Xendit: Cash Without Borders

The Xendit Team

The Xendit team, left to right: Bo Chen & Juan Gonzalez, both BS 13 (computer science); Vivek Ahuja and Moses Lo, both MBA 15

Moses Lo, MBA 15, has lived a border-spanning life. Born in Singapore to a family with roots in Malaysia, Indonesia and China, he spent his early years in a one-room house with a bucket shower before moving to Australia—and indoor plumbing. For a time he had a business selling custom suits made in Thailand and China. He has studied in Sydney, New York, and now at Berkeley-Haas; he worked at the Boston Consulting Group and Amazon.

It was this global existence that inspired Xendit, an cross-platform app that lets anyone transfer cash around the world in seconds, for a fraction of the cost of established services like Western Union—or even upstarts like Transferwise and Xoom. The funds can go directly into a bank account, or even to a post office or convenience store where the recipient collects it.

“I grew up in one world, and moved to another, and I’ve gone between different worlds all my life,” says Moses, Xendit’s CEO. “I know first-hand how difficult it can be to move money across borders, especially for people who are outside the traditional banking system.”

The startup team includes COO Vivek Ahuja, MBA 15, a U.S. Navy veteran who spent five years on a nuclear submarine; Casey Lord, MBA 15, who worked at Paypal and in impact investing, and is serving as head of Asia; as well as as CTO Bo Chen, EECS 13 and Lead Engineer Juan Gonzalez, CS 13.

Traction

The group has made quick progress: they won the Andreessen Horowitz’s Bay Area Bitcoin Hackathon last November, coming in first among 200 competitors. They took 2nd in last week’s LAUNCH startup competition, and Xendit was a finalist at the Global Social Venture Competition in April. The team has recently been funded by one of the most prestigious names in the Valley and will spend the next few months preparing for a public launch.

Xendit is focusing first on Asia, a massive market. Remittances from the U.S. to Asia alone are estimated at $50 billion, according to World Bank estimates; transfers within Asia are billions more.

Xendit screenshot 250Seven Clicks

Xendit’s user interface couldn’t be simpler. Simply choose a contact’s email or phone number, choose a currency and amount, and hit “send”. The app displays real-time exchange rates, and the cash is transferred in seconds. Within seven clicks, you’re moving money across the globe.

The back end is a bit more multifaceted: The cash moves through a combination of traditional bank channels and crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and Ripple. Xendit has already negotiated relationships with banks and non-bank cash-out locations in Asia and moved $35,000 in a six-week pilot.

For bank-to-bank transfers, fees are between 1 and 2 percent. For a non-bank transfer—to someone who does not have an account and may be picking up cash at a 7-Eleven in Malaysia, for example—fees are considerably higher, because of extra service charges along the chain. Xendit is aiming to keep the fees about half of what current competitors charge.

Support Back Home

It’s that market that gives Xendit a social-impact component. Moses says he has met many low-wage immigrants over the years who lose thousands of dollars annually to send support back home. He describes Thomas, a friend in Australia who was a South Sudanese refugee.  His father died during the civil war, he arrived on a UN passport and with a scholarship to study in Australia. He was always working two jobs to put himself through school, and paying 15 percent fees to send money to his family in a Ugandan refugee camp.

“Banking is unjust. It’s simply inefficient and too expensive to serve these markets,” Moses says. “I believe that a business worth pursuing should add value to our world.”

Berkeley Built

Moses says he came to Haas specifically to build an entrepreneurial venture. After taking time to build a team that spans Haas and the engineering school, he and Vivek have been able to leverage their 2nd-year MBA coursework this year to strengthen Xendit. They took Entrepreneurship with Toby Stuart and Rob Chandra, then Workshop for Entrepreneurs, offered through the Lester Center and taught by lecturers Nancy Kamei and Doug Galen.

“Startups are about the right team, the tech talent and access to funding networks,” he says. “Berkeley is the place to be for all of that.”

Xendit was the runner-up at LAUNCH, the Berkeley startup accelerator and competition

Xendit took 2nd place at LAUNCH, the Berkeley startup accelerator and competition.

WeFinance: Funding for the Student Crowd

It’s a common student dilemma: you’ve got a full-time offer post-graduation, but you still have several more months to finish your degree. And you’re facing the up-front costs of relocating—before your first paycheck or signing bonus hits your account.

What do you do? Often, your only option is to pile more credit card debt on top of your student loans, and bite the bullet on the high fees.

WeFinance_WillyChuEnter WeFinance, a crowdfunding startup co-founded by Willy Chu, MBA 15, that launched last week. Though crowdfunding is becoming a crowded space, Chu acknowledges, WeFinance is the first platform focused on truly peer-to-peer loans.

