Al is a successful three-time entrepreneur and the Co-founder and CEO of AvantCredit.com, the fastest growing national online provider of consumer loans.
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Worst Entrepreneur moment
- Al spent 20 sleepless nights in one month and was finally at his breaking point. Listen to the lesson he learned at this LOW moment.
Entrepreneur AH-HA Moment
- Al’s vertical is MASSIVE and that’s the playground he wants to play in… exciting opportunities are EVERYwhere, Fire Nation!
Small Business Resource
- CrunchBase: The definitive database of the startup ecosystem. The Business Graph connects companies, people, products & events to provide data that you need.
Best Business Book
- Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston
- AvantCredit.com: Change the way you borrow with AvantCredit Personal loans. Applying at Avant is quick & easy and does not affect your FICO credit score.
- Al’s email
Interviewee: John, I'm fired up.
Interviewer: Yes. Al's a successful three-time entrepreneur and the cofounder and CEO of AvantCredit.com, the fastest growing national online provider of consumer loans. Al, say what's at the Fire Nation and share what's going on in your world.
Interviewee: Yeah John, well, thanks for having me. And it's been a little bit crazy because our company Avant Credit is a two-year-old business now that's got 600 and some employees. And really part of this amazing universe of consumer lending, of transforming consumer lending from being a stodgy old brand-based business to really being the next generation, a place where our customers actually like the process of borrowing money.
Interviewer: Yeah, and that's not always been a place where it's been [inaudible][00:00:45] let's be honest, there's some people who look down upon this industry because of some shady practices that other people have partaken in. So what are you kind of doing with your company to kinda take it out of there and really provide the kind of stellar service that has got you all the success and the three-time success that you've currently had to this date?
Interviewee: Well, I think consumer lending is somewhat misunderstood because it really is a gigantic industry. There's something like $12 trillion of consumer loans outstanding in the U.S., even excluding mortgage, which is massive. It's still $3.5 trillion. So we play in the category where we try to provide the full suite of products, be the digital bank for the everyday consumer, which basically means people who make between $35,000 a year and $75,000 a year, which tends to be half of Americans.
Interviewee: And we offer them products with rates starting at 9 percent. So I think the more shady aspect of the business probably has to do with more the subprime category. And our goal is really to provide better product and services that are cheaper and easier for the everyday consumer.
Interviewer: Yeah, there's not many credit cards you can find these days at 9 percent so definitely an option for there. And what we're gonna do is this. We're gonna talk about your journey as an entrepreneur. We're gonna talk about your worst entrepreneurial moment, your aha moments. But before we get into that, we do what's called the one-minute mindset which is five insights into your mind. Take about a minute to answer these questions, the first one being, ideally, Al, what are the first 80 minutes of your day look like?
Interviewee: That's kinda interesting. So I have two young kids, two boys under the age of three. So it starts – that first 80 minutes starts early because unfortunately my kids, just like me, don't sleep. But the best about my day is I love to get started, check my email, play with my kids, go work out and then play with my kids again and take one of them to school before work. It's a pretty crowded morning typically but I love it.
Interviewer: Nice. Well it's ideal for you, Al, and that's the focus. What's your biggest weakness as an entrepreneur?
Interviewee: I think my biggest weakness is definitely organization and kind of detail follow through. Because, I think, like a lot of entrepreneurs I think I enjoy the craziness, the fighting the trenches of entrepreneurship, but I think it's very hard to consistently follow through. So I've been very fortunate to work with partners and cofounders and CEOs that in fact can do that part of the business, which I think is super important.
Interviewer: Let's be frank, Al, sometimes as entrepreneurs we need to embrace mayhem. We just seem to realize that that's going to be part of the game, part of the journey that we're on. That things are gonna come at us from a million different directions at 100 miles per hour. And sometimes we're gonna drop some balls. Sometimes some plates are going to shatter in Fire Nation. You just have to realize it's part of the journey. It's part of the game. Let's learn from these systems. Let's learn from these drops and these setbacks and just come back better the next time. And on that note, Al, what's your biggest strength?
