Spotlight on Larissa Maranhão
Meet Larissa Maranhão: The first employee with Brex, Larissa has led the company through major milestones including recruitment of an international team and development of customer relationships.
Rachel Leigh Gross: What has your entrepreneurial journey looked like, leading up to becoming Brex’s first employee?
LM: My whole family has been involved with the production of sugar in Brazil, and so I broke the cycle to go after my goals. I had a dream to study economics at Harvard since I was nine years old and worked towards that during my school days. After pushing myself academically, I was accepted at Harvard and started down the path of organizing entrepreneurial events and conferences. I had been involved with some major events that lead me to gain connections in the space. Various work outlets and events started to put me on the map, being recognized for what I was doing in entrepreneurship. I was advised by Larry Summers and also by Sheryl Sandberg’s mentor.
Originally meeting the founders of Brex on their journey to study at Stanford, we had kept up with each other through our college years. They reached out to me to become their first employee when I was about to graduate from Harvard. I started one week after graduation in June 2017!
Since then, the company has been through 3 different rounds of investment and went through Y Combinator in order to energize our journey more. In Round 3, we were valued at $1.1 billion valuation, granting us unicorn status. We officially launched in June 2018 and went from beta to unicorn in 6 months.
RLG: Tell us a bit more about Brex!
LM: Brex is a card specifically made for startups and the rewards they care about. We are able to have unique advantages over other cards in 3 ways: a quick 10 minute application process; not requiring personal guarantors and not affecting the founder’s personal credit score upon application; and an application and support process with occurs completely online - applying, receiving a virtual card right, and then a physical MasterCard World Elite.
Most importantly, we designed rewards that are focused on startups. Instead of having consumer approached rewards, we have uniquely tailored this for startups and what founders will need. The categories of spend that are most popular for founders are the point multipliers which are higher under Brex.
RLG: What roles have you been involved with as a team member?
LM: I have worn a lot of hats with Brex in our work together. I started doing financial projections and other avenues of work before we even had customers before shifting into product and regulation, studying licenses and intensive studies of banks. Then I went into recruiting, mostly technical engineers, until we hired an official recruiter to find the top talent. Upon making this hire, I became the first full-time sales person and trained the first two sales hires before moving onto customer support and grew the support team to six people.
Currently, I am not directly involved with support but that is an area I am extremely grateful for as it gave me a deep understanding of the product. I still do support shifts each week to interact with the team and our customers. Now I work in growth and marketing, developing various channels of marketing, partners, different touch points in order to spread our mission and meet our target audience. A big part of this role is being metric driven, making sure we are engaging in growth processes that we can track (e.g. page views on the website, etc.) and learn from.
RLG: Have you felt that one role you’ve taken on has aligned with your passions and purpose the most?
LM: It is really the growth aspect I am currently involved with. I really want to cultivate a community engaged customers who are excited about Brex. A lot of brands have great value propositions, but, in the end, potential customers go with how the products make them feel. It’s time for us to figure out how we want to emotionally connect with customers through our work, and I find myself looking to find the X factor to create an experience unlike others.
We see customer support as a feature of our product, building an experience that feels personalized towards each customer. We want to reach out to customers with a solution before they even realize they have a problem. And this support connects back to building a community.
RLG: What do you think is the biggest challenge you and the team have faced?
LM: From the early days, the answer was getting things done quickly enough to make an impact. We chose a problem that had product-market fit and a huge team-market fit. The founders had technical expertise and major credibility from being second time founders in tech, and that allowed us to get team members onboard from the early days.
Today’s problem is different. Now we have a name for ourselves that is recognized. The challenge becomes growing at a rapid pace and retaining the quality of people that we have worked so hard to assemble in the beginning. In the early stages, the founding team interviewed every person in the company. At the current pace of growth and expansion, this personalized interview experience is not possible. We are working to put processes in place and train people to know how to make the best call for hiring. One way we have solved this challenge is encouraging referrals! We praise people who refer good people to the company because it is so important to have reliable, qualified team members.
RLG: Is there an accomplishment that stands out most to you?
LM: Right alongside Slack, we are one of the fastest growing B2B companies in Silicon Valley’s history. Coming from Brazil and being able to create that with an amazing team is something we are all proud of. We are at a point where people know our name and our mission, and getting here has been a huge accomplishment. We have so much more to do and different milestones to cross, but this gets us further on our journey of growth and impact.
RLG: What is the team dynamic like, especially considering you had a relationship with the founders beforehand?
LM: It was definitely a lucky experience! I have always been drawn by and inspired by people. When it came to choosing my path after college, that played a huge role for me in the decision. It helped in the sense that I was lucky we were on each others’ radars.
Having prior relationships does help the dynamic. You can work together better when you know each other, what you each bring to the table, and what skills you need to learn. However we do keep things business when we are in the office and prioritize the business during office hours. The company comes first but we can use our relationships outside of the office to better impact the work we do together.
Confidence Boost Power Song: Anything Drake
Your Personal Bible: Beyond Reason by Daniel Shapiro and Roger Fisher
Sunday afternoon nirvana: Dulce de Leche Milkshake from Häagen-Dazs & How I Built This Podcast
Spirit animal: Bees - they’re one of nature's most hardworking creatures and produce something most
people have loved for centuries.