Wagner Ruiz, CFO e co-Founder do EBANX.
Wagner Ruiz, CFO e co-Founder do EBANX. Foto: Brunno Covello

"Now the challenge is to keep growing. Because we can't stop," says the cofounder of EBANX, the new Latin American unicorn

In an interview with LABS, CFO Wagner Ruiz details the journey of the Brazilian fintech that is shifting the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem in southern Brazil

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Last week, Latin America gained a new unicorn: the Brazilian startup EBANX. Unlike other unicorns in the country that offer services already known to the general public, the company from Curitiba is dedicated to an almost invisible stage to the final consumer, but essential for international e-commerce to become increasingly popular among Brazilians.

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In an AliExpress purchase, is thanks to EBANX that Brazilians do not need an international card to complete the transaction and may opt for the boleto bancário. When renting a place on Airbnb, it is thanks to EBANX that Brazilians can split their expenses and make a trip fit in their budget. And by paying a monthly Spotify subscription, it’s the name of EBANX that figures on the payment methods.

“Giving access, in particular, is a personal mission,” says Wagner Ruiz, CFO and EBANX co-founder. And a personal mission for Ruiz, also shared by the other two founders of the company, has become the mission of over 700 company employees. EBANX exists to give Latin Americans access to all of these international products and services that were previously restricted for those with an international credit card. 

Alphonse Voigt, Wagner Ruiz, and João Del Valle, EBANX’S founders.

Latin American DNA

A solution that was designed from the very beginning to solve a Latin American problem, EBANX didn’t just surf the wave of creating an easily scalable product in the region, but also had to face all the challenges of starting from zero in an emergent and volatile market.

The great opportunity is also the great struggle we have. In fact, either to do things in Latin America and to sell in Latin America, what lacks is understanding

Wagner Ruiz, EBANX’S CFO and co-founder

“EBANX came to address a problem that was easier to solve with the view of who is in Latin America, it would be much harder for a foreigner to come to Brazil to do the same thing,” says Ruiz, but adds that even so, the journey was marked by ups and downs, “we started EBANX imagining that the growth curve would be very fast. And in the first year, it wasn’t.”

With three Brazilian partners, Brazil was naturally the company’s first country, but expanding horizons to solve Latin America’s problems as a whole has always been the main goal. In this sense, it was necessary to go beyond the universe of payments and overcome the cultural barrier. “Each one has a culture and, in order to do business specifically with Latin Americans, you need to respect how their culture works,” he says.

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And it was during the 2015-2016 period that EBANX decided to deep dive into the understanding of Latin American culture, “it was a learning period, it was the first time I felt like a gringo,” he reveals.

Some of the lessons learned at the moment has been guiding strategies adopted by the company until now, and pointed by the CFO as directly related to the success achieved by the now unicorn, such as having a team of natives working in each of the Latin American countries. The intention is that the product offered in each country is not thought by Brazilians thinking it is enough for all Latin Americans, but rather thought by natives to solve real problems and able to really understand each market. “What we are trying to do differently is to bring people with feeling, local knowledge and who know each culture,” he explains.

“This thing that we always talk about – breaking the barriers – it’s not just about payments. It’s about understanding, culture, and we are talking about a single platform. We put understanding on a single platform”, says Ruiz.

By mentioning the term cross-border – so common to the fintech’s reality and routine – Ruiz is keen to unveil the concept far beyond cross-border payment processing. For him, creating the bridges that connect Latin American consumers to global business is more than making payments possible. More than a technical concept – it is a holistic concept. It is to solve any obstacles that arise in this journey – whether crossing barriers of language, culture or behavior. It is the embodiment of what Ruiz’s personal mission is – as well as EBANX’s global mission: access.

EBANX currently provides access to global business for Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.

The achievements

Looking at the powerful brands that are part of EBANX’s portfolio or even the $2 billion in TPV forecasted for 2019 may not give the real scale of the challenges the company has so far overcome.

In 2012, EBANX was a small startup with three partners, no significant international merchants, and a very clear and ambitious target: to win the trust of AliExpress, the largest international e-commerce in the Brazilian market. But the journey was no easy task, “we had the problem of being a new business model, the problem of being very young as a company. How could a merchant trust a small company of three partners in the south of Brazil, outside the Rio-São Paulo axis? It was a matter of trust.”

