Imagine being a Venture Capitalist looking for a startup to invest in. You'd probably begin your search in Silicon Valley or New York's Silicon Alley, right?
But those two areas aren't the only places where tech startups have been thriving -- there's Silicon Docks (Dublin, Ireland), Silicon Hills (Austin, Texas), Silicon Peach (Atlanta, Georgia), and Silicon Beach (Los Angeles, California). It's in this last place, Santa Monica, that the VC company Revolution found their latest company to invest in, a start-up known as Tala.
Shivani Siroya founded Tala after spending time in emerging markets and found that mobile tech is the best way to solve this problem she was passionate about. Tala provides microloans to people in emerging markets who are unable to secure credit through traditional banks. They use nontraditional data pulled from mobile phones and have extended credit to over 1.3 million customers.
Venture Out is a series that provides a spotlight on start-up companies outside of the Bay Area and New York City.
What is your elevator pitch about you and your company?
The global financial system doesn’t work for 3 billion people. Only 31% of the adult population worldwide is covered by a credit bureau, leading to about $2.1 trillion in unmet need for credit. Tala’s innovation is our use of alternative data and mobile technology to understand and reach the underserved. We’ve developed an app that instantly underwrites customers using Android and proprietary data and delivers credit to a mobile wallet or location of the customer’s choosing. Eighty-five percent of our customers receive credit in less than 10 minutes and 92% pay it back. Our vision is to become the world’s biggest and most trusted financial services partner.
Tell us more about your company – what you do, number of employees?
Right now we operate in Kenya, Tanzania, the Philippines, and Mexico, and we’re testing a pilot in India. We’ve originated more than $376 million to more than 1.4 million customers and are growing an average of 130% quarterly. We have 250 full-time team members across all of our offices – two-thirds of our team is in the markets where we work.
Our commitment to financial inclusion is front and center in everything we do. For example, we have a policy on data ethics that has been in place since we first started lending; we don’t factor gender into our decisions, despite knowing that gender correlates to repayment outcomes. We also invest heavily in user research to understand and measure our impact. Many of our customers are new to credit, and we take our responsibility to them seriously. Increased financial access should not come at the expense of consumers’ financial health.
At what stage of development is your company? Who are your funders?
We raised a Series C in April this year, bringing our total fundraising to more than $105 million. Revolution led the round and partner Steve Murray (previously highlighted on the NASDAQ platform) joined our board. We are also backed by IVP, Ribbit, DCVC, Lowercase, and Female Founders fund. We’ve been fortunate to have investors who share our commitment to financial inclusion and who believe in our customers and our markets.
So you are located outside of the typical startup zones (e.g., NYC and SF), what types of development and startup venture resources have you found locally? What are some of the unique factors of your area that are helping you to be successful?
Santa Monica, and Los Angeles more broadly, is an incredible place to build a company. The growing tech scene is tight-knit and supportive, with increasing opportunities to share and learn together. We’re also benefiting from Mayor Garcetti’s commitment to fostering a thriving, global tech industry – everything from making parts of the city friendlier to startups and co-working to bridging different parts of the city through the light rail.
As a global company, we especially benefit from the multiculturalism and socioeconomic diversity that LA offers – you don’t get the feeling that you’re living and working in a tech echo chamber. We have a diverse and talented pipeline coming from local universities; our weather also draws defectors down from the Bay Area.
Are you a native of your company’s location? Did you go away to school and then come back? How did you come to found your company in your location?
LA was where I happened to be working when I decided to quit my day job and launch a pilot. I had discovered a problem that I couldn’t stop thinking about and I knew I had to at least try to solve it.
What have you found to be the most valuable about being located outside of the typical startup communities?
Being located outside of Silicon Valley makes it easier to put your head down and work. You aren’t caught up in the pressures or the networking that an industry town forces on you; you can focus on your mission.
What’s wonderful about LA in particular is that, within our small and growing community, we get all the benefits of a diverse and dynamic sector without any of the baggage. Most people don’t realize that tech in LA has advanced beyond entertainment and media. We're seeing tremendous innovation in a variety of industries here, including neurotech, fintech, real estate, mobile gaming, and e-commerce.
Can you provide an overview of your company’s culture? How it has been shaped and does your location factor into the culture to any degree?
Our culture has been shaped by our mission and by our commitment to our customers. Every day, every person at Tala shows up to solve a problem for people most of us have never met. And solving this massive problem for such a unique and complex customer base requires unique and complex people. We actively seek to bring diverse perspectives and backgrounds to the table. Ultimately, we want our company culture to reflect the kind of world we want to build: one where all people are seen, understood, and trusted and have an equal opportunity to fulfill their potential.
Santa Monica is our headquarters but Nairobi is our largest office. We also have offices in each of the markets where we work, and we try to give many of our team members the ability to travel to other offices and learn. This face-to-face exchange of ideas adds to the richness of life at Tala and spurs innovation. We aren’t afraid to do things differently.
Our commitment to our mission and customers also drives us to challenge our limits. From building the team to building our product to servicing our customers, we never settle for the easiest or simplest path – we question our assumptions, we experiment, we push ourselves to do better.