The Final Chapter of the BillGuard Journey
Today, we mark the last page in the beautiful story of BillGuard. What an exhilarating journey it has been.
In August 2010, we put together our Ikea tables and started working. Our vision: to empower consumers to control, protect and do more with their money. Like most visions, it had to be refined by many tribulations.
By the summer of 2013, we had one of the fastest growing personal finance apps in the US. Over the next couple of years we added new features — resolving disputed charges with merchants, data breach alerts for merchants visited, geo-location alerts, and a premium identity protection product. Against the odds, we pioneered crowd-powered personal financing, creating an “Apple App Store Essentials” and “Google Play App of the Year” app that our users told us helped them save money and reduced the stress associated with managing their money.
From BillGuard to Prosper Daily
Then, we met Prosper, a FinTech darling. Prosper, a marketplace lending platform offering people access to unsecured consumer loans at competitive rates, saw its valuation rise to nearly $2B in 2015, joining the coveted unicorn club. Prosper was reinventing consumer financial services and seeing exponential growth as a result.
During that year of rocket ship growth, Prosper executives flew to Tel Aviv in the summer of 2015 to meet our BillGuard team. We locked ourselves in a room for a three day brainstorm session and left convinced that a BillGuard-Prosper union could materially change personal finance.
Six weeks later, in October 2015, we announced BillGuard was joining forces with Prosper. Barely catching our breath, we felt reinvigorated that added resources and access to bleeding edge financial services capabilities could take the materialization of our mission to a new level. We suddenly could take BillGuard from read-only insights to actually impacting user’s accounts and saving them money, or at least reducing their debt. As a team, we could dream even bigger as we moved from our cash-strapped start-up phase, to aggressive growth planning, including plans to double our team and dramatically grow the product and its user base.
2016 A bad year for everyone, even unicorns
And then, 2016 arrived. Before the Brexit and the U.S. Presidential election surprised everyone, startups got their own surprise. It became much harder to raise funds, startups that could were often in down rounds or unfriendly terms, and liquidity options were disappearing, including the lowest number of IPOs since 2009.
The world of alternative lending was no exception to this fate, and by many counts experienced it the most. Lenders suffered acutely as investors started pulling out, fearing another meltdown. To add even more pressure, Lending Club’s CEO, the poster child of the industry, was forced out of his own company over faulty loans. LendingClub immediately lost more than half its market value.
Lenders reacted by quickly changing their strategy from growth to profitability. They started cutting costs and hitting “undo” on all those scaling investments. Prosper, LendingClub and Avant were forced to lay off significant portions of their US workforce early in 2016. Lenders reduced other costs wherever they could and reduced borrower acquisition in pursuit of marketplace equilibrium.
Startup Reality hits hard: Scale down or shut down
We were feeling the pressure the company was under in our budgets and revision of prior goals. Despite this reality, if you were to walk into Prosper Daily’s Tel Aviv headquarters you’d see an incredible team pulling startup-like hours to redesign BillGuard to Prosper Daily and integrate it into Prosper’s infrastructure. In the following months, we breathed life into some large new product releases, including analytics tools on top of secured credit data to generate far deeper financial insights for users and presented one-tap actions they could take as a result. They might be prompted to better use one credit card over the other, pay down their balance to avoid interest or high credit utilization, or lower their interest charges with smart refinancing. We called this approach Money Moments.
Then came the time to set our 2017 strategy and budgets. Tight budgets would continue until market conditions and Prosper’s financials shifted back to growth. No matter how many times we ran the numbers, it was clear expenses had to be reduced further. This meant significantly reducing the size of the Tel Aviv office or consolidating the app operations in San Francisco. With some emotion but without much debate, we jointly decided to close down the Tel Aviv office and move Prosper Daily operations to San Francisco.
Thus started our final BillGuard/Prosper Daily project — organizing and transferring our work to colleagues in San Francisco. It will take a couple of months to complete, and it comes with some sadness as you can imagine. Still, it’s good to know the app will live on and Prosper will continue to build on what we created at BillGuard. We look forward to it being an important part of Prosper’s success going forward.
The BillGuard Mafia — Unleashed
The most inspiring part of the BillGuard experience for me has been working with our incredible team. Sure they are handpicked and incredibly talented. More importantly they are passionate, open, and simply great people. Without egos we were able to work together, argue, make decisions, keep shipping, and learn from unflinching retrospectives. When asked by Prosper HR the best way to describe our culture, “tough love” and “shipping is breathing” were the first thoughts to come to mind.
Together we’ve worked to translate the overwhelmingly complex into smart, delightful and effortless user experiences. This was only possible because of this multidisciplinary array of user-focused full stack developers, no-stones-unturned product managers, behavioral data scientists, pixel-perfect designers, untiring consumer advocates, product-driven marketers, and heart-warming HR leaders, all working in a beautiful, competitive-yet-warm, creative harmony.
As we close the doors on the Rothschild office (and balcony) we’ve been so lucky to call home for the last four years, it is exciting to think of all the new chapters that will be started by this team. Whether they’re joining some of the most recognized companies or starting their own industry-revolutionizing ventures, they will take these BillGuard learnings and friendships and apply them in new ways.
We’re already in talks with some particularly meaningful companies (more on this later) but I know how lucky any company will be to receive some of our Guardians and can only hope that we might come to be known as the BillGuard Mafia.
As for our users, one of the most important things that a founder and builder can realize is when it’s time to let your child walk on their own. For 6 years, we’ve won countless industry awards, barreled past the former standard of what personal finance apps could achieve, and did our best to bring our vision of the future into the hands of our loyal users. While Prosper Daily will be crossing the ocean to its new home in San Francisco, the habit-changing and beautiful technology we’ve built is not going away and will continue to help you manage your financial health.
I wish the best of luck to Prosper Daily’s new team in San Francisco and to the rest of the terrific Prosper employees I’ve had the chance to work with over the past year. I couldn’t be more grateful for the support, learnings and faith we’ve received over the years from Prosper, our investors, advisors, and dear friends who went through all the trials and emotions with us.
As for me, for the past 6 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with a one-of-a-kind group of some of the finest minds and most wonderful people in Israel to make personal finance as easy as taking a shower. For now, my only focus is to make sure every person who took a leap of faith to join us on this journey finds their next home and maximizes their potential; which I know they will. During this difficult moment of seeing our incredible team disband, I struggle to find the words to articulate how much this group has taught me about what it means to be a team, about building beautiful things that people actually use and love, and about handling the great honor that it’s been to lead during this adventure.
As someone who sees the world as a series of problems yet to be solved, solutions itching to be sketched and built, I’m looking forward to the chance to start building from ground zero again soon.