CNBC Disruptor 50

2. Brex

Founders: Henrique Dubugras, Pedro Franceschi (co-CEOs)
Launched: 2017
Headquarters: Remote-first
$1.2 billion
Valuation: $12.3 billion
Key technologies:
Cloud computing, machine learning
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 1 (No. 6 in 2021)

Persephone Kavallines

Brex offers start-ups credit lines and software to manage their finances. While its main product – an unsecured, high-limit charge card for start-ups – exposes it to high-risk companies that could fail, the company manages risk by using real-time data on customers to help make dynamic lending decisions.

Today, the company boasts more than 10,000 corporate customers, including start-ups like Boxed and Outdoor Voices, and former start-ups that have become big public companies, like DoorDash and Airbnb.

Brex likes to say its business services extend the power of every dollar, freeing up start-ups to chase big dreams without worrying about wasted spend. Right now, making every dollar count at cash-burning companies has never been more important. Brex has a view into the hyper-growth start-up balance sheet like few firms in the economy do, and after 2021's record-setting VC sums, its business model is being put to the test in new ways as the tech sector shifts from growth at any cost to a focus on cash flow and profits.

Brex is among the start-ups that has been on the receiving end of the VC's industry's liquidity. Its two most recent rounds included a $425 million fundraising in April 2021, led by investment firm Tiger Global, and a $300 million round in January of this year, led by Greenoaks Capital and Technology Crossover Ventures. Brex has now raised more than $1.2 billion from investors that also include Y Combinator and PayPal co-founders Max Levchin and Peter Thiel, along with more than $300 million in credit lines from Barclays and Credit Suisse.

It spent some of its own cash hoard on a cash flow-focused acquisition last month, acquiring software firm Pry for $90 million in April. The software helps founders project cash flow and track budgets, and categorize revenue and costs.

In some ways, the early days of the pandemic, when Brex reined in customers' credit lines and itself was forced to do layoffs, served as a test for what may occur in the start-up world during a bigger economic downturn. "We assume that 70% of our businesses are going to go out of business every couple of years, because we serve start-ups and most start-ups fail," co-founder and co-CEO Henrique Dubugras told CNBC last year after the pandemic crash turned back into a boom. "I think that's known and that's okay."

Brex CEO breaks down how the fintech company disrupts corporate finances

As its original sweet spot of start-ups faces an economic crunch, the company has been expanding its roster of larger enterprise services and clients. DoorDash was the first client for a software product launched in April called Empower, which moved Brex away from reliance on card fees and further into subscription-based revenue.

Empower launched with a focus on spend management, followed by travel, procurement, payments and banking access. Its core service remains key to all companies at time when running a tighter ship will be required.

"We want to help companies build a culture of trust — but one of financial discipline so that it's not a free for all," Dubugras said in a TechCrunch interview.

Earlier this month, the company extended Empower to serve employees from U.S.-based companies in more than 100 countries, and it will next allow local subsidiaries of companies to manage card statements and collections in local currency.

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