How SoFi Is Helping One Borrower Realize His Entrepreneurial Dreams
Earlier this year, we launched the SoFi Entrepreneur Program to connect borrowers who have entrepreneurial aspirations with SoFi investors interested in furthering their potential. Current SoFi borrowers interested in refining a start up idea and developing skills critical to getting early-stage funding were invited to apply for the 4 month-long program. The pilot class was selected from a competitive pool of applicants and has since participated in a combination of hands-on workshops to improve their pitch decks, meetings with SoFi Executives who are influencers in the startup community and conversations with sophisticated venture capital and angel investors.
Here, SoFi Entrepreneur Benny Joseph shares his experience and explains how the program is setting him up for startup success:
How the SoFi Entrepreneur Program got my startup back on its feet
In early December 2012, my startup, GoodApril, got decked. We earned our first black eye in the long fight to bring a new product to market.
My vision for GoodApril is to help everyday Americans make better financial decisions so that they are prepared to pay their taxes and pay the least amount possible. To be successful, GoodApril must not only deliver real benefits to consumers, but also make it extremely easy to do so; consumers aren’t about to spend hours filling out additional tax forms or even think about their taxes save for a few times a year.
What I saw was that innovations in technology, especially consumer comfort with financial data aggregation like that used on mint.com (and its cost-effective availability to startups), meant that this previously impossible vision was just becoming possible.
But building something this ambitious was going to require significant resources and the high-horsepower mentorship available from startup accelerators such as Y Combinator, TechStars, or AngelPad, the new proving grounds for startups like ours.
A promising start, then a left hook
After months of market research, customer interviews, and engineering work on a proof-of-concept prototype, my Co-Founder Mitch Fox and I focused our sights on Y Combinator. We networked with former YC entrepreneurs, wrote and re-wrote our application, and earned ourselves a coveted interview spot (fewer than 5% of applicants make it this far) on the strength of our application.
But when we walked into our 10-minute interview 2 weeks later, we were ambushed with a barrage of deeply skeptical questions from worn-out partners on their 5th day of dozens of similar interviews. Later that day, we received the email we had been dreading: “Thanks, but No Thanks.”
Nose bloody, we didn’t know what to do but we were determined to keep on working toward our vision.
Enter SoFi’s Entrepreneur Program, white knight
I am a proud alum of the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and the University of Chicago’s Booth MBA program. Prior to starting GoodApril, I re-financed my student loan debt through SoFi. While I was excited about getting a lower rate on my student loans, I was even more excited about the prospect of one day being able to help other students from my alma maters with their loans.
Still in a daze, the day after we got the YC rejection email, I received the “last call” reminder to apply to SoFi’s Entrepreneur Program.
Several weeks later, I got a phone call from the program director at SoFi, with great news: my application had earned me (and GoodApril) a spot in the new program. The validation felt great. Maybe things were turning around. But what did acceptance mean?
A fountain of awesome
First, SoFi sent me a t-shirt. A comfortable one. I thought that was pretty nice.
Then I recalled that getting admitted to the program meant I wouldn’t have to make payments on my student loans for the next six months. Score. I certainly appreciated saving more of my cash to bootstrap GoodApril.
Only over the course of the last two months has the full breadth of awesome that SoFi had in store for me been revealed. And it has indeed been awesome. Three senior members of the SoFi team, including Adam Boyden (COO) and Pete Hartigan (Chief Community Officer), spent two hours with us reviewing our investor pitch materials and improving our elevator pitch. They introduced us to three high-potential angel investors and recognized us publicly on their website and to the press. Awesome, Awesome, Awesome.
In spite of the awesome, this is an evolving saga. GoodApril is still a very early stage startup. We have a long battle still ahead of us. I am looking forward to sharing our evolving story here on the SoFi blog.
If you would like to learn more about how GoodApril can help you pay less in taxes and make sure you’re not caught off guard by the onslaught of tax changes in store for you in 2013, visit us at www.goodapril.com and sign up for our free Tax Checkup.
Benny Joseph is the Founder of GoodApril, an online tax planning and advice service. He was the lead engineer of the math engine that powers E*TRADE’s multiple award-winning trading platform and the Product Manager behind Zecco Mobile (now TradeKing Mobile), the highest rated online brokerage mobile app on both iOS and Android. He kills his stress training in mixed martial arts (MMA) and is an avid poker player. You can follow him and GoodApril on Twitter: @bvj and @goodapriltax.