Up&Ap: Eric Barbier on building TransferTo and his journey as an entrepreneur

He’s the force behind TransferTo and a well-known face across the industry, but there’s a lot more to our CEO, Eric Barbier, than meets the eye. Here, we thought we’d do a bit of a Q&A with the man himself to learn a bit more about his entrepreneurial journey, and his plans for the future.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself:

Eric Barbier: I first arrived in Singapore in 2002 and at the time I was involved with Mobile 365, the largest mobile messaging network,which I co-founded in 1999 and later sold in 2006 to Sybase. It was during this time that I was ready for my next challenge and Singapore seemed like the perfect place to start a new business. So, with my background and experience in telecoms, I decided to launch TransferTo in 2005.

I’m also an engineer by training and I have now been living in Singapore for a total of 10 years (I took a few years in between to live in the USA while I was setting up our office there). For the foreseeable future, I plan to stay in Singapore – it’s a fantastic place!

Q: Why TransferTo?

A: I got the idea in 2004 while I was in the Philippines when I noticed people were exchanging mobile credits between each other via SMS. I found this concept very interesting and thought that if people are using prepaid credit in their everyday lives, there was potential to take it beyond borders. As I was already working to facilitate international interconnection between telecom operators, starting TransferTo was the next natural step.

Q: Is there a story behind how you came up with the name TransferTo? 

EB: When I started the business, the name we chose was Fixed & Mobile. We ran with this for a few years, but then in 2009 I decided it was time to have a name that better reflected with what we do and came up with TransferTo. It’s essentially Fixed & Mobile Pte. Ltd. doing business as TransferTo. I think it works a lot better. 

Q: How did it all begin? 

EB: When I first had the idea, it took a long time to convince everyone that it was going to work. At the time, I often wondered to myself if I had made the right decision. In fact, it even took 18 months to convince Maxis, our first customer.

It wasn’t easy in the beginning but once we got some traction in Southeast Asia (where I was based at the time), it then made sense to expand TransferTo to the USA. I spent a few years there building up networks and relationships, and this is now our biggest market. 

Q: What are you most proud of here at TransferTo? 

EB: We once had this interesting case where one of our customers was using our system for something unexpected. It was an NGO program in Pakistan encouraging pregnant women to visit their doctor on a regular basis – as its not traditional for people there to have regular doctor visits. Each time they made a visit to their doctor, these women were being sent monetary rewards through their mobile phone, along with educational quizzes they could participate in and be rewarded. Before this, I never imagined our system would have this impact and it makes me very proud. It’s what drives me to continue growing our business.

Q: What’s next for TransferTo?

EB: We want to continue to grow as a company by building new key partnerships globally. My vision from the get-go when I created TransferTo was to create network infrastructure enabling people to send and receive money easily via mobile – I wanted to make it as simple as sending an SMS. We’ve managed to achieve this and now we want to really help drive financial inclusion for the unbanked at a greater scale – our aim is to become the go-to experts for digital payments for the emerging markets.

Q: What’s your favourite saying?

EB: It’s got to be “It’s always better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.” I swear by this!

Q: Do you have any advice for us?

EB: Don’t waste people’s time. You can always earn more money but time is lost forever so pay a lot of attention to people’s time (and your own). It’s the most precious thing.

Q: And finally, what’s something not many people may not know about you? 

EB: I actually started my first business when I was 16. It was a business building educational software teaching Maths and grammar and I even managed to secure my first client. I did this without my parents knowing and once they found out, I sadly had to close by business to focus on my studies – and that was the end of that. 

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TransferTo operates a Cross-Border Mobile Payments Network for emerging markets, processing transactions in real-time for duly licensed financial institutions and merchants. We offer solutions for businesses providing family remittance, mass payouts and merchant payment services. Leading companies around the world, including Vodafone’s M-Pesa, Orange Money, Western Union, Xoom, UNICEF and PayPal rely on TransferTo’s mobile payment solutions to perform digital payments.

(This post has been reproduced from TransferTo blog).