“Many students are paying seven to 8 percent on their student loans—even higher if you’re international—and they have living and moving expenses,” Chu says. “They’re low-risk borrowers but their credit scores don’t reflect that, and they can’t refinance until they have more credit history. Meanwhile, a peer lender in these students’ network could earn four percent or more on their extra savings.”

Built-in Assets

WeFinance launched with two critical resources. First, it has a software platform built by co-founder and CEO Eric Mayefsky, a Stanford econ PhD grad and ex-Facebook product manager who spearheaded the concept. This platform fully automates disbursements and repayments between borrowers and lenders, allowing both parties to rest easy that payments are made on time. Second, WeFinance has been tested by Chu’s network of fellow Haasies, a dozen of whom have signed on as guinea pigs seeking funding.

“My classmates have been incredibly supportive, willing to try out the product,” he said. “Faculty members have provided core guidance.”

Ton Chookhare, MBA 14, used the platform to refinance some of his higher-interest student loans, raising $5,000 in just a few weeks and lowering his interest rate from 8 percent to 4 percent. He already had accepted an offer with Kaiser Permanente, and was working on a side project involving custom suits made in his hometown of Bangkok, Thailand. “I think many people will be surprised at how willing people in their network are to offer financial support, especially when they’re getting much better returns while supporting someone they know and trust,” he says.

Entrepreneurial Evolution

Chu says when he came to Berkeley-Haas, he thought he might end up working for a startup—but had no intention of launching his own. His thinking evolved while taking Entrepreneurship with Prof. Toby Stuart and Lecturer Rob Chandra. His new path began last summer when a Stanford MBA friend saw an email from Mayefsky seeking help with the venture. After a few months of working well together, Chu—who previously worked at Credit Karma and Kiva—became a co-founder. He’s focusing on marketing, partnerships, and growth while Mayefsky develops the technological infrastructure.

“I’ve benefitted from starting this in my second year, after I had a strong base, and I’ve been able to piggyback on my coursework and lessons learned from my peers who launched businesses last year,” he says. “In particular, New Venture Finance with Asst. Prof. Adair Morse has been useful.”

Chu’s goal is to expand WeFinance to 40 schools within a year, beginning with Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton. In addition to MBAs, the company will focus on law and other top master’s and undergrad program students.

Read more about WeFinance in TechCrunch.

A Taste of the Startup World—in Real Time

By Karen Sorensen

After earning an engineering degree and consulting at large companies for five years, Ben Ferrara arrived at Haas with an appetite for learning more about what it would be like to work with a small, dynamic startup.

He got a taste of that this fall when he and a team of fellow MBA students consulted on an expansion plan for gourmet meal delivery service Munchery. Popular in San Francisco and Seattle, the company wanted to avoid potential growing pains by clearly identifying customers and creating a roadmap to scale its operations nationally.

Munchery_1

The Munchery team

Ferrara, MBA 15, is among the 60 students who formed Startup Lab teams to work on real-world strategic business challenges faced by a dozen startups. The applied innovation course is taught by Lecturer Whitney Hischier, who co-created it last year with former MBA student Faisal al Gharabally.

“Startup Lab provides students the unique ability to work directly with an entrepreneur or company founder and experience startup life,” Hischier said.

While students gain insight from the startups, the reverse is true as well. “Startup Lab students are usually experienced in many fields,” said Gonzalo De Los Rios, Founder and CEO of GameMiles, which asked its Startup Lab team to work on valuation and key documentation for potential investors. “The team really brought value to the table and helped us learn more about our industry.”

The 12 startups that participated this fall provide a variety of innovative products and services, from drones to fire detection technology to online collaboration software. Several have deep ties to Haas: Skimatalk, which provides English language coaching, was co-founded by Koji Shimizu and Ted Smith, both MBA 12; Lecturer Ajay Bam co-founded Produkme, which provides online purchase product support; and Slava Balter, MBA 14, heads business development for online collaboration software startup Convo. Two other companies came out of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Team projects ranged from developing new market entry strategies, products, and pricing models to pitch decks for investors.

Julie Barmeyer, MBA 15, worked on the team dedicated to online advertiser MightyHive. The group researched potential new markets and experienced firsthand the importance of adaptability. “The company pivoted during the middle of the semester, so our project pivoted too,” she said.

Ferrara said he drew on knowledge from his core Marketing and Operations courses, and also incorporated Problem Finding Problem Solving (PFPS) concepts. “The PFPS course has been extremely useful because it really helps you understand the business model canvas and brainstorm in a way to see opportunities and be more creative with ideas.”

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KarenSorensen_BioPhoto_300Guest blogger Karen Sorensen is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer who specializes in business, innovation, and education.

