Mexican startup for "savers" in Venezuela: in dollars or in cryptocurrencies
Airtm is a Mexican startup that allows citizens of countries with unstable economies to save in US currency.
The application allows users to save, receive remittances and make international payments. Everything, in dollars or in cryptocurrencies.
The name of the company is a game of words between air (air, in English) and ATM, of the Anglo-Saxon abbreviation for ATM.
The firm, founded in 2015 by five entrepreneurs, saw an opportunity in the Latin American queen of the broken economies: in the last five years GDP has been reduced by half and per capita income has returned to levels of the decade of the fifties.
Rubén Galindo, one of the co-founders, talks about his business model as a "mission" that, in addition, and that is important in a company, is profitable.
"WE GIVE SERVICE TO PEOPLE OF ALL AGES, FROM OLDER LADIES TO [YOUNG] SOFTWARE PROGRAMMERS," SAYS THIS 28-YEAR-OLD MEXICAN.
"THE USERS THAT MAKE THIS A GOOD BUSINESS: ARE PEOPLE WHO WORK FOR A COMPANY ABROAD AND NEED TO RECEIVE PAYMENTS, WHICH MAKE SHOPPING ON THE INTERNET OR THAT REACH TO SAVE OVER 80 DOLLARS A MONTH".
Airtm started with an initial investment of $ 250,000.
Now it has almost half a million users and handles some 150,000 transactions per month, with an average value of about 40 dollars.
And its exchange rate has become, according to Galindo, "reference" of the parallel dollar in Venezuela, where two-thirds of its clients are: its business rests in the South American country.
The "cashiers", as users who change currency on the platform are known, can earn more than $ 2,000 a month in commissions, a fortune in a country where the minimum wage is $ 20, depending on the rate. official.
Tool for Venezuelan users
Given the shortage of greenbacks in Venezuela and the exchange rate imposed by the government, Airtm has created a currency trading market.
A Venezuelan worker can deposit his savings in bolivars in a platform account and send a request to a network of 20,000 users who are dedicated to changing currency.
Next, Airtm establishes the types based on a proprietary algorithm that weighs internal supply and demand. And once the application is accepted, the bolivares buyer transfers the dollars to the worker's account.
If, after a while, that person needs bolivars to cover the expenses of the week, the process is repeated in reverse.
To work on the platform you only need a computer, the funds to meet the change requests, and a good internet connection.
The most common transactions are from dollars to bolivars and vice versa, which takes a commission of around 7%.
But you also exchange dollars for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.
The attack of the Venezuelan Government
The growth of Airtm and other similar companies has caught the attention of the Venezuelan Government, which has made it clear that it will fight on this front. In April 2018, the Office of the Prosecutor launched the "Manos de Papel" operation against the so-called "illegal exchange houses".
In a week, the authorities blocked around 1,600 bank accounts and arrested more than 100 people, including the owner of Dolar Pró, a portal based in Florida (USA) that published its own exchange rates. He was accused of the crimes of "spreading false information" and of "association to commit a crime".
The Mexican startup was another of the objectives of the operation. Galindo received an email from the Ministry of Finance demanding the end of his activities and the website was blocked.
Despite these actions, the mass of Airtm customers has continued to grow at a rate of around 25% MoM, according to company data.
To overcome the blockade on the internet, they first had to teach customers how to use a VPN, a connection method that allows the user to artificially change the country from which they connect, to avoid censorship. Now they have an anti-blocking page that changes direction every so often. Beyond the pressure of the Maduro Executive, the increase in users has slowed down the operation of a web page that was not designed for this volume of transactions.
In the middle of this year, the startup will launch a new version with greater capacity, which will allow users to establish the maximum rate at which they are willing to exchange currency - until now, the algorithm of the company decides. With this, he expects to reduce commissions and grow in users.
Although the IMF expects inflation to reach 10,000,000% in 2019, the future of the company is to stop being dependent on the Venezuelan black hole and become a useful virtual wallet for countries with much more stable economies such as Colombia or Mexico.