Blog Article

Founder Journeys: Rubén Galindo Steckel, Co-founder & CEO of Airtm


Caroline Young

Publishing date

Founder journeys



Our Founder Journeys explore the brilliant minds building real-world blockchain solutions on Stellar. So many of the innovations taking place on blockchain are built by people looking to address problems that have long persisted in communities they care about.

The second subject of the Founder Journeys is Rubén Galindo Steckel, Co-Founder and CEO of Airtm. Founded in 2015, Airtm helps digital entrepreneurs and businesses in Latin America participate in the global economy by providing them compatible dollar accounts and much-needed financial services powered by Stellar payment rails. With these accounts, users can access opportunities worldwide and get paid without having to leave their homes.

Delve into Rubén’s founder journey and his vision for a financial future in which everyone can fully participate in the global economy. Read on!

Caroline: Regarding the global economy, how do you find that people in Latin America have traditionally participated in it? And how has Airtm offered them this new way of being able to participate in more digital opportunities?

Rubén: We believe that people today have been grandfathered into the global economy with products like PayPal, because tools meant to buy things online are not the tools we need to fully participate in the global economy.

We need to be able to receive very quick cashouts. We need to be able to pay very low withdrawal fees. We need to have a variety of payment methods or cash out methods. And the alternatives we have today don't allow for that.

Airtm allows anyone to cash out within a few minutes with very low fixed fees. Users can withdraw cash that day to any single payment method that exists locally, which is very important for someone who might not be fully included in the traditional economy at home. Whether someone wants to convert their money to crypto or a gift card, or withdraw via a local cash transfer method, you can do that with Airtm.

How does Airtm lead to the future of finance and technology you envision?

Finance, like the internet, should flow so that we don't even notice we're using a bunch of different technologies. We can just seamlessly participate in the global economy, with people financially participating with others all the way across the world. The distance isn’t felt when we're trying to transact internationally.

I see a world where there's no borders – where the whole American continent is united as a single economic world region that allows everyone to participate with each other. People can locally access a far bigger market and far more opportunities.

There are 20 countries in Latin America. If they all have access to each other, they would all have 20 times more opportunities to be successful because they'd have access to 20 times more people with whom to economically participate with.

What world do you want the next generation to grow up in?

One that allows everyone, regardless of wherever they are, to be proud of staying at home and be who they are. One where people remain, holding onto their own deeply rooted traditions in their local culture and environment, because there was enough access to opportunities abroad while still staying at home.

And I believe that giving people fair access to participate globally is a key pillar of allowing people to stay at home – to not have to immigrate to the US, like we've had to in Mexico. I'm not saying that I'm not happy because we’ve been able to quote unquote, settle in the US. There are 11 million Mexicans here.

But in the future, wouldn't it be better for all those Mexicans to be able to stay and be able to provide for their families in Mexico? It would have been amazing.

So I believe in a future world where people get to stay in their own country to provide for their families, just because they have access to opportunities online.

Do you have a motto or mantra?

My mantra. I have not articulated it, but I'll give it a shot. Maybe I'll say it, and then I'll try to reduce it.

I'm not special. I am not special. And I believe that I could do whatever I want. I don't think that anyone who’s ever been successful, who’s ever reached for their dreams, has been any different than me or anyone else for that matter.

So I believe that I too can be anything, can do anything. And I also believe that anyone could be or do anything. It keeps me humble because I don't think that anyone is special, especially myself. It’s empowering because there are so many things that you could do if you could do anything.

I try to remain open to the world because I think we all need to aspire to do that. It moves us the most when we know there’s a place where we can be the best version of ourselves.

I guess I’ve tried to live by that. I won't try to reduce it. You can reduce it.

I think that's great. It’s difficult to sum up your life’s motto in one sentence! <laugh> So what’s your favorite app on your phone?

Artsy. It’s a marketplace where every single artist contemporary or from the past is listed, or their artwork is listed there. You could see in what gallery the work is for sale or how to contact the gallery.

When these galleries have shows, they put them on Artsy. When museums have exhibitions, they put them on Artsy. If you want to read about an artist, you can go on Artsy. You can follow a list of artists on Artsy.

I really like art. So Artsy is my favorite app on my phone.

Are you an artist?

In my own way.

Do you have a favorite artist or favorite work of art?

Yes. The Monet water lilies at Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris.

Sounds contemplative. Then what’s your biggest adrenaline boost?

Driving very fast. <laugh>

What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven?

Um… 280 to 300 kilometers per hour. <laugh>

That’s WILD. Moving on, what makes you curious? How do you leverage your curiosity?

I'm very curious naturally.

But I am most curious about people. I like to understand where people are coming from, and I like to understand how they arrived at certain decisions. That allows me to connect with the people I work with and with our users. I enjoy understanding what is, or what isn’t working with our solution. I love understanding why they have a problem at home so that we could give them a better solution.

But that's how my curiosity allows me to be more successful – because I care about people.

So when you talk to your users, what kind of questions do you like to ask them?

I like to ask them about themselves. How do they go through their day? Where they work. What their family situation is like. Are they single? Are they married? The same questions that someone would have to ask to understand me.

I was interviewing someone who collects garbage in São Paolo. He was a garbage collector by day, and a crypto trader by night. And he was thinking about the same things that my sister is thinking, who's super into DeFi.

But just because my sister is an American, we tend to give more attention or credit to this American retail investor, who may be trading more money, than to this guy, who has a bigger need than my sister for understanding the token economies of the world.

It was just very interesting to see how this guy in São Paolo and my sister in Los Angeles are ignited to learn more about DeFi because they’re curious. And they feel that there's so much opportunity.

There was another instance where a user helped me understand the future of Airtm. This guy was looking to make money online doing something totally weird and innovative. He was sparked by a feeling of curiosity and wanted to do something that is unique, belongs to himself, and driven by his curiosities and values.

And it is there that we started thinking about our users as digital entrepreneurs: people who want to make it online that have the same fire burning inside of them that I have.


We’ve got some more Founder Journeys lined up for the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned! But while you’re waiting, you can check out Stellar’s vibrant ecosystem of projects and partners here.

And if you’re itching for more video content, you can catch Rubén’s interview and other entrepreneur and developer-related content here.