My name is Travis Holoway and I'm the co-founder and CEO of SoLo Funds. The idea behind SoLo Funds is that there is an extreme lack of resources available for small dollar loans, under a thousand dollars. Whether it's $50 to put gas in the car to make it to work and not get fired.
Whether it's a hundred dollars to pay the utility bill and keep the lights on, or even $200 for a college textbook, and typically friends and family is the number one way to get a small dollar loan, under a thousand dollars, and that's super stressful on personal relationships. Those loans are embarrassing to ask for, and that's really why I started this company.
I would have friends and family ask me for loans and I was looking for somewhere else to send them to. I realized that if I didn't provide those loans, they would be subject to predatory lending, being a payday loan. Which is wanting to charge them about 400% interest and only report to the Credit Bureaus to negatively impact their credit.
How did you get started?
I'm originally from Cleveland, Ohio, graduated from the university of Cincinnati, and then immediately moved to New York. After college, I started my career in financial services where I was an advisor for about seven and a half years, and then I started to have these experiences where I knew that there was a bigger problem to solve and I could have a bigger impact.
And that's really what spurred me on this entrepreneurial journey.
How does SoLo Funds work?
SoLo works very simply. We are completely mobile, so we're right in your pocket. So when you need a loan for a hundred dollars you literally whip out your phone and then you create your own terms. As a borrower, the borrower comes in, creates how much money they need, when they can repay it back, and if they're willing to pay anything in addition to that loan principle in the form of a tip, and that's essentially how the lender makes their return. Now, any lender in this country can actually fund that loan. The exciting part of this is what we're really building is a one time per transaction credit score. We believe that the FICO score is dead. We believe it's broken. We believe it's not really applicable to the underbanked and millennial demographic. If you look at the overall trends, people aren't buying homes, buying cars, and using credit cards the way that, you know, the baby boomer generation did. So with that said, traditional banks don't know how to underwrite this demographic.
Who is SoLo Funds for?
From a lender standpoint, we have some of the most empathetic individuals in this country who are really looking to do true things, do well, and do good at the same time. From a borrower perspective. The majority of our borrowers, typically make under $75,000 a year, but are not the person who you might think they are. Again, these are teachers. These are the social workers. This is the firefighter down the street.
What is your greatest success, and what was your biggest failure?
Greatest success I would say is really not taking no for an answer, and what I mean by that is I had a lot of people who would tell me that, “Travis, I don't think strangers are gonna lend to other strangers. It just doesn't make sense to me.”, and what I didn't think made sense is that people are doing this already. They're doing it every day with no terms, with no structure. You know, people are giving money away on GoFund me every day. They're never going to see that money back.
But these individuals want to help other people, and I said, “if they're willing to give money away, I think they're willing to lend money.”, and you know, when I decided to go out on a limb and leave a very comfortable career prior to this, one of the biggest or greatest successes is the first time that someone got alone on this platform and they were actually able to buy groceries to feed their family, and if I've only funded that one loan, I would have felt successful about what I've done, but now we're doing that for tens of thousands of people every day, and eventually it will be millions of people every day.
My greatest failure is probably originally dreaming too small. And you know, sometimes you think, “Hey, well, if I could just raise $1 million, that would put me in this category of people who've never done this before, and if I was able to just like get this company off the ground.”, but the reality is, I think this is a billion dollar company. I think that the opportunity that we have in front of us here at SoLo is to provide an opportunity for millions and millions of people and, and not just a few thousand people or a few hundred people.
How would you describe the culture at SoLo Funds?
Well, I'll start off with the people who I would want to join my company. I want people who think big, bigger than life. I want people who want to tackle challenges that everyone else says “may not be possible”, or insist to say that, “that may be broken.” I only want people who won't take no for an answer, and the way that I view the word no is not yet, or not now, or maybe later, but I don't see no, as, having a period after it.
When we talk about the culture of the company today, it's a, it's a lot of dreamers. It's a lot of people who were scrappy and said that they couldn't do certain things, and they've all gone on to do really amazing things, but it's really people who are like minded feel that we can positively impact the world and are willing and able to do that every day, and from a diversity standpoint, I think we're probably the most diverse tech company in. Venture or Silicon Valley, and I think that is really important, primarily because if we're going to have a company that's really focused on improving the life of the middle class and the world at large, we need to look like that. We need to represent these different cultures and backgrounds so that we can understand how to impact these different groups.
How would you improve diversity in the tech industry?
It's these companies that say that they can't find diverse talent. I think they're full of it. I think that they're not actually looking for it. There are institutions that are primarily Black and Brown institutions. When you think about HBCUs, if you were going to career fairs, and if you were actually trying to go get some talent and you went there, odds are you're probably gonna find a diverse person, and we need more Black and Brown engineers. Who's hiring these Black and Brown engineers? We need more people who are in HR at these high growth tech companies to where they're actually going to be seeking out people that look like them, and if those people aren't in those rooms and they're not the ones who are making the calls and recruiting for these groups.
Apart from that, I think we need to start referring each other, and not withhold information. Where it's just like, “Hey, I got my one spot. I think there's probably only one spot on this team for a black person. I'm here so I'm not going to refer anyone else in.”, and that happens too in some instances, people want to be the token, and I think we need to get away from that mentality because the earlier we can get each other in these companies, the more we actually benefit from companies doing well.
A lot of times we're coming to the Facebooks, the Googles, the Amazons, way too late, where we're not a part of that original PayPal mafia, if you will, because we're just too late to the party. People want us to go out and work at these very large blue chip companies just because it sounded good, but I think we need to take risks and really weigh the opportunity of joining an early stage company and realizing that, that could have a significant financial impact in the future.
What advice would you give to future entrepreneurs?
So my advice for future entrepreneurs would be one, don't take no for an answer. Don't give up, be relentless. Ask for help and don't hold it in. I think a lot of us want to be Superman and we don't want to be vulnerable and ask for help, but the faster you can ask for help and the more vulnerable you are, the more people will rally around you and help you.
Who should we talk to next?
So I think you should be talking to Dave Silvant from Squire. They are in a really unique space, in the barber industry. However, it's really more of a point of sale service, for barbershops and creating opportunities for them to maximize their revenue. I think that you should talk to Morgan Debaun from Blavity, also the founder of Afro Tech. I would say she's definitely one of the trailblazers who's really fighting for us to have more space in this space that has been very non-exclusive to us.
And lastly, I think you should talk to Diishan Imira from Mayvenn. Mayvenn has taken hair extensions and created a huge business opportunity for stylists, whereas we have typically been excluded from black hair care, and that doesn't make sense being black people, but you know, he's taken this idea of Mayvenn and really created a huge opportunity for stylists all across the country.