WeTransfer’s Plan To Disrupt The Creative Process

Enter your email address. Read the fine print. Sign up. Login. Exit out of the pop-up. Most digital services force you to take several steps before you can actually do what you came to the site to do. But at WeTransfer–a file-sharing service designed for creatives–the user experience has always been about getting out of the way. Now the company is growing into its next act to become a service that facilitates the entire creative process–by applying its UX philosophy to advertising, editorial, and a new mobile app.

[Image: courtesy WeTransfer]

“What we would like more than anything is to keep people in their work flow,” Damian Bradfield, U.S. president and chief marketing officer of WeTransfer, says. “Those who produce work know what it’s like to be in that moment of flow, when work is pouring out of you. There’s nothing worse than being pulled out of it or being disrupted. That’s what we wanted from a service. There’s no sign up, it’s a lean data policy, no intrusive advertising, no banners, no pop-ups, no irritation.”

[Image: courtesy WeTransfer]

When users send a file through the site, there’s no sign up necessary to use the free service. (But there is a premium version that charges a fee.) Every step in the file-transfer process happens in a compact box on the home page. The attractive background is a full-bleed image of either an ad (produced in house), an editorial (curated and authored by WeTransfer), or wallpaper. All share similar aesthetics. They’re eye-catching enough to get your attention, but so consistent in their sensibility, that you could gloss over them entirely if you wanted and go about business as usual, undistracted.

[Image: courtesy WeTransfer]

Earlier this week, WeTransfer launched a new, free mobile app that builds on this approach. Before, the company’s app was essentially a mobile version of the desktop site–a file-sharing tool. Now it’s Pinterest-like. Users can create mood boards and collect the links they read, photos they take, and music they hear all in one place.Dutch creatives Bas Berens and Ronald Hans (who goes by the name Nalden) founded WeTransfer in 2009 with the idea of creating the file-sharing service they wanted, but didn’t exist. Today, it has 40 million active users; 75% of whom identify as creatives. Every month WeTransfer sends 1 billion files and its ads achieve a click-through rate that’s two-and-a-half times higher than the industry average–a rate the company believes it receives because its treats advertising like art. (You could argue this is a dark pattern because the ads look so similar to WeTransfer’s editorial and other wallpapers.)

Unlike most tech companies that take on venture funding early on, WeTransfer bootstrapped itself to profitability, which it reached in 2014. Without investor-added pressure to meet certain growth goals, the company had the freedom to focus on UX and crafting the brand it wanted. Proving that its approach found the audience it wanted, WeTransfer was able to get a $25 million dollar investment from Highland Capital in 2015. Now it’s in expansion mode. In December 2016, the company hired a new CEO, Gordon Willoughby, who was previously at Amazon.

[Image: courtesy WeTransfer]

“We don’t necessarily get that excited about the concept of mass storage and synchronization,” Bradfield says. “The future, and the things that will motivate us moving forward, is producing experiences that’s aren’t going upstream into cloud storage, but downstream and simplifying the web, decluttering, and creating more trust between us and the other experiences we have.”

From its outset, WeTransfer has been building goodwill with creatives and constructed its entire experience–from product to branding to marketing–with this audience in mind. It donated 30% of its wallpapers to artists–visual, performing, musical–and picked people to feature based on who its employees liked and were passionate about. (“The goal was to send so much traffic to their site, it would bring their site down,” Bradfield says of the artists they spotlighted.)

The company has steadily, and quietly, been expanding its properties under the leadership of its head of experiences, Nelly Ben Hayoun . There’s a chance you haven’t heard about most of them. (I use WeTransfer’s free service regularly–along with a host of other file sharing services–and didn’t know about most extras until researching this story, a testament to their unobtrusiveness.)

[Image: courtesy WeTransfer]

In 2016, the company formally branded the production arm of the company that creates content for artists as WeTransfer Studios. That same year it formally grouped its editorial as This Works, a blog and online magazine. Last year, it launched a browser extension so that users could be greeted with a WeTransfer-curated image upon opening Chrome.The idea is that by producing good creative work, people who make good creative work themselves will recognize it and continue to turn to WeTransfer for whatever new vertical its creates.

