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Fig Loans co-founders Jeffrey Zhou and John Li.
Fig Loans co-founders Jeffrey Zhou and John Li.

John Li and Jeffery Zhou want to offer a more financially-responsible lending option for subprime borrowers.

Their company, Fig Loans, aims to do this by offering a lower APR and fewer monthly payments than what is available from traditional payday loans. Li and Zhou came up with the idea after meeting at The Wharton School.

“We were baffled that lenders were charging 400 percent-plus APR,” Zhou said. “There had to be a better model, and we were confident we could figure it out.”

Jeffrey Zhu.
Jeffrey Zhu.

Founded in March 2015, the Houston-based company is now working in Seattle as part of the current Techstars Seattle cohort. We caught up with Zhou for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Responsible loans that improve the long-term financial health of our customers.”

Inspiration hit us when: “We started meeting financial coaches in Houston. Case coaches are some of the most inspirational people we’ve ever met. Their stories and ideas are all baked into what Fig is today.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Bootstrap as long as you can, it teaches you to be frugal. Take funding when you’re ready to pour gas on the awesome fire you’ve built.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Long-term relationships. Our supporters are the reason for our success so far and building long-term relationships is the core essence of our business model.”

figloans_logoThe smartest move we’ve made so far: “Starting in Texas. The food’s great, and that’s where Fig could have the greatest impact. The second part really opened a ton of opportunities to us that probably wouldn’t have been present in another market. Taking part in Techstars is a close second, if not number one. The #givefirst mentality at Techstars is a game changer.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We learn so much from every mistake, so they’re all not so bad in hindsight. The biggest mistake we made, in the beginning, was probably not seeking out a core group of mentors. We could have saved countless hours of research from scratch had we just found the right mentors to give us a jump start.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bill Gates. He’s brilliant, and he started the Giving Pledge. We couldn’t think of anyone more aligned with the mission of Fig. If there’s ever a chance, we’d love to work with the Gates Foundation to see how they can help us take Fig to the next level both domestically and internationally.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Ice cream, it’s delicious, and we’ve never had ice cream we didn’t like. We get ice cream when we’re celebrating and after tough conversations; it’s a cure-all.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Alignment with a mission. You have to believe in what we do; everything else can be learned.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “It sound’s cliche, but keep trying to figure it out. We’ve run into so many show-stoppers when building Fig, but each time we found a way. You can definitely will things into existence if you try hard enough.”

Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the companies participating in Techstars Seattle’s class of 2016 in the lead up to Demo Day on May 18.

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