How Do We Democratize Wealth? (with Infinity Venture's Mario Ruiz)
Elias Torres: Hola. I'm Elias Torres, co-founder and CTO of Drift. You're listening to The American Dream Podcast. Did you know that Drift is part of just 2% of VC- backed startups led by Latin American founders? Well, I'm on a mission to change that. On this show, you will hear from leaders who have achieved their own version of the American Dream. We'll talk about what the process looked like to get there, the obstacles they faced along the way, and the work we still have to do to build a new face of a diverse corporate America. Spanish. Today, I'm excited to have Mario Ruiz on the podcast. Mario is the co- founder and partner of Infinity Ventures, a venture firm focused on fintech and commerce infrastructure investments. In this episode, Mario's going to tell us about how he found this career in investing, and his thoughts on diversity in VC, so let's get right into it. Welcome, Mario.
Mario Ruiz: Thank you so much for having me.
Elias Torres: Yeah. We have so many people in common. We have good friends, inaudible, Terrence. I'm really glad to finally meet you. Tell us a little bit about yourself. You're a Latino, Guatemalan, Guatemaltecos parents, Puerto Ricans in New York, in the Bronx. Amazing. Latino in New York City, and you come out of there, a really tough place, and you come and now you have your own VC firm. This is incredible. Tell us a little bit about that journey, and I want to ask you more questions about that.
Mario Ruiz: Yeah, no, absolutely. It's the same way as you mentioned. So, born and raised in the Bronx, in Co- Op City, to be exact. And so, my mom's from Guatemala, came to this country in the'80s, undocumented in this country. Started off in Queens, New York, then moved over to the Bronx, where she met my dad. And so, my dad's originally from Puerto Rico. I think my upbringing was quintessential kid from the Bronx growing up, low income, didn't really have much, but had a lot of community and culture around me. And I think in particular, growing up I the Bronx, it just taught me a lot of lessons about life and people you meet, and I think those are the lessons that I took with me in my career, and as I thought about investing. And I think for me, with the family I have and growing up in the Bronx, the lesson I had was just it's very much a close- knit community. I grew up with those who were either white, from the African American, from the Caribbean, obviously a lot of Latinos as well, and that really, for me, was that melting pot experience for me that I really bring to venture as well today in those experiences.
Elias Torres: That is very special, right? How many VCs come from Co- Op City? Co- Op City is, you drive it when you're going from Boston to New York, in those big buildings? That's Co- Op City, right?
Mario Ruiz: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. So, it's basically the last part of the block you see before you go into Westchester.
Elias Torres: Into Westchester, which, what a difference, right? So, tell me a little bit about what were some of the major breakthroughs? You're in Co- Op City. I don't know what school is like there. Must be tough. And then, tell me a little bit about was it through school that you broke into it, was it through fintech banks, investment banks, stuff like that? Tell me a little bit of the journey, how people like... People, they're always curious, like, " How did he do it?"