“It’s a [Main] Street-store mentality,” Bradfield says. “The front door is always open. You can come in use our service and leave, and come back. We have the confidence that they will [return].”

The company also has a number of efforts outside of digital products that caters to its audience. It co-sponsors a free architecture school, donates free premium accounts to art students, and offered former SoundCloud employees $10,000 to fuel their creative pursuits instead of immediately jumping into a 9-5 post-layoff.

[Image: courtesy WeTransfer]

Since its launch, WeTransfer hasn’t been building a better file sharing service. That part of the company has remained relatively unchanged. But it’s been building an audience of creatives and keeping them in mind as they expand.In 2015, WeTransfer had about 30 employees; now it’s up to 100. Bradfield says the company is experiencing double-digit revenue growth year on year. Speed of growth–in terms of user numbers–hasn’t been the goal; rather, retaining the audience along the way has. The company plans to keep this approach as it moves forward, always keeping in mind that its experience be centered around simplicity and making it easier for creatives to be creative.

While other file-sharing services, like Dropbox, are rebranding and trying to emulate WeTransfer’s punchy look, at their core they’re still cloud services and are competing with one another. But WeTransfer isn’t just competing against Dropbox and Hightail. It’s competing with NownessDazed, and Dezeen for editorial; Vice for sponsored video production; and even Google (since the company also has an email service). When I ask Bradfield about one of the biggest challenges for growth, he says it’s maintaining credibility.

“We’re broad enough in our user base to move into different avenues, but we couldn’t do that if we didn’t have the creative community,” Bradfield says. “As long as we’re cautious and credible, we have many opportunities. It’s similar to Apple in that Apple isn’t a technology company–it’s a hardware company, a music company, it’s a retailer, it’s a space that the creative audience trusts.”


How free porn enriched the tech industry — and ruined the lives of actors

Journalist Jon Ronson describes his new podcast series, The Butterfly Effect, this way: “It’s about what constitutes a reputable person and what constitutes a disreputable person.”

More specifically, The Butterfly Effect is a four-hour, seven-part exploration of the impact of the tech industry on the porn industry. It’s about the way free porn sites, notably PornHub, have made it very hard for porn workers to make a living.

The music industry has gone through similar upheaval, but musicians get more sympathy than porn actors (and can make money doing live gigs), Ronson says.

In the podcast, Ronson interviews Fabian Thylmann, PornHub’s millionaire founder, along with a spectrum of sex industry performers and creators struggling to make ends meet. For instance, Ronson profiles Mike Quasar, a porn cameraman and director, who tells Ronson he’s powerless to stop his films from being instantly pirated online. (The volume of streaming sites and sharing methods makes it hard for porn companies, often strapped for resources, to fight piracy.) Some porn stars make niche custom videos — performing content in ways requested by specific fans, for a fee — in order to survive financially.

For two decades since Them, a best-seller on extremists, Ronson has been creating engaging, funny accounts of people on society’s margins. The Welshman turned New Yorker’s last book was So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, about the internet pile-ons against the likes of inappropriate tweeter Justine Sacco.

In a wide-ranging conversation — lightly edited and condensed — Ronson discussed porn’s future, Alex Jones, and legitimized bullying.

Alexander Bisley

So these sites like PornHub, which are stealing porn and giving it away for free, have wildly depressed the money available for productions and the fees the performers are able to get, right?

Jon Ronson

Yes. So a lot of people are making a lot less money and are working much, much longer hours to make that money. That’s happening a lot. Whereas the people in charge of PornHub are making so much money they don’t know what to do with it.

These tech people who’ve never set foot on a porn set in their lives, these optimizers and algorithm people and AB testers, these “respectable people” — they’re the ones who seem to be causing the most trouble [in] the lives of porn performers.

