Meet Mikhail Ovsepyan, our Head of Expansion. Originally from Moscow, Mikhail moved to Germany a little over 10 years ago to study for his Masters, before joining our team in 2018. Now based in our Berlin office, Mikhail is responsible for analysing migration trends and geopolitical situations; spotting opportunities; and launching new markets with unique go-to-market strategies.
Here, Mikhail Ovsepyan discusses his plans for expansion, the importance of collaboration, how TransferGo has maintained a start-up culture and his (not so) secret chess-playing skills. (Spoiler alert: Mikhail was awarded the Candidate Master title in chess aged just 15.)
“Traditional banking didn’t excite me; I’ve always known I was more interested in working with tech and e-commerce…
After graduating with a BA in Economics, I moved to Frankfurt in 2009 to study for my Masters. In my second year of studies, I landed a job in a corporate banking department working for Piraeus. It was a big, traditional bank and it was an interesting experience. But soon after, I knew that I was more interested in working with tech and e-commerce products. Banking didn’t really excite me.
After that, I started working for a premium payment card provider—a little like American Express Centurion. I then worked as an external management consultant for an e-commerce company for about a year. In March 2018, I landed my job at TransferGo and moved to Berlin. I was originally hired as the Growth Manager for Russia and was responsible for the Russian market. But because we weren’t the big team we are today, I was lucky to be involved in several projects and had the chance to take on more responsibilities in different areas and markets. That’s how I ended up being the Head of Expansion.”
“I’m extremely proud of what we do as a business and the teamwork we do. Collaboration is crucial…
I’m extremely proud of what we do as a business. By making our fees low and transparent, we help global citizens around the world save money on international transfers. On top of this, our world-class Customer Support team provides help to those that need it. It’s a great feeling to know how much value the company you work for brings to over 2.5 million people across the globe.
I’m also really proud of our recent successful launch in Nigeria. It was a huge cross-functional collaboration and it was great. Because of the political crisis there, it seemed like there would be a new wave of migration from Nigeria to Europe and other countries. And we had to act fast— especially after the Central Bank restrictions came into place.
From a growth perspective, we were able to spot the opportunity pretty early. The Banking & Infrastructure team was able to quickly organise the required partnerships for us to have a product-market fit, while the tech, product and finance teams were really fast in helping us integrate and launch instant transfers to Nigeria. It was one of the best moments of the last three years for me; I loved how different departments collaborated to make it happen. We’ve still got some growing to do as there’s a huge demand. But it’s just a matter of time.
Finally, I’m really proud of the teamwork here. I don’t think I could do anything I do without my team. Collaboration is crucial and it’s actually one of the values that inspires me most. I see it happening more and more each day, and it’s super-exciting. If we continue to act as a cross-functional team, we can grow and launch new products and markets extremely well.
“I’m used to working away from my team, but I’m really missing the brainstorming sessions and parties…
Working in our small, remote office in Berlin means that I’m used to collaborating with co-workers based in London and Vilnius. It works pretty well. But that said, I am missing the brainstorming sessions with our Growth team (which are on hold due to Covid-19). I’m currently working from home but I go into the office one or two days a fortnight. The project management tools we use have definitely helped; we can follow what each other is doing and most importantly, we can help each other. As well as the brainstorming sessions, I’m also missing the parties. Hopefully, we can have our belated TransferGo birthday party soon and celebrate all the success we’ve been having.
Germany has been under lockdown since November. It feels like we’ve been in it for such a long time and I’m beginning to fear it’s going to become the new normal. I miss being able to meet friends and travel back to Russia. My wife and I used to go and visit our families twice a year but we haven’t been back since November 2019. We’re hoping to go back there for a couple of weeks this summer, all being well.”
“Even though we’re growing, I love the fact that we’ve maintained this start-up culture. Everyone is always willing to help each other…
I love the ability to move fast at TransferGo. Even though we’re pretty big already with almost 250 employees, we still have this start-up culture. We can still decide fast, move fast and test things, which is very different to most corporations and bigger companies.
Also, I love that people here are really willing to help each other. And if you approach someone who can’t help, they always direct you to the right person, which is amazing. No requests go unresponded. This start-up culture within a bigger company is great. We have all the pros of start-ups in a company that’s almost 10 years in the market. I hope it remains the same.
One of the things that grates on me is micro-management but we never have to face that here. People trust each other; we know who’s responsible for what and there’s no need for managers to micro-manage. So, huge kudos for that. I also don’t like it when teams don’t collaborate, but we’re seeing huge improvements in that area. It feels like the teams here are collaborating perfectly. I’m sure there are some ways to improve, but it’s super-exciting to see how it’s going.”
“I keep an eye on migration trends and spot new areas for growth; in the past two months alone, we’ve launched our pay to card feature in 96 countries…
At the moment, my job is to make sure that we pick the right market in terms of demand; that we get the right product fit for that specific market before market entry; and that we successfully implement a go-to-market strategy. I keep an eye on migration trends and geopolitical situations and provide the product-market fit requirements to our Banking and Infrastructure team. After they deliver those, the initial growth and marketing campaigns then launch in these markets. And when we see traction, we invest more in our patterns to make sure we have everything we need for these markets to grow.
In the past two months alone, we’ve launched our new pay to card feature in 96 countries. And we are now growing our presence in Commonwealth of Independent States countries—so Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova etc. After that, we’re going to work on expanding into Africa and Asia even further. We’re already present in most of their regions’ receive markets, but we want to improve delivery speeds and pricing. We want to make sure we’re as competitive as possible and bring even more value to our users.”
“As a kid, I was really good at chess; I was awarded the Candidate Master title aged just 15…
When I was little, I always wanted to be a football player. But then I was told it wasn’t really my thing when I was about 10. And so I stopped playing professionally and experimented with different sports. Then, I ended up playing chess, which was and still is, super-popular in Russia. I was pretty successful. By the age of 15, I was awarded a Candidate Master and took part in different tournaments for my age group around Europe and Russia. I travelled to places like Romania, Germany, France and Armenia, where chess is super-popular.
However, in chess there’s always a choice: continue playing professionally or choose to focus on your studies. To be able to play chess for a living, you basically need to be in the Top 10 in the world. The competition is so high, so being a Candidate Master aged 15 didn’t seem that unique to me. In Russia, there were 12 and 13-year-old kids who were already Grand Masters. And so I decided to stop playing professionally and concentrate on my studies. In the last 20 years, I’ve taken part in a couple of tournaments. Occasionally, I play for fun with friends or on my mobile, but I don’t really play regularly anymore.
Chess, of course, is now super-popular again because of The Queen’s Gambit. When I was watching it with my wife, she kept asking me if calculating different positions was a thing, and it’s true. The show is pretty accurate. Grand Masters can even play up to 25 or 30 opponents without looking at the board. Top players like Bobby Fischer or the current World Champion Magnus Carlsen are out of this world. It’s a different world and a totally different state of mind.”