Beyond the Product

Decentralife: A Decade of Building Better with Bernardo Garcia, Félix


Carolyn Yi

Publishing date


Here, we’re all about discovering how blockchain can help solve real-world problems.

The most important voices are the ones behind the solutions, the people building toward change. Blockchain has a knack for drawing big thinkers and dreamers looking to solve real-world problems into the ecosystem, and each one of them has their story.

This summer on Decentralife – a series unveiling the authentic lives of people realizing their potential, building and problem-solving using blockchain technology – we’re celebrating 10 years of the Stellar ecosystem with people who are building better. Better solutions, better communities, better access.

For this installment, we spoke with an entrepreneur at heart who was motivated to solve a problem he experienced first-hand upon arriving in the US. Meet Bernardo Garcia of Félix, a Whatsapp-based payments platform that enables U.S.-based Latino immigrants to send money back to their relatives in Latin America. By bringing an approachable chatbot named Félix to life leveraging AI and blockchain, they make sending remittances as easy and human as possible.

Where does your story start?

I was born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico. I lived there most of my life. I had the opportunity to spend the year in Ireland when I was about 12 years old and that’s when I learned English. Then I spent some time in China when I was in undergrad. I heard the story about what was going on with China’s growth there and I went to explore it first hand.

Then I came back to Mexico and finished my studies in engineering. After that I had the opportunity to move to the US. And that's sort of where the journey that led me to do what I do today started.

It was that combination of me coming to the US and living the money transfer problem for the first time, that led me to want to pursue what we're pursuing today.

Bernardo Garcia

What brought you to the U.S.?

Really like every other immigrant–I came to this country looking for that opportunity to start from scratch. I experienced for the first time how tough it was to come to a country as a complete alien. I didn't have things like a social security number, I didn’t know how things work here.

Going through that process of actually getting started is when I really thought there was a big opportunity to help immigrants improve their being in the US. Obviously, the opportunities are across the board. We had to choose a problem to tackle. In my case, I had to send a lot of money back and forth for various reasons. I had my savings in Mexican pesos, but I needed to do a payment for school or whatnot in the US. So it was that combination of me coming to the US and living the money transfer problem for the first time, that led me to want to pursue what we're pursuing today.

Did you move to the U.S. knowing any friends or family, or were you on your own?

I was on my own. Yeah. I came to Miami for the first time for a job interview about a month before moving. Spent 18 hours here, got the job offer, and then I moved here a month later, so I didn't know anything about Miami at that time.

What do you think drove you to take that leap?

Well I had experienced the payment problem myself and really wanted to build something to address that. I needed to find a true mission, something that I really deeply cared about and something that could have a tremendous impact on people's lives. So that was one thing.

I started my career with a more traditional path in mind (consulting). At some point I got frustrated recommending to people what to do, instead of doing it myself. I always saw myself as enjoying the doing. I got that when I was at Uber. I launched a bunch of exciting operations all over the world and it was just beautiful turning ideas into reality.

So you knew that you wanted to do more of that. Is that what motivated you to go out and build something of your own?

Yeah, I knew that I could do more of it. I had already done it before. And then–you know when all those things that you want kind of start aligning at one moment in time? Knowing what I wanted to do, then having the thought that I found the right partner in my co-founder, and then being driven by a mission that I wanted to accomplish. All those things coming into place was when I felt ready, although you never really feel truly ready! But at some point you have to just go for it.

Tell me more about your co-founder, Manuel. Do you remember when you first met?

I was in business school and the normal thing in business school is that most people want to go into consulting or banking or some other branch of finance. That's sort of like the majority. And so when suddenly some person starts preaching about entrepreneurship and says, “Anyone here want to start a company?” And you’re the two random guys raising your hands, and so we look at each other like, “let's grab a beer. I would love to get to know you and your ideas.”

That's kind of how it started, getting into conversation and obviously after a bunch of them that's when we really realized we shared backgrounds.

I'm the kind of person that gets really energized by working with other people. So I always knew that I was not gonna be a solo founder. I have tremendous respect for solo founders because I don't know how they deal with the top spot on their own.

Bernardo Garcia

You touched on this a little bit earlier saying that you had experienced problems sending money across borders…

When I first came here, I had to do an international wire transfer from my Mexican bank account to my US bank account, once I was finally able to even get that set up. I lost 5% of all my savings in that single transaction, because that's what the banks took. Imagine 5% of everything that you've worked for or saved for just evaporates in one single transaction. That was a very sad day.

But I had what many would consider a good job. I always thought wow, the hard-working people that came to this country and didn't come under the same conditions as me, with a work visa and a job–if I struggle and I complain, I cannot believe what they're going through. I had in mind people that had tougher experiences than myself, because I was lucky.

So it was way bigger for you and Manuel when you set out to start Félix.

Yeah, we did have a very clear group in mind. The amount of immigrants that come to the US every year, the chunk of that, that are Latinos which are like me, and completely underserved, is the fastest growing demographic in the US. It's not possible for the problem to stay so big, for a group of people so big. So I really was thinking about people that had migrated like me but under tougher conditions. We just wanted to help them.

