Interview: WeTransfer – A file transfer service aiming to banish the banner ad from the Internet

/// Interview: WeTransfer – A file transfer service aiming to banish the banner ad from the Internet

June 21, 2011  |  Blog

By Andrew Halley

In the latest Talk NYC interview exclusive, I sat down with Nalden, Internet entrepreneur and co-founder of

WeTransfer is a file-sharing service similar to YouSendIt and Dropbox, but with a very unique advertising model and an innovative design. The site now has over 5 million users each month and is expanding globally. Nalden is a young, self-educated startup entrepreneur, and with his background in advertising he has helped bring WeTransfer to life.

WeTransfer differs from its competitors in that its focus is set firmly on simplicity. “It’s about allowing users like my Dad to transfer files without registration and without paying,” Nalden says. The simplicity of the site is tied in with its advertising model, which is WeTransfer’s most unique asset.

“Our fullscreen advertisements rotating in the background – they look good, they’re non-intrusive and people actually like them,” explains Nalden. It is this intuitive marketing aesthetic that he hopes will one day dominate online advertising: “We’re all about removing the banner from the Internet,” he says.

This is more than just a business for Nalden, who says that it is his goal to “put the love back into advertising; make it more beautiful so that people start liking it that way.”

The site’s clickthrough rate provides evidence of the success of this strategy, currently standing at 4 percent. When you take into account the fact that the average banner ad has a clickthrough rate of below 1 percent, the increase in clicks using WeTransfer’s model is huge.

WeTransfer partners with interested brands and a non-intrusive wallpaper ad is developed that suits the WeTransfer model. This ad will then be displayed to WeTransfer users when they are downloading files, providing them with something to look at – and hopefully click on – while they wait. Some of the companies currently advertising via WeTransfer include HTC, Electronic Arts, MTV, Samsung. With big companies such as these rarely being easy to push around, Nalden gives the example of how they demonstrated the importance of a properly integrated ad during a recent campaign with a major photography brand:

“We advised them to strip down their ad to the underlying photography with just a small company logo. They agreed and we ran the ad, getting a clickthrough rate of 4.2 percent, which is huge. Then the company’s Asian headquarters requested that the original ad be put back. Within two weeks we saw the clickthrough rate drop to around 1 percent in that market.”

WeTransfer has grown itself without the help of any concerted outbound advertising campaign, aside from the occasional interview. “WeTransfer is set up so that it promotes itself via its users,” explains Nalden. Remarkably, one in every three downloading users generates a new unique uploader. User retention and customer service has been key to the success of the service. “We try to keep it as personal as possible,” Nalden says. “It’s about building a community for our users.” That community has now grown to over 5 million users. 1 million still come from the Netherlands, where WeTransfer is based, but the service is rapidly growing among international users. The U.S. and the U.K. are increasingly important markets, with user growth occurring across Europe too, in countries such as France and Germany.

The motto “who knows what we’ll transfer tomorrow” suggests that those at WeTransfer fully expect this growth to continue. Eight languages are now supported with more on the way. Nalden has high hopes for WeTransfer going forward – why wouldn’t he after such initial success? “The main focus is to keep the service as simple as possible,” he insists. “We are moving away from flash to HTML5 for stability and we are moving everything into the cloud.”

Many sites seek to continually add new features in order to keep their product “fresh,” but this goes against the WeTransfer ethos. “The challenge is to avoid extra features that don’t make any sense,” says Nalden. “Keep it simple.”

When a service is relatively new and has a unique selling point like WeTransfer’s, there can be a fear of being imitated and even overrun. Nalden has no such fears, despite the overt simplicity of the WeTransfer model. He takes solace in a high exclusion rate and even suggests that it would be a good thing if companies start to imitate their model. “If more companies follow us it means we are getting more people to talk about fullscreen advertising,” Nalden says. “I truly believe that’s a good thing.”

Downsides and/or negatives are hard to find when it comes to WeTransfer. Everyone seems to love the service, for both its simplicity and its aesthetic appeal. Like Facebook, WeTransfer makes a promise to its users that it will always remain a free service. However even now there is a “Channel” feature that allows users to access premium features such as the ability to upload their own wallpapers and operate WeTransfer from their own unique subdomain. Nalden suggests that such premium features may continue to be added going forward, but that the core service and key features will always be free, such as the 2GB limit for instance. “It’s all about making it hassle-free,” he reiterates.

Non-intrusive, aesthetically pleasing advertising is the way forward for both WeTransfer and brand marketing the world over, there is no doubt in Nalden’s mind. One of the initiatives he most admires is the Google Adwords platform. It is perhaps characteristic of the ambition of the man that he has recently co-founded, a service which he hopes will one day replace Adwords as the dominant adverting model on the Internet. The service currently offers “Visual Amesomeness For Your Twitter Profile,” essentially applying the WeTransfer wallpaper aesthetic via a custom Twitter theme.

There is no doubt that the fullscreen advertising model that WeTransfer has perfected represents a very exciting prospect for the future of brand marketing. Nalden sums up the key advantage that the non-intrusive method has over traditional online advertising: “People are clicking on our ads with a view to seeing what’s behind there, and that’s a really valuable click.”

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