There are never easy answers — Edrizio De La Cruz, WG’11
20 September, 2018
Edrizio De La Cruz, WG’11
Co-Founder and CEO, Arcus
Edrizio De La Cruz, WG’11, immigrated to Washington Heights in Manhattan, as a teenager from the Dominican Republic, with his mother and brother, and then moved to Queens, Brooklyn and back to Manhattan. He quickly grew to love New York City where he soaked up its aspiration and ambition. Today, he’s giving that back!
What does Arcus (formerly Regalii) do?
Arcus is a business-to-business platform for bill paying. We make it easy for our clients’ customers to pay bills and access data from paying those bills.
Every bank that issues credit cards wants to be top-of-wallet, top-of-mind for their consumers, and to be used for recurring charges such as from Verizon, Con Edison or Time Warner. To keep that position, a bank needs the best tools.
Over 40 financial institutions and finance apps run their bill paying and bill data on the Arcus platform. Our application program interface (API) enables customers to pay bills in real time to see what bills are coming up next month and how well they paid bills in the past two years. The bank’s customers then have a better understanding of their finances. That’s where the financial health angle comes in.
And the banks get access to big data — that’s why clients are working with us now.
How did you shift from Regalii to Arcus?
Our former company, Regalii, provided cross-border bill pay to Mexico and other Latin American countries. Cross-border payments enable Mexicans in the U.S. to pay the actual phone bills, utility bills, etc. of their family and friends in Mexico. About 17% of remittances are to pay utility bills, and Regalii’s API facilitated those payments.
In providing that service, we needed to build up our real-time bill paying capabilities, and in the end, we created a better technology than our Mexican bank partners had. We realized that the Mexican market — 120 million people — was much bigger than that of Mexicans in the U.S. So, we decided to pivot from cross-border paying to serving domestic Mexican banks, like Banorte, and retailers in Mexico, like Walmart. Because nobody else had what we had built.
The market is in a paradigm shift. Next year, millenanials will be the largest demographic of bill payers. They want modern financial services. They want their finances to be automated and streamlined, in real time, and as easy to use as Uber.
And that’s what we do. We want to automate and manage your financial life. We want to help you gain financial health.
What was your mindset as an immigrant entrepreneur?
When I first came here as a teenager, I really had the sense of responsibility first to make it because I had this opportunity to immigrate to a better place — the land of opportunity, so to speak. I felt like I had to do something with that opportunity.
When you leave loved ones behind, you feel indebted to them. You also feel indebted to your parents for giving you the opportunity and indebted to the country that is welcoming you. It is almost as if you have to make it. That has really pushed me forward.
Before I got into Wall Street, I had spent about six years working as an airplane mechanic at JFK Airport, while a student at Baruch College in Manhattan. I would make the commute back and forth every day. The day I got into investment banking, was in June 2005, when I first made that leap from blue-collar worker to white-collar professional, it gave me a completely different perspective on the world. It is not just a physical or monetary leap — it is a mental leap because you are surrounding yourself with people who have a different standard of success.
I have always agreed with the idea that: “You are the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” And that becomes utterly true, when you spend six years as a mechanic, and you spend the next four years with investment bankers. It gave me a different perspective on life and what to expect out of life.
There is an expression “live in your future.” While you were a mechanic there at JFK, did you imagine yourself in your role on Wall Street or at Wharton?
Yes. I knocked on many doors. I heard many people say, “No.” I kind of had the vision in my head that I already got it even though I was being told, “No,” left and right. When I got the opportunities, I felt surprised. But I wasn’t that shocked because I really envisioned it in my head that it was ultimately going to happen.
That is a big part of it, psyching yourself into being something that is not there. Since the moment I set foot in this country, I always wanted to be someone who runs his own business. I didn’t know in what arena specifically.
Wharton itself is a challenge, even after one is admitted!
Yeah, I agree with that statement. There were times when I didn’t know how I was going to pull through. But I love being pushed against the wall. I get a rise out of it. I love fighting back. So, even though it feels like the sky is falling. Most students at a school like Wharton tend to thrive under the circumstances. It just makes a person a lot stronger.
What advice can you give on being an entrepreneur?
The easiest way to launch a startup is to solve your own problem. If you are not solving something and you are not passionate about it, overcoming difficulties will be tough. Most of your success as an entrepreneur will not be attributed to your business acumen, market knowledge, intelligence, relationships or pedigree. Those are important, but those are secondary.