Interviewee: I would say I've been pretty fortunate in my ability to get brilliant people to join the cause and follow and try to tackle problems that other people just would be afraid to tackle. Because I think as entrepreneurs what we're trying to do it we're trying to do the things that people view as impossible and take on problems that other people would be afraid of.
And I have been very fortunate to not have to do that alone. And our team is always what's made us different and what set us apart and created the ability for us to do great things.
Interviewer: Al, you have some great habits, spending time with family, working out. What's a habit that you wish you had?
Interviewee: I constantly try to work on more organization and better consistency, but it's something that has escaped me for my first 34 years of life. I aspire to be like some of the people I work with that are able to be super organized and consistent.
Interviewer: So, Al, you have a lot of cool things going on. This is your third rodeo so to speak. What's the one thing that has you more fired up than anything else right now?
Interviewee: Well, it's a little bit crazy because we're playing in one of the largest verticals in the world as we talk about consumer credit. And we're already a global company here two years in Avant. We're not operating in the UK. We're looking at adding some more countries to our mix in the next six months.
I think we have a unique opportunity to build $100 billion business. And that's kind of – that's the kind of magic number that we internally aspire to, not because of the financial aspect of it but just because I think it's really transformational. There's so few companies that are in markets that are large enough to potentially support those kind of businesses. And I think we have massive whitespace. Whether or not we can execute will literally be dependent on our ability to do so.
Interviewer: Now Fire Nation, it is a great idea to look at the vertical that you're going to be getting into before you actually jump into it. And I'm sure Al looked at his vertical and he saw that basically the sky was the limit. That was a pretty exciting [inaudible][00:06:05] for him. For other people that may not be the case. They may want to get a bigger piece of a smaller pie or some people may want just a sliver of a massive pie.
And that's just one of those things that you, as entrepreneurs that are listening right now, need to really weigh and judge and feel like, what feels right for me? But those massive verticals, they can be pretty exciting. Because if you just get that right leverage point you're off to the races.
And Al, this is where we dive into your journey as an entrepreneur. And again, we're gonna talk about a great aha moment in a few minutes here. But before I get to that story, take us to your worst entrepreneurial moment in time, Al. Take us to that moment in time. Share with us that story.
Interviewee: In my first company when I was 23, probably 23, 24 years old, we were six months in and our business was growing well and we had a lot of people but we had pretty stodgy technology. And so we spent four or five months rebuilding our entire platform. And the vision was to make it more automated, to make it more dynamic, to have it be service oriented, all of the great stuff we wanted to do.
But we transitioned to the new platform and at the time the team was really small. My brother was my cofounder and we had two other engineers. And so we transitioned to the new platform. My brother went on vacation the day after thinking everything was okay. And the system collapsed and it literally didn't function. It just – it was so slow. We have memory leaks. All the data was junked up.
And so my brother came back from his vacation two weeks later and our number two on the engineering side went on vacation. In the meantime I think I pulled like, I don't know, 20 all nighters in the span of a month. And so we had this crazy journey at the end of which we actually got to a pretty decent place.
And so finally, I remember this clearly, it was I think my birthday and finally things were working well. So I went home at a reasonable time. I remember waking up in the morning at 8:00 am thinking, oh, I got a great night's sleep, and got an email that we had double debited 800 customers on their due date because of system problems. And that was pretty miserable. It was one of those things that's hard to get up from because you kinda feel like, where's the light?
Interviewer: Where is the light? And what I love about this story, Al, is that guess what, there was light. You found the light. You moved towards the light and you're living in that right now. And for so many listeners that maybe either are down in that dark hole of just struggling, obstacles and challenges or haven't faced it yet but are about to, these are the stories you have to remember that we as entrepreneurs, we all go through these dark moments. We all go through these times that are gonna test our medal and make us question, is this even the journey that I want to be on?
