We’re continuing our series of interviews with the latest class of Dave McClure’s world famous 500 startups. One of the reasons we love 500 startups is because of McClure’s commitment to startups in and outside of the valley. Sure the top secret lair and command center for 500 startups is based in the valley but McClure targets startups anywhere and everywhere. He’s also known for his geeks on a plane startup events that are literally all over the world.
Fitting right into McClure’s rockstar requirements is a mobile payments startup from Brazil called UniPay. Mobile Payments definitely aren’t new. Brazilian startups aren’t new either, however when you put them both together it does become a new concept. This is partially because credit card payments in Brazil are a beast in themselves. Unipay’s co-founder Tahiana D’Egmont tells us in the interview below that because of bureaucracy, high fees and an ambivalence with trust that runs in the Brazilian culture, electronic payments are a tough nut to crack.
UniPay is addressing the needs of those smaller merchants that don’t have access to credit card processing. If Payfirma is the “Square” for Canada, than UniPay is aiming to become the Square for Brazil.
Check out our interview with D’Egmont below. She tells us all about UniPay but she also tells us about Brazilian startup culture. One of the things we found most interesting is that most Brazilians are deathly scared of their ideas being stolen, and “fail fast” doesn’t work in Brazil, just yet because Brazilians are afraid of failure.
Read the interview below, D’Egmont does remind us that she’s new to the states and he’s still learning English.
What is UniPay?
UniPay is a mobile payment platform initially focused in Brazil. Accepting credit cards in Brazil is a hard process: lots of bureaucracy, takes a long time to set it all up (merchant account, documentation etc) and the fees are high, specially because you have to pay a rent and management fee for the POS. We take the hassle out of accepting credit cards and that’s appealing specially to independent professionals and small shops.
A lot of people don’t know it but Brazil is already the 6th largest economy in the world and it has a very strong cellphone penetration (194 million people x 258 million cell phones). The public is very opened to digital products: Brazil is the 2nd most active country on Twitter and Facebook, for example. So there’s a big opportunity and the mobile payment market is still untapped, which is great for us.
Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?
The company has been founded by me, Mayara Campos and Sergio Costa.
As for me (Tahiana D’Egmont – CEO & Co-Founder) I started working with the Internet when I was 15 and was involved in several aspects of online businesses throughout my career but specially online marketing. I co-founded Mentez, which became the largest social gaming publisher in Brazil and we also had a spin off called Paymentez (a payment platform for virtual goods). I was also Chief Marketing Officer for Vostu, a large social gaming developer with a focus in Brazil as well.
Mayara Campos (Chief Product Officer & Co-Founder) was Mentez #1 employee and grew to become an important executive there as the Product Director. She was responsible for big social game hits in Brazil that had over 30 millions active users and millions of revenue too. She also co-founded an e-wallet for virtual goods in the past and brings a lot to the table as she does design, UI/UX and is just amazing at customer development and translating market needs into digital products.
Sergio Costa (CTO & Co-Founder) was previously a co-founder of BRPay. Acquired by UOL (Brazil’s largest portal), BRPay became “PagSeguro” and is the leading payment platform in Brazil – much like what PayPal is in the US. He has also been a CTO at another payment platform in the past.
Where are you based?
We’re based in São Paulo – SP, Brazil but come from different states. I am from Rio de Janeiro – RJ, Sergio is from Guarapari – ES and Mayara is actually from São Paulo.
We’re currently in Mountain View though being accelerated at 500 Startups and that’s a rich and fun experience to have!
What is the startup culture like where you are based?
To be honest the culture is still shy. Even though Brazilians are super friendly they’re not used to exposing their ideas and are afraid of sharing information because of competition. Failure is not well accepted and we still need more cases of success to be promoted so other people feel comfortable taking the risk.
All of that has been changing in a fast pace though: the media in general is talking more about entrepreneurship and that makes it more visible as an option for the population. There are more and more entrepreneurship events and meet ups being put together and more funds are going to Brazil because of its size and growing economy. I think what we need more is entrepreneurs who have been successful in the past investing and mentoring the younger generation so we can start a more productive cycle in that sense.
What problem does your startup solve?
Allowing independent professionals to accept credit card is the main one. The direct sales market in Brazil, for example, is worth 25 billion dollars in 2012. Those sales people usually trust others to pay them later (which leads to failure of paying in lots of cases) or take cash that is hard to account for. Our mobile app will allow them to accept credit cards right away and also keep track of payments they receive by cash or check. We will also have a lot of advantages for end users and will expand the options for our clients to promote themselves using our mobile platform.
What is one challenge that you’ve overcome in the startup process?
We had just launched a platform that allows users to create mobile apps very easily and we decided to switch focus to UniPay. That was a hard decision because we’re basically starting from scratch in the middle of a highly profiled acceleration program (500 Startups), but this type of thing only makes you stronger and makes you want to execute more, faster and better
Who are your mentors and role models?
Bedy Yang, a 500 Startups venture partner is an amazing mentor to us. She knows a lot about the Brazilian market and at the same time she’s extremely well connected at Silicon Valley, but the main help she gives us is ongoing support on a daily basis to show her what we’re doing, what we’re iterating on and get her take on it. We have another mentor who doesn’t like to be named but is a very successful entrepreneur in Brazil: he gives us tons of advice and opens so many doors it’s amazing. That’s also the reason why we picked both of them to be our first investors.
In terms of role models we really like the founders of BuscaPé (a Brazilian startup acquired by Naspers for US$342 million in 2009) because they survived through the bubble and kept on delivering results which is always much better than just a valuation. Steve Jobs is also clearly a role model to us: his ability to make and market products who are well designed (in the broader sense) for the public. The 37Signals founders also strike as role models to us more in terms of their company culture and product vision.
Whats one thing the world doesn’t know about you or your startup?
I guess we’re really transparent in general. The one thing they might not know is that even though we’re Brazilians we don’t really play soccer or dance samba (at least, not in public as we’d completely embarrass ourselves).
What’s next for UniPay?
We’re soft launching our product for a very limited number of partners still in November and will be ready to open it to the Brazilian public in January. We’re excited about all the response we’ve been getting from big and small partners we’ve been speaking with, it’s really amazing!