Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Wemimo Abbey and Samir Goel of Esusu Are Helping To Change Our World
Staying Nimble and being open to change: The company continues to evolve as customer needs change. Actively future-proof the company by being smart with the investment money. For example: Avoid needing to do layoffs during an economic downturn by making smart hiring decisions.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Wemimo Abbey and Samir Goel.
Wemimo Abbey and Samir Goel are the co-founders and co-CEOs of Esusu, the leading financial technology company advancing rent reporting and data solutions for credit building. Prior to Esusu, Wemimo founded Clean Water for Everyone, a global social venture, and Open Aid Initiative, a data analytics company, which was acquired in 2014. Samir previously co-founded Transfernation, a nationally recognized 501(c)3 non-profit which uses technology to ensure excess food from events goes toward underserved communities across New York City. Regular speakers at global conferences, Wemimo and Samir have been named the 2023 Founders of the Year by AFROTECH and the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, among other individual recognitions.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path and point in your life?
Wemimo: I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. My first unofficial endeavor was back in high school where I would sell gameboy cartridges to my classmates. I went to school for business and went on to found two companies prior to co-founding Esusu. I’ve always had the desire to do good and make a change through entrepreneurship.
Samir: Funny enough, entrepreneurship was not always the plan for me. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset and used to sell old college textbooks for extra pocket money. Initially, I wanted to work for the United Nations and make an impact in the world through international relations. I did wind up working at the U.N., and through that experience, I learned that I need more creative freedom in how I sought to make a difference and went on to co-found a non-profit organization prior to Esusu.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
When we started Esusu, it was an uphill battle. We were turned away by over 300 investors before one said yes. When we finally closed our first contract, we were $100,000 in debt and couldn’t even afford a hotel room. So we decided to crash at a Denny’s and get ‘The Grand Slam’ so we could work there all night and catch a flight in the morning. Unfortunately for us, we started dozing off around 2:30 and were kicked out of the restaurant. Experiences like this keep us grounded and remind us to check our egos at the door.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we began fundraising for Esusu, we solicited our family and friends on LinkedIn — a rookie move that took us months to rectify and thereby unintentionally broke many rules. The most embarrassing part was sending a notice to each investor admitting the error and giving them the option to take their money back. Fortuitously, no one reneged on their commitment. Those investors believed in us from the start when Esusu was sub $5m and we are grateful most of them are still on the journey. After our most recent Series B fundraising round, Esusu is valued at $1B. The biggest lesson here is to fail fast, admit your mistakes and rectify the mistake.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
We started the company to create equitable financial access for everyone. More than 45 million Americans are “credit invisible,” meaning one in every ten adults has no credit history with one of the three leading credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). Additionally, less than 10% of rental payments are reported to credit agencies, contributing to the 100-point delta in credit scores between renters and homeowners. For renters who are financially unstable — the majority of whom are low and middle-income families, people of color, and immigrants — this is a massive barrier to financial stability.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
We are proud and honored to see Esusu making a meaningful impact in the lives of our customers. Through partnerships with companies like Jonathan Rose, we have improved credit scores for thousands of renters. And with Esusu’s rent relief program, we’ve helped our customers keep a roof over their heads. One renter, in particular, lost his job during the COVID-19 pandemic and couldn’t afford rent. After going through Esusu’s diligence checks, he got approved for an interest-free loan that would cover his current overdue balance, plus additional funds to cover a few more months of rent. Less than six months later, he was back on his feet, making on-time rent payments and landed a full-time job paying six figures.
QUOTE FROM RENTER: “I would never have been able to do this without you. You have given me the strength and hope to get through this. Thank you for the uplifting support I so very much needed at a time when I was down. I didn’t know how I was going to stand up again, but you guys came in and gave me the strength to stand up and fight!”
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Congress can fix the outdated credit scoring system by ensuring that rental payments are used to build credit, thereby supporting renters across the country, addressing the racial wealth gap and affordable housing crisis.
- Owners and property managers should provide their tenants with a positive rent reporting solution like Esusu that incentivizes them to pay rent on time, establish and boost their credit scores, and build financial opportunities.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think this might help people?
Our goal is to build on the momentum we’ve seen in the past four years so that we may expand opportunities to those traditionally left out of the financial system. The next step for Esusu is to grow our reach to 10 million units by working with organizations like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to provide simple and accessible credit-building solutions. We are currently working on a number of exciting consumer-facing products slated for 2023 that are aimed at taking a holistic approach to solving the racial wealth gap.
What you are doing is not easy. What inspires you to keep moving forward?
We both experienced marginalization by the credit system firsthand. Wemimo immigrated from Nigeria with his mother at 17 years old, and with no financial identity, his mom was turned away by banks when seeking financial support for his education, forcing her to borrow money at over 400% interest from a predatory lender. Samir’s parents immigrated from New Delhi to New York. Like many of the millions of Americans without a credit score, he watched their struggle with the financial and cultural burdens of immigration. It is because of those experiences that we founded Esusu on the guiding principle where you come from, the color of your skin, and your financial identity should never determine where you end up in life.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Diverse Teams: Building a successful company requires a diverse group of skilled and dedicated individuals. You must surround yourself with people who are just as committed to the company’s success as you are.
- Networking and building relationships: In the early stages of a startup, it’s crucial to make connections and seek out mentors and advisors who can provide guidance and support. Building a strong network can also help open doors to new opportunities and partnerships.
- Ups and downs of entrepreneurship: Starting a company can be a rollercoaster ride, with moments of high excitement and success, interspersed with challenges and setbacks. It’s important to stay resilient and persistent and to have the mental toughness to keep going even when things get tough.
- Value of customer feedback: Listening to and incorporating customer feedback is essential for a company’s growth and success. It’s important to seek out and listen to customer feedback constantly and to be open to making changes based on that feedback.
- Staying Nimble and being open to change: The company continues to evolve as customer needs change. Actively future-proof the company by being smart with the investment money. For example: Avoid needing to do layoffs during an economic downturn by making smart hiring decisions.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Our hope is that our mission-oriented approach to positive rent reporting can inspire other companies and leaders to create simple solutions to solving big issues, like bridging the racial wealth gap. Opposed to other one-track approaches, we aim to take people on a continuous journey that helps them when they’re financially stable, as well as when they’re falling on hard times. This way, whether they’re establishing or boosting their credit scores, opening new lines of credit, receiving better rates from lenders, or trying to get back on their feet with the help of our 0% interest rent stability program, Esusu is there for people every step of the way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Esusu is inspired by a Yoruba word which means, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” That has been the hallmark of what we do every day at Esusu. It reminds us that our success is because of our commitment to doing well by doing good.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
We both admire President Barack Obama a lot and he’s someone that influences both of our leadership styles. He was able to achieve something that, before then, had never been done before, and he was able to do so in an especially polarizing time.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Wemimo Abbey and Samir Goel of Esusu Are Helping To Change Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.