Five and a half years ago I decided to leave an amazing role at an amazing company to optimize for one thing: immediate “bottom-line impact” on peoples’ lives.
That means: Not just another app on someone's home screen, but something that drives people to say “this is a lifesaver.” Not a high-flying startup story with a quick exit, but something that's tackling a massive, thorny problem – one that's so hard that people prefer to ignore it altogether.
So, I joined Even.
It turns out that building a startup – even under the best circumstances – tends to be exhaustingly hard. Building a startup that relies on the financial system, distributes through employers, and actually helps people may very well be the hardest thing I ever attempt.
Given the enormity of the challenge, sometimes it helps to be reminded why I travel this road. This weekend I spotted an App Store review that made it crystal clear:
“This app is God sent. I am a single mom of 2 wonderful boys. I was broke, $8.42 in the bank (i paid all my bills) & i received an unexpected bill. And this app allowed me to pay it. This app is great thank you.”
This is what optimizing for impact looks like.
We’re there for our members on their worst days. Even is the safest, fastest, and cheapest solution for when “life happens”: a family member gets sick, a car breaks down, or an unexpected bill shows up. These setbacks hit all the time.
Using Even's Instapay feature, a member can access an immediate lifeline of up to 50% of their earned but unpaid wages – most take about $200 on average – with the tap of a button. This is a game changer.
Instapay keeps our members from missing a bill or going to a payday lender. The former could get you evicted, and the latter are well-known for being predatory: The average payday loan borrower ends up paying back $793 for a $325 loan.
Because we charge a flat subscription, our members can't fall into an interest-fueled cycle of debt. Better yet, most of our members never pay the full price: Employers frequently subsidize all or part of the subscription. Walmart, for example, is offering a 100% subsidy as part of their COVID response. That's 1.5 million Americans with a free lifeline in their pocket.
“[Even] is WAY cheaper than borrowing money from an online lender for sure.”
We advance $1 billion a year, helping members avoid over $150 million in interest and fees from payday loans or other types of short-term credit. Each dollar saved is a dollar that remains within the community, supporting our members and their families.
Even is also there for members months and years down the road, with our Automatic Savings feature. Where Instapay helps members get back on their feet, Savings helps them build a buffer for next time – so they don't even need to use Instapay.
There are plenty of savings products out there. What makes Even's so special?
First, it's automatic: Members pick a rate, say 5%, that they want to set aside from each paycheck. This turns every payday into an opportunity to make progress by default. We don't assume that every dollar saved will live there forever, and that's okay. Life happens, and when it does you should borrow from yourself first – as our friends at the Financial Health Network and The Aspen Institute recommend.
Second, many of our members – and 58%+ of the American population – work in hourly roles. They typically have inconsistent pay: We frequently see fluctuations of 10-20% from paycheck to paycheck. Because we know how much members are earning in real time, the amount saved from any given paycheck is adjusted accordingly and shown alongside the day's earnings. If a member sees that their hours are too short, or an expense is coming up, they'll skip this week and try again next time. This visibility and safety means progress becomes the default while we avoid introducing a cashflow shortage in the process – exactly the expensive outcome Even set out to prevent.
Third, Even moves money in the majority of cases using paycheck deductions. This is the same mechanic that 401(k)s have used for decades to encourage deposits. We’ve heard countless times, "If I see it, I spend it." By helping members save their earnings before it even gets to their checking account, we increase savings success even further. And, frankly, our members love it.
More than 290,000 savers have deposited nearly $92M since we launched last June. When stimulus funds and "Hero" raises landed in mid-April, we saw nearly $1 million move into Savings, reflecting both the desire to save for a rainy day as well as the immense trust that our members place in us.
“For someone who will easily spend their savings, this is perfect for me. I've never saved anything past $100 and now I have over $500!!!”
Even's journey is far from over. Our roadmap is full of ways we can help our members make progress over time. The team is thrilled to bring that vision to life, with big launches coming over the next few months – stay tuned! 🚀
As America wrestles with the parallel crises of COVID-19 and systemic racism, impact-driven companies like Even have never had a more important role to play. Communities of color are being hit hard by COVID, have a long history of being treated unfairly by the financial industry, and are suffering disproportionately from financial stress. The pandemic has disrupted income to tens of millions, putting them at serious risk of falling behind.
The tech community has incredible resources at its disposal to devote to these problems. If we stay cognizant of our blind spots and listen to the people we're trying to help, engineers, designers, and product managers can leverage their collective privilege to tackle massive challenges for the rest of the world.
Not everyone needs to take the same path that I did, but I don't think we can afford to sit on the sidelines. I'm proud that Even puts a dent in these problems each and every day. We give our members a safety net that keeps them out of a cycle of debt. We encourage them to build liquid savings. We drive financial resiliency, one paycheck at a time.
“This app has saved me so many times I can’t count 😁. I absolutely love it 😻”
If you're an engineer, designer, or product manager interested in optimizing for impact, let's chat.
Even Member quotes edited for clarity only.
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