A transient state of the excess electron in liquid water preceding the development of the solvation shell, the so-called wet electron, has been invoked to explain spectroscopic observations, but its binding energy and atomic structure have remained highly elusive. Here, we carry out hybrid functional molecular dynamics to unveil the ultrafast solvation mechanism leading to the hydrated electron. In the pre-hydrated regime, the electron is found to repeatedly switch between a quasi-free electron state in the conduction band and a localized state with a binding energy of 0.26 eV, which we assign to the wet electron. This transient state self-traps in a region of the liquid which extends up to similar to 4.5 angstrom and involves a severe disruption of the hydrogen-bond network. Our picture provides an unprecedented view on the nature of the wet electron, which is instrumental to understanding the properties of this fundamental species in liquid water.