I saw time and time again, people [in the porn industry] would have to move from pretty nice houses to much smaller houses. Porn performers have to go into escorting to pay the rent. More and more producers are going out of business. So in many ways it’s decimating the San Fernando Valley, but the tech people are doing very well.

The tech takeover of the world isn’t being criticized enough. It’s having these seismic changes, and people tend not to think about it because they’re giving the world what it wants, which is free porn.

Alexander Bisley

What do you think the future of porn will be, given this seismic shift?

Jon Ronson

I was just reading a comment on Slate that addressed this question. The commenter — Allen Garvin — wrote, “Dirty magazines are dying, porn shops are dying, mainstream porn video companies are dying (or else getting into extreme fetishes). People that go to porn conventions or show up at strip clubs to see specific porn actresses are getting older each year, with young men failing to replace them because they get their porn for free.”

I think all that’s true. So what will take its place? Amateur porn shot on cellphones. Some of those people will get deals with PornHub, and the like, where they’ll make some money from clicks, but it’ll be a fraction of what they would have made in the pre-streaming days.

And the people who built the industry? Some will move into customs and niche fetish stuff; most others will just vanish away into the ether.

Alexander Bisley

One of PornHub’s tech guys, exploiting performers’ work, boasted to you: “I’m not a piece of garbage, peddling smut.”

Jon Ronson

When I ask him about the people whose lives were being decimated as a result of the business practices, he went, “Ugh, okay. Their livelihood.” He talked like a tech utopian, somebody who thinks the tech world can do no wrong. A lot of tech people go out of their way to not think about the negative consequences. You shouldn’t not think about those insidious consequences.

Alexander Bisley

Tech guys like the one you quote above basically dehumanize the labor?

Jon Ronson

Yeah. In the same way we dehumanize people that we tear apart on social media. Or in the same way that despots from the past dehumanized their victims. We just don’t wanna think about it. And that’s one of the reasons my public shaming book got some backlash, because people didn’t want to be confronted with the truth of the psychological tricks they play on themselves to not feel bad about the bad things they do.

Alexander Bisley

Since Them: Adventures With Extremists, your book and documentary series about conspiracy theorists, the idea of humanizing the dehumanized has featured in your work. Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist that has interviewed Trump on his show, was one of your early subjects, both in writing and in documentary. Did you go too far in humanizing him?

Jon Ronson

I’ve thought a lot about this, and I think Alex has changed. Alex is a different person now compared to how he was when I first knew him in the late ’90s. A lot of people who work for Alex would probably say the same thing. So the way we should regard him, the way we should write about him, should change. He’s changed partly because he’s more powerful now, and he’s richer, and he’s got an ally in the White House, and some of his conspiracy theories have got darker.

A couple of years ago, when Alex suddenly made a fortune from the Super Male Vitality supplements and so on, that’s pretty much exactly the same time that his discourse got more aggressive. As much as he denies saying that Sandy Hook didn’t happen, he did promote that conspiracy theory.

Alexander Bisley

How do you feel about the future of media?

Jon Ronson

I strongly believe the future for that industry of broadcasters is to welcome idiosyncratic voices and then just give them the freedom to do just that, which is exactly what Netflix did with Bong Joon-Ho for Okja, a film I co-wrote, and what Audible did with me and The Butterfly Effect. The days of gatekeepers making you jump through hoops is kinda over.

Alexander Bisley

The Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap, wrote a compelling essay about the Internet zeitgeist. “I have become increasingly wary of morality disguised as politics and of our reversion to a language redolent of sin and shaming, certainty and righteousness.”

Jon Ronson

Yeah. The way I would describe it is legitimized bullying. The destruction of people like Justine Sacco [who tweeted an inappropriate joke that launched a viral pile-on and that led to her being fired] — what of social justice? It was a cathartic alternative to social justice.

