Jeff Stewart has founded a few companies in his day. There was Mimeo.com, a document printing company, for example, and Urgent Group, a venture development firm. It wasn’t until his fourth company that he felt up to the challenge of fixing, disrupting and/or revolutionizing the banking systems in emerging markets.
Lenddo is not a first-time entrepreneur’s kind of startup. The company combines a lot of big ideas (micro-loans, emerging markets, social networking) into something functional and, for those using it, life-changing. Lenddo provides small loans that are about the size of a month’s pay to the growing middle class in emerging markets. It uses social networking to vet its members: users can vouch for their friends and family on the system. This leads to a repayment rate in the high 90 percent range.
Today he announced a milestone: The 25-person New York-based company has raised an $8 million Series A round of funding from Accel Partners, Blumberg Capital, Omidyar Network, iNovia Capital, Metamorphic Ventures, Geoff Judge, David Kidder, Scott Heiferman and Barry Silbert.
Lenddo won’t have to fight to establish a product-market fit. Because banking services in countries like the Philippines and Colombia cater almost exclusively to the super-rich, these regions are hungry for loans. In the Phillipines, 16 families control 65% of the GPD. “As far as they’re concerned, the banking system works great,” Stewart says.
Below the top 16 exists a growing, stable middle class that credit bureaus are not yet sophisticated enough to lend to (partly because they don’t have the same identity infrastructure like social security numbers, etc, that developed markets are used to). This group, typically knowledge workers, needs loans for things like medicine, home repairs and education. Through Lenddo, loans are typically equal to a month’s pay ($400 in the Phillippines and around $800 in Colombia). “People are going to school as a result of the software we’re writing. It can allow you to switch jobs or get training,” Stewart says.
Meanwhile, social networking in these countries is stronger than it is in the US, he says. Bogota has greater social media use than NYC; people in the Philippines use social networks more than the entire state of California, Stewart says. The cultures are more community-oriented than the US’s individualistic society, so when someone in your family vouches for you on Lenddo, “it’s a big deal,” he says. Thus, the high repayment rates. When lenders repay their loans on the Lenddo system, it increases the borrowing capacity of themselves and anyone who has vouched for them.
Lenddo’s loans come from a third party financial service, which pays the company for connecting community-vetted lenders with lending entities. The company will expand its team as well as its regional footprint with the capital.