Brex, a fintech unicorn, is one of the most interesting companies in Silicon Valley.
We identified the 13 employees that Brex assembled to help the financial-services startup take on traditional financial institutions in 2020.
The power players include employees who helped launch its bank-account product, Brex Cash, and people working with existing customers and recruiting new ones for the flagship corporate-credit-card product.
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Brex, simply put, is a startup for startups.
A venture-backed company can have millions in the bank and not get approved for a credit card. That's because the traditional financial institutions want to see a credit history, which few new companies have, before issuing that precious piece of plastic. Brex solved for the problem by giving corporate credit cards to startups based on their available cash balance — including money raised through venture funding — and using data to predict a startup's future ability to pay.
In the past year, Brex grew beyond its roots as a "black card for startups" to include a bank-account product that gives customers the ability to send payments, new credit cards with rewards tailored for e-commerce and healthcare businesses, a members-only lounge, and a restaurant.
Each new product brings Brex closer to the financial-services leaders it wants to unseat. Henrique Dubugras, the company's 24-year-old cofounder and chief executive, told Business Insider that in the long run, the goal is not to become a bank — but to create a collection of products for saving and spending money, in the same way that Apple owns computing through its product suite.
With a private-market valuation of $2.6 billion, Brex has plans to double its staff to 800 employees this year, adding to a powerhouse team of financial-services veterans and tech-giant alumni.
This list of top employees is focused on staff who are helping the company take on legacy finance institutions, as opposed to the technical talent at the startup. They include the people tasked with raising funding, rolling out new products, keeping customers happy, and signing on rewards partners, as well as the people responsible for plastering San Francisco with Brex advertisements.
Meet the 13 power players of Brex:SEE ALSO: Brex, the $2.6 billion credit card company for startups, explains why it's getting closer to traditional finance with its new Brex Cash bank account product
DON'T MISS: Brex raised $57 million from Peter Thiel and Y Combinator using these 19 slides
Michael Tannenbaum, chief financial officer
Michael Tannenbaum was the architect of Brex's flagship product, which allows startups to get approved for corporate credit cards based on their available cash balance — including venture capital — rather than credit history. The company uses data to forecast cash balances and determine the startup's future ability to pay, the idea being that it could cut off customers before they go into credit-card debt.
A former investment-banking analyst, Tannenbaum started working at Brex when the company was just an idea staged in the cofounder's kitchen. He was hired to develop its credit-card model and to build credibility with financial partners, including banks and lenders.
As chief financial officer, he oversees finance, operations, capital markets, corporate development, and credit.
Larissa Rocha, chief community officer
As employee No. 1 at Brex, Rocha has held a variety of roles, but she has always maintained the "doer" mindset that Brex cofounders Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi gave her in her first position.
Rocha joined the startup two weeks after her graduation from Harvard University. Over the years, she built a customer-support team, helped land the company's first customers, and oversaw its foray into restaurants and community spaces. She even ran strategy for recruiting engineers.
"When Henrique explained the new role for me, that was my first time hearing a lot of those developer terms," Rocha said.
Now Rocha is chief community officer and creates programming for Brex's customers. She said that since Brex is itself a startup, she's been able to help other Brex members navigate similarly difficult and less-than-well-defined issues she has successfully overcome.
Katie Biber, Chief Legal Officer
Katie Biber joined Brex in July to lead its legal and compliance teams as the startup was launching an FDIC-insured bank account product for its customers. The former legal executive oversaw compliance initiatives at major tech startups like Airbnb, Thumbtack, and crypto startup Anchorage following years of work as a political lawyer.
"I committed to giving the tech industry a 2-year effort and it stuck," Biber told Business Insider in July.
Like Dubugras, Biber sees opportunity for Brex and other startups in highly regulated industries like finance, to build trust with customers by working within those traditional bounds instead of breaking them down.
"The market opportunity for Brex is really immense because it has defined a category and now others are rushing to fill it," Biber said. "It reminds me of a campaign that just hits it spot on. You can have the slickest ads, but if your candidate doesn't strike a chord with voters you are staring down empty stadiums. I see that all coming together at Brex."
Marco Mahrus, vice president of payments
Marco Mahrus was working to develop underwriting improvements at Uber when a friend introduced him to the Brex team. The Harvard MBA grad had spent years working in finance at big tech companies and smaller startups and wasn't ready yet to make the switch. By 2019 that changed, and Mahrus was ready to jump on Brex's rocketship.
As head of payments, Mahrus is responsible for building the underlying infrastructure that keeps Brex running. He has spearheaded efforts to integrate Apple Pay and Google Pay in addition to managing all profits and losses on the corporate-cards side of the business.
"Brex is known for corporate-card payments and now a cash-management account, but under the hood is a core banking platform developed from the ground up to address startup and SMB financial services," Mahrus said.
Thomas Piani, product director for Brex Cash
Choosing a credit card often comes down to which has the most useful rewards. Thomas Piani was hired in 2018 to design the company's rewards program to go head-to-head with those of competitors like American Express or Chase Bank.
He landed the startup's first airline partnership, which let Brex customers spend their rewards on miles, and led the initiative around its first cobranded credit card with Bank of the West.
Today, Piani oversees the company's second product, a no-fee credit card for e-commerce companies. His team rolled out a suite of rewards tailored to those businesses, such as discounts on shipping and advertising through partnerships.
