Running a business often amounts to juggling cashflow. The unfortunate reality is that expenses often go out long before the resulting revenue comes in. And that’s the best case scenario where there’s actually revenue. That’s one reason I prefer to write about businesses as a journalist, rather than than actually running one. (I can’t take the instability, or the bookkeeping.)
The Israel-based Fundbox believes that it has a solution for to the short-term cashflow gaps faced by most small businesses. The company offers a data driven form of factoring, or short term loans based on outstanding invoices. The company has been operating operating in stealth for the last year, and today announced a $17.5 million Series A round of funding led by Khosla Ventures.
The Fundbox platform uses an automated risk assessment engine to assesses the risk of each invoice submitted by its borrowers. If approved, these small businesses are asked to pay the loan back via 12-weekly installments, which is typically more than long enough to cover even the most onerous “Net-60″ or “Net-90″ day payment terms.
According Fundbox CEO Eyal Shinar, underlying his company’s online lending platform is a sophisticated algorithm that can approve or deny loan applications within 50 seconds or less. This is thanks to the company’s team of data scientists who have spent the last year looking to turn risk assessment into software code.
“We don’t use any collateral or any old tactics to assess our risk,” Shinar says. “We only rely on data and probabilities.”
Shinar explains that Fundbox’s decision engine is able to rapidly reconstruct a business’s network, gathering not only its financials but social and public data – such as Yelp, LinkedIn, DMV, and other sources – to make a comprehensive assessment of its health and, ultimately, its likelihood of repayment.
Fundbox isn’t the only company to take this sort of approach. LA-based FastPay uses a similar automated platform to lend against digital media receivables, while New York’s CAN Capital offers a similar platform that competes with traditional SBA loans. On the consumer side, companies like Douglas Merrill’s ZestFinance and Max Levchin’s Affirm are using data to lend to sub-prime borrowers.
Of course, just because it’s fast, doesn’t mean that this type of money comes easy to business owners. In order to make informed lending decisions, Fundbox requires access to both company bank accounts, and the personal accounts of its executives. Shinar acknowledges potential privacy concerns, but maintains that no human sets eyes on this data — they are analyzed solely by the algorithmic risk assessment engine. Additionally, he insists the information is kept in the most secure and encrypted manner possible.
“All the decisions are based on numbers,” says the CEO, adding that the Fundbox engine makes the correct decision 99 percent of the time. It sounds good, but how he calculates that figure is another matter. Of course, not every loan application gets accepted, according to Shinar, who says that his service declines 60 percent of the invoices submitted. That means that a single borrower can have one invoice accepted and another rejected, a fact that’s explained, in part, by the health of the invoice counterparty. If it’s Pepsi that owes you money, they’re likely good for it, but Bob’s Hardware, maybe less so.
Fundbox charges a nominal fee of no more than $72 per invoice financed. The company claims that it has grown thousands of borrowers across 42 states within just a few months. Given this initial success, Fundbox plans to use its new capital to double down on what’s working by growing its team to accommodate greater lending scale. The company is, after all, looking to tap what amounts to a $72 million B2B payments market.
The next year will be Fundbox’s real test. It still needs to prove that it can operate at scale without suffering an increase in default rates or untenable churn rates among existing customers. Shinar says the company’s user base has grown triple digits month-over-month – something that’s not that difficult to do when the starting number is miniscule. It likely won’t maintain this pace forever, but it will be telling to see just how quickly it slows down after this “official launch” and the deployment of that $17 million in growth capital.