I think the biggest factor is having your ability to be resilient, to be tenacious. It is so hard that, if you can’t overcome adversity, you will just quit and give up. I think that is what happens to most people, and they just go back to their day jobs. So, having the mental grit and toughness to overcome the odyssey that is launching a startup, I think, is by far the trait that contributes to success.
When I was finishing up at Wharton, I began interacting with entrepreneurs. They gave me confidence to push forward and believe that I could build a multimillion dollar business. Confidence is 50% of the game. You need to have a strong conviction that you can battle through all the challenges and ultimately create something that people like.
How do you become someone who others want to mentor? That they feel this is a person worth investing their time and energy?
I think most people want to give advice. People want to help. And if you are someone who is very clear in communicating that you need help, and you demonstrate some level of success in life and an ability to listen, I think most people are willing. What I’ve learned is that most people don’t take advice. I’ve found some Latinos are not great at it for example. They just don’t ask for help or follow up on their relationships.
One thing I’ve always done with my mentors is provide them updates. If they give me advice on something, I make sure to follow it. When I follow the advice, I say, “Hey, listen, remember two months ago when we had this conversation? Well, I applied this to my business, and here are the results.” They would say to themselves, “My advice is going somewhere. I am actually investing into this person, and this person is growing.” I think human beings inherently want to build and grow things.
Have you experienced some failures along the way toward Regalii and Arcus?
We have never failed. We are perfect. To be honest, there are countless failures. I think, initially, the biggest challenge is building a product that people even want or care about. We spent a lot of time reiterating different versions of the product and struggled with getting it out there. We stood on the corner for months on end, in the cold, into the spring, into the summer, to give out the product for free, just to get people to test it and get people’s opinions on it. We made several pivots, changing different products, and ultimately landed into the bill pay product. Even that failed several times.
Any person seeking to make the leap really should do an internal inventory checklist, if you will. What circumstances in your life have you overcome? Determine something that you are really passionate about — something that you love. The next aspect is product development. A lot of people have done surveys for products, which is a waste of time. The best way to test a product is to put it in front of customers and test whether or not they are willing to use it, and whether or not they are willing to pay for it. Even if you don’t have the product yet. Even if you have to fake that you have the product. This is a common practice. If you read about lean startups, that is the whole premise.
Figure out a way to get a product to 5 or 10 customers as soon as possible — a very minimal viable product. Figure out how people are interacting with it, what uses they have for it, why they like it, why they don’t, what are the next best alternatives to your product and what is the substance behind it. If the customers pay you for it, how much are they willing to pay for it and why? Going through that exercise is very time-consuming, but very worthwhile. It will save you a lot of headaches, time and money in the future.
There are never easy answers. You are always traveling to new frontiers and new territories, and you have to be very comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty.
What is your Dominican advantage?
I am a good salsa dancer. I think Dominican people are very charismatic and dynamic. And with entrepreneurship, before anything, you are a salesperson. You are selling to investors, selling to customers, selling to your own team, selling to yourself. You cannot be an introvert. If you are an introvert, get somebody who is not to be the face of the business.
Do you have some success principles that you live by?
My first success principle is to take responsibility. People find it easy to blame others, but when they start taking responsibility for their own thoughts and situations, they shift from someone who is affected by the world to someone who causes things to happen. When they do that, that’s when things start happening because they are making them happen, rather than being a result of things that happen. That is very important in entrepreneurship because nothing gets done unless someone makes it happen.
The other ethos I have is that who you spend time with is who you become. It is so important to surround yourself with success models, to surround yourself in an environment and ecosystem with people who are performing at levels above you. I guarantee you that, if you spend time with Michael Jordan, you are going to be a really good basketball player just by hanging out with him.
The last one is to give something back. Always give something back to your family, to your community, to society. Help one person a day anyway you can. Giving back gets you out of your own head for a minute. It helps you see things from a different perspective, and it is just one of the most rewarding things in my life.
What was your experience at Wharton?
I love learning. One thing I learned the most about is success and studying successful people. When I decided to leave banking for Wharton, I knew it would take me to another level. As you grow older, you want to keep challenging yourself, putting yourself in circumstances where you can keep interacting with folks who are at a different level. That factor has helped me the most. Always evolve.
– by Kent Trabing