It is an all-too familiar issue. Millions of people in the United States don’t have access or are unable to use a bank account, making one third of Americans fall into the category of ‘underbanked’ or ‘unbanked’.
And if you are Hispanic, then you represent an even more disproportional percentage of the American population that falls into those categories.
Most Hispanics rely on cash-checking stores that are expensive, difficult to navigate, and unreliable.
Enter veteran entrepreneur, Etienne Gillard, a Belgian self-starter who launched his first company at age 17.
It hasn’t been easy. But Gillard has surrounded himself with a lot of help, including teaming up with Venture Hive, a Miami-based incubator program which provides entrepreneurs “leadership development,” said Susan Amat, Founder and CEO of Venture Hive.
“We have created a platform and a program where we are giving these talented people a voice and are helping these incredible people solve real problems in their communities and are proving that their companies are tied to value creation.”
Free Enterprise had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Etienne to hear how his Miami-based startup, Waleteros, a mobile banking app provides a cheaper and more transparent way for Hispanics to bank.
Give us some background on your journey and Waleteros.
I was born in Belgium but lived in Spain for many years. I have always been an entrepreneur, and I left Spain to come to the United States in 2012 to build business here and live the American Dream. There is a lively entrepreneurial spirit in Miami to start a company, so it was a great move.
But in the process of me moving, I had to open bank account and get car. To do either one of these tasks was far too difficult. I didn’t have credit, I didn’t know how the paperwork process worked, and I didn’t understand the fee structure.
My friend was an owner of a check-cashing store, which means his clientele are Americans who are unbanked or under banked. I started to learn firsthand that people who are unbanked must waits days to send money or apply for loan, they get slammed with hidden fees, it is unsafe, and they rarely get credible banking advice.
I thought there has to be a better way.
My answer to this problem was to replicate the good things that I saw in check-cashing stores, but make it more convenient for Hispanics via an app.
Tell us how Waleteros is a better solution than check-cashing stores and what that means for the Hispanic population.
While one-third of the American population is underbanked, 20 million of those people are Latinos. So we designed a one stop shop for banking solution especially for Latinos.
Waleteros now makes it possible for the underbanked to send money in 3 minutes, as opposed to 3 days. Our fees are lower than average, but to be honest, the most important part of this business is that we are transparent. That is a very important quality for our Hispanic audience. They want to know that they are working with a person on the other side of the app and that they won’t be hit with hidden fees. Many Latin Americas in Miami use our app to send money to their families abroad, and they rely on the human touch in our customer service to help them navigate the banking process – it is extremely important.
How did you get started? And what was it like to launch Waleteros in Miami?
I applied to be a part of a program at Venture Hive, a Miami-based accelerator for entrepreneurs like me. I was chosen and enrolled in 2014.
I knew how to raise money back in Europe, but navigating how to fundraise in the United States was not familiar to me, and Venture Hive’s program provided a structure and gave me necessary guidance. Through the program, I learned how to pitch better, how to present, how to define my market, and how to build a team.
I have started many companies in the past in Europe, but it was scary to launch one in the United States. Venture Hive provided me the guidance on the intricacies in the technology arena. I was building an app from scratch in a very competitive startup market, and Venture Hive help me navigate this new market and gave me access to mentors, finance tips, marketing advice, and HR training.
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?
I feel like am on a constant roller-coaster, and you have to be okay with that. You need to filter who you surround yourself with. You need to be around trusted, curated mentors and peers who are humble and mature, and are building real change that add value.
Entrepreneurs also need to be honest with yourself. It takes three to four more times longer and three to four more times more money than what you probably expect to launch your idea.
What gets you up in the morning?
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint at heart. I work 18 hours a day and I love it – this is my life. I wake up knowing that I am more than a good dad, good husband, and good friend. I want to make a solution that is helping millions of people in their daily lives. I want to build the best product that can attend to the financial needs of people, and I won’t stop.