My co-founders and I learned about Venmo and thought it was amazing. Every millennial needed it, and we thought that Brazilians would need it as well.
We went back to Brazil, hired developers to prepare a Venmo-like solution, but we didn’t have any traction. We started to talk to friends to figure out why people were not using our app. That’s when we learned that Brazilians needed more than just Venmo. They needed a complete financial solution.
The financial system in Brazil is very poor, lagging. Payment services are expensive. In 2016, the number of underbanked people in Brazil was a huge percentage of the population — more than 50% did not have access to a bank account, or even if they did, they had a lot of limitations to access to actually be able to use their bank account. Also, 90% of the population relies on cash.
So, we pivoted our solution and prepared a digital bank for the underbanked and unbanked people in Brazil. Our target was people who don’t have access to a bank account, but they needed to do basic daily transactions. They needed to pay their bills, transfer money. They were receiving their wages in cash.
That’s how we became even more passionate about the solution. When you’re dealing with an underlying cause around it, rather than just facilitating payments between friends, it’s way more interesting.
It was still hard to grow — getting to market, getting to the people and getting the people to actually use the solution. One of the strategies that we used was follow the money. So, how do people get paid, and what do they need to do to receive that money?
We started to build directly to the employer. We said instead of directly paying your employees with cash, why don’t you tell your employees to download our app and then pay them through our app?
We started issuing what we called salary cards, where the employer would pay the employee through these prepaid cards. This enabled the employer to not pay money transfer fees or need to deal with large amounts of cash. There was also automation where we would pay all of their employees. The employees would then have access to the online economy, and they could pay their bills online.
All of these fintechs are fostering the conversation with the Central Bank and regulators to deregulate the industry and to enable customers to have better experiences than they have with traditional banks.
Not only do they have better access to banks, but they also get cheaper and better services since they don’t have to go to a branch anymore. That’s huge for an unbanked or underbanked person who needed to spend 30 minutes to an hour in the line of a bank just to get their bills paid on time.
The great thing about the Zell Fellows is it doesn’t prepare you to run your business. It prepares you to be an entrepreneur, regardless of your business. I am an entrepreneur, even though I am not acting right now, because I have all the skill sets and toolkits that I developed in the program.
The classes I took on negotiations were also very important for our deal because I knew the terms that I needed to watch for, and I knew how to conduct the negotiations. During the past year, I reached out to some professors, and they were really open about discussing the terms and having brainstorming sessions with me.
Engaging in competitions also helped our business. We were able to raise more than $30,000 through those competitions, so that was a resource that was really important for us, especially during the last year.
One of the questions I get a lot is, “Why did you choose to do an MBA while you were an entrepreneur?”
I knew I was going to have access to resources. Through Kellogg, I got access to a lot of VC connections, potential investors, clients and partnerships. Having an MBA while you’re an entrepreneur might not seem like a logical decision, but if you think carefully about the opportunities and the doors that it opens to you, it actually makes a lot of sense.