Borrowell’s Eva Wong On Making It

When Eva Wong came along Borrowell In 2014, she had no experience in tech or finance. As co-founder and chief operating officer, she helped grow the soft loan and debt formation company to 160 employees with offices in Toronto, Montreal and Kelowna. Here, she says cb how she did it.

I was born in Lindsay, Ont. and grew up mostly in Whitby, a suburb an hour east of Toronto. My parents are from Hong Kong and I grew up in a fairly typical immigrant family: education and good grades were very important. I never really thought about becoming an entrepreneur. It was always about getting into a good school that would get me a well-paid job. But when I was 14 years old, in the 1990s, I got my first taste of entrepreneurship when I started giving piano lessons and charging $5 for 30 minutes. I made posters with my phone number written on little tear-off tabs at the bottom. I continued teaching throughout high school.

I studied commerce at Queen’s University and ended up loving the business. After graduating in 2000, I got a job as a management consultant and then went back to school to study International Development. I worked as a development officer for a non-profit organization in Malawi as part of an internship at a Canadian international development agency and as a consultant for an IT company in Trinidad before returning to Toronto in 2005. When I got home, I started work as a regional leader for a multi-site church.

In 2009, I attended a conference called CivicAction, which brings together aspiring leaders to solve urban problems in Toronto. I joined the same workgroup as Andrew Graham, who was in business development for a telecom company. As part of the conference, we created an organization called Toronto Homecoming that has helped Canadians who have lived abroad for a number of years find work once they have returned home. Both Andrew and I had the experience of going abroad and coming back to the city as he studied in both Scotland and the US

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Andrew and I continued our partnership by turning Toronto Homecoming into a non-profit organization in 2010. We successfully ran this organization for several years while going about our regular jobs. We held an annual conference where hundreds of people attended and found jobs at banks and various start-ups. Both Andrew and I enjoyed the experience and we always said, “We should find something someday.”

In 2014 I was on maternity leave when I reconnected with Andrew. He had just quit his job to found Borrowell, a fintech company aimed at helping Canadians choose better financial products. Canadians had tens of billions of dollars in credit card debt and were paying 20 or 30 percent interest on it, and he figured there was a better way. Borrowell would offer top-notch loans that people could apply for on its website, which would be fully approved in a minute with an interest rate, loan amount, and monthly payment.

You don’t have to have an “entrepreneurial gene”.

I was excited when I heard Andrew’s pitch; I liked the idea of ​​making a big impact. I was ready for a career change and made a snide remark that I would join his start-up if I couldn’t find another job. He asked, “What would you do at startup?” and I said, “I have no idea. What do you have to do?”

I had no experience in finance or technology, but I’d worked for enough new companies in industries new to me that I felt comfortable asking questions and finding things out. I worked for Andrew for free for a couple of weeks, just as a trial. I was given a project to see who Borrowell’s target customer market would be. At the time he had two part-time employees and an intern, but Borrowell felt like a super dynamic, exciting place to work.

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After the trial, Andrew hired me as VP of Operations while raising a seed funding round. We needed money for both debt to lend and money to run the business. Andrew had over a hundred meetings and we raised $5.4 million. When we closed our seed funding in November 2014, Andrew asked if I would join as co-founder and chief operating officer. Joining a startup was a risk and it felt scary when other people trusted us with their money. But we were motivated to be successful.

I was responsible for marketing, credit, human resources and finance. I built the website, set up payroll, found a benefits program, and figured out what type of insurance we need as a business. I’ve worn many hats. There were times when I felt overwhelmed and times when I made calls and googled terms that were new to me. It was a tremendously steep learning curve in the early days, but we made it through to our product launch in March 2015.

After that we had a lot of ups and downs. We didn’t get the right customers to our website because many people who searched for loans online didn’t qualify for the loans we offered. So we had to change our marketing strategy. I came up with the idea of ​​offering free credit scores to attract and educate clients. We thought it would help attract the kind of people who would apply for and get approved for our loans, while also bringing more transparency to the lending system.

It would have felt very personal to admit “I didn’t do that right”

Since the free Schufa project was my idea, there was a lot at stake. It’s pretty existential when that thing you put your heart and soul into, raising money and giving money to outside investors, doesn’t work. It’s a public failure. It would have felt very personal to admit, “I didn’t do this right.” The product launched in June 2016 and thankfully was a success. Countless people signed up and we were in the news. It was a really exciting moment for the team.

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Since then, the company has grown from around 12 employees in 2016 to 160 today. We just launched a new product called Rent Advantage that allows renters to self-report their rent to a credit bureau – the first product in Canada to offer this. If their largest payment isn’t even reported to a credit bureau, it means their credit score isn’t benefiting. People with poorer credit are more likely to be renters, and it’s not fair that they might have to pay more for financial services because they don’t have a mortgage.

I never imagined being a co-founder or working in tech. I’m not the type with a thousand business ideas. But I think anyone can be an entrepreneur. You don’t have to have an “entrepreneurial gene”. My work has been very rewarding and it’s an opportunity to make a difference, also in relation to the culture we’ve built – we’re gender balanced and actually have slightly more women than men in leadership positions. The impact we’ve had on over two million Canadians has been truly fulfilling.