As we saw in parts 1 and 2 of this EC-1, by mid-2013, Nubank CEO David Velez had most of what he needed to get started. He’d brought on two co-founders, assembled ambitious engineering and operations teams, raised $2 million in seed funding from Sequoia and Kaszek, rented a tiny office in São Paulo, and was armed with a mission to deliver the kind of banking services that customers in a market as large and lucrative as Brazil’s should expect.
Despite being named Nubank, however, the startup couldn’t actually be a bank: Brazil’s laws made it illegal at the time for a foreigner-run company to operate a bank. That restriction required the team to develop an inventive product strategy to find a foothold in the market while they waited for a license directly from the country’s president.
Nubank was so adamant about differentiating itself from other banks that it chose Barney purple for its brand color and first credit card.
Nubank therefore pursued a credit card as its first offering, but it had to race against a clock counting quickly down to zero. At the time, Brazil didn’t have ownership restrictions on this product segment like it did with banking, but new rules were coming into force in just a few months in May 2014 that would block a company like Nubank from launching.
The company needed to execute rapidly over the next eight months if it wanted to be grandfathered into the existing regulations. The speed of operations was frantic to say the least, and the company would go on to work even faster, ultimately propelling itself into the stratosphere of fintech startups.
Full faith in credit
It’s easy to assume that the name Nubank refers to “new bank,” but that’s not really what the founders were going for. The word “nu” in Portuguese means “naked,” and Velez and his team wanted the name to reflect their vision: To build a 21st-Century bank without any of the shackles imposed by the traditional banks in Brazil.
The team wanted to offer services to as many people as possible, as there is a huge wealth gap in Brazil, where the minimum wage is around $200 a month.
Launching with just a credit card was both a strategic and practical business decision. Credit cards were widely used in the country, and everyone understood how they worked. Additionally, you could only use credit cards to shop online in Brazil, because debit cards weren’t accepted.