Before the coronavirus outbreak, Brex had become the poster child of Silicon Valley largesse. By offering fellow startups high-limit charge cards, its 24-year-old founders had attracted illustrious investors like Kleiner Perkins, rocketing Brex to a $2.6 billion valuation. Flush with cash, it blanketed downtown San Francisco with advertisements, bought four companies, quadrupled its staff, started a magazine—and even opened a restaurant. All in just three years.
Today co-founders Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi are bracing for a harsher reality. Reeling from the coronavirus shutdowns, Brex customers including Airbnb, Outdoor Voices and ClassPass are slashing costs and cutting thousands of jobs. A replay of the 2001 dot-com crash, which wiped out a generation of promising upstarts, could be Brex’s death knell. It has already cut credit limits to reduce its exposure, losing out on revenue it might have generated from these customers and angering some borrowers because it didn’t warn them in advance.