GIST Alumni Corner: Julio Lavalle and Cynthia Villar of MiBolsillo
In October of 2018, GIST invited a small group of APEC innovators to participate in a 1-week, intensive training in Brisbane, Australia. That training saw some of the top talent in the APEC region converge to elevate their business model, perfect their pitch, and be inspired by presenters such as Melissa Bradley of Ureeka and Cathie Reid of Icon Group.
Two years later we caught up with one of the participating teams of that training, MiBolsillo, and its co-founders Julio Lavalle and Cynthia Villar. MiBolsillo is a financial personal trainer App that helps people organize and manage their finances.
Not only did Julio and Cynthia participate in the GIST training but they were later accepted to one of GIST’s partner’s programs, the 2019 Halcyon Incubator fellowship which is currently accepting applications for their spring cohort. We asked the two about their experience with both programs and what new and exciting things are happening for their startup.
GIST Network: It’s great to reconnect after the two years since we last spoke in Australia. Your startup was a finalist in that training. What were the biggest takeaways from being part of that event?
MiBolsillo: The GIST APEC Startup Training emphasized the importance of the power of the communications component when you’re building a venture that aims to impact individuals across borders. In this specific case, APEC economies from Latin America to Asia shared very similar challenges, but the ways to tackle them differed significantly. Sharing with our peers and the global community back in Australia about the need our solution fulfills, and why they should care about it, encouraged us to start refining our pitch to potential clients and investors.
GIST Network: What was your experience with the Halcyon Incubator? How did it contribute to your growth as innovators?
MiBolsillo: Halcyon Incubator was for sure a turning point for the MiBolsillo App. We had just launched into our second market--from Brazil to Peru. With the vision to improve the financial health of millions of individuals and micro/small business owners in Latin America, we were actively looking to take the next step into structuring our business with a clear product value proposition, organized finances, and a versatile legal structure for fundraising.
We were able to achieve all three at Halcyon!
We received plenty of resources from technical to business mentors and pro bono financial/legal consulting which made these three goals achievable in less than a semester. Not only that but the meaningful interactions with the local startup/fintech community in Washington D.C. and surrounding areas definitely gave us access to an array of resources and connections that were tied to the global and regional ecosystems in Latin America. This helped us to build the skills needed for our ambitious vision.
GIST, Halcyon, Village Capital, Startout, The Global Good Fund, and D-Lab at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have been some of the programs, outside of the countries where we operate, that have expanded our vision on our journey to reach millions of customers.
Overall, having developed the right relationships during GIST and at Halcyon has ensured that we could go back to mentors to ask for advice and connections that are relevant for each of our steps as we grow.
GIST Network: You are celebrating an important milestone. What has MiBolsillo been up to this year and what plans do you have for the near future?
MiBolsillo: We’re celebrating two years since the initial launch of the MiBolsillo App. In the context of slow economic recovery, and the revolution in the digitization of financial services to include more previously underserved segments of the population, the last 12 months (and especially the last 6) have taught us the following lessons:
- Be flexible: There is great value in pivoting quickly in products and even in distribution channels to meet the needs of your users and customers, and thus capture, activate, and convert them faster.
- Listen to the needs of your clients: We accelerated the development of our financial services marketplace functionality where users can look for the financial services that best suit their needs and profile, be it a loan, bank account, credit card or insurance, with a conversion above the market average and at a lower cost.
- Validate your assumptions: We launched our AI-powered Financial Advisor--a personal financial trainer that feeds on the users' interactions in the App. It also uses their transactional history to process and send actionable information at the right time to increase the opportunity for behavior change which results in better user financial health, thus validating a functionality that brings tangible benefits to our customers and that our end users love (NPS of 7.5).
New projects we are launching include a MiBolsillo digital transactional account, as well as new data partnerships to increase the accuracy of our AI-powered Financial Advisor and its alternative credit score.
There is still a considerable amount to continue refining. We are confident that by listening to the needs of our clients our growing global team of 25 people will be able to complete our mission of bringing seven million individuals and micro/small business owners into the formal economy by the end of 2022.
NOTE: GIST partner, Halcyon Incubator, is currently accepting applications for its spring fellowship. We encourage you to explore this opportunity