If you are a lover of all things FinTech and Growth as we are, you would know about the US based Corporate Credit Card provider to Startups, Brex. You’ve no doubt seen their pitch deck that helped these 20 something guys raise $57m from investors (and probably seen it waaay to much!).
In this article, we’ll look to discover what growth strategies and tactics they are using to scale Brex to the $2.6b success story.
Brex is founded by a couple of young bucks, Pedro Franceschi and Henrique Dubugras. Despite their youth, they already had some success growing a FinTech card acceptance platform out of Brazil called Pagar.me.
So when they came to solving one of their own issues, easy access to working capital for a startup, they had some pretty decent backers ready and waiting in the wings such as PayPal co-founder and VC, Peter Thiel and the Y Combinator accelerator who were early investors in Stripe, Airbnb, Coinbase, Dropbox and many others.
So, heads up, that deck DID NOT get them any funding. Their previous success and connections did.
Their primary target markets are startups within Tech, eComm and Life Sciences. These are some pretty broad segments, but more defined than the typical “SME”.
In another life, I used to do Product Development for SME Credit Cards, so the Brex story has been especially exciting to me. The product category is incredibly useful for businesses to effectively manage their cash flow, as well as being a decent earner for the provider through Interchange Revenue and any interest charges.
The thing I like most about what Brex has done from a product design perspective is increase the value through rewards and third-party perks. These perks, such as AWS credits, used to be broader like Google Ads credits, discounts of SaaS products etc., but they do have some pretty strong (and relevant) discounts currently live to support flexible working:
- 20% off Zoom
- 25% off Slack
- 50% off Dropbox
- 3-month discount from DoorDash
- 25% off Monday.com
- $100k AWS credits
Their proprietary rewards structure has the same sort of tiering that the Uber Credit card popularised a number of years ago, whereby specific spend categories get certain bumps in the earn rate.
The categories themselves are brilliant to support ongoing usage, what is known in the industry as Front-Of-Wallet, but also makes it quite sticky.
Think about every card that you have with a provider, like phone, iTunes, Spotify etc. Now think about closing that card and going around to all those different merchants to change it.
By incentivising their customers to put their Brex card down as they card-on-file for any recurring software subscriptions, they are creating some friction for that customer to shift card providers. They’d have to provide some terrible service or someone else comes in with an epic value proposition for a customer to want to go through that effort.
Travel & Entertainment
The two biggest categories for Corporate spend is T&E. It only makes sense to be incentivising for this behaviour. They also get the added benefit of cementing the brand every time someone gets out their card to pay for lunch with a client.
Rideshare and Brex Travel have a combination effect. They are both traditionally good categories for businesses, but also the cards are on file with the merchant.
In October 2019, Brex launched Brex Cash, a “Business Bank Account replacement”. Which is code for them not being an actual Bank. Radius Bank are the regulated entity behind them, but that is irrelevant to both this article and customers.
I like this move into “normal” banking. Previously, a customer would have had to have an account with another bank plus their Brex card. Now, the business can keep it all in the one spot and simplify their life.
Unfortunately, Brex Cash by itself is a pretty basic product. I can’t see anyone signing up to Brex Cash that either doesn’t already have a Brex Card or wants one.
As Brex continue to enhance the CVP of the Card, as well expanding their product range to embed themselves more with their customers, they are moving away from being a product only into an actual business.
Brex have seen fairly consistent growth in traffic, as you would expect. The direct traffic channel is driven from existing customers going on to the platform:
It doesn’t look like they are getting a huge amount of traffic from referral partners, with only 3.35% of total traffic coming through this channel.
What I do find quite insightful, is that the clear majority of this traffic is coming through Desktop vs. Mobile (77% and 23% respectively). Typically, when we run these assessments, we get the reverse. In fact, when we did Revolut’s teardown, they had 23% through Desktop and 77% on Mobile. Literally the reverse!
These are business people managing their businesses in front of computers. While you can do a lot of things on your phone, most people run their businesses from a laptop.
Takeaway = When developing a user interface for a business customer, start with desktop in mind and build that out to be the feature rich platform.
Whilst there is some paid search traffic, organic is bringing in much more of the bacon. Even their paid search appears to be targeting branded search, although I like the broader non-branded “Business Credit Card” search terms.
