The technology ecosystem is marked by outstanding characters, individuals who, because of talent, hard work or even sheer luck, stand out as stars. Bel Pesce is one of them. Pesce is an in entrepreneur at the very well recognized Lemon , the company that created the Smarter Wallet that organizes cards, receipts and coupons digitally. In June, Lemon closed an investment round of US$8 million. We had a chance to catch up with Pesce and find out more about her and Lemon.
Emily Stewart: How did your educational experiences at MIT and professional background at places like Google and Ooyala help get you to where you are today?
Bel Pesce: I think these experiences, above all, can help your mindset be the one of a person who believes everything is possible. I came from a humble background in Brazil, but I’ve always been in love with technology and business, and I always believed in going for my dreams. I learned at a very young age that determination, hard work and initiative can take you a long way. Studying at MIT was phenomenal because I had exposure to so many lessons and projects — I wanted to make the most of the experience and try out many different courses and programs, because, for me, universities should teach you to find what you really love. Microsoft, Google, Ooyala and other places I worked at showed me that, as long as you ask for responsibility and deliver, you can have the chance to make an impact at any age, even while you are still learning.
MIT and other dreams were my dreams — and I did not think it was fair to bury my parents in loans to make these happen. So another fact that really shaped me was the decision to support myself at a young age. It really helped me understand the real value of things; it is something that made me grow a lot.
Being part of Lemon is fantastic. I’ve always admired Wences Casares — he is a truly phenomenal individual and a fantastic entrepreneur. When I came across the chance to work with him, I immediately jumped on it. At Lemon, we have an amazing team, and I’m learning a lot.
ES: How are things going at Lemon?
BP: We are extremely pleased with the rapid adoption of our latest flagship product. The Lemon Wallet can function more productively and securely than your own existing wallet, so we are enormously excited to bring what we believe is completely revolutionary to our two million customers.
We believe that everyone around the world can use Lemon’s Wallet to keep a secure back-up of everything they keep in their wallet. We have customers in over 200 countries.
ES: You authored A menina do vale (A Girl from the Valley) at a very young age. Why did you choose to take on this endeavor so early on, and what are your aims with the project on a personal level as well as in terms of influencing others?
BP: This project started just like a startup: I performed an experiment based on some hypotheses I had in mind. I’m crazy about learning new things, and I truly believe we can grow every single day. For a long time, I’ve taken notes of what I learn during the day in a notebook I carry with me. The day can’t end until I have some notes showing that I learned something new.
At the end of 2011, I decided to read some of my earlier notes, and I realized that some things that I now take for granted — such as the value of having mentors and the importance of finding great people to be in your team – were very revolutionary for me at the time I learned about them. So I started asking myself if other people would also be interested in those lessons. If they were interested, my goal was to make this information available to as many people as possible.
With that in mind, I picked 18 lessons and put them in a free e-book. I called it “The Girl from Silicon Valley — how entrepreneurship can change your life”. It was a side project, but I did it with lots of love. Later, I shared a link on Facebook about the project. That’s how it started. What happened next was just unbelievable. Over half a million people downloaded the book in the first month — and those are the ones I can track from my website. I received messages from people of all ages and backgrounds saying how much the book helped them. It was so rewarding to see that!
ES: Your identity as a Brazilian and as a woman in the technology ecosystem is among the most highlighted aspects of your biography in the industry. How do you interpret this? If you were a man born and raised in the U.S., how do you think the attention you would garner would be different? Is transcending issues of gender and nationality something the technology industry something worth focusing on?
BP: This is a very interesting point, and I think we could write a whole book on it. In a very summarized way: women in technology and startups are a minority, and one way to get more girls interested in following this path is by portraying stories of women of similar backgrounds who achieved what those girls want today. For example, when I was applying to MIT, I wish I could have access to success stories from fellow Brazilians — goals just seem much more achievable when you can relate to someone who made it, and little things like that can make a difference as to whether a person takes the first step.
Pesce will surely continue down her entrepreneurial path in Brazil and the United States, with Lemon and other endeavors. Those in Brazil looking to find out more about her can pick up her book in print, which just hit the shelves.