Henrique Dubugras is Co-Founder & CEO of Brex — the first of its kind credit card for startups. A Brazilian entrepreneur, Henrique built payments company Pagar.me — the Stripe of Brazil — when he was sixteen years old. In just three years, Pagar.me grew to $1.5 billion in volume of transactions processed. Prior to Pagar.me, Henrique built a number of online businesses in Brazil including an online education company and an online dating application. His first engineering role was at Ingresse, a Brazilian online events management company, at the age of 14.
In the fall of 2016, Henrique sold Pagar.me and moved to Palo Alto to start his freshman year studying computer science at Stanford University. After eight months, he left school and moved to San Francisco to co-found Brex. Dubugras took a moment to update the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center on his journey as a founder so far.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
HD: Entrepreneurship is identifying problems and opportunities in the economy and building practical businesses and processes to solve these market problems.
How did your company come to be?
HD: While living in Brazil as teenagers, my co-founder Pedro and I met on Twitter while arguing whether Emacs or vim is a better editor (Emacs won). We stayed in touch and found a shared interest in tech and programming, not to mention a mutual frustration with collecting payments from our several ventures together. So, when we were 16 years old, Pedro and I started Pagar.me to solve our problems, which quickly became known as the Stripe of Brazil.
Pedro and I loved working together at Pagar.me — it was our first big test and the beginning of a partnership that’s spanned two continents and the majority of our lives. After selling Pagar.me in 2016, Pedro and I decided Silicon Valley was our next stop. We figured Stanford would be the best way to get our foot in the door, so we enrolled, moved to the states, met the right people and left school to join Y Combinator.
It was while we were there that we realized we had a similar problem to a lot of our peers – we weren’t able to qualify for a credit card, no matter how much money we had in the bank. So we decided to start Brex to solve the unrecognized needs of startups. One year and $57M in funding later, we launched and already have over 1,000 customers and counting.
What is the biggest experience or lesson gained on your journey so far?
HD: When my co-founder and I raised our first ever round of funding for our startup Pagar.me in Brazil, I was concerned we got tricked into a bad deal. Initially, I thought we didn’t raise enough and thought it might affect our ability to grow at the scale we wanted; I thought our investor screwed us over. In reality, the guidance and mentorship we got from him were more valuable to us than we could have ever imagined.
He taught me everything I know today about how to build a company, how to hire employees, etc. He brought us in on fundraise pitches and showed us the ins and outs of building a company. I credit my management philosophy and leadership skills to him and wouldn’t be where I am today without his guidance.
How is your company changing the landscape?
HD: Traditional financial services are stuck in the past; they have systems in place that have worked for decades but don’t work for 21st century startups. They’ve typically focused on small businesses or big corporations, but don’t fulfill the needs of startups today.
Brex makes it possible for entrepreneurs to get corporate cards quickly and easily. We’ve rebuilt the tech stack from the ground up to create a card that bypasses the problems of legacy banking systems, can be acquired quickly, has far greater functionality than traditional cards, and is much simpler to manage.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
HD: I wish I had known how much leverage we could get by hiring talented people. In Brazil, we had talented people of course, but the startup and tech ecosystem is much smaller, so there is not this great bench of talent for people who have scaled technology organizations before. If I could do it over again, I would have looked for more of those people earlier.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business?
HD: One thing I believe in wholeheartedly is doing things the right way, not the fast way. Silicon Valley has this tendency of building things as fast as you can, but, at Brex, we’re building for the long term. Instead of rushing to market, we took a full year to build our tech the right way and the systems we’ve put in place will last for many years to come.
Our mission at Brex is simple: make credit cards work for startups. We’re creating a new era of innovation in financial services that integrates software, regulation, and finance.
What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
HD: Pedro and I have a very unique relationship that’s not like many other co-founders I know. From the moment we started Pagar.me together in Brazil at 16 years old, we knew we’d work together for a long time.
We always promised each other that no matter what happens, we will always put our relationship first. No matter what we’re working on, it’s the fact that we’re building it together that’s most special to us and really sets us apart from all the other companies out there. People warn against doing business with family and friends, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without Pedro by my side and I know he’d say the same.
With that being said, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that all friends go into business with one another. Instead, I’d advise founders to prioritize and value relationships with your team. I place a huge emphasis on building a strong culture with people I believe in and people I know will work hard for the company and others should absolutely do the same.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
HD: I ask my mentors who have had similar experiences to the challenges that I face. I am lucky to have formed strong relationships with senior leaders and mentors both in Brazil and through my journey at Brex.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
HD: Anyone can come up with a good idea, but it’s the people that run the company that make it successful. To achieve success, you need to be surrounded by the right people working towards the same long-term vision.
Just because you joined early, doesn’t mean you deserve to make more than anyone else at the company and it doesn’t mean you’re more invested in the mission than anyone else. You need to hire ambitious people who are invested in the mission and pay them well from the get-go. They won’t cash out when they have a lot of money, they won’t feel forced to stay for a certain period of time, and they’ll be invested in making products that they won’t need to recreate in six months. If you hire ambitious people, they will want to keep doing what you hire them to do – regardless of the money they’ve already made – and make better products in the end.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
HD: My proudest moment was launching the first self-signup credit card where you can go straight to a website and complete a credit card application in 5 minutes or less and then get a card instantly. A low point was overhyping a new hire and putting too many expectations on that person, and then disappointing myself, my team and the new hire when it did not work out.
What lesson did 2018 have for you? What do you look forward to in 2019?
HD: In 2018 I learned to focus and find product market fit among our narrow customer base of early stage technology companies. This focus was critical to our early success. I look forward to broadening our customer profile in 2019.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
HD: I am Brazilian so I appreciate a long lunch. Even during the busiest times I still find the opportunity to sit down and have a proper lunch – not just a sandwich or some salad scarfed down like many Americans seem to love.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
HD: I want to be known for building a great, successful and profitable company with a team around me that I love and who is excited to be changing the world together.