I mean, 20 sleepless nights or all nighters in the course of a month? I mean, that's enough to drive a man crazy. I mean, I spent 13 months in Iraq and I don't think I ever had a month like that. So, I mean, that's pretty crazy stuff, I will say, and something that would definitely make me question my medal. But the takeaway that I want you, Fire Nation, to walk away with that I got from Al's story is that no matter how dark that night is, there's going to be a silver lining if you just stick around, if you just look for it and you persevere.
And Al, in just about one sentence, what do you wanna make sure that our listeners walk away with from that story?
Interviewee: I just think that things don't get better overnight. They're never as bad as you think, probably never as good as you think they are.
Interviewer: Definitely not.
Interviewee: Unfortunately we just need to make things a little bit better every day. And then you look back and you actually accomplish quite a bit.
Interviewer: Yeah – no, that's why I love recommending these two books, "The Slight Edge" by Jeff Olson and "The Compound Effects" by Darren Hardy. Because that is what the premise of those books are is do small things, little tiny things right every single day. It might not feel like much at first but it adds up to massive results down the line.
And Al, to do a little shift now to your aha moment, your epiphany, a light bulb that went on, I mean, you've had many of these, my friend, but which story do you think is gonna resonate most with Fire Nation? And take us to that moment in time and tell us that story.
Interviewee: Avant is my third company and so it really started a little bit differently. But I think it's pretty interesting the way it started in that my two cofounders were actually former interns of mine. So I've known them for a long time. I think they're brilliant, amazing. They were in Y Combinator which is kinda the [inaudible][00:10:50] technology incubator in the west coast. And they were trying to build a business. But they weren't making any money because clearly they were trying to build a business. And one of them needed to go and take a personal loan.
And he went to a physical branch and tried to take a loan. Their computers were not working so he had to leave and go back and spent four or five hours trying to get a loan. That experience was so depressing and so excruciating is that's how Avant was actually born. And to me I think, when I talk to entrepreneurs, it's just amazing how the most successful companies come out of just everyday problems that people face. And it's just been a fun ride since then.
Interviewer: That's why it's so important to go through [inaudible][00:11:35], Fire Nation, with our eyes wide open, with our ears tuned. I mean, when I have Timer Warner come over to install my cable, there's like five things, I'm like, this would make the process so much better. And if I could just figure out how to start a competing company, I would blow them out of the water in a second because they're doing all these things that could be improved upon.
And that's just a massive example but there's little things every single day that you can just spot. And then you can just say, you know what, this is something that I have a little bit of passion for. This is something that I have some skills in or I could quickly develop skills in this area. And I could bring this to market and serve a segment of the population that's currently frustrated by this, that's lacking this for any number of reasons.
I mean, that's my big takeaway, Al, from your aha moment. What again, do you want to really make sure that Fire Nation walks away with?
Interviewee: Yeah, I think you're exactly right. There are opportunities everywhere. And if you're passionate about it and are willing to stick with it because these things are just not easy and you have to fight through, I think you can really change things for the better and revolutionize the way consumers interact, the way people live their lives.
Interviewer: Revolutionize the way consumers interact. I mean, I love that phrase. And Al, I'm not letting you go anywhere, my friend, because we are about to enter the lightning round. But before we get there, let's take a minute to thank our sponsors.
Al, welcome to the lightning round where you get to share incredible resources in mind-blowing answers. Sound like a plan?
Interviewee: Sounds like a great plan.
Interviewer: What was initially holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Interviewee: So I started my career like a lot of budding college graduates, running around Wall Street as an investment maker and actually not knowing what investment makers actually do before I got there. But in retrospect I actually love to hire ex-investment makers because I think you get beat down so hard, you kind of – you get humility.
But I just – I've always had problems with authority. I think it's a common trait among entrepreneurs –
Interviewer: Oh, yeah.
Interviewee: -- because you always sit there and think about like, wow, why am I doing this? Why are you my manager? Shouldn't I be your manager? So I think for me it's – I had a great opportunity to quit banking, quite my corporate job about a year in. And fortunately it worked out because I'm not sure I could have ever made it in the corporate world. But it's just – it's been so incredible to be in a position where you get to benefit from your own hard work. That's actually – my original mentor and business partner said that to me. I wanna put you in a position to benefit from your own hard work.
