One woman’s drive to make a neobank as magical as Disney

Nubank EC-1 Part 2: Co-founder dynamics

As we mentioned in part 1 of this EC-1, David Velez had two key co-founding roles he needed to fill to get started building Nubank. For one, he needed a CTO to lead the engineering side of the business, as Velez didn’t have an engineering background.

Edward Wible, an American computer science graduate who spent most of his career in private equity, would take that responsibility. He didn’t bring years of coding experience, but he had qualities that Velez considered more important: A strong belief in the potential of the product and an equally intense commitment to working on it.

Given the occasionally hostile reaction of most incumbent banks to their customers in Brazil, Nubank’s starkly contrasting openness and transparency has garnered a huge following.

That left an even more important role to fill — one that was much harder to define. This other co-founder would need to blend knowledge of the Brazilian market and local savvy with expertise in banking, all while embodying a Silicon Valley ethos of focusing on customers. This person would also have to work in São Paulo for minimal wages out of a small office with just one bathroom, all in the belief that their equity (both stock and sweat) would one day be worth it.

Velez would eventually stumble upon Cristina Junqueira, who was qualified to do all this, and much, much more.

“Once someone said I was the glue of the operation, and that someone else was the brains. And I said, ‘No, I’m the glue and the brains, and I bet my brain is even better than his,”’ Junqueira said.

Junqueira didn’t just lead Nubank’s drive into the Brazilian market, she also upended age-old notions of what it means to be a 21st-century bank. Her inspiration was nothing short of Disney, and her mission was to create a bank as popular as the magical kingdom itself.

A bank. As popular as Disney. Sounds like a fairy tale, frankly.

Raised to be a doer

Unlike her co-founders Velez and Wible, Junqueira grew up in Nubank’s home market of Brazil. The eldest of four sisters, she remembers her parents — both dentists — always assiduously working to maintain their practice.

Their work ethic trickled down, but so did responsibility. As the oldest at home, she was forced to grow up quickly and take on responsibilities from an early age. “I remember being 11 years old and doing grocery shopping for the month,” she said. “I did everything very young.”