Dave Girouard: Founder & CEO of Upstart

My NativeAdVice:


Dave Girouard is founder and CEO of Upstart. Prior to that, he was President of Google Enterprise, where he built Google’s cloud apps business worldwide — including product development, sales, marketing, and customer support. Girouard was also a Product Manager at Apple; SVP of products & marketing at video search company Virage; an associate in Booz Allen’s Information Technology practice; and a software developer at Accenture.

How did you get into the Finance/Tech industry?

I have no idea, actually. Really it just seemed like a ripe opportunity to do something big and important and interesting. I was at Google for 8 years and that was awesome, but I was ready for something new. And this seemed like the most un-Google thing that I could do. The Finance industry has been largely frozen in time for decades, so there’s a great opportunity to use technology and data science to build something impactful and differentiated.

Tell us about Upstart. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?

Upstart is a marketplace lender that offers personal loans, principally to millennials. My co-founders and I started the company based on the observation that people in their 20s don’t really have access to credit on fair terms. They’re considered “thin file” because they don’t have a lot of history using credit. So it’s kind of a catch-22 - how can you get good credit if you haven’t used credit?

But we came from Google, where we used a whole ton of data to make hiring decisions for this same demographic - where somebody went to school, what they studied, how they performed academically. So we figured that this type of information could not only be used to make hiring decisions but also to make credit decisions. If you’re young, your educational background is critical to understanding your employment potential - and conversely your unemployment potential. And that information helps us better understand the relative risk of our borrowers.

What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Upstart's success?

The most central construct behind Upstart’s success is that we focus all our energy on making the borrower’s experience better. When the concept of peer-to-peer lending was invented, it was modeled after some sort of flea market where investors could browse through hundreds of loans and find ones they want to invest in. But that wasn’t particularly ideal for borrowers - who wants to be an item in a flea market? Borrowers really just want a loan at the lowest possible rate, and the easiest and most predictable borrowing process. So while we’re still considered a marketplace, we’ve really optimized around the borrower experience. We have the #1 rated personal loan on Credit Karma out of 29, so we think this approach makes sense.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

Millennials have no particular affinity for banks. I don’t think they hate them - they just have this inert feeling. Kind of how you feel about the gas & electric company. But people crave to associate themselves with brands that have meaning to them. I think the next great financial institutions will have well-defined brands; more like Nike and Apple, and less like that of oldschool financial institutions.

That’s the type of brand we aim to create in the years to come - one with which people naturally want to associate.

Life Motto?

Clear Eyes Full Hearts Can’t Lose (courtesy of Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights)

Upstart's Motto?

Financial fitness for all.

Your greatest success as Founder/CEO of Upstart? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?

Greatest success: We’ve not had a single employee leave the company for more than a year and a half.

Most difficult moment: Trying to raise a Series A before we had launched our product in the market. Raising money is never fun, but it’s something every founder has to get comfortable with, because it can’t be delegated.

Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?

Don’t wait until your 40s like I did - start young! You have nothing to lose.

Describe the ideal experience using Upstart.

Get a loan within a day at a rate you can’t believe - and pay off all your credit cards and be on your way to financial fitness. And of course, tell your friends about it.

How do you motivate your employees?

First and foremost, I hire employees that are self-motivated. The rest is easy - share the opportunity to build a lasting company that will change the world - as well as our own lives - forever.

One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

Chocolate chip ice cream and red wine - together

What literature is on your bed stand?

Winston Churchill’s six-part memoir about the second world war.

Role model - business and personal?

On the personal side, I’ve had a multi-decade long fascination with Winston Churchill. His ability to overcome adversity, his willingness to take unpopular viewpoints, his command of language and ability to wield it to desired outcomes, his readiness to his refashion his viewpoints and tactics to present realities, and his celebratory style of living have always been an inspiration to me.

With respect to business, I have huge admiration for Warren Buffett - not so much for his investing acumen but for his ability to stay at one company for 50 years.

Current passion?

My kids - just experiencing their lives with them as they grow up and discover the world.

Favorite travel destination?

Sun Valley, Idaho

What's next for Upstart?

“Financial fitness to all” sums it up - we want more and more people to live their lives such that money and financial matters aren’t a burden. We can’t make everybody rich, but if we’re successful, millions of people will be able to make the choices they want and live the lives they want without daily fear about money.