I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Stelmach CoFounder of ChangeEd. ChangeEd is an innovative app that allows students to Superpower their spare change to pay off student loan debt by rounding up everyday purchases to the next dollar and setting aside that money for additional payments. Because just paying the minimum every month can cost students big. Making the loan nearly double in size. ChangeEd has recently hit over $3,000,000 in payments sent. That’s a lot of spare change!
ChangeEd’s journey has included SharkTank and investment from Mark Cuban. Learn more about that here.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about how ChangEd came about?
While I was working my way through college, I also had to work full time. I had to work full time along with taking a full class load to support the financial needs at home. I finally graduated in 2014 with my BA in Business Admin and was super excited to start my “real life”. I knew I took out student loans while in school, but I focused all my efforts on other things such as my grades. I left school without a game plan to repay my $68,473 loan balance and realized I had a long journey to repay this debt.
I soon realized that my minimum payment was $850 so I came up with a game plan. I kept working and took any overtime or side gig opportunities I could. I knew I couldn’t afford life’s expenses and pay off my student debt so making extra money here and there was important. I set a game plan to keep focused on my payments but also saved for three years for the goal to buy my own place one day. Three years went by and I was able to save a few thousand dollars and made a very minor dent in my student loan debt. I went to go look for my first place and thought I was going to be a homeowner. Although I was approved for a home (barely) I did the math and knew I was going to be stuck even deeper in debt.
This made me realize that my student loans were my largest financial setback and after a little research, I knew I wasn’t the only one. I soon realized that almost everyone in my family and my friends that went to college had student loans and no one ever talked about it. I felt that many student loan borrowers just put it to the back of their minds and told themselves that this payment will just come out of my checking account for the next 10 to 20 years. It almost felt like this was the norm and I knew I didn’t want to have student loan payment into my 30’s and 40’s.
I came up with the idea to build a tool that would effectively move you forward financially without having to drastically change your life. There was nothing exciting or fun about repaying your debt. I wanted to build a tool that would provide some type of instant gratification because there is nothing instant with debt repayment. That is how ChangEd came about and I couldn’t ask for any more than to see people get excited about getting ahead of their student loan debt.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading this movement?
ChangEd has definitely taken our team down a wildly interesting and entertaining journey. Starting any company is like taking a road trip without knowing where you will go and I would say the pitching on Shark Tank was a highlight. Pitching your company on national TV and being able to make a deal with Mark Cuban was only a dream I had when I was a kid. It was a surreal experience and all of the amazing feedback we received from viewers really fueled our fire to build the best tool for student loan repayment.
Can you tell us a mistake you made on this journey and what lesson you learned from it?
One of the biggest mistakes throughout this journey was something I realized shortly after starting ChangEd. The mistake I realized was that I never took the time to build my personal network before and during some time with ChangEd.
I realize now that people are the most important part of business, and everyone has their own journey. Click To Tweet
It’s important to listen to others and offer your help when you can. I realized this after appreciating the advice a mentor gave me and how they had the ability to use the people they knew to get better advice. Shaking hands and saying hello is the start but understanding the journey people you meet are taking only helps you realize your own journey and the reason you keep pushing. That is one piece of advice that I give to any student today, know and learn about anyone you meet because they may be valuable to your journey in the future.
Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?
ChangEd has been fueled to help accelerate and defeat the student loan repayment journey. We feel we’re helping borrowers get ahead of their loan one roundup at a time but the biggest impact we see is how borrowers are looking and feeling about their debt. I thought I would never say this but ChangEd helps people get excited about repaying their loans. Most people like myself want some type of instant gratification and there is nothing instant about paying off your student loan. So, If ChangEd can help borrowers approach their debt differently and feel empowered that $5 today will make a difference in the future, we see ChangEd as a tool to build a healthy relationship with any future financial decisions someone makes.
Wow! It’s really financial education and empowerment. Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who has impacted this cause?
There have been many people that have made an impact such as mentors and most importantly our team. If I had to choose one individual, that would be my brother and Co-Founder Nick. Day in and Day out we are in the details of growing ChangEd to help more people and I feel it is important to have a Co-founder that is there every step of the way.
We balance well as brothers and even better as business partners. We both have our strengths and weaknesses and I feel we complement each other to continue to run at full speed.
Having a partner you can count on is great. Are there things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
YES! Although forgiving all student loan debt can solve this entire problem, I don’t believe it would be the right solution. Regulating college costs, interest rates, and preparing students more in college would be great ways to start. There are also a million others I’d like to mention but we need to start with the root of the problem that we face and that is the actual debt people have. Transparency needs to be communicated earlier in someone’s life in regard to the actual costs and potential college can provide. Providing tools to help save, push students more toward scholarships and some type of limitations on interest rates should be considered when looking at student loan debt.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I define leadership as having the ability to listen, unafraid to voice an opinion and the ability to step out of your normal duties to improve the wellbeing of someone or something. There are plenty of leaders on our team and each one has their special niche in how they lead a project or discussion.
Yes. Great leaders want to improve the lives of others. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Everything you do always takes twice or three times as long as you thought it would.
Any great business or event that happened in our lives always took time. I’ve learned this in my personal life but in business, it always takes even longer.
2. Be sure to enjoy and be grateful for small wins. They happen every day no matter how tuff your day was.
It’s easy to get tied up in the things you didn’t accomplish, or that didn’t go as planned. I’ve learned to be grateful for the ability to take a 5–10 min walk during a beautiful day even though what you had planned didn’t go as you hoped it would.
3. No answer is definitely not a bad answer.
I’ve done my fair share of pitches to partners, investors and even customers and sometimes you never hear a response. It may seem that they aren’t interested but most times they are just people with other priorities. Be patient, follow up if you are looking for an answer, and be persistent.
4. Every NO gets you closer to a YES.
This is something Mark Cuban mentioned in an article I read, and it stuck with me. I used to think about what did I do wrong when I received a NO answer from a potential investor or business opportunity but realized that there are different reasons for every NO. Learn from your mistakes, make adjustments, and keep moving forward.
5. Keep track of yourself.
When starting a business, you will see that everything you do revolves around growing and maintaining it. You need a lot of your focus and effort there but be sure to take care of yourself too. Spend time with loved ones and friends, go for a walk, meditate, and be sure to exercise. Although I slip off track with some of these I make a conscious decision to focus on myself sometimes. A better self-being means better business.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If I could inspire a movement, I would like to inspire people to show more appreciation to one another, especially the ones they love. It’s easy to expect someone to do something for you if they have done it before in the past but be sure to express your appreciation. Parents and loved ones are always there as a support line and most don’t ask for anything in return so be sure to mention it to them when they least expect it, not only on mother’s or father’s day.
If someone is experiencing a tough time be sure to mention that you appreciated the times, they gave you a helping hand and be sure to offer your time when they need it the most. Also,
Never forget to appreciate the opportunities you come across even if they are small. Click To Tweet
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Your network is your net worth. The people you know are more valuable than the money you make. Whether things are going well in life or you feel that there is a need for a major change the ones around you are your most valuable asset. Family, friends, colleagues, and acquittances are sometimes that ones that provide the motivation or support you need. I would not be able to start such an amazing journey with ChangEd if it wasn’t for the relationships I have and have made.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
One person I would love to meet and have a bite to eat with is Barack Obama. I would love to meet him because I would love to learn more about his journey from a personal standpoint. Being president is a challenging position and the decisions you make affect everyone. I’ve admired the way he approached issues even though some may not have agreed and how he had considered everyone before making the best decision possible. He viewed everything as a team whether it was for his family, the government, or our country.
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This was very meaningful, thank you so much!