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Mexican Pay-on-Demand Startup Castor Raises a $1.8M Pre-Seed Round

For Mexicans who live day-to-day, getting access to their earned money before payday, can help them better manage their expenses.

Mexican one thousand pesos bills are run through a counting machine
By Marcella McCarthy (EN)
November 09, 2021 | 08:00 am

Miami — Over the last few years, we’ve seen many fintechs in Mexico tackle financial inclusion. Some, such as Nubank, go after the underserved, while others are going after portions of the population that live day-to-day.

So is the case of Castor, a Mexico and U.S. based, pay-on-demand startup that allows users to access portions of their paychecks ahead of time.

Today, the company is announcing a $1.8 million pre-Seed round co-led by Canary and Vast Ventures, with participation from First Check Ventures, Latitud Capital, and others.

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Mexico has about 128 million people, and about 35 million are on payroll, roughly 27% of the population, according to Diego Villarreal, Castor’s founder and CEO. And for those who live day-to-day, it can be a struggle to wait for your next paycheck.

Traditionally, in countries like the U.S., the liquidity gap has been solved via what’s called a “payday loan,” where companies loan you money, use your salary for collateral, but then charge you a hefty fee for the loan. While this approach can be convenient, it’s not economical for the borrower.

That’s the sweet spot for Castor

How Castor Works

The company, which operates in Mexico, started with a pilot program in July 2021, where it partnered with eight companies and their employees. Castor gives users access to 50% of their earned income on a daily basis, and receives a 1-2% interchange fee from the merchants who accept their cards.

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Unlike most credit card companies, “We don’t have to charge them high interest [rates] to subsidize the bad apples that are defaulting,” said Villarreal.

The company currently has about 300 users and is pre-revenue. The average salary of its users is between $15-$30k MXN (about $750 - $1,500 USD) per month, “so it’s people like executive assistants and back office people,” said Villarreal.

The company has 25 full-time employees and is preparing for a full launch in December 2021, when they’ll also launch the Castor card, which will be able to be used like a debit card. For the pilot, the company has been doing things manually on the backend.

So far, customer acquisition has been through B2B2C, but coming in December they’ll be testing out a direct to consumer (DTC) approach where they’ll open up Castor to anyone on payroll, independent of what company they work for. Villarreal said they would be introducing this approach via a waiting list, which is similar to how other fintechs approach new product launches.

The Competition

Going after a similar market segment in Mexico is minu, another pay-on-demand startup that’s raised significantly more capital - $20.5 million to date, and that launched about two years ago, according to Pitchbook.

Minu also approaches the problem through a B2B2C model, but instead of charging the merchants, they charge users $2 on each withdrawal.

“Castor is a product designed for workers, and we’re experimenting with different ways to get to those workers,” said Villarreal.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Castor charges users a 1-2% processing fee, but that was incorrect. Castor doesn’t charge users anything. The story has since been updated.