How focusing on diversity is helping this Chicago startup succeed

February 2, 2016

Here’s a familiar tune: diversity in tech matters.

By now, the myriad benefits of a heterogeneous business team have been belted from rooftops by authorities with increasingly redder faces and puffier cheeks.

But talking about (or in some cases, even acknowledging) the importance of diversity is markedly different than, well, actually doing anything about it. Unless businesses make concerted efforts to introduce and celebrate a diversity of talent and of perspective in their workforce, that choir can sing as loudly as they’d like, and still nothing will change.

Enter Chicago-based

, a three-year-old startup whose mission is to make transnational money transfers more simple, fair, and safe. Under founder and CEO Rahier Rahman’s leadership, the startup has made multiculturalism the cornerstone of everything they do, in both practice and preaching.

“We’re continuing to hire people with cultural awareness who appreciate diversity and have consumer-centered personas,” Rahman said.

Pangea’s roster speaks for itself: Women comprise about 50 percent of the team, while a quarter of the overall headcount are employer-sponsored workers. Collectively, Pangea employees can speak a dozen languages, and for a team of just 40, numbers like those are nothing to scoff at.

In Rahman’s view, striking a multicultural chord isn’t only about leveling the playing field by inviting underrepresented groups to the conference room table. It also makes sense from a business perspective.

“If you think about our business, it’s different than traditional apps,” he said. “It’s inherently a multicultural business. Remittances are — in general —high GDP to low GDP transfers. That means predominantly our customer base is immigrants … You’re looking at a very global customer base.”

As it stands, Pangea currently operates in the US/Latin American corridor, serving customers in the US, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador. Rahman said that, going forward, they aim to reach users in India, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, and the Philippines.

“It is helpful for us to have a team that has similarities with our consumers,” he continued. “How you convey the value proposition of Pangea to an Indian customer is probably nuanced to how you convey the value proposition to a Mexican customer … Success or failure really comes down to that nuance. That’s where we’re able to be a lot better than other companies — we understand our customers really well.”

Semantically speaking, Rahman said it can even come down to the smallest of differences — say, using the word “send” rather than “pay.” To know which word will actually resonate best, you have to understand (socially, linguistically, economically, politically) the signification of the language you use.

Pangea’s mobile, debit to debit platform can send money within 30 seconds. Traditional bank to bank transfers often take five business days — and that’s in addition to time spent navigating red-taped paperwork that services like Western Union often require, he said.

And it’s not just changes at the office Pangea is working toward. Rahman, who grew up in the developing world and lived in three of the 10 largest remittance-receiving countries in the world, said he’s seen first hand the difference remittances can make.

“The reverberating impact that money has on day to day life in those countries was really apparent to me,” Rahman said. “The money we send and the money we save our customers goes toward more money being sent home. That’s money that puts food on the table, puts a roof over people’s head, and funds education. It helps change entire generations. There’s a huge social impact to what we’re building.”

Headquartered in River North, Pangea has raised $13 million in funding with another $2 million committed. 35 of their 40 workers are based out of Chicago, while another five work in Mexico City. Rahman said he’s seen triple digit growth quarter over quarter, touching about 40,000 customers on the sending and receiving ends.

Images via Pangea. 

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