In one of the most striking chapters in the company’s history, the turning point came when the startup first managed to deliver a product that went beyond payments, but also delivered what international sites couldn’t do for their consumers: customer support in the local language. For AliExpress to enter the portfolio, the presentation of the sector called Customer Services, dedicated to assisting Brazilian consumers and solving doubts about their purchases in Chinese e-commerce, was decisive. Since then, this relationship has evolved, developed and the Alibaba group cross-border operations continue to be one of the company’s main clients. But in addition to bringing a volume of processing, AliExpress also resolved the company’s reliability issue in front of the market. “When we had the first contract with Alibaba, it was very remarkable, because all that changed,” says the co-founder.

And the brand wasn’t the only important partner EBANX found along its way. Ruiz also highlights two other names that were part of the remarkable moments of the company. The first of these is Endeavor, a New York-based entrepreneurship support organization, which accepted EBANX in its portfolio as the organization’s smallest starting position. Now, EBANX is already the largest of them all.

Endeavor changed our view about where we were going

Wagner Ruiz, EBANX’S CFO and co-founder

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The second name is, precisely, FTV Capital: a US investment firm responsible for the fundraising that made EBANX a unicorn and the firm that has been following the fintech’s path since 2012, although it has only effectively injected funds into the Brazilian startup in 2017. “It was the first deal that we did and it was very remarkable, because we understand that it would make sense beyond just the investment. It was smart money, someone who would help in governance, contacts, clients and even hiring.”

FTV was the ideal partner, and even that two years later, we have talked to a lot of people in the market for this operation [unicorn], it made a lot of sense that we did it with FTV itself

Wagner Ruiz, EBANX’S CFO and co-founder

The company’s latest achievement was a $1 billion market valuation, but in addition to being a personal achievement for the founders, this was also a milestone for the city of Curitiba, considering that EBANX was the first Brazilian unicorn outside the Rio-São Paulo axis. “It’s a big accomplishment for us,” says Wagner Ruiz about becoming the first $1 billion company in southern Brazil. “Nowadays, we see Curitiba changing, generally speaking, and we think we are contributing to this.”

View from EBANX’s headquarter located in one of the most traditional office centers in Curitiba

In addition to creating jobs for about 500 people working in the headquarters of the city-based company, EBANX also targets efforts to encourage the city’s cultural production and development as a whole. One of the most striking initiatives of the company in this segment is the EBANX Regina Vogue Theater which before the company’s sponsorship was already one of the best known cultural spaces in the city and now has the support of the fintech to move forward.

The future and the next challenges

EBANX’s office in Curitiba

Currently, in addition to the goal of reaching a $2 billion TPV by 2019, the company already has a 40% growth target set for 2020. But what may seem like a very ambitious projection considering the milestones achieved by the company, for Wagner Ruiz, is a well-established plan. 

The cross-border operations will continue to be the core of the company, but that doesn’t mean we will not hear any more news about it. On the contrary: new strategies are already underway, such as the restructuring of the sales team. “At the beginning of the year we had Henrik Nilsmo hired as the CCO who set up a team overseas, that is, we have people in China, London, and the US today. We have already seen this profit and much of next year’s growth will be from that investment. “

In addition, the representativeness of Latin American countries to the company’s overall results is also one of the major pillars of growth. Brazil currently accounts for 85% of the payment processing generated by EBANX, while the remaining 15% comes from Latin American countries and the company is willing to use the maturity already gained from cross-border experience to change this game on the next year. “The idea is that Brazil represents 50% and that the other Latam countries represent the other 50%”, reveals the CFO.

But not only of cross-border EBANX is made, the unicorn already has another major asset: processing local payments. Initially focused on the Brazilian market, the new model is one of the great promises for the coming months, “when we decided to start, it made sense to start with Brazil, which is the most competitive but also the most mature from a regulatory and competitive point of view. But the idea has always been to replicate the model in the other countries where we operate, so we do not call the project here within the company “Brazilian Payments”, but there is a question of also respecting the timing of each country,” explains Ruiz, adding that Colombia will be the second country where they will address local payment processing.

Truth is that EBANX’s story is full of twists and predicting the next act is not an easy mission even for those who created this universe. Despite this, Wagner Ruiz has a great certainty that sums up the spirit of the company: “we can’t stop”.