Larissa is Employee No. 1 at Brex, a partner* of FFA.
Tell us about the professional journey that took you where you are today. What major lessons did you learn along the way?
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 different and 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 didn’t know much about tech. Henrique told me him 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. When I joined Brex in June 2017, the company still had no customers and no broad infrastructure. Consequently, my role was, in short, everything. This involved creating, improving, and implementing fundamental procedures across all functions. I started by focusing on some financial projections, then a project on regulation, then recruiting for technical talent, then sales, then customer support (an org I created and scaled to 8 people), I then went on to partnerships, marketing, and business development.
Some of my biggest learnings along the way 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.
(3) Be clear on objectives and key results: We began implementing more rigorous frameworks around these guarantees and internal communications after a year at Brex. Quantifying, articulating, and understanding the explicit goals and evaluation metrics of each major task is crucial to effective coordination.
(4) Create a culture of open and transparent feedback and ensure it is two-sided: Even managers should ask their teams explicitly for feedback they are afraid to share. Recognizing human tendencies to solely compliment and integrating processes and values that encourage more open discussions significantly accelerate improvement.
(5) Think of unconventional ways to reach your goals: When starting Brex, Henrique and Pedro wanted Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal, to be an early investor. Of course, it was very difficult to get in touch with him through standard channels, so the Brex founders applied to a technical internship program at PayPal where it was rumored that Max would be the final interviewer. Through this process – and even before they actually got to the final stage – Henrique and Pedro were finally able to meet Max and to bring him onboard as one of Brex’s first investors.
(6) Most importantly, always remember that you are just as important as anyone else in the room, on your team, and in the firm. Do not shy away from opportunities because you lose faith in your qualifications. Speak up, push back, raise your hand, and create your seat at the table.
What motivates you?
Helping founders achieve their full potential. I believe that entrepreneurship is the rails through which ideas make the world a better place. And I work everyday so that more companies can get off the white board and go to market with their innovative products.
At Brex, this means saving these companies a lot of time and money by offering a Corporate Card and Cash Account that is easy to get, easy to use, and that comes with the most competitive rewards in the market.
Aside from our core, we also work to share knowledge on building a company from the ground up through our blog, webinars, and partner talks.
The idea to do that came from our own need. When we were first starting Brex, we googled things like “how to set up payroll for your startup” and didn’t really find good answers online. As we were figuring these out, we documented everything along the way so we could help early stage companies.
Who are your role models and why?
My biggest role model is the Brazilian businessman and investor Jorge Paulo Lemann. In 1989, he bought a brewery in Brazil that operated quite inefficiently, made it the number one in the country, and eventually in all South America.
A few years and a lot of hard work later, Jorge Paulo and his team took the company to a global scale and acquired the titan Budweiser. They also went on to acquire brands like Kraft Heinz and Burger King.
Today, at 81, he spends most of his time working to improve education and opportunities for young people in Brazil. He also dedicates a lot of time to learning about the latest technologies, developments in public health, and anything else that interests him and keeps him up to date to this ever changing world. Jorge Paulo and his story inspires me everyday to dream big, to pay forward, and to always have a growth mindset.
What does a typical day look like for you?
The first thing I do in the morning is read the news. This is a habit I learned from my mother early on and never put aside. My favorite news sources are The Economist, TechCrunch, and the WSJ. I then make myself a caramel latte and use the first hours of the morning for deep thinking work such as writing and reviewing decision documents (yes, every important decision at Brex is discussed and defined in written format!). After that, I spend 50% of my time in internal meetings, making sure my team has the resources it needs to succeed, documenting and improving processes, and getting cross-functional support to take our projects forward. The other 50% of my time is spent in external meetings. with partners, and with our community of founders.
What do you wish founders knew about before meeting you?
I really enjoy connecting with founders. Especially with female founders. I used a lot of help when I was just starting at Brex. For example, when I was building our support team from the ground up, I connected with people who had built a support org at successful startups before. I am very grateful about the help I received and I always look for ways to pay it forward.
What are the major trends you are seeing in your space?
It is very interesting to see tech companies’ approach to remote work. Brex announced recently that we will be a remote-first company from now on. A very interesting trend I see is companies trying to “clone the internet” – meaning, copying formats of communication, engagement, and community building that already work very well in the online world, and replicating that to the context of a company.
Some examples of it are the way gaming forums are structured, the amazing capacity of youtube channels to distribute content to a massive base of followers, etc. Instead of taking what used to work at an office setting and trying to replicate it online, the most innovative companies are looking at what already works online and trying to adapt it to the needs and functions of their orgs.
What are you most excited about these days?
After all of these months of lockdown, things in my hometown in Brazil are finally getting a little better. This means I can come home for a bit and spend time with my family – who I haven’t seen since the Holidays. I am very excited to do that.
Anything else you want our readers to know?
I have a piece of advice that I think can help early stage founders – especially during this time of so much uncertainty.
The other day, I was chatting with a friend about how much it sucks to get a ‘No’ from a VC (or multiple VCs) and he shared an interesting perspective. We don’t take these ‘No’s” lightly, but we should. VCs have to say ‘No’ 90% if not 99% of the time. So every time you walk into a room with your pitch deck, your odds of getting a check are by default lower than 10%.
In addition to that, no matter how experienced an investor may be, nobody can know every single detail about every single industry out there to make a perfect judgement call on all ideas they see. Consecrated VCs can and will say ‘No’ to great businesses each year and ‘Yes’ to many that end up failing.
The ‘No’ you should be worried about is not the one coming from potential investors, but the one coming from your users. They are the only ones who can validate or disproof your idea and that is who you should listen to. When you have a ‘yes’ from your base, you have product market fit. That is the single most important thing you can get in the early days. The rest – until then – is noise.
*Brex is extending special access to companies that are part of the FFA community. For these companies, the minimum cash balance required to qualify for Brex as a self funded company is now just $10,000 (previously $100,000). Use this link for $100 in statement credits + waived fees for life.