Mario Ruiz: So, for me, I'll tell you about the fintech side and why fintech matters a lot to me. But I would say from a career path perspective, I would say it was a lot of luck. And so, I went to public schools my entire life. I went to a public high school in the Bronx called Harry S. Truman, and Harry S. Truman was not a glamorous place. It was like seven stories high, had metal detectors. There was actually a prison cell in my school when I was growing up. And so, a pretty rough place to go to school. But, I think for me, I was always very studious. My mom and my dad always instilled in me and my brother that school is really important. And I think partly for me, I was also a very curious kid growing up. I think the curiosity was something that was always key for me. And so, really, my breakthrough for my career actually happened my senior year in high school. And so, I met a benefactor to my high school. His name was Sid Goodfriend, who was actually a managing director at an investment bank in New York called Credit Suisse. Sid came over, would meet with me and some other students at the school, and I point blank asked him one day, " Hey, would it be possible to intern at Credit Suisse for the summer after I graduated high school?" Did not expect a response, but three weeks later, he got back to me and connected me with his executive assistance, and said, " Hey, we have a position here for you for the summer." It was not a glamorous summer that year. I was literally cleaning tables, archiving papers, cleaning deal toys, but it was that first initial opportunity for me really to break through in my career and have a brand name on my resume, which really helped to support me. And so, that was my first foray and insight into investment banking and a career in finance. And so, every summer after that, I continued to nudge and bother the folks at Credit Suisse and say, " Hey, can I spend another summer here? Can I spend another summer here?" Until eventually my junior year, actually, I interned in a more traditional investment banking internship, which for me was that breakthrough moment for me to actually start my career in finance. And so, as you alluded to, so I started my career in investment banking back in 2010 at Barclays in New York. And so, started in the financial services group, and tying back a little bit to my childhood, why finance and managed services was always important for me is because I personally think that one of the hardest lessons for someone growing up poor in this country is not knowing actually how to manage your finances. And although I started my career in investment banking, was working on Wall Street, I was still using my debit card, didn't have any credit cards. I was very resistant to taking out debt because of some of the, I think, childhood experiences that my family saw when I was growing up. And for me, I felt very much like this imposter of working in this glamorous investment bank, covering financial services companies, but at the same time, being really uneducated, unsophisticated with my own finances. And so, circling back now, 10 plus years later, I think fintech really is that impetus and way to drive democratization of financial services for communities like the ones I grew up in as well. So, I'm super excited about working with Infinity today.
Elias Torres: Yeah, no, I'm still touched by that moment, by this mentor or this role model. And by the way, selfishly, that's why... I'm not a big podcast guy. I don't know what my thing is anymore, but hearing those stories... What I'm looking for is how could I help Latinos, blacks, underrepresented achieve their own version of the American Dream. And so, you have achieved... Sometime I say there's not one American Dream. We have different levels that we go. Sometimes it's just like, " I just want a house. I just want a job." It starts with basics. Now you have a VC firm. But that moment, trying to figure out how to help, in that moment, which you just said, is such a great lesson. This person came and was helping and mentoring at the high school, right? And he exposed himself to be like... for that question that you asked. And you had that courage, that boldness in that moment to just say it and ask it. And that's why we need to encourage kids, and we need to be there in the schools to tell the kids, " Take the shot. Go for it. What's the worst thing they're going to do? They're going to say no." But in your case, they said yes, and that person saying yes... How many people do not respond to a LinkedIn message? Including me. How many people just don't have the time, or they're not going to go put their risk, they're not going to bring in this person who doesn't know anything, in high school? That's not normal. It's like, you know what? People that have a wide network with a lot of power and influence can make that happen. They took a shot with you, and say, " Who is this kid?" And that changed the entire trajectory of your life.
Mario Ruiz: 100%. I think for me, it's a lot about confidence, and I think for myself and a lot of folks who grow up in Latino and black and African American communities, there maybe this either imposter syndrome or feeling like I don't have the confidence to actually say and ask the question. But to your point, so many other communities out there, not that they're emboldened, but they have the confidence to actually step up and ask the question of raising their hand and asking for something, and making room for themselves. And I think us as a community, we also need to make room for ourselves in these spaces to say, " Hey, we're here, we want things, and we're going to work hard to get them, but we're also going to need help and support to get there as well."
Elias Torres: Okay. So, we're talking about how your experience is something that it's valuable both economically and socially to the VC world. VC is extremely important. They hold a lot of power because that's the money that fuels entrepreneurship. And entrepreneurship is one of the key ways that underrepresented people can break out of poverty, and that we can distribute the wealth better if we have more people like us succeed. And so, the experience... Tell me about growing up with so little. How is that valuable in fintech to be able to both make money and help everybody else learn how to use their money better?
