fintech company to Euronet.
XE began about 25 years ago. Can you tell us the story?
It actually started in the early 1980s when my co-founder, Steven Dangler, and I met in high school. Steve was a dreamer and one of the things he dreamt about was creating a company one day. This fictitious company he named Xenon Laboratories, whose first letters and logo were XE. Steve still has textbooks from Grade 9 with doodles of the XE logo. As we were both graduating from university in 1993, Steve approached me with the idea of starting a company. I took him up on his offer and I don’t think we ever had a discussion of what to name the company.
How’s the business doing today?
We have our website and our mobile apps. We estimate we have about 280 million unique users a year that use our services to help them make decisions about exchanging currency and to actually exchange currency. Our mobile app has had over 60 million downloads. It’s a long way from my parents’ basement. Now we’re part of a larger public company, Euronet, with resources and capabilities we couldn’t have dreamed of back then.
Why foreign currency?
We pivoted from being an Internet Service Provider for schools and we started helping businesses take advantage of the internet. In early 1995, we first encountered an interactive website. You could type something into a field, click a button, and the website returned customized information. We created a proof of concept website with a currency converter, called the Universal Currency Converter.
I don’t think we appreciated how useful that was for a large number of people. It quickly started gathering an audience. XE has always been technology driven and technology focused. It was the pursuit of a new technology that enabled us to discover — eventually — a new business model.
With the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently along the way?
You have to find a balance as an entrepreneur between knowing when you need to respect the wisdom of other people and when you need to ignore their advice. In the early days, I wish I could have told myself to have more faith in my own insight and abilities and not get starstruck by other people who seem accomplished and seem to have all the answers.