Whilst these are guesstimates and assumptions, I would suggest that they would be using high-intent search terms like “open a business credit card”; “how to get a business credit card” etc.
Clearly lots of people wanting to work at Brex, and when you add in the referral traffic from indeed.com, clearly their pitch deck is winning over potential employees!
It’s hard to give too much feedback on the ads, as its pretty subjective unless you have the data. Some of our best performing ads come from ad copy that was quickly done last minute. Best practice is to always give Google some options, and test out responsive text ads.
You can tell that they are really testing the CVP, whether it be around liability and limits; financial management; and benefits.
One thing we are playing around with more is automated bidding strategies vs. manual bidding. We advise our clients to dedicate around 15% of their budget to experiments.
Display advertising can be deployed a few different ways. From cold in-market audiences to warm custom audiences. Unfortunately, we can’t see any in of the targeting information, but we can see some basic targeting:
Their ads are focused on co-branding with AWS. Potentially AWS are supporting this advertising, or Brex are just seeing better conversions when leading with the AWS Credits:
It doesn’t surprise me that most of the web traffic through Social is coming through LinkedIn. It’s B2B after all, and as a result their social metrics are heavily skewed to LinkedIn.
Being consistent with their focus on LinkedIn, Brex have a heavy focus on advertising through LinkedIn as well.
We can see that Brex are testing some creatives (Orange text vs. Black text), which I find to be quite redundant. The biggest determinant for a campaign success comes down to the offer. Studies have shown that these micro-changes can provide false-positives, and if we let then run the course of time and get more data points, they tend to even out.
Better to test the offer; the CVP; the audience; or even the format (i.e. video, lead form), than mess around with the font colour.
I’ll call out here one of their offers is directed at Agencies. Part of their growth strategy is to team up with strategic advisors. A similar approach that Xero took with their focus on Accountants to great success. Will cover this more in detail when we look at their landing pages.
Similar creative being used on LinkedIn, and really spreading their ads across all Facebook's assets, with that same redundant font colour text test.
Would have been better on Facebook doing a Dynamic creative ad and let Facebook’s algorithm put more weighting to whatever font colour is resonating the most. The downside of running dynamic creative’s is that you don’t get any insights, but I can’t see anyone wanting to make any strategic decisions about what font colours they should be using.
Rather than doing a full page/site review, we’ll focus on what happens above the fold. i.e. the bit that you see when you land on the page without scrolling. We’ll lean on some heuristic evaluations, as well as some best practice Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) tactics. I’ll focus on the desktop version given the heavy skew in traffic.
This is Brex’s main page:
- Call To Actions
Keeping to standard website conventions with CTA placement as well as colour contrasts. The CTA within the navbar turns to orange when you scroll down. I really like this as there is only one strong CTA that draws the eye, keeping it simple with the user what you want them to do. They would have run the risk of confusing the user if both buttons were orange.
I’ll also note the language used. “Open an account” rather than “Apply”. Sounds very inclusive.
Takeaway = Only give the user one thing to do.
- Social Proof
Using another site convention using social proof. The brands that they have highlighted a great given their target market focuses on startups.
Takeaway = Put social proof that is relevant to your target market.
- Product Image
I love their use of product images on this page. If you were to conduct a 5-second test, the website visitor would immediately know it’s a financial product. And it’s really just the image of the Mastercard that does it.
Takeaway = Make it obvious what you do. If in doubt, run a 5-second test.
Navbar convention would have the nav options on the right-hand side, but I can totally appreciate why they have given the separation for the Login buttons. The nav menu items stand out enough that it doesn’t detract from the user experience.
The navbar is sticky, which means it will follow you as you scroll down the page. As we have discussed above, the CTA turns orange.
Takeaway = If you move away from convention, don’t go too far.
They are using Google Optimize, which is Google’s landing page A/B testing platform, so I can only assume they are rotating through different options.
For me, this isn’t a great headline. Partly as there are many reasons why startups scaleup…. Not often due to a credit card or bank account. This could be the headline for anything (including Growth Agencies 😉).
Their headlines on their ad copy is stronger “The Corporate Card for Startups”. No mistaking what they do with that headline!
My personal opinion counts for nothing in the face of data, however. So, if they are testing this and it is the one that’s working the best from a conversion perspective, then awesome. I’ve gone into tests thinking one piece of creative or copy is the strongest, but something I thought was a bit shit won.