Mario Ruiz: Yeah, absolutely. And as I was mentioning, I think for me, one of the most important things for me growing up was actually growing up on food stamps and not having money, because I think there's a scarcity of not having financial services and not understanding how to manage your money that just makes you more alert of how you're actually paving on a day to day basis and saving money, and living off paycheck to paycheck. And I think about my job as a VC and investing in fintech is how are we investing in either infrastructure or new companies that are actually helping to democratize that action. And so, that folks aren't necessarily worrying about how to think about the day- to- day paycheck, but now are thinking about ways to actually allow wealth. And whether that be through savings or through investing... Now, with the advent of actually fintech, there's so many new ways where people can actually make and save money that I think it just unlocks a whole opportunity for underrepresented communities actually to build wealth going forward. And I also think a part of this, too, is one of the things for me growing up, because I grew up low income, was just, to your point, being an entrepreneur and having that hustle and having that drive early on to make money. And I think that one of the silver linings of COVID over the past couple of years is just seeing so many people become entrepreneurs online, whether that be through social media, having side hustles... And for me, that was a big way growing up of how actually I paid for college, which was starting an online reselling business, and that's how I paid for college. And I think today, we're seeing so many kids do that today, whether it be doing the same thing and selling on either StockX or GOAT, or even being in school and selling Pringles cans or finding ways to make extra money. And I think that we just have to increase that excitement and that drive for Black and Latino communities to be like, " Hey, you can be entrepreneurs, you can take that leap and that jump and start your own business," and you have the confidence and you have the support to do so. But I definitely agree with you, that capital is the part that's missing, and I think for me as a venture capitalist, I'm highly aware that that's where I have a lot of power, and I want to make sure that I'm helping communities like mine actually have access to this capital so they can grow their business and have an equal shot starting million dollar companies, billion dollar companies, or really building generational wealth.
Elias Torres: That is something that I'm constantly learning, and to be frank, sometimes I do not know what to encourage. You know what I mean? It's like, how to be an encourager, how to be a promoter. I like what you just said. You started a sneaker business, right? And it's, sometimes, is that the right thing? And how does that translate? My business, I sold mangoes on the street. So, should we encourage someone selling mangoes? Should we encourage someone selling sneakers? Because there are people playing at companies and startups at a whole nother level. There's, I don't know... I'm assuming there's kids in high school now starting their own VC funds through their parents. How do we encourage? Do you have any insight into that, and encourage entrepreneurship in inaudible, right?
Mario Ruiz: Yeah. I think for me, it's also highlighting the lessons learned from the entrepreneurial experience. For me, I did it because it was a way for me to make money and save money to pay for school, but the lessons I learned from actually selling sneakers are things I still use today. It's all about customer service. It's understanding how to operationalize and manage your process. Because over some weekends, I was selling 30 to 50 pairs of sneakers out of my mom's house. And so, for me, I needed to operationalize the process, and to have things done in a way so that I can do this on the weekend but still do my homework and still have fun with my friends all on the same weekend. And then it also showed me the value of actually saving the money and investing my money and betting on myself as well. And so, for me, I always viewed actually reselling shoes as better than venture capital in a lot of ways, because I would go on a weekend, buy a$ 100 pair of shoes and sell it for$ 300, and if a sneaker never sold, I could just go back to the store and return it. And so, in some ways, it was riskless venture capital in that sense, but for me, it just took that first couple pairs of sneakers and saving up money to actually get that first pair. And then from there on, I got hooked on it. It was this adrenaline rush of going out there, waiting in line, buying whatever hottest sneaker it was out there, and saving that money and stacking it to the point where I was able to actually pay for my college education. But, I had so many lessons learned through that experience, and that are things that I still bring with me today and have in my own venture capital firm, and working with entrepreneurs who also are very young in their career, and are also going to have some pitfalls that I saw when I was young as well.
