Before he was head of talent acquisition at LendUp, Rik Avalos helped Elon Musk build Tesla Motors from 215 to 17,000 employees.
Now Avalos evangelizes for the Silicon Valley-based online platform LendUp, which describes itself as a payday loan alternative.
People who can least afford to borrow money at 200 percent interest rate can usually get loans at LendUp.
In an industry with a reputation for predation, LendUp lends to customers that banks usually turn away. It gives credit cards to borrowers with poor credit scores and gives short-term loans with high interest rates. It also provides free online courses on money management for customers.
LendUp is disrupting an industry that has long been viewed as predatory, says Rik Avalos, head of talent acquisition at the San Francisco-based firm.
Here’s how LendUp CEO Sasha Orloff tried to justify lending at 200 percent interest in an Oct. 31 Forbes report.
“When you’re thinking about the payday lending industry you’re typically talking about 400 to 1,000% APR annualized rates,” Orloff said.
“Obviously, lending at half the rate or better than the competition is better for the customer, but it could still be a debt trap from which the customer might never escape,” Devin Thorpe wrote in Forbes.
LendUp emerged from the Y Combinator batch of 2012. It has received $361.5 million in funding according to Crunchbase, including equity and debt financing from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.
With 220 employees, LendUp has made 4 million loans totaling more than $1 billion.
Avalos came to LendUp by way of Tesla Motors, where he was one of the first recruiters. He talked to Moguldom about how working at Tesla informed his LendUp experience.
Rik Avalos: I was (at Tesla) when we were only 250 people. When Elon was trying to assemble one of the best teams in the world I was one of the recruiters who helped him do it. His message is that the best minds come from everywhere. Harnessing innovation comes from multitudes of different thoughts, cultures, thought processes — you would never have seen what Tesla could do without the diversity.
After Tesla got to be over 17,000 people I wanted to be with a company that was making an impact — not just making money — and doing something with technology that would make me feel good about the hard work I put in every day. I’m very excited because Lendup is doing something that benefits everybody. If we’re doing well then our customers are doing well. We have a very inclusive, altruistic culture of people who have been very touched by that.
I was an artist without having a steady income. I wish Lendup had existed when I was younger. I would love for it to raise the service level of all service institutions. My bank doesn’t try to raise my credit score. My bank doesn’t … reward me for making my payments on time. (At LendUp) we lower our APR for people who pay their payments on time.
I’m very passionate about LendUp. We live by the values of inclusivity every day. Our founders are professors of that. We talk about that every time we meet. It goes beyond just having a diversity program. We believe it is the success of our program.
Moguldom: Tell me about the founders (Sasha Orloff, CEO, and Jacob Rosenberg, CTO).
Rik Avalos: They’re two people who are really smart and could be making money a million different ways, probably easier. They’re trying to transform the way the financial services industry is, trying to get a greater sense of transparency. That feels good. That’s something you want to be excited about. No matter what you’re doing every day you’re learning and you’re doing something that’s disrupting an industry that for a long time has been in some cases viewed as predatory. Being able to be viewed as somewhat of — not a Robin Hood but a — positive solution to that and being able to give people an alternative to payday loans is something that people at Lendup take very seriously.
We’re trying to make a product work and it would be easy to add so many fees to it to make it more viable. We have a commitment to create products that only help human beings and that’s really inspiring. We’re about 250 people. I left Tesla in 2016. I’ve been (at LendUp) six months.
Moguldom: Who’s your target market?
Rik Avalos: People who the banks will not support — who have poor credit or are non-establishment.
Moguldom: What are your success stories?
Rik Avalos: A lot of our customers are no longer customers because they are now in prime lending. We helped them move up the lending ladder. We’re very proud of that. A lot of people tell us that’s crazy — you’re helping people become less dependent on you. Isn’t that suicidal? If we run out of customers we feel we have other problems to solve.
Moguldom: Why are you at the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit?
Rik Avalos: I believe that diversity of ideas creates the best innovation. The success that Tesla had was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It took different people from all over the world, different ideas, different perspectives, different cultures, different religions, different sexualities, different everything helped make (Tesla) one of the greatest.
To be able to come to LendUp and to use tech to help solve a social problem is something that requires not just a diversity program but a strategy to go out and find the smartest people in the world wherever they are … to realize that diversity of ideas creates innovation, makes things better, makes things go further. That’s why I’m here. Because I believe in it.
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