SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 19: (L-R) Mary Ann Azevedo, Senior Reporter, TechCrunch, Henrique Dubugras, Co-founder & Co-CEO, Brex and Anu Hariharan, Managing Director, YC Continuity, Y Combinator speak on stage during TechCrunch Disrupt 2022 on October 19, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
Photo: Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Brex and Ramp’s rivalry is personal

Protocol Fintech

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Fintech. This Monday: how Brex and Ramp’s paths to market diverged, Fireblocks’ plan for crypto payments, and Ripple celebrates its Hinman win.

Off the chain

Rishi Sunak appears set to become the U.K.’s next prime minister, but I don’t think that country’s crypto sector should celebrate quite yet. True, Sunak championed crypto-friendly policies as finance minister. But if he hopes to keep his job longer than his predecessor, he’s best off focusing on fixing fiat.

— Owen Thomas (email | twitter)

Diverging and converging

Corporate spend management has entered a period some analysts call “the great convergence.” Companies like Ramp, Brex, Mercury, and Airbase are increasingly moving toward offering all the same services, like charge cards, bill pay, and even B2B "buy now, pay later." But as the market matures, leading companies Brex and Ramp are surrendering their dreams of owning the entire market — even though much of it has yet to be tamed — and moving toward more of a “divide and conquer” mentality.

Brex is still facing an identity crisis. When Brex controversially let its SMB customers go in June, Eric Glyman, the CEO of rival Ramp, told Protocol it was a “very, very good month” for his company.

  • Brex co-founder Henrique Dubugras said during a talk at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference last week that trying to serve both SMBs and startups was the company’s “biggest mistake.”
  • But his definition of SMBs feels shaky. Back in June, Dubugras told TechCrunch that Brex’s definition of SMBs was companies without “professional” funding. Yet at Disrupt, Dubugras seemed to contradict that, saying his company was totally down with “boot-strapped” startups too. Generously, you could say the common thread for Brex is serving companies with an accelerated growth strategy.
  • Ramp, meanwhile, likes customers with money — slower-growing companies that are profitable earlier on. “I think in the startup world, people forget most businesses are profitable,” Glyman said. He argues that small and medium-sized businesses without a moonshot strategy are a strong, sustainable customer base.

Because they’re targeting different customers, their marketing is different. Brex is appealing to startup hype culture, and Ramp to an ethos of humble growth.

  • Brex’s marketing feels straight out of the year the company was founded, 2017, when WeWork was hosting beer-soaked getaways for employees with Florence + the Machine performing. At LA Tech Week, Brex’s two buzziest events were a media-restricted yacht party and a mansion party serving Captain Morgan and Bombay shots, no chaser, at what was once the influencer-filled Hype House. At TechCrunch Disrupt, attendees were greeted by a giant floating “Brex” sign and a built-out coworking area immediately upon entering the expo floor.
  • Brex touts customers like DoorDash and Coinbase: the kind of companies its startup clients hope one day to be.
  • Glyman, meanwhile, described Ramp’s marketing persona as “nice but understated.” Much of the credit card industry’s marketing, historically, has been to play up the wonders of all the extravagant things you can charge on a card, like fancy flights. Glyman said he wants to do the opposite.
  • “If you can help people go home earlier and spend time with their families and do more things for less, I think that should work,” he said. Ramp wasn’t even on the expo floor at Disrupt.

Even the companies’ founding stories reflect their diverging strategies. As they grow, each company is increasingly reflecting its origins.

  • Brex’s co-founders set out, from an early age, to found companies that might create major change and make major money. Dubugras and co-founder Pedro Franceschi started innovating as teens in Brazil, speaking the lingo of Silicon Valley as they built their first startups.
  • Glyman founded a startup specializing in price tracking, Paribus, before starting Ramp. But he was inspired to start it, he said, by a teenage job at retailer Express, after experiencing the difficulties of business banking.