Elias Torres: I think you just said something very important, which is what I want... It's like, we have to be able to dissect all the different components of entrepreneurship, and be able to encourage kids that are trying ventures that have those components. You said selling, operationalizing, shipping, learning about how to use your money, how do you grow the business, how do you do customer service, how do you do marketing, how do you do negotiation, how do you do pricing. Whether you're selling mangoes, whether you're selling sneakers, you get to learn a lot of that, that a lot of people don't even have a clue of how it works. Because it's much different when you're actually living it, right? That's incredible. So, tell me a little bit of what are some of the great stories with the sneakers? Were you scared some weekends you were losing money, or did you make it big? Would you want to start another business? There's some big businesses out there-
Mario Ruiz: Yeah, no, nowadays, it's a humongous industry, and I've seen with StockX and GOAT and Grailed and so many other platforms out there, is kids these days can make a lot of money reselling sneakers. But for me, I think the two lessons learned were maybe not the glamorous parts, but one, just whole days, growing up in the Bronx, it would be 10 degree weather outside, and waiting in line at my local sneaker store to buy the newest release sneaker, and it could be quite dangerous. You never know if someone's trying to rob you or what's going to happen at the front of the line, that, hey, four people are going to bum rush the store, they're trying to get ahead of you. And so, there's always this alertness that I had of whenever I was in line of just how am I going to make sure I get out of there safely and back to my house, so that I can get back on my computer and sell these shoes as quick as possible. I think for me, that was the biggest worry for me while I was going through the business. But over time, what I learned, that it was really just about connections and community. When I was in those lines, there were so many people that I met who had the same hustle, same drive that I had, which they were just out there to make an extra buck and find a way to be entrepreneurs on their own. And so, we would just build community out there in line together, help each other whenever we can, because we realized we're all in this together. And so, I think that, for me, was one of the bright sides of doing this, was just so many people that I met who just had so much hustle and drive. And I see this a lot in the kids these days who are doing this online as well. I'll see a line in front of a Foot Locker or a Nike Town, and just a bunch of kids who are probably 15, 16 years old, and this for them is a way to pay for food or pay for college or whatever it may be. And I think that hustle, that determination is things that we just continue to encourage in kids these days.
Elias Torres: Love that. Love that. Right. These are the stories that just keep me moving about the ways that we can bring equity into the system. That hustle in the immigrant and the poor, we've got to encourage it, we've got to advertise it more, and we've got to let people know that you can never give up on the dream, which is kind of how you went from the sneaker business into... How do you switch from that... You went to Credit Suisse, but how did you go into investment banking after that? I heard it was something about an organization called SEO?
Mario Ruiz: That's correct. So, I did a program called Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, or SEO, when I was a junior in college. And for me, SEO for me was life changing because it dropped game for me and dropped knowledge for me of how to actually succeed in this career, because again, coming from the Bronx, I always tell this story... I remember my first day of training at SEO, I had my investment banking internship, I came to the job with a bright blue turquoise button- up shirt to the job, and then someone from the organization pulled me to the side and was saying, " Hey, this may work for you in a Latino- Puerto Rican household, but that's not going to fly in a white shoe environment like an investment bank. And so, I remember after that, I ended up going to a store and buying 10 white button- down shirts and wore the same outfit every single day for my internship. But I think what it taught me was really how to... not necessarily assimilate, but how to adapt to these communities and these places that, one, I'm not familiar with, but two, that I'm not accustomed to. And so, it gave me that toolkit and really the resources around me of how to really do well that summer. I was at Barclays, via SEO, and helped me succeed so I got the full- time offer. And so, SEO's all about how to actually convert students... so having these investment banking internships and converting it to that full- time offer, and just dropping that knowledge and pearls of wisdom of how to actually succeed in your career.
Elias Torres: So, amazing story about Sponsors for Educational Opportunity. Something that we should all share with others, especially with kids in high school, and to look at these opportunities. For mine was Inroads, and there's so many more. We need to talk about them more. We need to fund them. We need to support them. They're nonprofits. And connect the kids with them, because that's a great pathway for opportunities that are there. They're waiting for the kids to make their choice. Sometimes the kids don't even know it. So, we go from that to you go into investment banking, and what did you see there that made you say, " I'm going to start my own"? What was the most impactful thing that you saw that said, "I've got to do it myself"?
