Office Hours: I am employee #1 at Brex. I'm Larissa Maranhao.Featured

Hi everyone! I am Larissa Maranhao, employee #1 at Brex. I earned my bachelor's degree in economics at Harvard University - I was the first in my state (Alagoas, Brazil) to go there.I was deeply involved in the early iterations of Brex, from early financial projections on startup spend, to spearheading sales, and building the company's customer support team -- including all of its events, content, programming and partnerships focused on our core early stage customers. Ask me anything about building startups, go to market, fintech, hypergrowth, community building, and more!
Thanks so much for joining us @LarissaMaranhao!Elphas โ€“ please ask @LarissaMaranhao your questions before Friday, November 6th. @LarissaMaranhao may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites ๐Ÿ”ฅ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿพโž•
Hi Larissa, it's so great to have you on Elpha! I'm employee #1 at a new startup and I would love to know more about creating and implementing a successful go-to-market strategy. Thank you!
Hi Koromone! I would say the most important thing in the beginning is to define your main value prop - and thus - initial target audience. You need to get that product market fit with this base, and then look for channels where you can find more customers with that profile. For Brex, in particular, the accelerator channel played a major role in the beginning and still does. We tested many channels included OOH (billboards), email outbound, online ads. What made the difference for us was building the infrastructure to measure the results and CAC (customer acquisition cost) of these channels accurately. That helps us understand our most efficient ones, how to better allocate our resources, and what to do double down on.
Thanks for the insightful response Larissa
Today is the day @LarissaMaranhao what a great role model you are!!!
Thank you, Lorena! So happy to have you here :)
Hi Larissa! Thank you so much! Can you give us some advice about looking at the customer journey with clients who are early adopters? What is the best type of support you can give them?
When it comes to the early adopters, you should create very open and frequent communication (if they are ok with this) to gather all of the input you can. There are ways you can ask for feedback and what features to build next without biasing the customer's answer. That was super important for us. Many assumptions we had about what our base might want changed after we actually spoke with early active users. I hope this helps :)
Hello @LarissaMaranhao! Thanks so much for doing this, it must be so exciting to be employee #1 at Brex! My question is, how did you find out about the opportunity? Did you know the founders? Did you apply on Angelist? Or did you just find Brex and think, i need to be a part of this?
Thank you for the question, Christina! so, I grew up in the northeast of Brazil, in a state called Alagoas. My family has been there producing sugar out of sugar cane since 1535 - when they first came from Portugal. Since I was very young I knew I wanted something a little different. I set myself the goal of studying Economics at Harvard when I was nine years old. During high school, through a program helping students in Brazil attend colleges in the United States, I met Pedro Franceschi and Henrique Dubugras (Brex co-founders) - who were applying to Stanford at the time and had founded a very successful Fintech in Brazil when they were only sixteen. During my senior year at Harvard, Henrique came to Boston for a conference, and we reconnected. At the time, I was interested in consumer goods companies and I didnโ€™t know much about tech. Henrique told me he and Pedro were dropping out of Stanford to start Brex and that they wanted me to join as the first employee. I met Henrique and Pedro pretty early on in life and knew from the start they were very talented entrepreneurs and very special people. The thought of starting something from scratch with them seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity.
What are the very first things did after closing funding, especially from the GTM perspective?
A few things we did included getting billboards in the Bay Area (which outperformed online ads by a lot AND were much cheaper). How did we measure impact of billboards you asked? We have an open field on our application that reads: how did you hear about Brex. Very insightful answers. We invested in better branding for the public launch in 2018. And we allowed ourselves to test different channels that we hadn't before - being very careful to build the infrastructure needed to track well how these were performing. Thank you for the question!
Hi @LarissaMaranhao !Thank you for doing this, I would love to learn more about your experience as I too am employee #1 at a fantastic startup.My questions are:What was the biggest challenge/struggle you faced while being a part of a startup and how did you overcome this? as well as how did you create a successful go-to-market strategy?โ€จโ€จThank you!
Sometimes, when you are at a fast growing startup, your role (and even direction) can change pretty quickly. To me it was a challenge to keep up with the level of skill and expertise the company needed in the beginning. I started coming to people who had already scaled a key area of a somewhat similar company successfully. Learning directly from them was really helpful to achieve a much steeper learning curve quickly. Especially when it came to GTM and customer support.
Hi @LarissaMaranhao!Curious about what are your top 3 tips about how to build partnerships?Nitty-gritty, super practical lessons/tactics to "select" partners, initiate contact, build the relationship etc?
Thank you Silvia!(1) Even if you don't have any contact at a company or org you want to partner with, leverage your investors and even close friends on linkedin to find someone in the target partner org that could intro you to the right point of contact there. It is typically more effective than just cold emailing someone. (2) It is SUPER important that your partners understand well the value prop of your product. So make sure to spend a good amount of time showing a demo, allowing them to ask questions etc. The more they truly understand what your product is about, the more they will know how to promote its benefits to their base! Don't assume that everyone knows everything about your company :) (3) Start simple! Don't fall on the trap of complicated product integrations off-the-bat when it comes to GTM partnerships. Start with email referrals for example, with simple one-pagers, assets that can get a partnership started without major lifts in the beginning. Get more integrated and more complex as the partnership proves itself for both sides :) Hope this helps!
Hey @LarissaMaranhao, thanks for being willing to share your experiences! Who were your first five hires at Brex, and is there anything you would do differently the next time around?
