Story by Alejandro Cremades Former Contributor. Entrepreneurs Author of The Art of Startup Fundraising & Serial Entrepreneur
Henrique Dubugras has accomplished more in just 22 years than most entrepreneurs aspire to in a lifetime. He’s started multiple companies, won coding competitions, attended some of the most envied learning places, started multiple companies, hired hundreds of people and raised millions of dollars.
How has he done it? What secrets to success can he share with other entrepreneurs?
I had the pleasure of interviewing Henrique Dubugras on a recent episode of the Deal Makers Podcast. Here’s a glimpse at his story behind the scenes, and his tips for raising millions of dollars, landing top tier investors and more (listen to the full episode here).
Henrique started striking out with his own businesses at just 12 years old. Being obsessed with online gaming he decided it was best to learn to code, build his own games, and play for free. Unfortunately, just two years later he got hit with a patent infringement notice at just 14 years old, and had to shut it down.
Hacking Your Way into Stanford
After discovering a TV show called Chuck, who was a really good programmer and hacker, Henrique decided, "If I want to be like Chuck, I have to go to Stanford."
As a foreigner, he found the whole U.S. college application process very complicated. So, he found another Brazilian guy that was graduating from Stanford. They made this deal. He was starting a ticketing company in Brazil. He would teach Henrique the Stanford application process, and in exchange, he would code for him for free.
After working for him for a year, his mentor had raised a bunch of money and hired a bunch of senior engineers. Dubugras thought, "Hey, maybe I can try to start my own company." He decided to start a company that teaches other students the U.S. application process.
Despite getting to 800,000 uses in just nine months, it became pretty obvious that the user base didn’t really have the money or credit cards to pay. Their parents were also skeptical. The love for that venture faded out as he found new opportunities.
Winning the Miami Hackathon & Raising $300K at 16
Rent is expensive, so Henrique headed to a hackathon in Miami that was worth $50,000. He built this dating app called Ask Me Out, which instead of Geolocation, was through Facebook friends. He won the hackathon, went back to Brazil and tried to launch that.
He and his cofounder ended up transitioning to a payments startup, Pagar.me, which is like Stripe in Brazil. The connections made led to raising $300k from two investors at just 16 years old. They scaled to 150 employees and decided to sell the company and go back to school.
Lessons Learned on the Journey
Some of the early lessons Henrique Dubugras says he learned along the journey in those early ventures were:
1. To aim big, not just for what could be big in one country, but could be done at a global scale.
2. Monetize early to prove your business model and commercial viability.
3. Relying on others, like banks, to run your business can be tedious, risky and derail your product.
Leaving a Half-Billion Dollar Business to go Back to College
Most workers or entrepreneurs couldn’t fathom wanting to go back to school after having grown a $500,000,000 a year business. Henrique and his cofounder Pedro did.
Four reasons that drove their decision were:
After attending the prestigious startup accelerator program, Y Combinator, the pair of cofounders dropped out of Stanford. Why not? They probably knew more than many of their professors from first hand experience, even before they got it.
The Irony in Raising Millions of Dollars for Hot Startups
Going through startup accelerator Y Combinator, Henrique realized the irony of so many successful founders that were raising millions of dollars, yet couldn’t get a simple corporate credit card.
Crazy, right? You have millions of dollars in the bank, top investors and financiers in the country love you, but you can’t use the money. Often due to short financial history.
So, Henrique’s next startup became offering a corporate credit card to these founders. It went live in 2018. It’s called Brex.
Who to Hire & How to Land a Super-Angel
Henrique has learned from the best and has hired hundreds of people through different startups. With Brex he says his first hires were a generalist, a CFO, and then general counsel. All of which helped to build credibility with investors. Something particularly useful when raising money when you are just 21 years old.
Brex has now raised at least $220 million and is valued at more than $1.1 billion. Funding has come from names like Ribbit Capital, DST Global, Global Founders Capital, and SV Angel. Even Peter Thiel and Max Levchin are in.
Henrique says they landed Max after having gone through the interview process at one of his companies, just to learn the recruiting process. The final interview was with him, and they have now found him to be one of their most helpful investors.
That helpfulness is the top quality Dubugras says he looks for in an investor. Often working on building a relationship with them for months in advance to see just how helpful they’ll be.
Quick Tips for New Founders
Listen in to the full podcast episode for all the details, as well as how to contact him directly with your ideas and questions (listen to the full episode here).
Written, Compiled & Edited by
The Bergen Review Media Team