Andy Taylor, Approved (acq. Credit Karma) CEO, on Building an Impactful FinTech Venture at EvoNexus

Andy, tell us a bit about yourself and Approved!

I graduated from Stanford with a degree in Computer Science, and a minor in photography. While it’s an interesting combination, I’ve always thought that you need to maintain a certain balance in your life, to try new things, and my entire career has followed that path. I was first a games programmer at Electronic Arts, and when I became curious about the way EA made money, I decided to go to business school at Haas / Berkeley, and pivot into Digital Marketing and Product Management.

I worked at Apple in the iPhoto group the year before and the year after they introduced the iPhone (a truly transformative period), but I told myself that if I’d only ever worked at large, mega-corporations, I could never really say I had the true Silicon Valley experience, so I dove head first into startups. I found myself at Redfin in the digital real estate space, just as Google Map mashups were becoming a thing, and before I knew it, I was leading the Product team at a fast-growing pre-IPO company. 

Despite all the work that went into making finding a home a beautiful thing, the mortgage experience was a nightmare. It was like landing a gilded rocketship into the stone age. So I found myself again pivoting in life, and decided I would bring just as much love into mortgages by starting Approved.

Approved was dedicated to dragging mortgages into the digital world at about the same time that Rocket Mortgage was launching. We built a flexible online loan application, an automatic document gathering system, and a dashboard that allowed loan officers to syndicate and track loan apps across various marketing channels. In essence, we ended up building a really great lead generation tool. Our customers weren’t just mortgage companies, but anyone who needed to process loan applications quickly at scale.

When it came time for us to raise a proper seed round, we had already been talking to Credit Karma for nearly a year, trying to sell them on the technology we had built. It became clear rather quickly that they were less interested in licensing our technology, and more interested in acquiring it. 

Give us a glimpse into your time at EvoNexus, what motivated you to remain involved after graduation?

Our first office was literally the garage of our rental in North Park. Our furniture was left by the previous tenants – some sort of laundry folding table, and an adjustable table on casters from a nearby hospital. And while it was glorious to be living the “garage startup” dream, I had never started a company before, and had a feeling that it was better to work with others who were going through the same ups and downs of managing a really early company than to step on the same landmines every founder encounters.

When we joined EvoNexus, we worked out of the original downtown office location on Broadway – it was quite the step up from our humble beginnings, and the thing I remember the most are the other founders. Hanging with Shaun from GoShare, Kim from, Olin at LeadCrunch, Luke at Coursekey – the list goes on and on of the people I met, and of the ideas exchanged. And our mentors were fabulous – Marco, Kim and Rory kept us thinking about the northstar metrics we needed to hit. They introduced us to investors when we needed a little cash. And of course, we all learned how to wakesurf.

What do you love about entrepreneurship?

A lot of people say that the most difficult part of entrepreneurship is leaving behind the structure that comes with a corporate job. Nobody is telling you which meetings you should attend, what you should focus on day to day, and you literally have a blank canvas with no real compass to guide you. But I loved it – I loved creating something out of nothing, of figuring out as we went, with just enough structure to keep us all sane and pointed in the right direction, but not so much as to stifle innovation. I’m getting nostalgic just thinking about all the hats we had to wear.

What are some notable trends that you have seen and are excited about in the Fintech industry?

The Fintech space is fascinating right now because much of what we call Fintech was built in the economic prosperity following the housing crisis of 2008. In other words, aside from your standard startup problems, most Fintechs have never really had to weather a sustained economic downturn. I work in the mortgage space, and rates are at an 11 year high – it may be even worse by the time this is published! So I’m fascinated about what might happen to most Fintechs because downturns are a true test of scrappiness – it makes you really focus on what’s important, on what’s literally going to keep the lights on. It also usually spits out some really great new ideas in the end.

What piece of advice would you like to give to our EvoNexus startups?

The most valuable piece of advice I received, and that I would impart on others, is just how important your network is. Meet as many people in your problem space as you can, and ask questions. Engage with domain experts on social media, at conferences, and really start to get out there to become as visible as you can. This is important as you fundraise, or even when you (gasp) start to think about potential acquirers.


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