Mario Ruiz: Yeah. I think the thing for me was just seeing the confidence and privilege that folks were coming to that I was working with. For example, one of the people I actually worked with the most was actually the son of a Supreme Court justice. And so, for me, seeing someone who really grew up in that type of household and that environment of... in a lot more privilege of a society than I grew up in, in the Bronx. And for me, there was just a different level of confidence and bravado that they carried with themselves, and being willing to take risk. And that, for me, was the biggest life- changing moment for me, was that risk isn't a bad thing. You should take risks in your life, and those risks that you could take can actually help catapult your career as high as possible. Because I grew up in a household with my Guatemalteco mom who was always like, "Just put your head down, do good work, and you'll get promoted in your job. And go step by step." But really, the way that you can build wealth is taking risk, and for me, starting Infinity Ventures for me was taking a risk and betting on myself that, hey, I'm not going to take a step forward as part of my career, but I'm going to take a bet so that I can bet on myself and hopefully build generational wealth for not only myself and my family, but also the communities around me as well.
Elias Torres: That is amazing. What a speech you just dropped there. I'm getting the goosebumps because you're doing... This is a whole study that could be done on risk. I like that. Risk is good. Risk is not bad. And it's amazing how the more you have, risk is bad, if you're going to lose your money. The difference is, what happens is, when these people are not losing their money. So, risk is not a big deal because they have a cushion back home. The problem with us and our families and Latinos, and the advice... I remember my mother saying, " Don't go start Drift. You're successful. You sold a company. This company's going to go public. Why are you going to start another company? It's enough." And it's like, if I hadn't done that, I wouldn't have created an opportunity for hundreds of employees to build their own wealth and to boost their careers and to make an impact in the United States and even abroad. Now we have an office in Mexico. So, it's like, I love that you... How do we encourage that, and how do we help people overcome that risk is not bad, risk is good? What do you think? What else can we say to people?
Mario Ruiz: Yeah. I think it's like, how do you take measured risk? And I think for you, to your point, you mentioned before that you had Inroads, which taught you a lot, and then you had 10 years of a career that was probably a little bit less risky. You worked at a corporation. You worked at a company. You got a paycheck. But, over time, I'm sure that risk aperture started increasing a little bit more because you realized that, " I have a bit more in savings, I can do a little bit more." And I think about for kids these days who are growing up who want to be entrepreneurs, start selling sneakers, start selling inaudible, start doing something that is risky but it also had valuable lessons attached to it as well. For me, having started that sneaker business so early on in my life taught me that, " Hey, I can put my money at risk, but at the same time, there's really rewards that I can see from it as well." And now being on the venture capital side, that's exactly my job. It's taking on risk. It's investing in companies. But also betting on people and their dreams. And I think for me, that's the pride that I have in venture capital, is that I'm investing my money but also our limited partners' money and helping bet on people's dreams. And so, whether it be that Latino who grew up in Nicaragua and then grew up in the US who started selling inaudible, or someone else who perhaps had a different way of life, but it's still that entrepreneurial spirit and dream that a lot of folks have, and I think that's the pride I have in venture capital, is helping to actually start those dreams so people can actually go from zero to one and hopefully build generational wealth for themselves and their communities.
Elias Torres: Yeah. I think generational wealth is something that we don't talk about it enough. I did not know that it even existed. My hope is like you get a job and you get a salary enough that you can buy the house that you want, and you just make payments on it. That's my American Dream before that. I did not understanding what generational wealth. And so, it's kind of a thing that I don't hear people that are white that have grown up with it or that know how to get it or build it... I don't hear them talking about it to me. But I think we need to teach our generations about it. And not only you describe risk as being good, but the point is that we have to go from just having a job to taking the bigger leaps. I left HubSpot and I left a lot on the table. HubSpot went from$ 20 to$ 800. I took a big risk. But, I am much better set up right now to influence and inspire the new generation of Latinos and blacks to be entrepreneurs than I would've been if I just stayed at HubSpot. And so, it's not about the money, but it's about taking that risk to accomplish what you want. And so, I love that. I love that. And so, tell me one of the risks associated with starting your own firm that people would be like, " I don't want to do it."