Takeaway = Ignore opinions. Listen to the data.
Again, not the greatest piece of web-copy, and no doubt in the testing rotation through Optimize. Doesn’t introduce any benefits as to why you would take up Brex’s offer to open an account.
I’d look at testing language to address why someone should open an account.
Takeaway = Ignore opinions. Listen to the data. Again.
Ad Landing Pages
The below page is what Brex is using to attract new users.
- Call To Actions
Interesting that they don’t have the same style convention for the buttons. It seems simple, and these are the things that trigger my inner obsessive compulsive. Typically happens we different people or agencies are working on the account. The web-design agency will likely be different to the performance marketing agency who built the landing page.
But… would a customer know? Nope. So let’s not spend any more time on that.
The BIGGEST thing is the language used. On the home page it’s all about opening an account, whereas this is seeing if you qualify.
Well, when we cast the net out to the interwebs, you can’t always control the quality. When running Google Ads and Social Ads you can select what their household income could be… if known. But there is always going to be some sifting through the dirt to find the gold.
For example, they might have a 10% approval rate through paid channels, vs. 80% through direct and referred traffic.
- Social Proof
Still using the social proof convention, but with different brands. I tested a few different ads and platforms, but it didn’t seem to adjust the logos.
Given their three core segments (tech, eComm, Life sciences), what they could do is create social proof strips specific to each of those segments. Of course, you would then need to create the audiences within the ad platforms (which they should be doing already tbh).
- Product Image
Same deal as their main page, having the products visible gives the web visitor immediately what’s on offer.
Now you might be thinking this navbar is not consistent with convention, and you are right for a normal page, but for a landing page, removing the temptation of the visitor to navigate off the page is best practice.
The whole idea of a landing page is to get the visitor to do one thing = convert.
But they have maintained convention, that if you click on the logo it will take you to the main site.
Talks directly to an audience. Whereas the main site targets “businesses”, they’ve refined this audience to Startups.
Much better outline of the core CVP of the product. Higher limits; No personal guarantees; Tailored rewards
I really like the use of bullet points here. People scan sites, rather than read them like a book, and it keeps to the Rule of 3.
Agency Ad Landing Pages
This is the page Brex were directing some of the Agency ads from LinkedIn to. They have actually moved away from this page, and have changed the LinkedIn ads to native lead generation forms.
- Call To Actions
They have carried over the CTA from the main site, as well as having the “Become A Partner” one. Ideally, you want to keep your CTA’s consistent.
- Missed Opportunity
Like the social proof versions on the main page and ad landing pages, they could have introduced some agency brands that they have already partnered with.
- Generic Image
Does this guy look familiar? Go to unsplash.com and look up “startup” or “digital marketing”. You’ll see a lot of photos with this dude in it.
His name is Austin Distel and he’s the CMO of a marketing startup called Proof. Which is another Y Combinator alumni.
Anyway… enough about Austin. They could have used a better image, like using some of their agency support team… a pic of the founders… anything really.
As per the CTA point, they have carried over the whole navbar. I don’t mind this so much for this type of ad landing page. The outcome is very different, and rather than squeezing someone into converting, this is a potential partner and could provide multiple new customers. It makes sense to give them all of the information that they may need to make a decision.
Super clear header. It says what they want, and have included a sense of urgency with the use of “today”.
I like this sub-header as it quickly introduces what’s in it for the agency. I don’t think it would be enough for someone to click on that “Become A Partner” button though.
The next logical step would be a “Find Out More”, which could take them to a Webinar or video that takes them through what a partnership entails; what will they get out of it; and include some testimonials.
As a lover of all things SME Credit Card’s, I’ve been following the Brex journey since the start and there have already been copycats popping up, including here in Australia.
We didn’t cover it in the teardown, as PR isn’t our thing, but they also do a good job with their brand getting mentioned, with an estimated reach of 1.6m people.
To summarise what I like:
- Investing in performance marketing 😊
- Hitting brand keywords in both organic and paid
- Doubling down on LinkedIn as their social platform of choice
- Pretty consistent creative and design. Black, white and orange
- Usage of website conventions
- Leveraging Agencies to act as their sales force
While this is only some of the publicly available information that is available, I hope it gave you some insight into how Brex is approaching their growth.
Till next time ✌️