When you’re bullied in school, quite often, you’re bullied by everyone. You don’t have friends to turn to. Monica Lewinsky, in an interview I did with her, told me of her scandal: “I was hung out to dry by everyone; I didn’t belong to any group.” That’s the same as what happened to Justine Sacco — she was hung out to dry by everyone: Misogynists hated her, philanthropists hated her, social justice people hated her, Donald Trump tweeted about her. So that’s probably why I felt so animated about that story … because it reminded me of school. When you’re being bullied by everybody, it’s legitimized bullying.

In a way, it’s the reason I wanted to do The Butterfly Effect as well. Because it’s a story about every time somebody watches porn for free on PornHub, they are potentially exploiting the lives of the porn people they’re watching.

Alexander Bisley

David Simon, creator of the sex work–themed television show The Deuce, believes a big problem with porn and sex work is poor labor rights.

Jon Ronson

Definitely in terms of royalties, back-end and stuff like that, porn people would agree with David Simon. Where they might disagree is that there’s definitely a narrative out there about porn people being forced to do things they don’t want to do on set by exploitative directing. Maybe their boyfriends were coercing them in some cases. But I can say that the side of the San Fernando Valley industry that we were in for a year on and off [making The Butterfly Effect], I saw nothing like that. That may happen in Miami and Las Vegas.

But the [Valley] directors and the producers and the other porn actors — it’s basically a kindhearted and respectful community, certainly more than outsiders might think. It has its problems, but it’s way more collegiate than outsiders would think it.

Alexander Bisley

What might surprise listeners about The Butterfly Effect?

Jon Ronson

Probably the most surprising thing about the series is how moving and endearing it gets. How supportive the performers are to each other. And in the world of custom, in the world of bespoke porn, how there’s this really lovely bond between the cast and producers and their client, their fans. A bunch of people have said they’ve never thought that a series about the tech takeover of the porn industry would make them cry, but the end of the series will make you cry.

Alexander Bisley

And challenge them?

Jon Ronson

There’s this amazing line in episode five of The Butterfly Effect where I’m talking to this girl who was a big porn watcher, and I said to her: “Did you ever learn their names?” And she said: “No, I never learned their names. It’s like when you kill a deer; you don’t name it because then you can’t eat it.”

Alexander Bisley

In addition to the pressure for some of them to work as escorts, porn stars have to be an enthusiastic brand all over social media. Is that a challenge?

Jon Ronson

Yes! In episode two I meet this woman called Maci May who was having a terrible time, and she used to vent about it on social media but now she’s much more wary because you have to be like a brand. She can’t tweet, “I don’t have any money.” She’s discouraged from acting that way by porn producers and directors who say to her: “No, no, you’ve got to constantly be chirpy and happy.”

When she said that to me, I thought, “That’s really sad.” In a parallel universe, there’d be a Twitter where Maci May could do all of that stuff, vent about how unhappy she was. But that’s not the Twitter we created for ourselves, sadly.

Alexander Bisley

“Sex is probably the most interesting subject in the world,” Paul Auster says.

Jon Ronson

I would never disagree with anything Paul Auster says, because he’s amazing. … I never thought of sex as interesting. What I thought was interesting about The Butterfly Effect wasn’t sex, but it was about what constitutes a reputable person and what constitutes a disreputable person. The thing that really got me interested was this idea that tech people are considered reputable; sex workers, porn people are considered disreputable. But this story shows that the porn people and the sex workers are supportive, kindhearted, lovely people, whereas the tech people are amoral, ruthless people.


A nine-year-old reviews the Tesla Model X

Editor’s Note: Verge transportation editor Tamara Warren regularly rides and reviews all the latest and greatest from the automotive industry, which means that as a by-product, her son Benicio also gets to take a spin from time to time. Her review of the Tesla Model S published earlier this month, so we wondered what nine-year-old Benicio thought of the Tesla experience. Below are his honest thoughts. —Natt Garun

I have been in lots of cars because my mom works for The Verge and she gets a new car every week. The name of this car is the Tesla Model X.

