Samir Goel and Abbey Wemimo are the Co-Founders and Co-CEOs of Esusu, a financial technology platform that reports rental data to build tenant’s credit scores while helping property owners increase revenue, lower evictions powered by differentiated data and insights. Prior to Esusu, Abbey founded Clean Water for Everyone, a global social venture providing affordable access to clean water for 250,000+ people in six countries, and Samir co-founded Transfernation, a nationally recognized non-profit that uses technology to ensure that excess food goes toward underserved communities across New York City.
In August, Esusu closed $2.3 million in seed extension bringing total capital raised to $4 million. Investors included Acumen Fund, Concrete Rose Capital, Global Good Fund, Impact America Fund, Next Play Ventures, and Zeal Capital Partners. Esusu’s rent reporting platform captures rental payment data and reports it into the credit bureaus, enabling tenants to build credit while helping property owners increase revenue, lower evictions, and fill vacancies. Esusu’s renter ecosystem covers over 250,000 units in 35 states across the United States.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Abbey Wemimo: Entrepreneurship is at its best when leaders and teams create sustainable solutions to address society’s biggest challenges. Ideally, these solutions must be faster, better and above all adding “too good to be true value” for all stakeholders. Entrepreneurs channel the full force of their passion, ideas and resourcefulness to build their businesses and ultimately create jobs, support communities, and spur growth.
How did your company come to be?
AW: We started Esusu with the belief that where you come from, the color of your skin and your financial identity should not determine where you end up in life. As co-founders, Samir and I have shared personal experiences with financial marginalization that inspired us to create this platform. Samir’s family came to this country with no credit and were robbed upon arrival leaving them with no access to money. Personally, when I immigrated to the United States from Lagos, Nigeria, my mother and I didn’t have a financial identity or a credit score. We needed money but we were turned away from the banks because we didn’t have a financial history. My mother pawned her wedding ring and borrowed money from a payday loan lender at over 400% interest rate.
Inspired by these experiences the ‘a-ha’ moment happened when we identified that the biggest barrier to entry in the financial system is not having a credit score. We knew that we wanted to leverage data to establish and boost credit profiles to unlock financial access for millions of Americans.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Samir Goel: Our business and our lives were deeply changed, like so many across the country. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew there would be a devastating impact on the economy leaving millions unemployed and unable to make their rent payments. We saw the risk of an eviction and homelessness crisis that would ultimately devastate society for years to come.
With this understanding, our team at Esusu responded immediately and launched a Rent Relief Fund to help renters disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 keep a roof over their heads. To date we have raised over $1million to support renters and anticipate raising additional funds in the weeks to come. Our business proximity to landlords also revealed to us that they too were struggling to get by in particular non-commercial landlords. In order to stand by all members of our ecosystem, we recently announced a national partnership with Kiva to also help small landlords with zero-interest loans.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
AW & SG: A high moment in our journey was our initial institutional fundraise of $1.6m. At that stage we had been bootstrapping for 18 months. Our personal finances were wrecked and we were overleveraged beyond belief but we remained steadfast in our conviction. The relief and joy that came with closing our first round of financing remains unparalleled even upon subsequent financing of $2.3m. The days leading up to that initial close were some of the darkest but we are grateful we stayed the course.
More broadly and in the context of the coronavirus we are proud of our team and what we have been able to build. We hear stories of unimaginable struggle from our members everyday as they straddle the brink after months of health concerns and unemployment. It is our honor and responsibility to contribute our humble quota to help others overcome this crisis. We are stronger together and fortunately, our business can help many Americans facing financial hardship and eviction. It is our hope that our Rent Relief Fund will continue to comfort some individuals and families.
How is your company changing the landscape?
AW: We are working hard to pave a permanent bridge to financial access by providing financial solutions for low-to-middle income consumers. We want to give everyone a fighting chance to have a financial identity and to create financial wellness for marginalized communities.
There are over 45 million people in the United States who don’t have a credit score. We need to change that, score them and unlock trillions in capital at a time when our economy needs it most. Esusu continues to grow and disrupt the landscape, currently operating in over 35 states and covering over 250,000 rental units across the U.S.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
SG: We wouldn’t change a thing about our startup journeys – we are grateful for it all and how it has shaped us. Each experience has contributed in its own way to where we are today. It has provided us with perspective and ensures we never take anything for granted. As such one of our core values at Esusu is ‘ever-evolving’ because we truly believe that the only constant in life is change and encourage our team to embrace change everyday. We are seeing this as a society firsthand with COVID our very conception of normal is in flux. Our experiences on this journey enable us to stay resilient, even in the most challenging of circumstances.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
AW: It’s our vision to unleash the power of data to bridge the racial wealth gap and dismantle barriers to housing for working families.
