Eva Wong left a successful career as a management consultant in 2014 to co-found Borrowell, a Toronto- based fintech company that specializes in low-cost personal loans and providing Canadians their credit scores for free – with no impact to their credit score. Alpha Woman’s co-founder had the chance to interview Eva at the #movethedial conference.
Eva: My co-founder, Andrew Graham, quit his job in order to start a company in the fintech space. We had founded a not-for-profit together a few years back, and as I learned more about it we started talking about having me join the start-up. I loved the idea of it, and it definitely helped knowing I was doing this with someone who is a good friend, with whom I had worked well before. I decided that I might as well take the leap and see if it worked or not.
I don’t think of myself as a risk-taker. Before Borrowell, I had a corporate job and regular paycheck. But I had taken risks with my career such as working for a not-for-profit; I went to Africa for a year after working for a management consulting firm and then I went back to University to study International Development and Economics. I had done different things compared to those who graduated from the Queens Commerce program with me.
I joined in the early days of the summer of 2014 and we launched in March 2015. The company was incorporated but we didn’t have a name yet. We were working out of the DMZ – Ryerson Accelerator, but didn’t have any funding. The team consisted of Andrew, our CEO, two part-time team members, myself and an MBA intern from Rotman. It was small team; we were still figuring things out. It was like a fun school project.
Our CEO, Andrew, leads our fundraising efforts, though I am also involved. One thing we learned is the importance of selling, and story telling. Earlier in my career, I was always taught to under-sell and over-deliver. That’s how you create value. But in the fundraising process, you are selling a vision of changing the world, and how important it is to weave that story into a compelling narrative.
Our mission is to help people to make great decisions about credit. We do that in a couple of different ways. We were the first company in Canada to give people their credit score for free. We felt that was an empowering piece of information. We now give credit scores and full credit reports for free, updated on monthly basis.
We also have an AI-powered Credit Coach who gives personalized tips and product recommendations. One of the products that we have is our personal loan, which we promote to help people pay off credit card debt or as an alternative to putting money on a credit card.
We’re doing well; consumers are embracing our products. We’re focussing on investing in new product features to help people navigate their options and discover financial products that might be better suited for them then the products they currently have. Today we have over 850,000 members and we are one of the largest financial tech companies in Canada by user accounts.
Diversity and inclusion are things we thought of from the early stages of the company as being very important to our culture. Today, half of our team identifies as women, including 50% of our management team. It didn’t just happen by chance – the finance and technology industries are very male dominated. In the early days, when only had 16 people, less then 20% of the team were women, even though it was a value we cared about a lot.
We realized that we needed more than just an unbiased job screening process. If we are not attracting a diverse candidate pool it was going to very hard to hire a diverse team. We invested a lot in recruiting in the right places, and ensuring that the language in our job descriptions wasn’t too male-centric. While we’re still learning, we’re doing a lot to encourage a diverse candidate pool, and create an inclusive culture.
I believe that government programs that are fast-tracking applications to come into the country are useful. The talent pool in Toronto is really tight; many tech companies are recruiting outside of Canada to find the talent that we need in order to grow.
Yes, it’s definitely very competitive and it can be challenging to find candidates that come from under-represented groups. The onus is really on companies to build not only diversity, but also an inclusive culture where people feel safe, respected, where they can succeed, and where their contributions are going to be valued.
Also, just because I am from an underrepresented group doesn’t mean I understand the experience of every underrepresented group. Building a diverse and inclusive culture is a journey. You can never say ‘we’re done and we don’t have to worry about it anymore.’ It’s an ongoing journey, and it’s challenging.
Go for it! Even though it’s tough, it’s such a rewarding journey. And you don’t need a specific background to be successful. A big part of being an entrepreneur is challenging yourself to learn something new, do something that scares you a little bit, and prove to yourself that you can do it. The confidence muscle builds itself over time. We need more women starting businesses and shaping the world we live in.