Inside Brex’s approach to raising money

Image via Brex

Brex, a corporate card and financial product startup aimed at businesses, has raised $615 million in combined equity and debt since its founding in 2017.  

According to Brex Chief Financial Officer Michael Tannenbaum, the company has been successful at fundraising through clearly defined roles for the leadership team when meeting with investors.  

“The primary question [venture capitalists] are asking is, ‘Can this be really big?’” Tannenbaum said in a webcast hosted by New York and Philadelphia-based Dreamit Ventures last week. “In order for the venture economics to work, they need some unicorns. That’s where somebody who is very growth-oriented, very visionary is going to do best. Typically, that is the CEO.” 

According to Tannenbaum, Brex pitches its vision and growth potential to investors to start. The company said it avoids bringing in Tannenbaum to speak with investors until the funding round is close to complete. At that point, he can close the deal and finalize the terms.   

 See also: With podcasts and billboard ads, Brex focuses on brand building

Tannenbaum said a key aspect of Brex’s strategy is to meet with investors early, before the company wants to raise money. According to Tannenbaum, establishing a bond with investors and educating them on the business early on makes the relationship less transactional. Brex believes strong startups spend the majority of their time building their business and customer base instead of trying to raise money.  

“Fundraising always irked me in some ways because I just wanted to get back to doing what I do, and it’s kind of a distraction,” Tannenbaum said. “I don’t spend a ton of time fundraising in the beginning. I let the CEO pitch and sell the dream. I come in and am more of the tough guy when it comes time to actually close.”   

Brex provides corporate cards for startups, life science and e-commerce companies. The company recently moved beyond cards with the beta launch of a cash account, which Tannenbaum said should roll out to the public soon. Brex’s investors include Max Levchin, Peter Thiel, Y Combinator, Ribbit Capital, Yuri Milner and Carl Pascarella.  

Tannenbaum said he predicts Brex will have 700 to 750 employees in a year, compared with about 400 currently. About half the employees are in engineering, product or design; another 30% fill go-to-market functions like sales, customer service, marketing and business development; the last 20% consists of finance, human resources and operations. Tannenbaum said, however, the startup doesn’t measure growth and success by employee headcount.  

“All we do is pay them,” Tannenbaum said. “Hiring a bunch of people doesn’t mean they are successful or doing what you want.”

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