This car has new and improved car features from the cars I have been in. My favorite feature is the falcon door, so I’m going to start with that. They open by pressing a silver rectangle that is in the place a regular door handle would be for the car. After you press that, the door will start to open. If you want to open the door from the inside, you will have to push the button on the door frame. You can press the top of the button to open it and push the bottom of it to close it.

When we picked up the car at the Tesla store in Brooklyn, a man named David told Shrey, one of my best friends, and me about it. I took notes as I was listening to David, and then we were ready to jump in the car.

When we went outside, we were fascinated by the car’s design. The key is the same shape as the car. You can push any part of the key and open the trunk, the doors, or the extra trunk in the front. I would use the space to put extra baseball gear in there.

David was driving the car, but he told me to sit up in the front. He told us why the car was already on. It turns out that when the car senses the key it automatically turns on, and when you are in the car the driver will start driving. If you use Autopilot, it will even take over the steering, but David told me you should still keep your hands on the wheel.

David showed us how to navigate by pressing a huge screen and going to the map section. After he showed us that, we were ready to start driving. Shrey said the car was really cool, so that got me hyped up about it.

After that, David showed us how it could park itself. When the car finds a parking spot, it will pop up on the screen and ask you if you want to park there. If you say yes, it will park.

This car isn’t powered by energy from the sun. It’s just powered by a ton of batteries. You don’t have to use gas. All you have to do is find an outlet and plug it in and it will start charging. If you Supercharge the car, it will be full in as fast as 20 minutes.

My second favorite thing on the Model X is when you put it in Ludicrous Mode. You get to it by selecting the options on the screen. When you click on the selection, it will show you a kind of thing like hyperspace from Star Wars. Then when you drive, it will go a lot faster. So when David started driving, we put our heads back on the seats, and then we were going really fast and other people on the street didn’t even notice us. (That’s because there is no gas engine, so the car doesn’t make any noise.) I would think twice before crossing the street, if I saw a Tesla in the neighborhood.

I’m really energetic when I just sit around and I’m also a pitcher for the Huskies, our local travel baseball team. So after we finished the demonstration, Shrey and I took a break to act out the Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees. After that, we said goodbye to David and I headed to Coney Island with Shrey and my dad. The radio in the car is really good personally to me, because we got to listen to my favorite song “Lose Yourself” by Eminem on the way there.

As we were driving, we kept on asking my dad to do what David did and try Ludicrous Mode. But he kept saying no. (If any kids are reading: try to beg your parents to let you go fast in the car.)


TBH, the Hot New Anonymous-Gossip App, Is … Actually Nice?

TBH is the latest anonymous app sweeping the teen world.

Claire knows what her classmates think of her. A boy in the ninth grade at her high school in Massachusetts thinks she’s “so crafty she could build a house.” Another female classmate says she “looks like a snack.” A different guy describes Claire as “always fiending on that boba.” (Teens, man.) Claire’s got screenshots to prove these compliments — she just doesn’t know who any of them are from.

Welcome to TBH, short for “to be honest,” the latest anonymous-gossip app to emerge overnight as every teenager’s favorite app. “Last Sunday was the first time I heard of it,” Luci, a junior from Texas told Select All about the app’s sudden rise. “It got really popular overnight; it was weird! Almost everyone I know uses it now.” It’s currently the No. 1 free download in the Apple App Store — no small feat, considering TBH is only available in a limited number of states. And its secret is … kindness?

Like Sarahah, the megapopular anonymous-comment app that took over adolescents’ phones earlier this year, TBH allows users — mostly teenagers and young adults — to comment anonymously about their friends and peers. But unlike Sarahah or other infamous anonymous-comment apps (remember Yik Yak?), TBH is not a cesspit of toxic gossip and petty cruelty. In fact, it’s downright nice: The app only allows its users to say positive things about other users, a limitation that, believe it or not, only seems to make the app more popular.

