How Carmen Perez began helping people take the fear out of finance with her startup, Much
Much is a social banking platform that helps millennial and gen-z users who feel overwhelmed and anxious about their financial situation eliminate financial stress. Much automates the tedious parts of personal finance so users can focus on the money decisions that really matter.
Carmen Perez always envisioned being a business owner.
“In high school, my [senior] quote was ‘I’m gonna own a coffee shop one day,’” said Perez. “I knew somewhere along the lines, I would eventually branch out into entrepreneurship.
After highschool, Perez had pivoted into working in corporate America, but her time on Wall Street would only be temporary before her own monetary experiences would lead her back to her calling as an entrepreneur.
Perez began Much after having direct experience with the problem of not being able to save enough money to make an impact for the future, a problem that is common amongst many adults in the U.S. According to a 2023 report by Zippia, 42% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. That percentage is even higher for women, with 62% of women in the U.S. having less than $1,000 in savings.
Perez also saw that lacking money management skills and financial literacy put a lot of people in this hole. According to a recent Annuity report, at least a quarter of adults in the U.S. don’t feel like they have anyone they can ask for trusted financial advice, and in 2021, Americans reported losing an average of $1,389 because of a lack of personal finance knowledge.
“Stagnant wages and all that stuff aside, knowledge is power,” Perez said. “I had direct experience with this problem in 2016. I had $57,000 of debt, terrible credit, I had lost a job offer from Goldman. And because of my bad credit, I was paying 18% interest on my my car; I had to sign up for all the predatory loans I could possibly put my name on. It was just like a vicious cycle.”
Perez’s financial hardships hit a rock bottom when she got sued for one of her student loans.
“I had less than $3,000 saved, and it was a $30,000 loan,” Perez said. “That sparked me to understand that I have no option but to get better with money.”
Perez began piecemealing different monetary solutions she found online, including budgeting applications and personal finance management applications, but she found that none of the current applications out there actually helped her to learn exactly how to budget or be more financial literate.
“Everyone throws around the word ‘budget,’ but if you are just arbitrarily throwing numbers on a paper or thinking that putting your bills down is like a budget, it’s not,” Perez said. “It doesn’t get you anywhere. It doesn’t move the needle.”
Perez began teaching herself different techniques towards better budgeting and financial balance, and started documenting her journey online. She grew to over 80,000 followers across different social media platforms, and saw the demand was there to provide more insight into financial wellness.
Perez created Much to bridge the gap between what was missing out there in the personal finance market and the software needed to learn how to do your finances properly. Much also adds a community aspect, that invites people to no longer look at money conversations as taboo, but rather helpful and empowering.
“We are a highly opinionated, zero-based budgeting framework,” Perez said. “Users come on the platform, they connect their bank accounts, and we analyze 12 months of transaction data to tell them what their baseline is.”
Much then works with users and their baseline to determine small, interval percentages to slowly tighten budgets in a way that helps reduce spending without depriving users of experiences or setting unrealistic budgeting goals.
The platform also offers webinars and workshops by people in the personal finance space, and certified financial planners that have lived experience and are also experts within their particular line scope of knowledge. Much also provides community challenges where users can connect with individuals and celebrate other people’s wins.
Why Visible Hands?
As Perez continued to grow her startup, she discovered VHLX, a fellowship program for Latinx founders, created in partnership by Google For Startups and Visible Hands, and decided to apply as the next part of her founder journey.
“I was looking for new opportunities for funding, and this just seemed like it would be a good place to start,” Perez said.
The Latinx founders accepted into VHLX received guidance and support from the Visible Hands and Google For Startups teams to hit their next major startup milestone. Google For Startups granted each of the cohort’s entrepreneurs with $10K in non-dilutive funding to financially empower them to work on their startups, and Visible Hands provided company-building services over the course of the program, as well as wellness programming and events to ensure members balanced their health with their startups.
Building with Balance
In further building Much, Perez took advantage of the community of fellow Latinx founders and resources during her time in VHLX. The program included events called “Cafecitos” which were informal yet informative chats with founders where the group could take a deep dive into different founders’ entrepreneurial journeys and lessons learned.
“A lot of the Cafecitos were incredible,” Perez said. “You get to pick a founder’s brain that has gone a couple of steps ahead of you.”
Perez shared that the openness of sharing the highs and lows of different founder journeys during the VHLX program really helped to motivate her as she continued building her startup.
“I think [typically] you can only share [about the backend of your business] to a certain extent, but really behind closed doors, you’re building the plane on the way down,” Perez said. “It’s nice to hear from founders that have gone before you and I really deeply understand their hardships.It seems like articles celebrating founders come out every single day, and it just makes entrepreneurship seem so easy for a lot of folks. So definitely the Cafecitos were really incredible.”
How was VHLX a Catalyst for Growth
VHLX was led by VH Product Manager Yulkendy Valdez, who proved to make a positive impact on the fellowship founders, including Perez.
“The biggest thing was definitely the program leader,” Perez said. “Speaking with Yulkendy the first time around, it was nice to know that she was a founder as well. And she provided a level of confidence in the program — I had actually gone through another program by another company that I just wasn’t a big fan of, so I was worried if this experience would be similar. The way Yulkendy presented the team and all the information up front, it seemed like it was very organized, and that I could actually get a lot from it in terms of meeting other Latinx founders and through the programming.”
Perez explained that going into VHLX, her top criteria for a meaningful experience included having a good cohort lead and being able to meet folks and attend programming that could make meaningful impact on her founder journey. She happily shared that VHLX was able to provide both.
“Every single week was just incredible.” Perez said. “I felt like it was useful and meaningful every week, more than in past [fellowship] experiences I had.”
The community aspect was also a celebratory factor to Perez during her time in the VHLX cohort.
“It’s [was] just nice to have the community where you can open up and be able to vent about how you’re feeling as a founder and as a person,” Perez said. “I feel like once you name [how you’re feeling], you have a little more agency over it. So it was just nice to have that space. Because I think as founders, we don’t slow down to even stop and recognize that how we’re feeling.”
“Within a given day, an entrepreneur can cry, laugh, smile, or scream in frustration,” Valdez said. “The startup world brings a rollercoaster of emotions and in order to sustain ourselves, we need to get really good at acknowledging these emotions and developing healthy coping mechanisms. I learned about the emotion wheel via a founder fellowship I completed, Future Founders, that works with the Junto Institute to conduct emotional intelligence trainings, and since then, it has been a core tool I use for our communities.”
Perez noted that the VHLX program helped her feel seen and supported as a founder.
“It’s not any fun to come into work and you have all this stuff going on,” Perez said. “So from a mental health perspective, opening with the vulnerability and just allowing people to create space for how they feel was really nice.”
Since VHLX, Perez had continued to connect with folks from the program to bounce off ideas and experiences. Perez has applied the KPIs and minimum viable tests from her time in the program toward Much, and plan to expand to offer more coaching on the platform.
“I know, it sounds cheesy,” Perez started, “but it was the learnings that we got out of the minimum viable tests that was the structure that I would have never known about it, had it not been for a VHLX.”
Valdez applauded Carmen for her participation in helping further build the founder community relationships with her fellow cohort members.
“Carmen is incredibly humble and graceful despite all her accomplishments,” Valdez said. “She is always willing to ask for advice, feedback, and talk through ideas. These are the qualities of not only a competent founder but also a great CEO.”
Much is currently piloting with different businesses, and continues to expand its team. You can learn more about Perez and her startup here.