Kelly Gusmão and Tito Gusmão
s it possible to disrupt the investment market? Kelly and Tito Gusmão think so. After working for some of the most prestigious brokerage and wealth-management companies in Brazil and the US, Tito founded Warren in 2017 along with Kelly and three other partners: Rodrigo Grundig, André Gusmão and Marcelo Maisonnave. Today, Warren helps thousands of clients to invest well as a means of making their dreams come true in the short, medium and long term – without the traditional commission model that is often present in investment brokers. One of their main disruptive goals with the company was a 100 percent aligned and transparent relationship with the customer. Here, the founders discuss their main struggles with entrepreneurship and why persistence and purpose are not only buzzwords.
What were some of your first challenges with Warren?
[Kelly] Getting an idea off the ground is not an easy task, especially when the idea clashes with huge financial institutions. Having the right people on board was crucial. Assembling a strong, qualified and robust team was one of the first major challenges as an unknown startup in the market.
What would you have done differently?
[Tito] Have you got five hours? As an entrepreneur, there are so many things I would have done differently. I make many decisions every day, and most of them are wrong [laughs].
I think it's easy to be seduced by big investment checks and let go of growth. Today, we focus a lot on increasing user numbers, economy units and profitability. A business needs to be sustainable in the long term.
What was the best decision so far?
[Tito] Insisting on the business model was certainly a great decision. Especially when I realize that we have fulfilled our purpose: to help people make their dreams come true, whether that's buying their own house or saving up for a comfortable retirement or their kids' college tuition. Persistence is key to entrepreneurship.
What professional advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
[Tito] We are coming out of the venture capital boom, where investors signed off huge checks because one of the startups would make enough money to win back their investment. And startups were spending that money hiring many people without necessarily growing their product and having sustainable sales. What decided the signature of an investment check was not the value proposal but the simple fear of losing the opportunity. The so-called “fear of missing out,” FOMO, or the fear of being left out. So I'd say, watch out for growth.
Focus on the core value proposition of your business – focus on one thing and do it really well. It's easy to get lost in the temptation to do too many things. It's FOMO once again haunting the entrepreneur.
What are the biggest challenges at the moment / in the future?
[Kelly] One of the biggest challenges is maintaining our strong culture. The corporate world can be cruel, especially the financial market. Big techs and fintechs are going through a wave of cost-cutting, and it's hard to keep spirits up. The good news is that nothing is permanent, and opportunities come with challenging scenarios. As a result, we're experiencing a period of maturity, with more prepared, efficient and agile teams and processes.
What is the secret to founding a successful company?
[Tito] Always be dissatisfied. The moment we settle, we get blind spots and are no longer doing the best we can do. We lose track of our purpose. I'm always looking for areas to improve, always persisting – mostly because I am dissatisfied [laughs].
Doing what you love is crucial, too. Globo's Sunday night show is the best way to validate if you're doing what you love. If you feel terrible when the opening song starts on Sunday night… you know the weekend is ending and the torture of doing what you don't love on Monday is coming.
I hated that show. I was working in New York and watched Globo International to keep up with the show. And by hating it, I knew I had to quit my job and start Warren.
Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass, only worse, and you like it. It's almost masochism.
What's the most valuable piece of advice you've received?
[Kelly] I have received a few good pieces of advice in life, which I have placed into my daily routine, creating a personal guideline. One, do not project your expectations onto others. Two, communication first – the obvious needs to be said. Three, do not manipulate information (it's not about my opinion; it's about facts and evidence); be honest, transparent and objective. Four, listen more, question more, and talk less. And five, always save some diplomacy and patience for the hard times.
[Tito] When I sat down to talk to José Galló, Renner's CEO and one of Warren's first investors, he asked me: Do you have an enemy? And although this might sound strange, it's a bit of good advice: have an enemy. This will motivate you to improve, work harder and get more done. In Warren's case, we're talking about the giants in the financial market, the ones that focus on a commission base and don't necessarily have the best interests of the customer in mind.
He also told me to take something for my anxiety [laughs]; as an entrepreneur, I'd need it.
Do you think anxiety is present in every entrepreneur's life? Or is it something that's a natural part of the financial market?
[Tito] I think we're living in such a hyperconnected world right now – it might be a generational issue. We're always on our phones, we're always with some sort of FOMO…. With the pandemic, I think the home office can also be anxiety-inducing…. We're always a few doors down from our office – maybe it's the kitchen table, maybe it's an actual office, maybe it's our couch. We can work until 11 PM. No wonder we're anxious.
But there's certainly a lot of pressure and anxiety that comes with entrepreneurship too. I think it just adds to the anxiety levels of our current lifestyle.
Is there something unique about Rio Grande do Sul as an environment for startups that makes you feel at home?
[Tito] Our first office was in the Bom Fim neighborhood, in Porto Alegre, in a thirty-meter-square room where the air-conditioning was not working. We built the desks, painted the walls and bought secondhand computers. We thought São Paulo was too expensive, and people were talking a lot about Florianópolis as a startup hub; but it took us one hour to drive the fifteen kilometers from our rented house to the trial office. That's not quality of life.
Bom Fim is a neighborhood that has everything. We're also a tech company, so we needed to be in a place where there was a good "production" of great developers: that's one of the reasons we chose Porto Alegre as our headquarters. The capital of Rio Grande do Sul has excellent universities and innovation centers.
We chose to stay in the neighborhood of an important university with computer engineering and economics courses, facilitating the hiring and logistics of our developers. It's a city that was affordable and had a great lifestyle – but I'm from Porto Alegre, so I can be biased.
How did you go about assembling your team?
[Tito] We are looking for committed people, chilled and with good character. People who want to build something relevant to the world.
[Kelly] While building our first team, I focused on three important pillars: diagnosing the needs of the company, determining the essential functions that should be performed by the team, and, finally, recruiting talented and complementary professionals.
How do you build your team culture?
[Tito] I know it might sound cliché, but we still have some words and phrases up on our walls. We have to keep focused on our purpose, and we want people who have the courage to do something new, something bold. But we also want our team to remain humble and to keep learning, keep trying out new things. We have lots of problems and need people who are good at finding solutions [laughs].
I think letting people go is important for team culture. If someone happens to be arrogant or a bad team player, it starts bringing the team culture down. Being a great leader means knowing when to let someone go if it's not a culture fit. It doesn't mean that the person might be doing a bad job – just that someone would be happier in another company.
What are your top work essentials?
[Tito] The Notes app on my phone. Also Google Sheets and Docs, and Twitter.
[Kelly] Coffee. Lots of coffee.
What are your most used apps?
[Tito] Endel, both for productivity and anxiety management.
[Kelly] Google Calendar, Gmail, Slack, Notion, Trello.
At what age did you found your company?
[Tito] I founded my first company when I was twelve!
[Kelly] We started working on Warren in 2015…. I was 34.
What book has influenced you the most?
[Tito] Dave Grohl's "The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music."
[Kelly] "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" by Ben Horowitz, "Trillion Dollar Coach" by Bill Campbell, and "Principles: Life and Work" by Ray Dalio.
What positive habits have you cultivated?
[Tito] I meditate with Endel to control anxiety; I take my CBD drops and my Ansitec® [anxiety controlling medication].
[Kelly] Crossfit, Buddhism and dogs.