Student Spotlight: Entrepreneur Dan Schoening, MBA 16

Dan Schoening_MBA 16Dan Schoening began his entrepreneurial career early.

At age 14, he was running his own soccer camp company. By 18, the Seattle native was advising high school students on how to get recruited to college athletic programs. As an undergrad, he started a mobile shuttle tracking service.

So it’s no surprise that Dan has continued his entrepreneurial journey at Haas, as co-chair of LAUNCH: the UC Berkeley Startup Accelerator & Competition. He was also selected as one of two Berkeley students to go on the inaugural Silicon Valley Bank Trek, a tour of the Valley and San Francisco’s startups, banks, and investment firms. For three days this week, he and 18 other students from the across the U.S. are meeting a who’s who of influential tech leaders, stopping to visit the Silicon Valley Bank, the offices of Andreessen Horowitz, startup business analytics company BIRST and VC data provider Mattermark, and the San Francisco-based co-working facility WeWork Golden Gate.

We recently talked with Dan about the Trek, the LAUNCH competition, and his experience at Haas.

Haas: Tell us about your most innovative startup.

Dan: As an undergrad at Tufts University in 2009, I co-founded a mobile service that provided information about bus schedules to students traveling to and from campus. We were pleasantly surprised with the traction it gained on campus and we began to expand its applications into the shuttle management space.

Haas: What drove your decision to enroll at Haas for an MBA?

Dan: I was only interested in the West Coast—I wanted to immerse myself in the entrepreneurship world and the startup scene here in the Bay Area. This is where you have to be. I ended up doing a West Coast entrepreneurship search, and I chose Haas. I’ve only been here a few months, but I’m really excited about the program and the various opportunities and the resources it presents for entrepreneurs. I’m especially excited for Toby Stuart’s entrepreneurship class this spring—I’ve heard rave reviews about it.

Haas: What do you hope to get out of the Silicon Valley Bank Trek?

Dan: The Trek is a new event this year, so it will be fun to see how it unfolds. In addition to connecting with key influencers in the Valley, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet and learn from the other students from around the country.

Haas: As co-chair of LAUNCH, you (along with co-chair Franklin Russell and the student executive committee) are shepherding the established competition through some significant changes. Tell us about them.

Dan: The criteria for competitors are more stringent this year: applicants needed to be further along with their startups and present more mature businesses. We’ve also shifted the program to be more of an accelerator model versus a standard business plan competition.

We had over 100 applicants from all across the UC system, and all of them have validated a product in their space. Many have incoming revenue. Only one team member has to be an affiliate of a UC school, and applicants include alumni, faculty, and staff.

LAUNCH Bootcamp is coming up on Feb. 6-7. This will be the first full-group event with the 16 teams, the faculty advisors and the mentors. We’re feeling really confident about the new model.

From student to startup

In the full-time MBA class of 2014, there at least nine serious startups percolating—and probably half a dozen more emerging. Many of the students who have pursued startup ideas while at Haas hedge their bets by accepting a full-time job offer, with plans to work on their venture in their spare time. But a few are jumping in with both feet.

Jesus Nieto Gonzalez, Mercadero

Jesus Nieto Gonzalez on the Pacaya volcano in Guatemala during a 2013 trek. Photo by Peter Brock, MBA 14.

Jesus Nieto Gonzalez on the Pacaya volcano in Guatemala during a 2013 trek. Photo by Peter Brock, MBA 14.

The Spanish make beautiful shoes. And people still buy them in shops. And, about one-third of those shops are small and local.

That’s why Jesus Nieto Gonzalez chose the Spanish shoe industry to test-launch the inventory management system he’s developing.

Jesus, who has a background in electrical engineering and worked in the Spanish telecom before coming to Haas, plans to return to his native Spain after graduation to build his startup full-time. He’s calling it Mercadero, from the ancient Spanish word for merchant.

“Offline commerce has a much bigger presence there, and one of the things I noticed when I was doing my research is that they still do things with pencil and paper. They don’t have a good system for tracking what they have in the store,” he says. “Now with the cloud and tablets, a small businesses can afford to go digital.”

Inventory management is critical to shoe retailers: if a shop doesn’t have the right size, a customer will go elsewhere. And keeping track of what’s in the storeroom is no less crucial for many types of small businesses–which gives Mercadero lots of opportunities for expansion once Jesus brings it from prototype to product.

Jesus says he moved across the globe to attend Haas because of its reputation for entrepreneurship and technology. The school did not disappoint: he learned about strategy in David Charron’s Business Model Innovation course, how to build mockups and use analytics in Design and Development of Web-based Products and Services, and how to approach investors in Toby Stuart’s Entrepreneurship. He has already taken the first steps to cultivate VC’s in the small Spanish investor community.

