Fed Up with Abusive Bank Commissions in International Transfers?

TransferWise, a startup based in London and founded by Taavet Hinrikus (left) and Kristo Käärmann (right) in 2011. For Hinrikus this is not his first adventure, he was the first employee at that other very successful startup, Skype.


TransferWise offers a peer-to-peer money transfer service that can save you up to 85% of the fees that banks charge you for overseas transfers. It uses real exchange rates when transferring money and it is aimed especially at expats, foreign students and businesses with branches in other countries who lose a lot of money to banks that charge hefty commissions. The company only charges a £1 fee for transactions below £300 and a small percentage of any transaction above that. In its first year of operations TransferWise handled 10 million euros in transactions.


The proprietary algorithm they developed connects people wanting to wire money to another country. Imagine you want to transfer money from Britain to Spain, for example. You put your money in TransferWise’s British account, the algorithm then finds someone wanting to do the same from Spain to Britain and who has deposited the money in the company’s Spanish account. The exchange is done at the mid-market rate. To make sure there is someone at the other end, and to ensure liquidity, TransferWise works with The Currency Cloud.


The service now converts from euro to GBP and GBP to euro. It also converts from euros and GBO to US Dollars (USD), Polish zloty (PLN), Swiss francs (CHF), Danish krone (DKK), Swedish krona (SEK) and Norwegian krone (NOK). It is working on transfers in the other direction as well, but this is not available yet.

Hinrikus and Käärman believe that money, like water should flow freely, but this, of course, is not easy. Their new platform is a close as we can get.

Reggae and the Dragon

Keith Graham, better known as Levi Roots -his Rastafari name- is a reggae singer from a little village in Clarendon, Jamaica, whose family moved to London in the 70s. After having 7 children (from 6 different mothers), he found it increasingly difficult to make ends meet at the end of the month just with his music. He started making a special version of the typical Jamaican jerk sauce from his small kitchen, with the help of his children, which he would then sell at the Nottinghill Carnival.  In 1991 he opened there the Rasta’raunt, a kind of Caribbean restaurant, where he sold his increasingly popular sauce for 15 years.

Banks and business continuously rejected him and no one would invest in the product. That’s until he appeared on the popular show Dragon’s Den, a reality show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a group of venture capitalists.

Although in front of the investors he kind of messed up because he got his numbers wrong, he did manage to captivate them and the challenge seemed attractive enough for two of the investors, Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh, who together invested £50,000 in exchange for a 40% stake of the business. This is the video of his famous pitch.

His Reggae Reggae Sauce became an instant success. Within weeks more than a hundred thousand bottles of the delicious sauce were produced and it flew off the shelves of Sainsbury’s supermarkets. Levi went to Sainsbury’s with his children to actually see the family sauce in the shelves and they cried together in excitement when they saw it. The sauce is now even advertised on TV. The £2 million ad campaign has been created by Aardman, who also produce the Wallace and Gromit animated films.

His Levi Roots range of products continues to grow and includes other Caribbean inspired sauces, wraps, pizzas, snacks and even soft drinks, as can be seen on his website. He has hosted his own series “Caribbean Food Made Easy” on BBC Two and has published six cookbooks. He now also gives conferences about entrepreneurship in schools. His children are all doing pretty well, some continue in the business others trying to do other things.

He still continues composing reggae songs.

Algie and the Cathedral of Electrons

The enormous pig had been designed by Australian artist Jeffrey Shaw and built by a German company called Ballon Fabrik. On a cold December morning in 1976, Algie, as they called it, was inflated with helium and was manoeuvred into position above London’s Battersea Station. A sniper was hired to stand by and shoot the balloon in case it broke loose. However, bad weather on the first day made it very difficult to work, so the photo session had to be continued the following day, but on this second day wind was so strong that Algie, eventually broke free, and the marksman, who had only been hired for one day, was not there to bring it down. The wind took it West, into the flight path at Heathrow, probably becoming a nightmare for air traffic controllers, and it finally landed near Kent, where it was recovered by a farmer who was definitely not happy, since Algie had apparently scared his cows.


Although in the end it had to be a montage from different pictures taken over the course of three days, Algie was the star on the cover of Pink Floyd‘s Animals album, and went on to become -together with Battersea- one of the most recognizable icons in music history.


The impressive Battersea Power Station is one of the biggest and most spectacular brick buildings in the world. It is also one of the UK’s most recognizable landmarks. But it stands now in a state of disgraceful neglect and incredible disrepair. So bad, that it is listed among the world’s 100 Most Endangered Sites. This gives it an almost magical aura. The massive building, visible from the train to Heathrow airport, stands today an empty carcass, a monumental testament to progress and industry. Many owners have proposed different development plans (from amusement parks to malls) but all end up reselling it.