Interviewer: And I'm glad you brought up the phrase humility. I don't think we talk about it nearly enough on Entrepreneur on Fire. But for me the military, corporate finance, law school all brought different forms of humility to me that I needed for sure when I launched Entrepreneur on Fire and throughout the last two-and-a-half years of growing this business. So humility, Fire Nation, make sure you have that in spades. And Al, what's the best advice you ever received?
Interviewee: At some point one of my investors and one of my mentors kind of tore apart one of my business plans and said it was just kind of a piece of paper and really not worth much and made me really think about the dynamics of a market. And so what I've come to is I love to invest or build businesses in very large categories, like consumer lending or real estate or whatever, very large categories that have massive barriers to entry.
Because I think the reality is we tend to shy away from big businesses because, like you said, it's – they're daunting and the barriers tend to scare people away. But if you can go in there and solve some of those barriers, you have a business that's really defensible. And I think that's really led to a ton of success and really the way I think about where to personally get involved.
Interviewer: We talked about a personal habit that you wish you had. What's a habit that you do have, Al, that you believe really contributes to your current success?
Interviewee: You can never be entirely happy or satisfied in that if something is good you always just unfortunately think about, well, why is it not better? It's like one of those things – Elon Musk I think says this a lot is that, if I could only just be happy with the current tesla the way it is then maybe I wouldn't work on the next one.
Interviewer: But I want the next tesla.
Interviewee: I totally agree. I think that concept of just unfortunately never being fully satisfied and looking for the next challenge is something that I'm not sure I love, but I think it's definitely contributed to success.
Interviewer: And that's not just a trait of entrepreneurs. It's truly an innate trait of human beings. I mean, that's why the number one cause of death is retirement because we as humans we need that next challenge. We need that next thing beyond the horizon. It has to be there. And that's what's so exciting, Fire Nation, about the path that you are on because you will always have that next challenge as long as you want it there in front of you.
Al, do you have an internet resource, like Ever Notes, that you can share with our listeners?
Interviewee: CrunchBase is something I use all the time because you hear about a company and it just very quickly gives you the breakdown of what the company's doing and their investors and their people. And again, as you think about businesses, it just really allows you to very quickly lay out kinda the fundamental. And I actually find that really helpful.
Interviewer: If you could recommend one book for our listeners, what would it be and why?
Interviewee: I love the book "Founders at Work" which is a really, really short read but it just gives you the stories of 50 founders and kind of their problems and their fights and their battles.
Interviewer: Oh, cool. Love hearing those stories of the founders. I mean, that's huge and that's actually what I built the entire premise of Entrepreneur on Fire on and Fire Nation. I know that you love audio so I teamed up with Audible and if you haven't already, you can get an amazing audio book for free at eofirebook.com.
And Al, this next question's the last of the lightning round but it's a doozey. Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world identical to earth but you knew no one. You still have all the experience and knowledge you currently have. Your food and shelter taken care of but all you have is a laptop and $500. What would you do in the next seven days?
Interviewee: It's kinda wonderful because everything's available. Yeah, with $500 you obviously have your sins that you can work on. Everything's taken care of. I would just travel.
Interviewer: Travel the world and that's what it's all about, man. It's about what you, Al Goldstein, would do. So traveling is on the agenda. And Al, let's end today on fire, my friends. Share one parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you and then we'll say goodbye.
Interviewee: Based on my experience, all I've learned is just surround yourself with great people and never give up. Just always try to do better and try to kinda leave a lasting memory or a lasting legacy. And the best way to connect with me is either Linked In or you can always email at [email protected]
Interviewer: Fire Nation, you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with and you have been hanging out with Al and JLD today. So keep up the heat and head over to EOFire.com. Just type Al A-L in the search bar. His [inaudible][00:19:22] page will pop right up with his email address, book recommendation, resource. Everything that we've talked about will be right there. And Al, I wanna thank you for sharing your journey, my friend, with Fire Nation today. And for that we salute you and we'll catch you on the flipside.
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