Nubank’s first office, on California Street in the Brooklin neighborhood of São Paulo, makes for a great beginning to the company’s story. It wasn’t a Silicon Valley garage, but this tiny, one-bathroom rented house, where 30 people worked insane hours to push out the company’s debut credit card, lends just as well to an image of entrepreneurial spirit and drive.
As Nubank continues to make international waves, more and more VC investors are taking a look at the Brazilian ecosystem and could potentially fund other upstarts in the years to come.
But as Nubank’s story continued, the team eventually had to move out of that early office, and the next several offices, too. Eventually Nubank had to relocate to an eight-story building in São Paulo, which houses a large part of the company’s now 3,000-person team.
The startup reached decacorn status in far less than a decade, and it is growing faster than ever. When I interviewed CEO David Velez back in January to discuss Nubank’s $400 million Series G, he said, “We’ve gone from 12 million customers in 2019 to 34 million solely based on word of mouth.” By September last year, the company was onboarding 41,000 new customers per day.
In the five months since our interview, Nubank has managed to rope in a whopping 6 million customers to reach 40 million. It’s now valued at $30 billion.
Getting there hasn’t been easy. The company’s three co-founders, Velez, Edward Wible and Cristina Junqueira, had to make key strategic decisions about how to scale themselves to retain the company’s lead in the neobanking market. That lead is getting tougher to sustain every day. Nubank’s proliferating offerings and broader geographical remit has painted a massive target on its back, and a wide number of competitors have cropped up to run on the paths it pioneered.
Like most Disney films, a fairy-tale ending seems in order, but it’ll take a few more rotations of the film wheel to get to the ending.
Early mistakes and ingredients for success
For the co-founding trio, it became increasingly clear that Nubank’s growing scale demanded critical strategic decisions on how to bring order to the company.
By 2018, the company had thousands of employees, millions of customers, and they still didn’t have a head of HR. Growth until then had been somewhat unstructured. According to Junqueira, waiting so long to hire a head of HR was one of their early mistakes, because it stunted their ability to grow. “[Good] people continue to be our biggest bottleneck,” she says.