MBA Program: Harvard Business School
Industry: Student Loans / Financial Services
Founding Student Name(s): Nikhil Agarwal and Chris Abkarians
Funding Dollars: $2.5M
What led you to launch this venture? Two years ago, Nikhil and I were accepted to HBS. At first, we were ecstatic, and then the tuition bill came. We knew we needed student loans and met on a group chat that HBS set up for incoming students. In that group, we started comparing different loan options and decided to try negotiating bulk discounts on loans for our classmates.
We asked other students to fill out a basic google form, indicating whether they’d be interested in negotiating as a group and quickly got 50 people to sign up. Over the next two weeks, we grew that to 700 students across 10 business schools, and then we reached out to a dozen lenders.
We ran an auction between a few lenders and got one to offer large discounts to our group, all before we ever set foot on campus!
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? That first summer, we helped a few hundred classmates access $26M in loans at rates that saved the average student over $13,000 in interest and fees. During our first year of business school, we grew that to a few thousand people and over $100M in loans at the lowest rates in the market. Today, we have nearly 20,000 members and are scaling across all schools in the U.S.
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? HBS has been invaluable as we’ve gotten LeverEdge off the ground. Before COVID, we spent every day in the Innovation Lab, surrounded by like-minded classmates and even hired away one of the staff.
However, the true value of the MBA program comes from the help and guidance of classmates and professors. Every time we had a question about what to do, multiple classmates would come to help. And our professors have helped us with everything from organizational design to fundraising and intros to industry veterans.
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it?Managing Service Operations with Professor Ryan Buell has touched many aspects of our business. We had a breakthrough when we understood how our members could help us reduce our user acquisition costs and separate us from the competition. We’ve applied Operational Transparency, a concept I first learned in MSO across each segment of our business (from designing our website to member communications). Perhaps the most important learning from MSO has been how we can communicate with and maintain the trust of our team and our members during challenging situations.
What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? It is too hard to name one. At the very least, Ben Esty (Strategy), Daniel Green (Finance), David Scharfstein (Fintech), Jeff Bussgang (Entrepreneurship), Joshua Schwartzstein (Negotiations), Julia Austin (Product Management), Lou Shipley & Mark Roberge (Sales) and Ryan Buell (MSO).
Each of these professors has provided advice, intros, and insights that have changed the trajectory of our company. I just emailed one of them earlier today to get a better understanding for how deposit yield pricing works and got an answer in less than 2 hours!
At the end of the day, anyone can start a business whether they go to business school or not. But, if you do go, make genuine relationships with people whose work interests you. That way, your likelihood of success shoots through the roof.
How did the pandemic impact your startup plans? The pandemic has impacted so many lives and businesses, including ours. Our goal is to help students access the lowest student loan rates by getting lenders to bid for their loans. We’re still able to do that, but COVID has made it more difficult to convince lenders to take risks and offer even lower rates.
On another note, we’re fortunate to have a great team to help us iterate quickly and improve the product, even while we’re all remote. In January, there were only two of us. Today, there are 12, and most of us have never met in person!
What is your long-term goal with your startup?
What are the most expensive purchases you’ll make? For most people, it tends to be financial products – student loans, auto loans, mortgages, health insurance, home insurance, and more.
You should be buying those things in groups and switching to a better provider when one comes along.
LeverEdge aims to be a one-stop marketplace for the group-purchasing of all financial products.
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