A couple of people that inspired us were Ophelia and Tere, two wonderful women that occasionally helped us with cleaning services. Manuel also knew people like Guadalupe and Augustine who were very close to his brother, people they use to see working so hard, trying to make the most out of their money and then just getting crushed every time they needed to move it. So they were the ones we had in mind when we were building Félix.

So you have this community around you of people that you're bringing with you into the work every day as you build these things.

Exactly. In some of our first transactions, we were literally in person with them.

They would be like

I have to send money later.

and we would say,

Let me help you do that right now.

That’s about bridging the trust gap. I'm standing in front of you, and we can do it on the phone together. Don't worry about it. You won't have to go to the store. I'll help you do it.

That's the beginning of why we thought to do the same thing, but on Whatsapp. It started in a very simple way, from “we’ll help you send the money you need to send” to “how we could help millions?”

Wow. So being that physical link for people and seeing the need was the inspiration to build a tool that others could use in the same way.

Exactly. That’s how Félix was born. And with Félix, it takes seconds to send the money.

I'm always trying to sign up anyone that is willing to talk to me. A great starting point is that WhatsApp is just something most people use already. My QR code takes them to WhatsApp and they're on. In person marketing!

Bernardo Garcia

I hear founder life can be very grueling. How do you get in the zone to take on a big day or a big pitch meeting or something like that?

It’s tough because then especially when you're a small company like us there's a million things you could be doing any day, 20 different titles that you can put to yourself depending on the problems. So to get in the zone I need me time before even getting into the office. I typically try to wake up early. I usually go for a workout, get on my bike and ride for an hour and a half. I’m on my own. That's where I start waking up and plan my day. I think about the 10 possible things that I can do that day that will have the biggest impact on Félix. After that, I try to get home get a nice breakfast, read, and then just get ready for execution mode. When I get to the office I already know what I have to do.

What else do you get inspired by throughout your day? What are you listening to?

I like to mix the content that I consume a lot. I listen to a lot of music, every genre you can imagine. I sometimes wake up to some folk music and then throughout the day I change to something more hype like some electronic. And sometimes I just put classical music very loud.

Blasting classical music? Interesting!

Yeah, yeah. Classical music, and I love it very loud for some reason.

Where do you ride? Do you live in the city?

I moved back to Miami about a month ago so I'm still still figuring out what my favorite spots are but Key Biscayne is great. I enjoy it so far. Our office is in Wynwood. So for me it's seven minute commute. I also ride a scooter to work, which is also a nice part of relaxing before starting the day.

What made you decide to move back?

We had a long debate about what made sense. We started getting good traction and needed to think about what comes next and so the next frontier is Central America. When you start looking at where Central Americans live, Florida starts to become relevant.

Okay, so some of it was about proximity, and feeling close to the people that you're ultimately serving.

Yes. When we're here, we're working all the time. But when I go out for lunch and I talk to someone on the street wherever I get my food, or here in the WeWork–I'm always talking and everyone that works around here is my potential customer. So just being with them all the time and being able to do a micro interview while I order my food helps me to stay super connected and to stay on top of the problem that we're solving.

Going somewhere where my customers don't live just creates a huge disconnect between what we think is reality and what it actually is.

What specifically are you looking forward to this year? What is your dream for what comes next?

Our dream is this year we want to grow the company 10x in the markets that we operate in. We’re investing a lot in the product to be able to give the customers a much easier experience and improve our rails to get better rates. We launched less structured messages and voice notes to make it easier, so now if you say “I want to send a hundred bucks to this person in this place”, all of that via voice mode we can do that for you. So just making the product significantly more magical for customers to use.

That’s so cool. What are you hearing from people about what this allows them to do in their lives?

For example, people have said, "I had an emergency and I needed to get 500 bucks to Mexico to solve an immediate problem. And I sent a couple messages, and the money was there, and then it spent five minutes after that."

I've heard you say is the ultimate goal is people should just know that their financial lives are easier. They shouldn't have to know how the tech works. They just feel the difference of having more access and are free to go about their lives and achieve the things they want.

At the end of the day it doesn't matter if the technology is XY or Z. What matters is people want to get a better bang for their buck and fast payments. We deliver that. We see the wow moment for people when they use Félix. The simplicity blows them away. They just cannot believe that talking to a bot on WhatsApp is now an option to send money cheaply. It's funny because a lot of people think that it's even a scam. They're like, it's too easy. We have to break that barrier. But that wow moment happens when they see it’s so easy and cheap compared to what they’ve known before.

That would be an amazing tagline: so easy you might think it’s a scam. But in all seriousness, I see you like getting excited talking about this and it seems like this is really what just drives you, just blowing people's minds with the elegance of something like this.

Imagine that I don't know some process that you think is complicated or annoying today. Now imagine if someone told you today, send a couple texts and now, this is no longer a problem for you. What would you think? It seems too good to be true, but that’s what this technology does.

That's what we want to get to. I'm glad you're out there doing what you're doing.

Thanks! I'm also glad :)

Beyond the Product

Looking for more?

Learn more about Félix at

Stay tuned for more installments of #decentralife this summer.