5 minute read
Startup Story

Make like a check and Splyt: The payment app making group dining easy

The Splyt team pose together indoors for the camera.

How this Latino founder made light work of going dutch after a meal

If you’ve ever tried to split a check at the end of a meal, you might have experienced the awkwardness and hassle that inevitably ensues. One person might end up footing the bill with assurances it would be worked out “later,” but who wants to deal with that? Luis Barrera began to research a new group dining solution and found that people were reluctant to handle the check at the table for three main reasons: the time it takes, the math, and the awkwardness.

As a recent transplant from Peru trying to make friends in New York City, Luis often dealt with the discomfort of negotiating expenses with people he’d just met. “Group expenses are a huge pain point —one person has to front the bill and nag everyone for their share,” he says. Luis was frustrated to discover that existing apps didn’t make the problem easier; from apps that didn’t facilitate payments to tools that required everyone to download the app, there was nothing that really made the experience less awkward.

A background in finance gave Luis insight into financial tools, which “are built around the concept of personal finance: my money, my responsibilities, my debt. But that's not really how we use money—we use money as a community. So our mission at Splyt is to build financial tools that make us more connected instead of dividing us.” His startup Splyt creates a sense of mutual finance by taking the guesswork out of who owes whom what. It requires only one person to download the app and take a photo of the check , which it turns into an online checklist of every item that can be shared by the user via link or QR code. The other diners can simply select what they ordered; it even allows multiple people to select the same item and splits the cost per item—all of which is visible to all viewers in real-time. Once they click “Pay,” it deeplinks to various payment app options for a seamless process that can be completed at the table in one or two minutes.

Luis observed that simplifying the process changed diners’ behavior—whereas settling the check at the table was something they had previously avoided because of the anticipated inconvenience and discomfort. “5000 people used it last month, and over a million dollars in restaurant bills are being split every month,” Luis tells us. Splyt is seeing exponential month-on-month growth with over 50,000 total monthly users—having spent a total of $0 on marketing or branding. Luis attributes their organic growth to the referral-based use case, real-time collaboration, and simply giving people what they want: “What's really cool about that is it solves the awkwardness problem—because you can see what everyone is selecting, and everyone is held accountable in a non-intrusive way.”

At Splyt, we give value first. And if people get enough value from it, then they'll download it. That's the thesis, right? And that's how it's been—and we're growing every single month.

Luis and his team discovered a very specific pain point when users began asking us for peer-to-peer payments via a Venmo integration within Splyt. They saw that many requests came from people who typically fronted the bill on their credit cards, and then had to track everyone else’s payments and pay off their credit card bill in increments. Luis quotes Henry Ford: “They're asking us for a faster horse when what they really want is a car.” The car, in this case, is a credit card—which, says Luis, was “kind of non-obvious until we talked to [our] users.” Instead of putting the responsibility on one diner to pay off their credit card bill after collecting everyone else’s share of the bill via Venmo or CashApp, the Splyt credit card will provide a fully end-to-end solution—a concept already validated by a growing waitlist.

Despite their growth trajectory, Luis and his cofounders experienced the challenges of fundraising without a network that facilitated warm introductions to investors. At one of the many events and dinners he attended to expand his community, he met Googler Samantha Rodriguez, who invited Splyt to apply for the Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund. At the time, Luis says, “I had less than a month left of runway where, if I ran out, I was going to have to move home and then figure it out—because I did everything else that I could. And that's when we got the call from Google [that we had been chosen as a fund recipient]. It helped us extend our runway a ton and pay myself, and actually live.”

The Latino Founders Fund took off fundraising pressure, allowing Luis and the Splyt team to focus on hitting key milestones before raising their next round, and gave them the metrics that investors were looking for. Splyt also implemented Google products into their tech stack including Firebase, which “has been instrumental in helping us built and test quickly”, and Google Maps API which provided vendor information for a transparent overview of how and where Splyt was most used, informing Luis and the team where their resources would be most efficiently focused.

The Fund also worked its magic when Kofi Ampadu of Andreessen Horowitz’s Talent x Opportunity Initiative (TxO) reached out to one of the Google for Startups Founders Funds ecosystem partners, Joey Womack, founder/CEO of Goodie Nation for an introduction to Luis. As a result of the connection, Splyt went on to be accepted to the prestigious TxO fund.

Luis adds that “the most inspiring part of the Latino Founders Fund has been the community of other Latino founders. Growing up, I loved technology and never really had any tech executives to look up to that looked like me or shared anything remotely close to my background. So I never really thought that I fit in and thought it just must not be what we do.” Google introduced Luis to the first community of Latino founders that he had seen, and whom he stays closely in touch with. Luis says that having community is “necessary and reassuring. Before that, we were still tackling the same problems, without that sense of belonging, and that wasn't going to stop us—but it's definitely inspiring and encouraging.”

The community has also offered practical help including an investor network. Luis tells us, “It's tremendously helpful with introductions—these aren't just founders who are thinking about an idea, these are people who have raised money for building big businesses.” Luis believes the community is mutually beneficial for Latino founders and investors alike: “More than granting opportunities for underrepresented founders, I think there's a bigger opportunity from an investment standpoint to invest in these people who have unique insights that maybe the majority of the tech population today doesn’t. And it's proven to be true when you look at the founders from that cohort and from future cohorts—they're building big, long-lasting companies.”

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