Coco Pago: YCombinator startup fixing remittances and payments in Venezuela using Web3 stablecoin

Updated: Feb 8



It all began back in 2014. Victor, Francisco and I, as Venezuelan expats, were well aware of the decades-long rampant inflation and money exchange restrictions imposed by the government back home. Having this in mind, we decided to launch Surbitcoin, the first Bitcoin exchange in Venezuela. Surbitcoin would allow thousands of Venezuelans to get access to Bitcoin in order to have a way to hedge against inflation and have access to a growing global digital currency which they could use to bypass some of the money restrictions. After a successful launch and strong initial traction, we soon learned that some of our users were using Bitcoin as a way to send money to Venezuela. They would sell their Bitcoins for Bolivars through our platform and then send those to their family back home. This is how we realized the potential of improving remittances using crypto.


Fast forward to 2018, we decided to create a product tailored for this market need; a payment system that would allow Venezuelans to send money back home using a USD-pegged stablecoin. After doing some more research on remittances, we learned that around 80% of the money migrants send back home is spent on food and medicine. Given the lack of crypto infrastructure/adoption in Venezuela at the time, we chose to pursue a much more simple and clever go-to-market strategy. We decided to create a marketplace that would allow Venezuelan migrants to easily send food and medicine to their beloved ones back home in a few hours, amass a critical customer base this way, create a brand the market would trust, and then scale it later down the road by introducing crypto remittance services. And that’s exactly what we did. We then launched Coco Mercado back in January 2019 which got us into YCombinator 6 months after.


To date (January 2, 2022), we’ve served over 60k+ Venezuelan migrants based in more than 100 countries around the world who use Coco Mercado to send food and medicine back to their families in Venezuela, and this has translated to $21M+ in transactions. This would not have been possible without the hard work of our 80 team members aka “Coco-nauts” - so kudos to them as well. Last year we also started building Coco Pago - a crypto wallet that uses the Celo dollar to send money. We chose to build on Celo because of its low fees and frictionless user experience. This led us to apply to Celo Camp last year.


Celo Camp Experience


2021 was a year of great achievements and progress, which included getting accepted and winning first place in Celo Camp! At camp we began the development of Coco Pago, a Web3 payment system that allows the flow of remittances to Venezuela in the form of stablecoins which can be spent by receiving families at hundreds of supermarkets, pharmacies and convenience stores.


During the camp, in just 8 weeks, we went from an idea to building and launching the MVP. By the end of the camp, we raised $500K from Web3 investors to incubate and grow Coco Pago.


The Celo Camp weekly mentoring program was key to launching a new product while maintaining and growing an existing one. In just 8 weeks, we went from 0-1 on the product and articulated an innovative business model around it.



What We Built


We built a non-custodial wallet that uses a third party on-ramp service. We chose this approach because it will allow us to launch in multiple jurisdictions from day 1. Users can just download the app, load funds (Celo Dollars) to their wallet, and send to another user in Venezuela. The person there will have the option to either cash it out to Bolivars or USD, or spend it in any of the Coco affiliated merchants.


Memorable Moments

  • Launching Coco Mercado in January 2019

  • Getting into YCombinator and finding product-market fit

  • Getting into Celo Camp and building Coco Pago

  • Winning first place at Celo Camp


Important Lessons

  • Build an MVP fast so you can have a quick sign that customers want your product

  • Talking to customers is your biggest leverage

  • Articulate in a simple way the problem you are solving and have a talented team who deeply cares about solving it


Next Steps


Our goal is to become the best workers’ remittance company in the world using crypto. We will be launching Coco Pago officially in Venezuela in February of this year, and then in Mexico in March.



Follow:

-Coco Pago website: www.cocopago.app

-Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/coco

-Twitter: @coconecta_ve

-Instagram: @coconecta

-Feel free to reach out to us via email: victor@cocomercado.com


Author: Victor Charles, co-founder at Coco Pago


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