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Burnout Twice Before 26, Co-CEO of $12B Brex Tells How He Regained His Balance

For Pedro Franceschi, co-CEO at Brex, an entrepreneur has to have an athlete’s routine to withstand the emotional charge of leading a team

Co-founder and co-CEO at corporate cards fintech Brex.
August 04, 2022 | 09:13 am

São Paulo — Brazilian Pedro Franceschi is the founder and co-CEO of Brex, a Silicon Valley-based corporate card fintech launched five years ago and which is already worth just over $12 billion. Franceschi, aged 26, is one of the youngest Brazilian billionaires, along with his partner Henrique Dubugras. But success is a double-edged sword, and the young man says he went through two burnout syndromes until he regained his balance.

He was no ordinary child. From the age of six, Franceschi was interested in his parents’ Mac computers. At eight, he started learning to program. He worked from the age of 13 when he spoke at a Ted Talks after being sued by Apple because he unlocked some iPhones.

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Franceschi and Dubugras founded fintech Pagar.me in 2013 in Brazil when they were 18 and 19. Payments provider Stone bought the boys’ company in 2016 when Franceschi left Brazil to move to California. “When Henrique and I left Brazil, we wanted to move to set up a bigger business. We knew that being big or being small would give the same work. And to be big, at the time, California was the way we had”, said Franceschi, during XP’s Expert event, held in São Paulo on Wednesday (August 3).

Brex was founded in January 2017 and in April received its Series A check. To date, the startup has raised $1.5 billion in 11 rounds, according to Crunchbase. The latest, a $300 million Series D extension, boosted its valuation to $12.3 billion.

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“I went through a complicated burnout experience,” Franceschi said. Today, he says he understands that an entrepreneur needs to have an “athlete’s routine”.

“Do it every day. Therapy and meditation helped me. The job is very emotionally charged, and rightly so because the CEO’s role is to support the team,” the young billionaire said.

But understanding that you are not irreplaceable and preparing people for the succession of the company also helped Franceschi and the culture of the startup. “Everyone thinks they are irreplaceable, and in the end, they are not. Things are teachable, they are not unique to one person, that’s true for everyone,” he said.

According to the executive, at the speed Brex grew, it was necessary to bring in leaders from outside the company, such as a former Meta executive who became a product leader at the fintech. But now, Franceschi says Brex is training people “house”.

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“If something happens to me, the company has to be bigger than me. We have to make sure that every leader in the company is not only replaceable but sees it as part of the success to have someone better, creating a culture of succession.”

Even though it is a new startup, Franceschi says the behaviors of the new employee are not the same as in the company’s early days. The challenge for Brex to remain an innovative startup is to get back in mind to “day one”, according to the entrepreneur. “It’s remembering the way we behaved in the beginning. We haven’t won 0.1% of the journey yet, we have to situate ourselves in this trajectory. Dreaming big is what you do on Monday. How do you design that process on a day-to-day basis.”

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