Roni Saporta, director of capital markets
Because Brex's core business is extending credit to customers, it relies on raising debt from big institutions on Wall Street, regional banks, and asset managers to finance those credit-card transactions.
Roni Saporta helped the company close two massive fundraising events last year: a $100 million round of debt financing from Barclays in June and a second round from Credit Suisse that totaled $200 million. As a director of capital markets, she's tasked with building relationships with investors and negotiating deal terms.
Before Brex, Saporta was an associate at Credit Suisse in New York.
Mira Srinivasan, head of credit
Taking on entrenched financial-services companies like American Express is a daunting undertaking, to say the least. But Brex has a secret weapon: Mira Srinivasan, a former vice president of American Express.
Srinivasan joined Brex in 2019 to build the kind of credit policies and procedures that the startup is banking on to unseat her former employer. She takes a veteran's approach to risk monitoring and assessment by instituting old procedures, like collections, with a startup slant. By using data that other institutions don't have, Srinivasan's team is able to more accurately predict and manage risk to the benefit of Brex and its customers, she said.
"Most traditional finance institutions do not have this flexibility, as they are bound by legacy infrastructure," Srinivasan said.
Before Brex, she led risk management at American Express for 12 years. She was previously a research analyst at McKinsey in its corporate-finance division.
Miguel Rios-Berrios, director of engineering and head of data
Miguel Rios-Berrios got his engineering degree from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez before heading to the University of Maryland for his Masters. He never finished the program, and instead landed an internship at Twitter in 2010. There, he learned the ropes of the tech industry and quickly rose the ranks of the engineering organization, eventually becoming the head of data science.
A company spokeswoman said Brex set out on a year-long search for its new head of engineering late last year. The startup was rapidly growing the team as it continued to add new products and services at a break-neck pace, and needed someone to lead the team. Rios-Berrios had the experience Brex was looking for, and he joined the startup in October.
In his role, Rios-Berrios leads the teams responsible for data products, data platforms, risk, and analytics. He is also an active member of Brex's diversity council, according to a company spokeswoman.
Erica Dorfman, vice president of treasury and capital markets
Erica Dorfman joined Brex in August 2019 to lead liquidity, cash management, and debt financing for the startup's suite of credit products. With her team, Dorfman has raised $500 million in debt financing for Brex, and most recently helped launch its newest service, an FDIC-insured Brex Cash account for startups.
Dorfman entered the fintech world after several years working in a traditional finance role on Wall Street. She oversaw capital markets initiatives at student loan startup SoFi before leading finance and operations at finance automation startup Tally.
Ritik Malhotra, product director for special projects
Ritik Malhotra joined Brex as part of the acquisition of his company, Elph, which let users manage their cryptocurrency holdings across apps in one place.
His team got to work immediately on Brex Cash, the startup's answer to bank accounts. The product will give customers the ability to store money, earn yields, and send payments in less than a minute, according to the company. It is still being tested and has a waitlist of startups.
Malhotra said he spends a lot of time trying to suss out where traditional finance institutions fall short to help Brex Cash solve for customer frustrations.
Camilla Morais, vice president of operations and financial planning
Camilla Morais, the vice president of finance, runs internal finance for the fast-growing startup. She's responsible for the teams that raise money from capital markets and ensure the unit economics that make investors happy to see. She also manages head count and office planning as the company seeks to double its workforce.
When she joined in 2018, Morais worked on designing the financial models that Brex used for its flagship corporate credit card. Since then, she has also had a hand in overseeing Brex Cash, the startup's bank-account product, and offerings for e-commerce and healthcare startups.
"Speaking with investors is part of my day-by-day at Brex, whether or not we are fundraising," Morais told Business Insider. "It's always important to build a relationship with our current and future investors before the needs come. But there is much more than that."
Before Brex, Morais was a director of marketing and business planning for Kraft Heinz in Chicago.
Kira Klaas, director of brand
On marketing, Brex has to compete with traditional financial institutions — many of which have branch locations and airport lounges — on a fraction of their budgets.
Kira Klaas, who works on the startup's mission and brand messaging, convinces startups to put their trust in the lesser-known entity. Her job is to develop customers who believe so strongly in Brex's story and how it creates value that they try to convince others to sign up.
Last year, her pièce de résistance was Brex's advertising takeover at TechCrunch Disrupt, a San Francisco conference attended by thousands of tech workers. Dubugras announced its new product Brex Cash onstage, and within minutes, 257 billboards, bus stops, and news-rack advertisements across the city were swapped out to promote the launch.
She said the company passed its goal for sign-ups by 273% at launch, and the waitlist has been growing steadily since.
Arthur Levy, vice president of business development
In early 2019, Arthur Levy was the company's first business-development hire, and since then, he has built a team and strategy around creating partnerships that add value for Brex's customers.
Brex's chief financial officer called Levy the "mastermind" behind the company's new partnership with JetBlue, which allows startups to cash in points for miles. He spent many hours flying to New York to convince the airline to give select customers preferred status and later to allow all customers to transfer rewards.
Levy also oversees high-profile deals and partnerships with Intuit, NetSuite, Amazon Web Services, WeWork, and Zoom. His team drives almost 40% of new revenue every month, the startup said.