Mario Ruiz: Yeah. There's a few things one is there's the capital part. And so, it takes money to raise money, and I think for a lot of people who are familiar with venture capital and raising a fund, there's typically 1-3% of the fund you raise you have to put in your personal money as well. And so, in order to actually raise a fund, you actually have to have some wealth created yourself to actually contribute as part alongside your limited partners. And so, for a lot of folks, that's a nonstarter because they don't have the savings or the wealth created to actually take that first step, which is a huge barrier of why I think there are so few black and Latino venture capitalists out there who own a private firm and are general partners because it actually does require money. I would say second is time. The average first- time fund takes anywhere between 12 to 18 months to raise first fund, and that's a period of time where you're not taking a salary, you're living off savings, and that is a big risk for a lot of people who, again, if they don't have the financial means, it's just a nonstarter for them. And I would say the third part, which I think isn't talked about enough, is raising a fund and raising venture capital could also be confidence draining. You get a lot of nos, and I know you as an entrepreneur and having raised venture capital yourself, you get a lot of nos from venture capitalists yourself, but on our side, also raising capital and raising a fund, we receive a lot of nos from limited partners, and that could be a little bit of a hit to your ego and your confidence. And, it really requires you to pull yourself up and readjust yourself and have that next conversation, because you need to know that you have a goal in mind and you need to get there. For me, it was a really hard process of raising a fund. I was very lucky and I did it with two partners alongside me, so I had a support system with me, and I supported them as well. But, for a lot of first- time fund managers who are going out there on their own, it could be really draining to go out there, speak to these large institutional investors, and keep hearing no, no, no, and still need to wake up the next morning, you have to put a smile on your face, and re- pitch your story again. And so, I would say that's something that I think isn't talked about enough that I think particularly for those in black and Latino communities, that can be confidence draining, and it can also create this feeling of imposter syndrome, and we need to adjust to that and help support one another to get over to the next step.
Elias Torres: Absolutely. It is draining because sometimes, as an entrepreneur, you're like, " I built a business. I have revenue. I have customers. I have a brand. I have this. Why did they say no? Why did they say no? Is it about me?" You're never going to get that answer. You're never going to get that feedback. And you're out there and you're just saying, " I'm starting a fund. Give me millions of dollars. Put in a large check," and you pitch, and they say no, and they say no. There is no product to offer them until 10 years later, right? And so, it's like, what do you base that... What feedback do you get to be able to keep going and going and going? It's mind blowing.
Mario Ruiz: And I think for me, it's all about that community aspect, and I'm sure you had this yourself with starting Drift, and other entrepreneurs who did it themselves. And, although there are few black and Latino founders and investors, we need to support one another and teach those lessons learned, because to your point, there's so many other communities out there that have hundreds of thousands of people in that same field that are helping to support them and drop that knowledge. And so, we have to do that same thing or reciprocate that, because the lessons learned that I learned in fundraising, I'm trying to find any black or Latino VCs out there who are raising a fund and telling them about my experience, because these are things that should be passed on from person to person and from fund to fund, so that those lessons learned are mistakes that don't happen twice.
Elias Torres: Yeah. Some day, maybe I'll call you and say, " Teach me. How do you do it?" Yeah, I'm trying to figure out what do we need more out there? I'm in a group of Latino entrepreneurs or operators, and we have a goal of let's get 40 unicorns by 2040 that are Latino founded. But it seems that the next frontier is how many VC firms that are Latino GPs that we can get to lead and to be able to write checks into people like us? I feel like that's the next frontier. What do you think we should be spending our time on to be able to bring equity?