The way the app works is simple: “You sign in with your first and last name. You select your school, gender, and grade. They have questions like ‘always nice to talk to’ and ‘going to win an Academy Award,’ and other nice things,” Claire explained. “You have four options [names of friends and classmates], and you click on one. When you are picked, it’s anonymous. You have no idea who picked you.” The questions — think 2017’s version of yearbook superlatives — are generated both by the TBH team and submitted from users.

TBH first launched at a single high school in Georgia in August, where 40 percent of the student body downloaded the app on the first day. The next day, they expanded the app to three more schools in the area to the same results. “Basically, every iPhone owner at the school downloaded it,” said a TBH spokesperson, who asked not to be named. (TBH is currently not available on Android.) Since then, the app has been released in nine states: Florida, Washington, Rhode Island, Texas, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, and California. (It’s also currently available in New York City as a test, but the app is working toward a statewide release very soon.) “I think at this point, over 25 percent of students in California have the app installed,” the spokesperson said, noting that the app has 2 million daily active users across the United States. “It seems to be the new rage … for now,” said Sharleen, a California senior.

A few screenshots from a teen TBH user.

TBH’s overnight success isn’t unfamiliar. Again, earlier this summer, Sarahah (the name loosely translates to honesty in Arabic) spread like crazy among teenagers. But unlike TBH, Sarahah was a free-for-all. Users could anonymously leave comments of any nature — which in practice means comments that are either “really nice or really mean,” as one 17-year-old user told me at the time. Female users in particular were targeted with bullying and overly sexual comments.

TBH is striving to be the anti-Sarahah. It’s heavily moderated to avoid harassment, and while I hesitate to call any app “woke,” TBH is definitely in that neighborhood. Superlatives submitted by users are vetted by the TBH team, which receives about 10,000 submissions per day. One percent of those make it to the app. “Sometimes they’re funny; sometimes they’re catty,” Luci said of the prompts, though the cattiness is always winking — the worst Luci could come up with was, “Always wins their drama,” a far cry from the cruelties of most anonymous comments.

“Anytime we get a complaint about a question, we remove it right away,” the spokesperson said. “We usually don’t deliberate too much; if it upsets someone, it’s gone.” The app offers a nonbinary option for users who don’t want to identify as a “boy” or “girl.” “I guess you could say it assumes everyone is bisexual,” Luci told me, when explaining that all prompts, including the flirty ones, are accompanied by mixed gender user choices.

Like Sarahah, part of using TBH takes place off of the app itself. Teens will screenshot the superlatives they receive — these are also visible to their friends on the TBH app in a News Feed — and upload them to their Snapchat or Instagram stories. “Part of the fun of anonymous apps is trying to get people to admit that it was them,” Luci explained, adding that nobody ever actually fesses up. “I posted one on my Snapchat because the question was, ‘Waiting for our first date,’ and I was like, ‘Reveal yourself, I’m waiting too.’”

Another reason users need a secondary app is because TBH currently has no way for users to communicate with each other. Which means they can’t discuss who received what TBHs, or speculate who sent them, from within the app. The lack of communication options definitely helps with the whole no-bullying thing, but isn’t super conducive to building a social platform. “We definitely will hint that something related to messaging is around the corner, but we won’t say anything more about what it is,” TBH told Select All.

The app is going to need some new features if TBH expects to maintain its status as the hottest thing in teen tech. Anonymous-compliment Facebook pages and apps, like Brighten, have come and gone, and though they’re nice while they last, users often lose interest. For better or worse, the lure of anonymous apps is the drama, and the potential for harassment that comes with said drama.

“It’s a temporary-use app like Pokémon Go or Ask.fm,” Madison, a junior, told me when I asked if she thought her friends would keep using TBH. “It’s not like Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter.” It’s worth noting that both Pokémon Go and Ask.fm are both actually still kicking, they’ve just lost their hype. “At the end of the day, everyone reverts back to their Snapchats, Twitters, and the few that are still really into Instagram,” Luci said. “These apps last around a week or two before someone finds an even more obscure, new form of social media.”