“Haas is the place to learn how to start something,” he said. “This is something I really want to do, and I need to try it.”

Albert Lucius and Agung Nugroho, KuDo

AgungAlbertLondon

Albert and Agung on a 2013 exchange to the London Business School

These high school friends from Indonesia who ended up at Haas together plan to return home to build an electronic point-of-sale system that “transforms the shopping experience of consumers in Indonesia, where credit cards are virtually non-existent.”

They came up with the idea through their travels at Haas. “We viewed how payment systems are done in different parts of the world—in developed countries such as USA, UK, and Japan as well as emerging markets such as Morocco, Turkey, and Thailand. We want to bring the best of technologies in the developed market and apply them to address some of the restrictions and problems in the emerging market,” Albert says.

kudo_scale“The idea is that customers can find products from any of our e-commerce partners at KuDo machines located at retail stores. For example, instead of ordering online, you could use cash at a store like Walgreens to buy products sold by other stores such as Amazon.”

Prior to Haas, Agung worked at BCG Indonesia as a consultant, and he has postponed a new job there for a year. Albert, who had worked as a product designer at Apple in the U.S., will devote himself to KuDo full-time.

Kyle Rudzinki, Karmic

While climbing Mount Kilimanjaro over winter break, Kyle decided to pursue Karmic full-time.

While climbing Mount Kilimanjaro over winter break, Kyle decided to pursue Karmic full-time.

Using business to do good was always Kyle Rudzinki’s goal. He came to Haas from the Department of Energy, where he managed investments in innovative solar startups, and he planned to continue his career in clean energy and sustainability.

But just before his final semester, he stumbled on an idea that caused him to pivot in a completely different direction.

It started one evening with a Facebook post that reminded him of the power of asking for what you want. A classmate put out a call on for others to join him at a local radio station’s dance competition. Another replied that that she it was one of her life goals to do the same thing. Thus was born Haasies Helping Haasies—which has since morphed into Karmic. It has become Kyle’s new path.

“Karmic is my sole focus,” he says. “Ultimately the reason I’m building it is because of what it can do for people. It’s about taking online connections and bringing them offline, helping people to live more fulfilled lives,” he says.

The idea behind Karmic is that if people share their unfilled aspirations—whether openly or anonymously—someone within their social networks can probably help realize them. That proved to be the case with Haasies Helping Haasies. Students posted desires such as meeting Sheryl Sandberg, learning to surf, and even hugging a panda. “With such a talented group of people, someone was likely to have the connections to make these things happen. And they did.” More than five times as many offers to help were made as requests.

Kyle brought the concept to his Intrapreneurship class in November, which earned him an invite to Facebook. “That gave me an entrée into the VC world,” he says.

He’s now pursuing Karmic as a new platform, and leveraging his last semester to propel it forward. He’s tapping Berkeley talent through his courses in new venture finance, marketing research, and developing web products and services. Haas faculty outside of his courses are also lending their expertise and advice—from brand gurus Bill Pearce and Lynn Upshaw to startup experts Toby Stuart and Rob Chandra.

“I’m building all the scaffolding, so no matter what the edifice ends up being, I’ll have all the tools to build something great,” he says.

Ben Hamlin, Localwise

Ben came to Haas to study double-bottom-line businesses. He spent most of his time focused on social impact investing, hoping that an idea would emerge for a social enterprise to start.

Ben Hamlin at O-week

Ben and classmates during O-Week public service day

It wasn’t until his final semester—after he had registered for classes—that he hit on the concept. He was on BART with a classmate, tossing ideas back and forth to answer the question: in 100 years, what would be the ideal way to create and operate a local business?

“I started thinking about the high failure rate for local businesses. How could this be improved through technology? What if demand came before supply? What if local business owners knew what the community wanted before they ever made capital investments?”

That was the seed for Localwise (originally called OurTown), an online platform that will improve local businesses through engagement with local consumers and other local businesses. Inspired by his parents’ mom-and-pop, Ben, a former associate at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, believes he has landed on a solution to help mom-and-pops everywhere.

“Today, local entrepreneurs make business decisions and then consumers vote with their wallets. They take undue risk because they don’t fully understand demand, and they don’t share information. By collaborating with consumers and each other, they could do much better,” he says.

Ben plans to work on the venture full-time post-graduation. In his last few months at Haas, he’s taking advantage of every resource he can. He says last year’s Entrepreneurship and Problem Finding, Problem Solving classes have been invaluable. He also took Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad class online. He’s now working closely on OurTown with Whitney Hischier, Lecturer and CEE Faculty Director, through an independent study.

“I’m trying to tackle a big, complex problem using the tools taught by the Haas curriculum,” he says.