Mario Ruiz: Yeah. I think it's twofold. I think about it as both capital and connections. And so, on the capital side, on my side, I also am part of La Familia, VC Familia, and Latinx VC, and helping to support folks who want to break that barrier and become either GPs themselves at their own fund or join the Blue- Chip Tier 1 funds out there, that the inaudible, because once we have those folks in positions of power and positions of influence who can write a check and make decisions, that's when we'll start seeing the tide turn of having more folks like myself and other folks out there who are actually making decisions and investing in black and Latino founders. And so, I think the capital side is going to take some time, but I think there's a lot of community that's being built to help support that. On the connections side, the thing I always think about is the reason why there's so many unicorns that come out of Stanford is because it's all about that close- knit connections, that community that they have in Silicon Valley, on Sand Hill Road, and how can we help our Latino founders in getting connections to other corporates and having conversations with other founders who have been successful? Hearing that knowledge and hearing how they were able to make it I think are all big learnings that can help these founders really know what the playbook is. Because right now, a lot of people are operating without a playbook, and they're kind of like blind leading the blind in some ways. And so, it's folks like yourselves who I think are really helping support these entrepreneurs who are starting off from day one, so that they have at least some playbooks to work with, so they could start to raise that early- stage venture capital, they can get their first customer. How do they do their go- to- market? How do they then raise growth funding? Help them step by step so that each step is de- risked because thy have someone behind them and helping them who has done it before. And so, I think it's really both sides. It's both the VCs with the capital side, but also the entrepreneurs to really bring the connections and also the knowledge of how to actually do it and build a company.
Elias Torres: Yeah. There's a lot to talk about this. Something I think about is how do we... A lot of people just want overnight success, and they want to go from Co- Op City straight into starting your own VC firm. And there's a path. There's a journey. You have to earn experience. I'm a big believer in that. It's not for equity for equity's sake. You did PayPal Ventures before you did your own, right? And so, it's good to go learn it and to build the connections and to understand how it's done and how the system works, but then you made that very pivotal decision, which I'm very, very familiar with, which is, " I'm going to take the risk and do it myself and believe in myself, no matter if I fail or not," but you're going to learn. We have to coach people, right? I feel sometimes, I feel like people want to go really big, and they don't have the experience. And so, I feel like I kind of want some people who have been doing some building blocks to get to starting a company. What do you think about that? Should we be encouraging everybody from the very beginning, or handpicking the people who have built up some experience?
Mario Ruiz: Yeah. I think it's a good point. I think for me, and I think about this on the venture side too, which is I have a lot of people who either want to break into venture or perhaps are early on in their career in venture and want to become a general partner at a fund in two years. And that doesn't happen. It isn't overnight success by any means. And I think for me, the people that I end up wanting to support and mentor and sponsor are the folks who have proven to me that they've taken those steps, that they have gone out there, have done their home, have done their research, and have come to me saying, " Hey, I've done all these things, and now I'm at a point that I need some help and support. Can you help me from here?" Whereas, I think to your point, there are some folks who have come to me and saying, " Hey, I want to break into venture," but they really haven't done their homework. They haven't really put in that work in the early stages to show that this is something they want to do longer term. For me, I want to see a little bit of commitment there, and I'm sure you've seen this on the founder's side, of, " Hey, is this something you're serious about? And have you done the work? And is this a leap you want to take?" And at that point, having to throw the gauntlet at you and help you pursue your dreams, but wanting to see something proven at the beginning is something that's important to me as well. I think that in the way that you started your career, working at IBM and then HubSpot, and then obviously going out to Drift, learning from other people is really important. It could be a little bit of an ego hit of, " Hey, I'm working at a corporation and taking a salary," but those are where you build connections, you learn the ropes, and you learn the internal route of actually how to build a company. Because HubSpot was a smallish company when you started, and now obviously it's massive. You join a company like IBM, which was massive when you joined it, and you learn the politics, you learn the system, and now that you have your own company, you know that framework of how to actually build a culture, build a community, and build a company that's sustainable. And so, having those experiences are really valuable in when you're starting your own thing of knowing how someone else has done it, perhaps how you would sweep things and doing things on your own.
Elias Torres: Tell us a little bit, wrap up with Infinity Ventures. How much did you raise? What stage are you in? How many companies? What kind of people should reach out to you when looking for funding?
