The Mexican businessman who made his Silicon Valley-style dream come true

Carlos Chavarría dreamed of innovating in Mexico. His company, NA-AT Technologies, now provides biometric security services to 33 banks in the country and in Latin America.

In the style of businessmen such as Steve Jobs, who started their companies with scant resources from their homes, Carlos Chavarría began to follow his dream of creating technology on his own in his parents’ house. Just three years after graduating with a degree in computer systems from the State of Mexico campus of Tec de Monterrey, Chavarría had created his own company, which is now the only Mexican technology company dedicated exclusively to providing services to the financial sector.

Inspired by the syllabus of his alma mater, which encourages entrepreneurship, Chavarría had an idea that came to him after graduating and landing his first job. “My dream was to see Mexico developing cutting-edge technology. I always had that in mind. When I graduated, it took me six months to find my first job. I ended up in a global consultancy firm, which only confirmed my desire to have a business and make my dream come true,” he says in an interview over the telephone.

With that experience and what he’d learned from working when he was a student, Chavarría gained practice at sales, collections, and customer service, which he implemented in his own company. “The consultancy firm ceased operations and that gave me the opportunity to say, ‘Now I know how a certain part of the business works. I haven’t got anything to lose.’ I sold my car and other stuff to start my company. I started with a very small business,” he recalls of his beginnings as an entrepreneur.

15 years later, Chavarría’s story has the same profile as those young people who started companies such as Apple and Microsoft at the end of the 70s and who moved their innovations to Silicon Valley, in the south of San Francisco, California, where large technology companies have their centers of operation. Giants such as Cisco, eBay, Google, Apple, Oracle, Symantec, Tesla, Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo!, and many others can be found in that Californian bay. But Chavarría is staying in Mexico with his company, NA-AT Technologies.

Just as Jobs began to pursue his dream in his garage, Chavarría started with nothing and now employs more than 200 people, attends to 33 banks, brokerage firms, and financial companies in Mexico. His company also operates in five Latin American countries. For just one of those companies, he managed to prevent fraud of 300 million pesos in just six months from 2018 to 2019.

“At first, I did mobile banking development, until I had the urge to develop my own product in 2009. I started investigating and went to see how the Silicon Valley system worked. Some of my employees did a campus landing at the Tec de Monterrey Center for Entrepreneurial Development and Technology Transfer in the State of Mexico.

With new ideas and work coming in, Chavarría and his team got the ball rolling on one of their biggest successes to date, digital signatures, a way of validating customer identities anywhere in the world with validation from the National Electoral Institute (Instituto Nacional Electoral, INE). This was a project for facilitating internet transactions that they started working on in 2016 and is now a reality.

“One of the ideas our customers had the biggest reaction to was the digital signature, which is the equivalent of a signature on paper but with an electronic device. You can now sign with your finger on your smartphone from anywhere in the world with full legal certainty and entirely lawfully at any time,” he says about the innovation by NA-AT Technologies.

Technology at Home

His company’s name is of Mayan origin. The word “na’at” means wisdom and knowledge in this ancestral Mexican language. Encouraging technological development in Mexico with local talent and ensuring that the benefits stay here is the spirit of the company. Like many others it’s had its share of hardships over 15 years of operation. “Once, I had to go out and sell my mom’s van at a car market because I didn’t have enough money to pay the payroll,” confesses the businessman.

In February, his platform FAD Biometría was chosen by Startup Grind (a community of entrepreneurs founded in Silicon Valley) to present its innovation to global experts in innovation, entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence, and technology, which another 300 companies from across the world also went to with their developments.

“When we saw there was a change coming in the (Fintech) law in 2017, we added biometrics to this digital signature product, creating the FAD Biometría product, which is now a multi-biometric validation platform. We validate fingerprints, voice, facial, and handwriting biometrics and provide this platform to the financial sector, which has led to us having 40% of the Mexican market in that sector,” says Chavarría.

According to the National Commission for the Protection and Defense of Financial Service Users (Comisión Nacional para la Protección y Defensa de los Usuarios de Servicios Financieros, Condusef), Mexico’s Fintech law and innovations to keep internet operations secures makes it a pioneer of financial technology regulations in Latin America.

Electronic banking and digital services for protecting identities and transactions will continue to grow, as it’s predicted that 55% of cashless payments will be made with digital cards by the end of this year, according to data from the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness.

There are still other forms of identification that can be validated. All that’s needed is a little more agility between government agencies to harness the benefits of the technology. “Today, we can only validate your voter identification card against information from the INE. We can’t validate a professional license or a passport, as we need the government to help make these services available so that entrepreneurs from the financial sector or other sectors can validate these documents. All that’s needed is a little more speed,” says Chavarría, who also sees a window of opportunity for strengthening democratic processes through the technology, thus preventing fraud.

“But that’s not the most sensitive topic, which might be that of pensions. How can elderly pensioners who don’t have anyone to help them go and collect their pensions? If they don’t present themselves, their pensions aren’t paid. I saw in the news the other day that 24,000 dead people collected their pensions in 2018. Those are the kinds of things we can hope to prevent with these platforms,” emphasizes the businessman.