Dominican immigrant creates tech startup to send money home to family
Dominican immigrant Edrizio De La Cruz sends money each month to his aunt Matilde in Santo Domingo to help her with groceries.
But instead of wiring the funds, De La Cruz, a 33-year-old recent Wharton School of Business graduate, came up with a new way to send cash — and at the same time created one of the first tech startups located in Manhattan’s Washington Heights.
“You leave part of your family behind for better opportunities here. And part of that promise is that you are going to come here, get a better job, and give back. Give money back. You do that through remittances,” he said.
However, he felt like sending cash through services like Western Union or MoneyGram was time consuming, costly and dangerous.
“Every time we sent money, she would have to get on a bus, go to the agency, wait on line, fill out a form, get the money, get on another bus, go back home, put the cash under her pillow,” said De La Cruz.
His aunt would largely spend the cash at the same supermarket.
“It made no sense to me,” he said.
De La Cruz — who immigrated to New York City when he was 11 — launched a business called Regalii, which allows immigrants to send money online, from a computer or mobile phone. The name is a play off of “regalo,” the Spanish word for gift.
A text with a pin code goes directly to a family member’s cell phone in the Dominican Republic. They can then redeem the funds for food and supplies at participating stores across the country. The service charges a flat transfer fee of $3.
“It sort of works like a debit card on your cell phone,” said De La Cruz.
Running out of a small office in a W. 180th St. apartment building, they first started sending money last May and have now grown to about 21,000 customers and hope to expand to Mexico.
De La Cruz — who went to Queens’ Aviation High School and to Baruch College — worked for several years as an investment banker before going to business school at Wharton.
De La Cruz came up with the plan for Regalii as he finished business school in 2011. He launched it in March 2012, investing $30,000 of his own money in the venture and starting out with a staff of one — himself.
The start-up has not been easy, De La Cruz said. It was initially tough to get Dominican supermarkets to sign on to the project, and to convince immigrants to start using the service.
“You’re building something brand new in a community that’s not tech-savvy,” he said.
“It’s convincing people to take a bit of a gamble on you.”
As the company’s funds were dwindling, a Brazilian bank told De La Cruz on Christmas Eve 2012 that they would invest a seed round of $100,000 in the venture. Things have been improving ever since, and Regalii was backed by a Silicon Valley tech accelerator, De La Cruz said.
Now he has 13 employees.
“It has been an amazing experience. You get a lot of highs and a lot of lows. You grow a lot as a person,” De La Cruz said.
Category: DR News |