Progress

Hello everyone! In the past month, I’ve been working hard to originate and safeguard our first batch of loans. Some updates:

1. Our first batch of loans totals about $10,500, of which almost 40% has been disbursed to borrowers already.

2. We are collaborating with researchers at the University of Arkansas, including our advisor Aaron Shew who is doing a PhD in Environmental Dynamics. They are advising us on cost-effective remote sensors to gather weather data for our drought forecasting model. There is a potential project in the works to study the effect of psychometric characteristics of a borrower (honesty, impatience) on loan performance.

3. The loans range from 2-12 months, with most around 6 months. Typical interest rates are 60%, which is half the rate of any major player in the rural lending space. With our tech platform and community based lending approach of hiring part-time Loan Officers in villages to screen borrowers, we will keep our loan origination costs lower than anyone else can. No brick and mortar branches with expensive staffs for us!

4. I had been using bitcoin to send money to Titus, my full-time business partner in Soroti, Uganda who is managing field operations and the borrowers. That proved too complicated so I switched to WorldRemit, which is faster and easier. Unfortunately it doesn't have an API for automating transactions, so I'm investigating another vendor.

5. Five interns at Columbia University are working on various projects. Three of them (Benjamin Drachman, Manuel Fernando Perez, Jamie Hall) are making a promo video for Asaak that we will use in a $25,000 seed grant application to Columbia University’s Tamer Fund. Becca Miller will be working on climate modeling and drought forecasting, and Diana Yin will help with designing a user friendly loan application and a stable flow of payments from investors to Asaak to borrowers.

6. We are experiencing a LOT of demand for credit among farmers in the Soroti region. People are even waiting outside Titus’s home for the chance to give a loan application... Titus has been patient and understanding with these pressures!

7. At the same time, there is significant interest from investors in my social and professional networks. I could grow the portfolio very quickly if I want, but I want to take it slow over the next year so I have plenty of time to learn from mistakes. The next 1 year is an experiment to see what works. I’m thinking of growing the portfolio to $50,000 in Jan/Feb and $100,000 in summer 2016.

8. I’m planning to spend two weeks in Uganda in Jan/Feb just as this batch of loans matures. I will do an in-depth impact evaluation of our borrowers and start to implement data collection for drought forecasting and market pricing.

That’s all for now! Things are moving quickly and I’m very excited.

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