We put together a list of the top YC companies by valuation as of October 2018. You can see that list at https://ycombinator.com/topcompanies.
Here’s a Q&A with Sasha Orloff, cofounder and CEO of LendUp, one of the companies featured on the list.
What does LendUp make/do?
LendUp provides credit cards, small loans, and financial education for the majority of Americans — those with credit scores below 680, or thin credit files. Think gig economy or hourly workers, immigrants to the U.S., and entrepreneurs bootstrapping on their credit card. Our mission is to provide anyone with a path to better financial health.
56% of the U.S. population has subprime credit, meaning banks can’t – or won’t – serve them. The issue comes down to technology: traditional financial institutions rely on old infrastructure that limits their ability to build products and services to meet today’s new financial reality. This means their products don’t work for the majority of Americans, or their data can’t underwrite them in the first place.
And while there are a lot of fintechs, the majority of them focus on the higher-credit-score end of the spectrum. We’re different because we focus the underserved. We created a business model that wins when our customers do. It also helps that we’re a true fintech: we build our technology in-house, and use machine learning to to reimagine financial services from the ground up. We’re able to underwrite people who are more credit-worthy than their score might indicate, opening up an entirely new market for us and broadening financial inclusion.
How many employees does LendUp have?
We’ve grown a lot since our YC days! We’re now a team of 250 strong. The brightest PhDs in physics are working alongside executives and advisors from the ranks of Tesla and LendingClub (and YC’s Ali Rowghani!), PayPal and Capital One alums, former CFPB regulators, and a long-time NAACP exec. We have offices in San Francisco and Richmond, VA.
How many founders?
Two. I’m co-founder and CEO and Jake Rosenberg is co-founder and CTO. We like to say that together we truly make LendUp a fintech, as Jake was employee #80 at Yahoo!, before serving as Platform CTO for Zynga. I, on the other hand, worked at Grameen Bank, The World Bank, and then Citi, where I got experience working with consumers on both ends of the credit and wealth spectrum.
Also, fun fact – Jake and I are step brothers. My dad and Jake’s mom married when we were in grade school, so we’ve known each other for a long, long time. Being able to have full confidence in your co-founder and fully trust each other is incredibly important — from work ethic and decisioning to creativity and problem solving.
What is your most impressive recent product milestone?
We launched our credit cards — the L Card and the Arrow Card — in beta in 2015. Early this summer, we announced that we’d 4x-ed the number of cards in-market since that time last year. We surpassed our projections, and currently have a 250k-person waiting list. Even more exciting, our card has garnered “Cardholder’s Choice” on Credit Karma. We couldn’t be prouder of that.
We also recently launched a secured credit card in beta. We’re excited about how a secured card can further expand financial inclusion and get more people on a path to earning or improving their credit score, and ultimately their long-term financial health.
What is the larger impact / societal impact of your product in the space you work within?
Our goal is to help more Americans get access to the financial services they need today, while improving their financial health and helping them make good choices in the long term.
So far, we’ve been able to save customers $200M in fees and interest vs. other options on the market. We’ve provided nearly 3M free online financial education courses, and improved our customers’ credit scores by an estimated 600,000 points in total.
We believe firmly in the ability of private-public partnerships to positively impact communities. For example, we’re partnering with elected officials like St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones to create “alternatives to payday lending guides” and provide our financial education to her constituents for free. These are the kinds of programs that can be easily scaled to other cities. We’re also advocating for policies that protect consumers from abusive financial products, and working with organizations like The Aspen Institute to help drive the conversation around solutions to issues like Income Volatility and Consumer Debt.
What’s an interesting element of LendUp’s company culture?
We live, breathe and hire by our seven values:
Ladders, not chutes: we commit to building only products that serve as ladders, helping consumers to get to a better financial place; not chutes, which push people down or get them into financial trouble.
Different backgrounds, same mission: we serve an incredibly diverse set of customers, and feel strongly that in order to serve them well we must have a diverse team.
No bozos, no egos: there’s no time for egos when you’re building something this big and impactful.
Make it happen: we work hard to retain our startup DNA and encourage people to be action-oriented in their work.
Learn fast: the faster our team can learn – from others’ mistakes, from industry best-practices, and from their colleagues – the more powerful we’ll be as a company.
Act like an owner: it’s important to us that all employees have a stake in the company in the form of equity, and that they treat LendUp like their own.
Set the new standard: the industry has never seen a company like ours, and we’re proud to usher in the next generation of financial products that value and promote consumers’ financial health.
Looking back, what motivated you to start LendUp?
A friend gave me a copy of Muhammad Yunus’ “Banker to the Poor,” which inspired me to move to Honduras to work for the Grameen Foundation, a highly-regarded microlending organization started by Muhammad. A six-month internship turned into four years with their technology group, where we used tech to provide access to credit in rural communities. I later went to World Bank and then Citi, to work in consumer credit and later investing. I like to say I’ve worked with consumers on both ends of the credit spectrum, from one of the world’s most innovative nonprofits to one of the world’s largest banks.
What I learned after these 3 experiences is that there’s a gap in financial services in the U.S. that leaves half of Americans out — or worse, abuses them. Think payday lenders, fee harvesters, or banks that won’t accept people at all. I wanted to build a company that would fill this void and create products that actually work for the emerging middle class – the more than half of Americans currently putting up with crappy options.
Is what you’re working on now the original idea or did you pivot?
We haven’t pivoted — our mission is the same: to help anyone on a path to better financial health.
What was a particularly important insight you had about your market that made your product work?
The insight was actually really obvious to me. Having worked at Grameen, I saw the power of credit in emerging markets. But when I came back to the U.S., I realized there was a massive hole in financial services right here, too – and no one seemed to be trying to fix it. I came to understand that 56% of the U.S. has subprime credit, meaning banks can’t, won’t, or don’t know how to serve them. When half of the country’s financial needs aren’t being met, we have to ask ourselves why that might be.
While I was at Citi Ventures, I was eager to find a company I could invest in that would address this gap. Unfortunately I could never find one that would fit the bill – one that offered the customer-service focus of American Express combined with a social mission like that of Grameen’s. Jake helped me understand why: it was a tech issue. Without custom-built software, and a keen understanding of the credit markets, neither banks nor fintechs were going to step up to the plate. It’d be impossible to create a company that could be both profitable and impactful.
Jake, taking a page from the Zynga playbook he knew so well, helped us to connect the dots when it comes to gamifying education and beneficial financial behavior. We both see the power of embedding financial education directly into the products and experiences, versus tacking it on. No one else does this, while to us it seems logical.
What’s one piece of advice you’d share with a young founder?
Having a co-founder – step-brother or not – was invaluable for me. It helps to have someone who shares your commitment, who can ask the tough questions you’re not thinking about, and who can just be “in it” with you.
I’d also say it’s never too late. There’s a lot of talk about how most founders are young, and admittedly, I was one of the oldest in our YC class. I was married with plans to start a family. But if you are committed to your idea, you should go for it — regardless of your age.