Banking on Gamer’s Passions

Ugami founder Hector Huilan

Ulupreneur Hector Hulian’s nine-year-old son was relentless when it came to prodding his Dad to buy him new video games. It was his son’s passion that later sparked Hector’s imagination.

Born in Venezuela, Hector has been an entrepreneur since high school. He earned his MBA at Kellogg School of Management and worked both in the US and in South America. In Venezuela, he became involved in several startups and successful fintech and financial services companies. When the Venezuelan economy crashed in 2018, Hector came back to the US and co-founded a broker-dealer with a friend, allowing him to set up a business while mulling over fintech ideas for the gaming industry in his spare time. Hector wasn’t a hardcore gamer, but he could see that the industry presented immense global opportunities on many fronts. As he began researching the industry, he saw how huge Esports events were and thought: What if I could merge a fintech play with a credit card that would reward gamers for doing what they love most? So he began to build Ugami, a new debit and credit experience for gamers that provides rewards; by the time they released the beta version, the waitlist was 265,000 gamers long. Already a global company, Ugami has employees in the US, Pakistan, Columbia, Venezuela, and Serbia.

We spoke to Hector right before his launch in April 2022 about how he went from his son’s obsession to creating a global company—and about his tips to other founders.

How does the Ugami card work?

If you go to the supermarket, if you put gas on your car, or if you buy games, you’re going to earn points on all of those things. It’s not just gaming: the gamer can use their account and their debit card or credit card for their everyday banking. They can connect to their direct deposit payroll directly, deposit a check, send money or receive money, and have access to ATMs, etc. At the same time we have promotional reward points for games and accessories. This week, you’re gonna get your 5x, 10x, your reward points, and they’re also going to be able to exchange their rewards for crypto. We want to make their banking experience fun and engaging.

What was the strategy for getting your first customers?

We decided to test the waters with a beta version and developed a waitlist. Initially we invited family and friends and some foreign investors while we tested the app thoroughly. We ended up with 265,000 gamers on the waitlist, which marked the largest waitlist for any fintech gaming card to date in the US.

Why Ugami…why now?

People are starting to realize the importance and immensity of the gaming industry. Previously, there was the perception that this is something just for kids, but the average age of a gamer in the US is 35 years old. It turns out it’s not all men, as some people think—a little less than sixty percent of gamers are males and more than 40 percent are women. So people are realizing this is huge, there is a good gender mix, and it’s very diverse. We also had exponential growth since the pandemic began and it just took gaming to a whole other level.  So we want to be their financial tool, reward them, and make it fun.

What is your advice to founders who are fundraising?

Do your homework. Make sure you’re passionate about and very clear on the industry you’re going after, and know what you’re wanting to do when developing your project. Then be very persistent on contacting the funds that you would like to work with. You may hear “no” a lot, but there’s going to be someone out there who is going to align with your vision. So it’s worthwhile to find people that really understand your vision, your concept, and really like what you’re doing.

What was the most difficult part of building your business?

The most challenging part has been the development side, the tech side. There’s a lot of startups emerging and competitive search for good talent out there. The challenge is you want to go faster, develop faster, and it always takes time—and it’s hard to find the right HR development team that you want.

What’s your dream for Ugami?

Our dream for Ugami is to be in every wallet of every gamer in the US and globally. We want to make gamers happy and make their banking experience very transparent, and for them to see a banking experience as fun and transparent and something they are proud of talking about.

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Rusty Dornin
Rusty Dornin is the director of marketing and communications for Ulu Ventures. An award-winning radio and television journalist, she was a CNN correspondent for nearly 18 years covering domestic and world news ranging from war to natural disasters and tales of crime and politics.
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