Hi Bianca, I am glad you asked this question because whenever people ask us โ€œHow did you guys grow so much so fast?โ€ there is always one answer that comes to mind first: the approach we took hiring our executive team. From the very beginning: Henrique and Pedro were second-time fintech founders. They started Pagar.Me in Brazil when they were sixteen. The company was later acquired by Stone - which IPOed in 2018. Both Henrique and Pedro taught themselves how to code from a young age so they both had a strong technical background. Pedro was able to build the entire initial code of Brex from scratch by himself. Henrique stopped coding as the first company was growing but developed an unmatched ability to sell anything to anyone. The Payments system in the United States, however, was a whole new โ€“ and much scarier โ€“ animal. We knew we needed โ€œproโ€ help in finance and compliance so the search for our earliest team members began. We needed to find people who had done it all before and were willing to do it again with us under the promise they would own a good share of what could become really big. Several interviews and countless hours later we finally found our CFO and our General Council. Michael was the Chief Revenue Office at Fintech Titan SoFi and managed its entire P&L from the point of โ€˜startupโ€™ to the point of โ€˜scaleโ€™. Vince was the second lawyer at Stripe. There he built and scaled a robust compliance org โ€“ crucial stepping stone to building the $35B Stripe we know today. Michael and Vince were opposite personalities of a similar story: two talented executives who built and scaled a key organization within a very successful tech company. We were hoping they would be instrumental in taking Brex from point โ€˜Aโ€™ (startup) to point โ€˜Bโ€™ (scale) as well. As quickly and as seamless as possible. And this is just what they did. This is a key characteristic of our early team.
Hi Larissa! What's a key lesson you learned when building out the company's early customer support team and what would you do differently the second time around?
To me it was very helpful to speak with tons of people who had started and scaled successful support orgs before. I learned a lot from them. If I were to do something over, I would have worked to automate a few processes faster - to scale the team more efficiently. Thank you for the question!
Olรก from another fellow Brazilian! Super proud to see a Brazilian Women making history :).One question that pops up: how do you see your influence as a woman in shaping the company to be a diverse and inclusive place.
Amazing, Angela :) I have the privilege of being chair of Women at Brex. Our mission is to create an accessible and supportive community for women and allies at our company through education, ongoing development, and execution of ideas that positively impacts current and future women that work at Brex or are customers of Brex.We work to create avenues to encourage and develop Women leaders first at Brex and then amongst our customers and in the fintech community. We facilitate opportunities for networking and career development, mentorship, financial literacy, etc. We are hosting Professor Margaret Neale next Monday (9th) to speak to us on the challenges and surprising opportunities when women negotiate. If any of you is interested, please shoot us a message at [email protected], and we will add you to the link. It should be a great session!Would love to hear from you of any initiatives you have seen work very well in other spaces :)
Larissa, What types of resources or knowledge gave you the confidence to be a successful employee #1 as opposed to another person with more years of experience?Thanks in advance from a '19 alum!Best,Caitlin
Thank you for the question, Caitlin :) I would say the two things that helped me the most were: (1) Stay humble: be willing to take on any role, and never view a task as too low for you to engage.(2) Become very strong in a few core areas very quickly: To this end, do not limit yourself to the knowledge within the company but look beyond. Develop relationships with people in similar roles at companies in similar stages. Learn what worked for them when they were at your stage, and apply that learning in how you are working and making decisions.
Hi Larissa! Thanks for doing this AMA. Iโ€™m currently kind of employee #1 (intern building their tech platform with room to grow) at a startup and Iโ€™m still in college. Thatโ€™s why Iโ€™m particularly interested in your experience. As employee #1, how did you decide to join the cofounders to build Brex? Did you feel like you were risking a โ€œsaferโ€ job?Also, what would you say is the most important thing to consider when building a community? Especially one we want to grow naturally and not be forced.Thanks again! ๐Ÿ™‚
Ola @LarissaMaranhao :) I am also Brazilian from Belo Horizonte. I don't have any particular question but I just want to say that I feel very proud when I see another Brazilian in tech! Abracos
Olรก! Super happy to see more Brazilians here.
Thank you so much for the kind words Sylvia and Angela! :)
Hi @LarissaMaranhao, Can you share us your experience with building the community at Brex? What was critical key metrics? why those? Which tools you use (and would recommend) to measure? What went wrong? and what went right? Any mistakes or essential event(s) or indicator(s) that you can share with us? Maybe an A-ha moment? I can imagine you must be working closely with the founders of Brex; what do you think are the qualities and must-haves attitudes for founders?
Thank you for the great questions, Ivana. To give you some context, our co-founders came up with the idea of Brex when they were looking for a corporate credit card and got turned down by every bank. Similarly, we started our community initiatives when we searched for "how to set up payroll for your startup" very early on and couldn't find a good answer online that was a good fit for us. We then decided to document our learnings as we grew and to share with our base in the form of blogposts, events, and workshops. Companies were very interested in our content. Which, by the way, leaving our blog link here: track engagement on the different content, take suggestions, and try to be very current and relevant always. Brex was one of the first startups to report on concrete changes in the VC environment for exemple, right at the beginning of the lockdown. We also measure the rate of new participants AND returning participants at our events :) I think that our community efforts add value to the companies we serve and to the broader tech community because - just as it is true for our product - we felt the pains we are solving for. I hope this is helpful!
Thank you @LarissaMaranhao! When you joined Brex, how many customers did they have? How hard was it to convince first customers to open accounts on Brex? How did manage to convince them? Once again, thank you so much for sharing <3