Mario Ruiz: Yeah. So, Infinity Ventures, the quick overview of us, we're$ 158 million early- stage venture fund, really focused on everything from pre- seed to Series A, all within fintech and e- commerce enablement. And so, to categorize that as anything that's really building within the infrastructure of fintech but also thinking about how people are buying and selling online. And so, we're really investing in the builders, and that's our vision and our dream, is to find people who are building really that infrastructure so then five, 10, 15 years, the way that fintech and e- commerce looks in the future is completely different from where it is today. And so, we're looking for the seed stage version of what Drift was several years ago, is one example of that. And so, again, $ 158 million fund focused on everything from pre- seed to Series A.
Elias Torres: So, it's already closed, right? You already closed that fund, right?
Mario Ruiz: We did.
Elias Torres: Examples of companies you've already invested in?
Mario Ruiz: Yeah, so we've invested in 10 companies so far. Actually, number 11 hopefully soon as well. And so, a couple of companies that we invested in that are public, a company called Neo. Tax, which is building an embedded fintech solution for small business and medium- sized businesses to actually do their taxes on platforms that they actually utilize on a day- to- day basis. And so, for example, Neo. Tax works with Mercury, which is a neo bank for businesses, and is an embedded solution to actually do your taxes all in one place in an automated fashion. And then another company we invested in, actually based in Mexico City, is a company called Mendel, which is doing corporate card expense management, but for larger enterprises in Mexico and Lat Am. And so, more so focused on that inaudible, the inaudible of the world who are larger enterprises that need deeper software and solutions to actually manage their finances. And so, both are Series A investments that we did out of Infinity. And then we have a number of other companies that are still in stealth that we'll be announcing pretty soon as well.
Elias Torres: That's awesome. And so, you're investing in companies based in Latin America, right?
Mario Ruiz: Mendel is based in Mexico City. Neo. Tax is based in the US, but our portfolio today is about 50/50, half in the US and half international.
Elias Torres: Awesome. Awesome. No, perfect. I get a lot of people asking me for who should they reach out, so I'll connect you with some of these, get you some deal flow.
Mario Ruiz: That would be great.
Elias Torres: Mario, it's been a pleasure. We had people in common. We had to meet, definitely. I'm going to be running into you more and more, I bet, in many different places. Congrats on being a role model, on taking huge leaps, taking risks, taking your hustle and your grit from an early age and taking every opportunity that was given to you. And you humbly took it, and you make people proud. So, I think this is amazing to see more Latinos with the ability to write checks, and believe in people that look more like us. Right? Thank you so much for what you're doing, and we'll get to see you soon. Thanks for listening to The American Dream Podcast. Make sure to hit subscribe so you never miss when a new episode drops. If you liked this episode, please leave a six- star review wherever you listen to your podcast. And if you're interested in learning more about my American Dream mission, subscribe to my newsletter linked in the show notes.
Mario Ruiz grew up on food stamps in the Bronx. He credits this experience to being instrumental in how he's able to manage wealth and run his investing firm, Infinity Ventures, today.
But, it's also an experience he hopes very few other Latinx people need to have. That's why, as co-founder and partner of Infinity Ventures, Mario is focused on investing in infrastructure and new companies with the mission to democratize wealth.
In this episode of The American Dream podcast, Mario explains how reselling sneakers in high school taught him the basics of investing, why having the confidence to take risks is crucial to entrepreneurship, and what we all need to do to democratize wealth.
(1:43) Mario’s backstory
(3:21) How Mario broke into investment banking
(8:59) How Mario’s background helps him in fintech today
(12:08) How do we encourage entrepreneurs?
(14:20) The great sneaker stories
(16:42) How Sponsors for Education Opportunity (SEO) changed Mario’s life
(18:48) What made Mario want to start his own fund
(20:59) How do you take measured risk?
(23:40) The risks with starting own firm
(26:33) The importance of community when starting a company
(27:52) What we need to do to make the VC community more diverse
(30:46) There’s no such thing as overnight success
(32:36) All about Infinity Ventures
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