Welcome to The Interchange! If you received this in your inbox, thank you for signing up and your vote of confidence. If you’re reading this as a post on our site, sign up here so you can receive it directly in the future. Every week, I’ll take a look at the hottest fintech news of the previous week. This will include everything from funding rounds to trends to an analysis of a particular space to hot takes on a particular company or phenomenon. There’s a lot of fintech news out there and it’s my job to stay on top — and make sense — of it so you can stay in the know. Let’s goooo! — Mary Ann
Hey, hey — this will be a slightly abbreviated version of this newsletter, as Monday the 5th is a holiday here in the U.S. and news was a bit slower than normal last week. But there ain’t no rest for the weary, so here we go!
On Friday’s episode of the Equity Podcast, Natasha, Alex and I discussed what a small world this venture community is.
Just hours after recording on September 1, we got wind of yet another example of this.
Now, executives or founders moving into full-time investing roles is not uncommon. But there were a couple of things about this news that made our ears perk up.
Earlier this year, Brex reached decacorn status with a $300 million raise. The buzzy startup began its life offering corporate cards to startups and over time has evolved its model to include “a big push” into software and serving larger enterprise customers with less of a focus on SMBs and bootstrapped startups. (The move was a bit of a controversial one that was met with surprise and some disappointment in the startup community.)
Now, if you’re a chief revenue officer at a startup that’s on a growth trajectory, it seems like, well, a bit of an unusual time to leave. Especially when Blond was reportedly one of the company’s first 20 employees.
Konrad wrote: “At the time, Brex had only a placeholder website and less than $100 in sales…four-plus years later, the business has several hundred million dollars of annualized revenue.”
Even more notably, though, Blond left Brex to join a venture capital firm that is an investor in one of the company’s biggest rivals in the corporate spend space, Ramp.
For the unacquainted, Brex and Ramp have gone head-to-head for years.
Blond told Forbes that he’d made the decision to begin “full-time startup investing” early in the year. According to the article: “He interviewed with several firms, but ultimately went with the one whose partner, Midas List investor Keith Rabois, had helped welcome him into the local tech scene. ‘I’ve always been impressed with Keith and, reputationally, Founders Fund,’ Blond says. ‘When I decided that I wanted to get into VC, it was obvious that Founders Fund was the top option for me to explore.’ ”
I reached out to Blond to get his take on the news from a fintech lens. He was about to board a plane but we did manage this quick Q&A:
TC: When exactly did you leave Brex?
SB: I’m still a full-time employee at Brex. My last day as a full-time employee is right before I start at FF. We went out and hired an amazing new CRO, Doug Adamic, to replace me, and I’ve been helping with the transition.
You told Forbes that you had decided to go into full-time startup investing earlier this year. What led you to make that decision, and how long were you angel investing?
I’ve been angel investing for about four years. I decided I wanted to do VC full time for a few reasons: (a) I’ve really enjoyed angel investing, have learned a ton, and believe I’ve been able to really help the companies I’ve invested in scale their go to market. (b) I’ve had success in joining two of the fastest-growing tech businesses (Zenefits and Brex) with some of the best founders around (Parker, Pedro, and Henrique). The combination of (a) and (b) give me some level of confidence that I will be good at being a VC (picking the right companies, and helping them scale revenue). (c) Brex has been a really incredible experience, and the success we’ve had will be difficult to replicate if I join another company. I’m ready and motivated for a new challenge.
What will be your focus at Founders Fund? Will you be investing in fintechs?
This question was answered by Founders Fund’s comms head Erin Gleason:
EG: Sam will be a generalist investing across stages, sectors and geographies, like all our partners, but he’s particularly interested in early-stage enterprise deals.
What did you think about the fact that Founders Fund is an investor in Ramp, one of Brex’s biggest rivals? Is that an issue at all?
I view Ramp being an FF portfolio company as coincidental. It wasn’t influential in my motivation to want to join, and my focus will be on investing in and helping new portfolio companies. I’m very loyal to Brex and everyone I’ve developed close friendships with there.
You were one of Brex’s earliest employees. What are your thoughts on the company’s future?
I’m very bullish on Brex’s future. The team is incredible, and the strategy with Empower is differentiated and already seeing a lot of early success winning larger enterprise customers.
Just how lucrative is the buy now, pay later (BNPL) market? asks TC+ editor Alex Wilhelm. “New data from Klarna and recent earnings results from Affirm make it clear that building a global business in the fintech space is far from inexpensive. The two companies, Affirm American and Klarna Swedish, are among the most valuable players in the BNPL market today. They’re both now nearly equal in value. And both recently reported financial results.”
Writes TC’s Ivan Mehta: “Block’s (formerly known as Square) Cash App is now letting users make payments on e-commerce sites outside the Square network. Until now, users could only make payments using Cash App Pay on Square terminals or online Square merchant partners. The company has partnered with American Eagle, Aerie, Tommy Hilfiger, Finish Line and JD Sports for the launch with more merchants like Romwe, Savage x Fenty, SHEIN, thredUP and Wish coming to follow in the coming months.”
While there were several interesting funding deals announced out of Africa this week (see the next section for more on those), our man on the ground, Tage Kene-Okafor, also wrote about how Kuda, a challenger bank based in Nigeria and the U.K., “has joined the ranks of tech companies in Africa that are pruning their workforce. The news of the layoffs, which was first disclosed to TC by sources, was confirmed by Kuda via email, saying it laid off less than 5% of its 450-strong workforce, or about 23 people…It was just last August that the digital bank, which provides zero to minimal fees on cards, account maintenance and transfers and is one of Africa’s soonicorns, raised $55 million.”
Fundings and M&A
Seen on TC
Well, that’s it for this week. Once again, thank you for reading! If you’re here in the U.S., hope you are enjoying this long holiday weekend and getting some rest and relaxation. And if you’re not in the U.S., I hope you’re still getting some rest and relaxation. xoxoxo, Mary Ann