John Li and Jeffery Zhou want to provide a more financially responsible lending option for borrowers at risk.
their business, Fig loans, aims to do this by offering a lower APR and fewer monthly payments than what is available with traditional payday loans. Li and Zhou came up with the idea after meeting at Wharton School.
“We were baffled that lenders were charging over 400 percent APR,” Zhou said. “There had to be a better model, and we were confident we could find that out. “
Founded in March 2015, the Houston-based company now works in Seattle as part of the current Techstars Seattle cohort. We caught up with Zhou for this Startup Spotlight, a regular feature of GeekWire.
Explain what you are doing so that our parents can understand it: “Responsible loans that improve the long-term financial health of our clients. “
Inspiration struck us when: “We started meeting financial coaches in Houston. The Case Coaches are some of the most inspiring people we have ever met. Their stories and ideas are all built into what Fig is today. “
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Bootstrap as long as you can, it teaches you to be thrifty. Take financing when you’re ready to put gas on the awesome fire you’ve built. “
Our “secret sauce” is: “Long-term relationships. Our supporters are the reason for our success so far and building long-term relationships is the essence of our business model.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “From Texas. The food is great, and this is where the fig could have the most impact. The second part really opened up a ton of opportunities for us that probably wouldn’t have been present in another market. Participation in Techstars is a second, if not number one. The #givefirst mentality at Techstars is a game-changer. “
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We learn so much from every mistake, so they’re not that bad in hindsight. Probably the biggest mistake we made in the beginning was not looking for a core of mentors. We could have saved countless hours of research from scratch if we had found the right mentors to get us started.
Do you prefer to have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bill Gates. He’s brilliant and he started the Giving Pledge. We couldn’t think of anyone more aligned with Fig’s mission. If there is a chance, we would like to work with the Gates Foundation to see how they can help us take Fig to the next level, both nationally and internationally.
Our favorite team building activity is: “Ice cream is delicious, and we’ve never had ice cream that we didn’t like. We get ice cream when we celebrate and after tough conversations; it is a panacea.
The most important thing we look for when hiring is: “Alignment with a mission. You have to believe in what we are doing; everything else can be learned.
What advice would you give to other start-up entrepreneurs: “It sounds like a cliché, but keep trying to figure it out. We encountered so many obstacles while building Fig, but each time we found a way. You can definitely create things if you try hard enough.
Editor’s Note: GeekWire presents each of the companies participating in Seattle Techstars Class of 2016 before Demo Day on May 18th.