The meaning of Esusu speaks to our credo and how we intentionally grow as a business – ‘if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.’ As a company, we live by this and our core values to help everyone on our team and on our platforms to realize their full potential.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
SG: Personally, my inspiration comes from ‘the why’ of what we do. Our mandate at Esusu is to work towards a more just and equitable society. There is no doubt in my mind that the work we do can have a positive impact in the lives of many and that in it of itself provides an inexhaustible reservoir motivation to draw upon in times of difficulty.
I also draw inspiration from those around me whether my exceptional Co-Founder Abbey, the broader Esusu Team, or the investors, mentors, and partners we have the privilege to work alongside. The promise of a social enterprise one is being a part of something greater than oneself. I see that promise reflected all around me and that serves as a source of great inspiration.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
SG: At Esusu our mission is to dismantle barriers to housing for working families and our vision is to unleash the power of data to bridge the racial wealth gap.
These are no doubt audacious goals but our job as entrepreneurs is to imagine the world as it could be rather than as it is. Setting ambitious goals creates a mindset of possibility and I have no doubt that with our team, technology, and partners we are up for the challenge.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
AW: This COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the racial reckoning we are a part of has been a wake-up call for all of us. Our collective wellness is critical and we see how this pandemic is disproportionately impacting communities of color both financially and health-wise. We know that financial access or lack there-of can change the generational trajectory of entire communities. We have to make sure this pandemic doesn’t push marginalized communities even further behind the starting line.
Our mission remains unchanged. Our work is more important than ever – as we address these disparities head on. We have to give marginalized communities financial access in this global fight for racial equality.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
SG: One of my core beliefs is that nothing worth doing is worth doing alone. At Esusu we embrace the motto of forward-together. Thus, we always seek to surround ourselves with world class partners and a strong team. One of the keys to success for entrepreneurs especially when scaling is to be extremely honest about your strengths and weaknesses.
Then as you grow you should relentlessly pursue great people to focus on those areas of weakness. If you have done a good job of evaluating your strengths and weaknesses this will be a major inflection point in the growth of the business. The shift from doing everything yourself to delegating and empowering others can be a challenging one but it is mission-critical if you aspire to scale your business. In pursuit of great talent to join the Esusu Family, one area we are unwilling to compromise on is alignment with our mission, vision and values as that is the connective tissue that brings us all together.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
AW: I changed my routine during these difficult times and miss traveling. I enjoy traveling to clear my head and must admit that I get my best ideas on planes. I’m spending a lot of time at home but I’m really enjoying it and being productive. I listen to gospel music every morning and work out and that helps start my day in a really positive way. We are heads down with work especially working on the Rent Relief Fund, but I always make time for my family and friends.
SG: My routine definitely changed when COVID-19 hit NYC. Prior to COVID-19 I would be out of the house by 6 am, grab a double espresso from Dunkin Donuts and head to the office to start the workday. This was paired with a heavy travel schedule and many in-person fundraising or sales meetings. As you might imagine, COVID-19 stopped all of that in its tracks. It has been a challenge to find a sense of normalcy but I’ve found it important to create routine where possible whether through cooking dinner each night or going on a morning walk prior to starting work for the day. I’ve also found it particularly important to continually check in with family and close friends as we are all going through struggles that may not be visible on the surface.
What keeps you motivated during this time?
AW: Hope for a better America and more equal world keeps me motivated. I have always asserted that hopelessness is the enemy of progress. We are making meaningful change in the lives of others and that’s our shared motivation. We believe that housing is a basic human right and that is in jeopardy for so many right now. We are doing what we can to keep people in their homes and give them a bright financial future. We owe it to those that came before us to break the shackles of systemic inequality. We have come too far to give up now. It is time we act together!
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
SG: That’s a great question. I define my personal mission as bridging the access gap the inspiration of which stems from witnessing the tremendous sacrifices my parents made immigrating to America with nothing. All of us stand on the shoulders of giants and I am determined to pay it forward by contributing to the creation of a more just and equitable society.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
AW & SG: Forward Together – be caught trying to make the world a more perfect place
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