Rodney Williams, a cofounder of SoLo Funds.Courtesy of Rodney Williams
- Rodney Williams cofounded SoLo Funds, a marketplace where consumers can borrow from each other.
- Users can borrow up to $1,000 each time, and they have the option to tip the lender and SoLo Funds.
In 2015, Rodney Williams and Travis Holoway realized after a visit to see family and friends that people living on tight budgets had nowhere to turn for emergency funds. The entrepreneurs decided to launch SoLo Funds, a fintech marketplace that allows consumers to lend and borrow from each other, to solve this problem.
At the time, Williams was the CEO and a cofounder of the Bluetooth alternative LISNR, and Holoway was a director of training and development at Northwestern Mutual. Jarrel Carter, who focuses on strategic partnerships, and Taylor Conophy, who oversees design, joined the team. They'd meet at Williams' office at 6 p.m., have dinner together, and brainstorm ideas until 11 p.m.
They landed on an app where someone could borrow between $50 and $1,000 from another person in the United States. "The transaction is not between the people and SoLo Funds. It's between Mike from Idaho and Tommy from Texas," Williams told Insider.
The borrower has up to 35 days to pay back the interest-free loan with the option of paying two fees — an administration donation to SoLo Funds and a tip to the lender — or they can choose not to pay any fees and borrow the money for free. SoLo Funds only makes a profit when the administration donation is added to the transaction.
Because the borrowed funds are intended to help cover emergency bills, the whole experience needs to be fast. "A user can make a request on our platform and get funding in less than 15 minutes," Williams said. "We don't approve or deny. Anyone with a bank account can sign up and make a request." Each borrower is given a SoLo Score, which is based on their banking history.
SoLo Funds officially launched in 2017, and Holoway quit his job that March to work on it full time, while Williams remained at LISNR. They signed up for accelerators in Ohio and Kansas so they could boost their plans and make connections. In Ohio, Seth Metcalfe, the former deputy treasurer of Ohio who became one of the company's advisors, mentored them, and the Techstars Kansas City accelerator helped them hone their pitch deck.
Mentors at the accelerators told them their slides should tackle problems, solutions, market opportunity, and traction, and feature their team. "We used that template to show how people could relate to the problem and see how our solution was different," Williams said. "My favorite slide is the graphic led 'Borrower Request' slide. It showcases how simple the SoLo Funds design is, how borrowers have control, and how they set their own terms."
Through word of mouth, SoLo Funds started to catch the attention of the fintech community in California, so with potential new staff in mind, they set up a home base in Los Angeles. The team launched their pre-seed round in 2017 and raised $1.2 million.
Williams stepped down from running LISNR in September 2018 and became more involved in SoLo Funds. Holoway and Williams didn't take wages for months and covered the payroll for others with their own finances. "It was very hard to continue to operate through that, but we got through," Williams said.
In 2019, the entrepreneur and investor Richelieu Dennis asked his team to scour the US to find worthy brands he could invest in. After meeting the SoLo Funds team, he invested $1.6 million.
The raise meant they had to revise the pitch deck they used for their pre-seed round, because the influx of funds gave them the chance to add new features to the app, such as lender protection, which is an insurance against non-payment. They also boosted staff numbers.
Williams had fundraising experience from his former company, but he said that raising funds for a finance startup proved to be a lot harder, particularly when that company wanted to give people the option of borrowing money for free.
Instead of targeting any VC who may be interested, the SoLo Funds team decided to focus on investors like Dennis who wanted to help solve social issues. "This step was instrumental in us landing Impact America as an investor," Williams said. By February 2021 they closed a $10 million Series A raise from investors like ACME Capital and Impact America.
SoLo Funds now has more than 100 employees and is a registered B Corp. It's won numerous awards, including the Visa Everywhere Initiative award twice.
Here's the original pitch deck that the team used to raise a $1.2 million pre-seed round, which led to raising $10 million in January 2021.