One of the lasting insights I’ve taken from Camille Ricketts’ work at First Round Review is that great companies strategically grow their futures.
CommonBond, a lending platform for student loan refinancing, is working “to shift the culture of borrowing in the United States.”
“We talk about building a community, not a commodity and being a lot more intuitive,” David shared.
It starts with their unwavering commitment to make a positive contribution in the world, both at home and abroad.
CommonBond’s Social Promise is to sponsor a year of education for a student in need for every degree that’s funded on the platform.
Six CommonBond team members and borrowers recently visited one of their Pencils of Promise partner schools in Ghana.
The team’s equally dedicated to building a thriving community for their borrowers. Through their blog, networking events, and Social Impact Award CommonBond educates borrowers on responsible lending habits, connects them with other borrowers, and recognizes their work.
2015 has been a year of milestones for the four-year-old startup. In September alone, they announced a $35 million Series B, bringing their total funding to $195 million and expanded their services to cover 2,000 undergraduate and graduate programs across the U.S.
David and his team are executing on the growth in three core ways: Hiring internally driven individuals, designing a first of its kind financial experience, and maintaining perspective as they navigate the realities of startup life.
“When you grow 4x on the people side you have to be very conscious of the culture. What we’re doing now, moving from 15 people to 60 people, is building infrastructure to last throughout the organization,” David explained.
Longterm perspective in mind, these are the four traits CommonBond seeks in every new hire.
- Strategic Acumen: Leaders with strong business judgment who can individually navigate a problem.
- Ability to Execute: Initiators who consistently do great work.
- Internal Drive: According to David, “External validation can dry up very quickly. All of us need to find a renewable source of internal energy so if and when external validation dries up there’s a fire inside that keeps pushing us.”
- Character: It’s a top priority at CommonBond to work with authentic and mission-driven individuals.
Once on board, CommonBond uses three criteria to measure contribution.
- Positive and Productive Attitude: “This is an intense environment, as many startups are. A good attitude can be the difference between greasing the wheels to solve a problem or not being able to do it.”
- Real Ownership: “We want people to identify gaps in the organization and then step up and into those gaps. We need everyone to act like owners in this business.”
- Meaningful Results: Team members who produce great work, consistently, over time.
Top performers who fulfill these criteria are given opportunities to grow within the team.
Dave Carter, for example, was first introduced to CommonBond as a borrower, worked as an intern, and now serves as the company’s Business Development Manager.
“As we grow, it’s important to show that there is room for people to develop and grow inside of the organization,” David said.
“The benefits of working at an emerging growth company mean that increased growth and responsibility doesn’t have to come with a title. It can literally be taking on more responsibility in your daily job.”
“We really play down titles. We think that what we are doing here is about the product and service.”
If we win in the space or become a winner, everyone wins.
A significant part of that play, for CommonBond and other emerging fintech startups, is potential collaboration with traditional finance companies who possess what David refers to as the financial backend; Access to capital at a low cost.
Startups, on the other hand, are crafting the front end building “superior products that are well priced, heavily leverage technology for simplicity and speed of process, and have best in class customer service.”
We want to take the best of both worlds, put them together and make finance better for the end consumer.
According to David, emerging players are closing the capital gap faster than financial giants are refining the consumer front end. It’s undetermined whether the two will partner or opt to consolidate.
“These chapters haven’t been written yet. It’s just early writing on the wall,” he declared.
Despite the uncertainty, David’s wholly committed to redefining the lending landscape.
Come Hell or high water I’m going to do everything I can to make this business work.
His relentless work ethic stems from growing up in a family of entrepreneurs beginning with his grandfather, and personal idol, who came to the US after World War II.
“My grandpa came to the US after WWII. He was a Jewish, 17-year-old in Poland during the war where he quite literally saw some of the worst in humanity. He lost almost his entire family. Yet, when I grew up I knew him not only as the man who had that experience but believed that every day was a great day.”
“Any resistance we face as a company pales in comparison to anything he ever saw, and he always saw the beautiful side of things. That, for me, has been a very deep source of renewable internal energy.”
To gain deeper insight into the CommonBond story watch David’s episode of Beyond the Headline, follow the team on Twitter, and subscribe to their blog. You can also view the team’s open positions on their Careers page.
If you’re looking to refinance your student loan or want to refer a friend for a $200 referral reward, visit their Loans page here.
Images retrieved from CommonBond.