Architect Theo J. Halliday began construction of the power station in 1928. To appease growing public rejection to the size of the building, however, the London Power Company also hired architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, an incredibly prestigious and prolific architect, to help improve the project. He was famous for buildings such as the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station, the Albert Memorial and St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh. He was also responsible for the design of the Bankside Power Station, building that today houses the Tate Modern art museum, and interestingly, he also designed the classic red telephone box, still in use today in many cities accross the UK.


Halliday was responsible for the general shape of the building and the lavish art deco interiors, which included bronze doors showing figures representing Power and Energy, opening on to a marble turbine hall. Scott was responsible for the exterior styling, such as the art deco detailing of the chimney bases. It was also Scott’s idea to change the original square chimneys to the fluted classical columns that we can admire today. The power station is in fact two individual power stations that come together to form a single building. One was built in the 30’s, and the other in the 50’s.


The station has appeared in music videos and in The Beatles’ 1965 Help! Movie. In Alfonso Cuarón‘s film Children of Men, one scene takes place inside the station, between Theo (Clive Owen) and his cousin Nigel (Danny Huston). In a world of chaos crumbling around it, the building -which houses the Ministry of Art- provides a rare space of peace that allows for contemplation. The scenes even include a homage to Algie, who is seen floating around the outside. Today, it is the building that is literally crumbling on the inside.

The most recent bid for Battersea has come this week (4 May). Chelsea Football Club, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, has launched a takeover bid for the iconic building. The station and the 38 acres of surrounding land are considered the last major undeveloped regeneration site in central London. Knight Frank, the global real estate agency that is trying to secure a long-term owner, has said that this is the first time that Battersea Power Station has been offered for sale on the open market and it has attracted many of the world’s biggest property investors, developers and sovereign wealth funds.


The stadium Abramovich wants to build here would have capacity for 60,000 fans. The plan includes a full restoration of the building, the famous chimneys and the Art Deco control room, at an approximate cost of £150 million. The stadium would be at the heart of an important new £5 billion development, that has already been approved, and that includes homes, offices, hotel, retail and leisure facilities, and what would be London’s first public park in many years. The club would also make a “significant contribution” to help build a new Tube link to the Northern line. The offer has drawn some skepticism from local politicians who say the transport infrastructure is not prepared to give service to 60,000 football fans.


Who knows what Battersea will become, maybe a shopping center, maybe a hotel, or maybe a huge square stadium. But at least for now, the building that was once called the Temple of Power, can still be admired as a brilliant -if neglected- example of a type of power station design, popular at the time, that became known as brick-cathedral style.

Battersea’s future is uncertain and the debate of what to do with it is intense. It is such a unique piece of history and such a spectacular work of architecture. I think it should be turned into a Ministry of Art, like in the movie Children of Men. That would be much better than surrounding it with houses or offices, or inserting a stadium on the inside. After all that’s kind of what they did with the Modern Tate…and that wasn’t so bad. And as our world continues to crumble in values on the outside, it would be nice to have a place like this, an empty but magnificent Cathedral of Electrons, to come and pray.  

-To read my original article in PDF: Algie and the Cathedral of Electrons.

Silk Thread Martyrs

Omar Joseph Nasser-Khoury is a young Palestinian and one of the most promising young designers to recently emerge from the Arab world. He was born in Al Quds (Jerusalem) and grew up in the Occupied Territories. His work draws its inspiration from a rich tradition of Palestinian embroidery. He combines the motifs and the refined cross-stitching, typical of his homeland, with bold tailoring, to create a unique and very personal interpretation of this traditional heritage. He wants to remind young people in the Palestinian territories of this heritage, and show how it can be relevant to modern life.

Nasser-Khoury’s in 2011 exhibited a collection titled “Silk Thread Martyrs,” at London’s Mosaic Room, coinciding with London’s Fashion Week.

Farmers, fighters, social workers, martyrs and refugees are all sources of inspiration for a collection in which Nasser-Khoury also questions issues regarding gender, duty or social restraints. The permanent presence of death and mourning in daily life and the almost unbearable reality of Israeli Occupation have greatly influenced his work and are also palpable in the collection.

Nasser-Khoury produced the collection working closely with Inaash, a Lebanese non-profit organization that teaches traditional Palestinian embroidery techniques to women living in refugee camps in Lebanon. Inaash’s embroidery project benefits 450 women, teaching them skills that will help them earn a living.

The garments were made with the minimum use of machinery. Most of the embroidery, the luxurious fabrics, the colouring and the dyeing was carried out entirely by hand.

(To read original article in PDF: Silk Thread Martyrs)