Miguel Medina, Plerk: Building Latin America’s next generation of employee benefits, Ep 160

Miguel Medina has been an entrepreneur for as long as he can remember. From selling backpacks at traffic lights to doing magic tricks at bars and selling candy to his classmates to earn extra money, Miguel is a pure entrepreneur.

So when his travel startup Isibit was torpedoed by the pandemic, he decided to solve a big Latin American problem: improving the lives of the region’s employees and team members.

At least 23 million people transitioned to remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic in Latin America.  Miguel is  improving employees’ well-being  via a product specially designed to fit the growing remote working teams: a benefits management platform that allows companies to give virtual cards to their employees loaded with money for specific purposes.

After working in huge companies such as Apple and Danone, Miguel shifted his career to begin working at Rappi, helping to launch this startup in more than 25 cities in Latin America. He then decided to leave once again his comfort zone and founded his own startup, Isibit, a company that through the pandemic transitioned to Plerk.

In this episode, I sat down with Miguel to chat about what Plerk is doing to improve the quality of life for Latin America’s workforce, and about how he decided to lean on his safety net to pivot Isibit and create a new startup when difficulties arose. Also, Miguel shared with us his story as a teenager magician and salesman, and how those experiences shaped him into the entrepreneur he is today.

From magician to second-time entrepreneur

Although the young Miguel was not planning on being an entrepreneur, his life experience led him down the entrepreneurial path. He sold candies at school, and after taking several jobs since the age of 14, worked as a magician at bars and restaurants. Being a magician, Miguel was forced to play character roles that were nothing like his introverted “normal” self. Soon enough, he realized that he could fake a more extroverted personality until he was comfortable with talking to more people and being more outgoing.

Since then, Miguel not only worked for some of the largest companies in the world, but also built an extensive community and network of people in Latin America he could lean on when times were rough. As Miguel explained, “magic only happens when you jump from a cliff.”

Find out more about his journey through job and life experiences in this episode of Crossing Borders.

Transitioning from Isibit to Plerk during a global pandemic

After working as Regional Manager at Rappi, Miguel decided to start his own startup, Isibit, in October 2019. Isibit was an all-in-one platform for business travel, an idea that sounded promising, but was torpedoed by the pandemic. Although Isibit was accepted into the YCombinator Summer 2020 batch, the startup was doomed. 

In this episode of Crossing Borders, Miguel talks more about how important it is as an entrepreneur to count on a network of people, a community that can help you endure hard times and his process pivoting from Isibit to Plerk

Replacing paper vouchers with virtual cards

Before Plerk, companies gave employees benefits via paper vouchers to use for transportation or at restaurant venues. These vouchers created a problem that the gift card industry also has: “floating” unspent money that still constitutes an expense for the companies. 

Learn how Antonio Martínez, Miguel Medina and Angel Arias launched Plerk’s virtual debit card  to give employees personalized perks and benefits worldwide. Companies deposit money on the cards, which the employees spend according to their company’s benefits program rules. After launching in January 2021, already in July 2021 Plerk announced that it had raised $1M in Pre-Seed funding from Y Combinator, Magma Partners, 500 Startups and more.

Learn more about Plerk’s project in this Crossing Borders episode and about how it was born in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Outline of this episode:

  • [01:34] – About Plerk
  • [04:10] – Miguel’s background 
  • [05:58] – Work experience before being an entrepreneur
  • [08:30] – Launching Rappi in Latin American cities
  • [10:20] – Turning point of Miguel’s coming of age
  • [12:13] – Biggest lessons learned at Rappi
  • [13:15] – Making his own path
  • [15:33] – The origins of Plerk
  • [17:57] – Overcoming obstacles in entrepreneurship
  • [20:15] – Creating an ecosystem with Plerk
  • [22:44] – How fintechs are disrupting the industry
  • [24:03] – Miguel’s recommendations
  • [24:37] – Advice to younger self
  • [25:10] – Next years for Plerk

Resources and people mentioned:

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