By Hilary Burns — July 19, 2014
Andrea Gellert made her first dollar selling avocados on the side of a California street as a child. Today she still has a sweet spot for Main Street-style small businesses.
Gellert is the head of marketing at OnDeck, a technology company that lends to small businesses. In the past year, OnDeck has grown more than 150 percent and loaned over $1 billion to small businesses.
I spoke with Gellert about why she left corporate America to join the startup, and what she’s looking for in a company applying for a loan.
Gellert started her career at American Express, working there as a summer intern and then spending 15 years there. And going from that — a major, publicly traded company — to a startup of 100 people was a big change.
“At large companies, it takes a long time to feel the impact of what you do,” she said. “What difference does one person make at a large company?”
Since she came to OnDeck in 2012, Gellert has seen small businesses benefit from her work. She mentioned one restaurant in Mareille, Ill., that is popular among the local hunting and fishing crowd. The owner wanted a loan to upgrade his kitchen before hunting season but was turned down at his local bank.
After that happened, the owner found OnDeck and received the loan he needed the same day he applied. He was able to get his kitchen ready for hunting season and saw a 15 percent increase in sales.
OnDeck, which is based in New York and received an A+ Better Business rating, was launched in 2007 to finance Main Street with technology used to evaluate businesses based on performance instead of personal credit.
The company loans $5,000 to $250,000 with a term of three to 24 months to businesses that have revenues between $100,000 and $5 million.
The goal is to provide capital to as many small businesses across the country as they can.
When I asked what small businesses often do wrong when applying for loans, Gellert offered a few noteworthy tips.
- Presentation matters— Clearly articulate what you need financing for, and have your documents organized, from bank statements to tax returns.
- Be honest— Disclose your financials up front and don’t try to hide anything. Lenders will find it.
- Give references a heads up— Call and let them know you’re applying for credit before the lender does or they may not take the call. By letting them know, the reference doesn’t have to draw conclusions, which might be negative.
- Your bank account is your most important credit reference— Strong cash flow speaks louder than your credit report, so funnel all your revenue into one account and manage it in a tight way.
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