How one founder overcame the stress and isolation of his undocumented youth to create a company with $2.7 million in seed funding
CASHDROP founder Ruben Flores-Martinez said the hopelessness he experienced as a young undocumented immigrant later helped motivate the creation of CASHDROP, a mobile commerce app that lets users quickly set up personal storefronts with their phones. On Tuesday the company announced completing a $2.7 million seed round led by Harlem Capital, with participation from investors including Founder Collective and Behance creator Scott Belsky. Flores-Martinez is hoping his dead-simple app can find a place among big competitors like Wix and Shopify. The inspiration for CASHDROP came from two things: an unanswered need among small business owners for a user-friendly platform, and a weekly flea market that used to set up shop outside Flores-Martinez's childhood home in Guadalajara, Mexico. After graduating high school in Wisconsin, without a clear future due to his undocumented status, Flores-Martinez taught himself to code using YouTube tutorials. Flores-Martinez said the despair and uncertainty he felt as a young adult have become motivators as he tries to succeed as a Latino in the notoriously non-diverse world of venture capital. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
One key factor makes it difficult for undocumented immigrants to have a sense of community, according to CASHDROP CEO Rubin Flores-Martinez. "It's fear," Flores-Martinez told Business Insider. "One hundred percent. You don't want to trust anybody. You don't trust anybody." Flores-Martinez said the stress and isolation of his undocumented teenagerhood became powerful motivators for him to achieve as an adult. That eventually lead him to create CASHDROP, a mobile commerce app designed to let small business owners create digital storefronts from their phones in minutes. On Tuesday, CASHDROP announced the completion of a $2.7 million seed round led by Harlem Capital, which was joined by other investors including Founder Collective, Long Journey Ventures, and M25. Founder Collective and Behance creator Scott Belsky also participated in the round. CASHDROP is entering a crowded space. Big names like Shopify, Wix, and Squarespace already help business owners design websites and facilitate online sales and shipping. But Flores-Martinez, who used to build online storefronts using some of those services, believes there's room in the market for CASHDROP's dead simple design. He said small businesses needed a more user-friendly app. "The inspiration for it was, I started seeing so many people on Instagram trying to run a business on Venmo." Flores-Martinez said. "Like 'Hey, DM me for sizes,' or 'DM me for availability, and then Cash App me or Venmo me the money.' It was interesting that people try to hack this solution together when there's already incumbents in place." The other inspiration for CASHDROP was a flea market that Flores-Martinez said would assemble itself outside his childhood home in Guadalajara, Mexico every Saturday. "So you have merchants from all over the city that would come and build these little tents with sticks and rags," Flores-Martinez said. "And then they would basically launch a business, and that was all of the infrastructure they needed." But Flores-Martinez's path from the flea market to founding CASHDROP was long and often difficult. He moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin at 13 as an undocumented immigrant. "Both of my parents were advanced chemical engineers, but there was no opportunity," Flores said. "So they came to America to work low-end jobs." Flores-Martinez fell in love with computer science in high school and dreamed of pursuing a PhD. That path would have started with college. "But I couldn't actually go to school because I was undocumented," Flores said. "It was one of those moments where everything just gets pulled from under you and you're kind of left in purgatory. Ultimately, I'm a child— I'm a 17, 18-year-old kid with no prospects anymore over a decision that ultimately wasn't mine." Flores-Martinez's way out was coding. His girlfriend at the time attended a local public university. Flores-Martinez bought himself a laptop. "When my girlfriend at the time would go to class, I would borrow her ID and would go to the cafeteria, to the library," Flores said. "And I just started teaching myself how to code on YouTube." Coding became the springboard for the rest of Flores-Martinez's life. He started picking up gigs building websites, apps, and digital storefronts. In 2014 he gained US citizenship, which he described as a "pivotal moment" in the furthering of his ambitions. The next year he founded Sugr, an app that used AI to give users customized restaurant recommendations. The app shut down in July 2019, but Flores bounced back by coming up with the idea for CASHDROP "on a whim." Flores-Martinez said the idea that he's a "minority within a minority" is motivating for him. "I'm an entrepreneur, venture-backed, in a world where less than one percent of all VC capital goes to Black and Latino founders," Flores said. "That, ultimately, is what drives me to where we're going. How do you inspire that 17-year-old version of myself, sitting hopeless in a chair, thinking this is the end of the road? How do we inspire them to keep trying, keep pushing? Become somebody."Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: We tested a machine that brews beer at the push of a button