There are other key differences. Ramp has about 400 employees, while Brex had around 1,100 before it laid off 11% of its staff this month. Brex, first to market, courts well-known companies as customers, while Glyman boasts that one of Ramp’s top customers is a hardware business selling “screws and fasteners.” Brex and Ramp’s rivalry is covered like a horse race because it is. The companies have raised around the same amount of money, and are the two biggest startups in corporate spend. They are competing for the same investor checks, employees, and press mentions. But as the companies mature, the founders’ worldviews are pulling them further apart.

— Veronica Irwin (email | twitter)


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On the money

On Protocol: Fireblocks is laying the groundwork for crypto payments’ mainstream moment.

FTX will compensate phishing victims. Sam Bankman-Fried said the crypto exchange will compensate victims of a scam this weekend with up to $6 million, calling it a "one-time thing."

Bitcoin can't match the highs and lows of the stock market. The cryptocurrency's 20-day rolling volatility fell below that of the Nasdaq and S&P 500 for the first time in two years.

American Express says consumers are still spending. AmEx reported a 21% jump in card-member spending in the third quarter.

DeFi lenders are tightening things up. Borrowers on DeFi app Maple must now sign legal agreements that include a provision for submitting independently audited financial accounts annually.

The Hinman docs are out

After months of legal wrangling, the SEC finally agreed to release documents that Ripple says could shed light on the agency’s thinking on crypto as it pursues a lawsuit against the crypto company. The case, over whether XRP is a security, remains closely watched, as it could set a legal precedent affecting the entire industry.

The documents deal with a 2018 speech by former SEC director William Hinman in which he said ether is not a security. The crypto powerhouse's leadership marked the win by ripping into the regulator now widely viewed as the industry’s nemesis.

“The SEC wants you to think that it cares about disclosure, transparency and clarity,” Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse said in a tweet. “Don’t believe them. When the truth eventually comes out, the shamefulness of their behavior here will shock you.” An SEC spokesperson said the agency had no comment.

The SEC and Ripple have been embroiled in a legal battle since 2020, when the agency sued the company for alleged securities laws violations. The SEC has argued that Ripple failed to register roughly $1.4 billion worth of XRP, the cryptocurrency used on the Ripple network, as securities.

Read the full story on

— Benjamin Pimentel (email | twitter)

Coming up

Money20/20 started Sunday and runs through Wednesday in Las Vegas. Calling itself “Fintech’s Biggest Conversation,” the supersized fintech conference includes speakers from Serena Williams to JPMorgan Chase’s Takis Georgakopoulos. If you’re going, join Protocol Fintech reporter Veronica Irwin and other colleagues at our Tuesday happy hour.

WSJ Tech Live is today through Wednesday in Laguna Beach, California. The exclusive tech event is both in-person and online with programming tailored to tech executives. The eclectic list of speakers range from Sam Bankman-Fried to Hailey Bieber.

Discover announces earnings today. According to Zacks Investment Research, the EPS forecast is $3.66 versus $3.54 for the same quarter last year.

Visa announces earnings Tuesday. Zacks has its EPS forecast at $1.86 against $1.62 for the same quarter last year.

Apple, Amazon, Shopify, and Mastercard announce earnings on Thursday. According to Zacks Investment Research, the EPS forecast for AAPL is $1.26 against $1.24 for the same quarter last year. The EPS forecast for AMZN is $0.23 where it reported $0.31 for the same quarter last year. The EPS forecast for SHOP is -$0.23 versus $0.01 for the same quarter last year. Last, the EPS forecast for MA is $2.57 where it reported $2.37 in the same quarter a year ago.

Join Protocol Enterprise for the event “AI and chips: What the future holds for the U.S. and China”next Thursday, Nov. 3, at 10:30 a.m. PT/1:30 p.m. ET. Protocol senior reporter Kate Kaye will moderate two panels on cross-border AI tech and the AI “Values Competition.”


Today, we expect instant results from our every action, from calling an Uber to ordering a t-shirt. Companies can no longer afford to not adopt technologies like automation. We are now living in the Automation Economy – a new world that requires agility and a complete reimagining of how we work.

Learn more

Thanks for reading — see you tomorrow!

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