Enterview: Travis Holoway
Today we present the first installment of "Enterviews" with none other than Travis Holoway. He's the Founder and CEO of Solo, a mobile based lending exchange platform created to provide more affordable access to loans under $1,000. Prior to founding SoLo, Travis built his career in the financial services industry first as a financial advisor and later as Director of Training and Development at Northwestern Mutual.
"Good energy" was my first thought upon meeting in person. We met up at a restaurant that was dimly lit, very lowkey. A back entrance revealed a patio with a crowd of people who were either networking, enjoying the outdoor weather, or sitting at the bar enjoying what looked like a pretty decent meal. I had a list of questions I wanted to go through, so as I prepared my recorder I began to speak...
Park+Jungle: So whats your story?
Travis Holoway: My story actually starts here in Cleveland because I was born and raised here. Most of my family is on the East Coast. I grew up here but I really became a man in New York City.
The hustle and grind you get in that city- what you learn? It’s unmatched. I was out there to be a financial advisor, which I did for about 7 ½ years. What it showed me the most is that there is an amazing disconnect between the haves and the have-nots in this country.
When I looked at the overall landscape, no one cared about the people I grew up with or the people that looked like me- but I kept having experiences where the people who actually did look like me would approach me and ask for small loans. I don’t know if its because I wore a suit and carried a briefcase everyday, or maybe it was just New York. There’s a misconception that because you live in a big city you make so much more money than the rest of the country.
Ultimately I wanted to figure out a way to help these people, perhaps a place I could send them to, but I couldn’t find it! So what I did was create a platform where anyone who has spare cash could lend that cash to help someone who needs a small dollar short-term loan, solving their problem more affordably than a payday or title loan. That’s the Cliff Notes version of what Solo is.
PJ: Definitely cool. So we know that every entrepreneur has struggles. It’s never as simple as just having the idea and boom it’s reality. What are some of the opposition and doubts you’ve encountered in your journey?
TH: Yeah! Contrary to popular belief, when you raise a certain amount of money or people see you out speaking at events or in an article they think your struggle is over. No…your struggle doesn’t stop. Especially as an African-American founder. There’s always a “next milestone” and a “next barrier”.
One of the earliest learnings I had was that I believed I could have this great idea and people would give me money and I could leave my full-time job. That’s not how it works. Investors want to see that you’re all in. They want to see if you’re actually going to run through the wall for the idea that you say you’re so passionate about.
It took me about a year and a half to get up enough nerve to actually go and do this full time, and that was one of the best things I’ve ever done but at the same time one of the scariest. When I quit my job I had raised no money, I had no team, hadn’t started developing the product yet- when I woke up the next day unemployed I almost had a nervous breakdown, like what do I do? But it made me realize the reason investors want you to go all in is because when you have nothing to fall back on you are going to run through the wall. Not everyone is built to live this... This isn’t a risk-averse life.
PJ: Facts! I respect that. So from your perspective, how do we take our skill sets and shape our community?
TH: We’ve got to work together. Too frequently, when people get to a certain level of success or access to certain rooms, they start to believe that they don’t have to reach out, or they just want people to be inspired by them and their story vs actually being in the community touching people. I think that’s a big piece. You have to stay reachable to where you’ve come from as well as the demographic you serve. As I look at innovation, there’s going to be a lot of ideas that are solved by people who are black and brown because we have different pain points than the rest of the country.
PJ: Agree. You can't forget what you came for. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
TH: All your life you’re going to be told you can’t do something, but it’s up to you whether or not you believe it. I’ve taken that advice and become ultra-focused. Some people would say I’m over confident, but I don’t look at it like that. It’s just something I developed after hearing the word “no” so many times, and then proving those people wrong. I don’t internalize the word “no” because I’ll hear it for the rest of my life.
PJ: Top five books?
TH: One of the most important books I’ve read was the Autobiography of Malcolm X…
PJ:Definitely one of my favorites
TH: For real? That’s dope. My next one is Running Lean, that’s a startup based book. Lean Startup, The Bluest Eye, and I think I’ll round out with The Unbanking of America, because that’s directly applicable to what I do and what Solo is.
PJ: What did it feel like to get funded…it was 1.2 Million for your Series A funding right?
TH: So actually it was 1.5…
TH: The article says 1.2, I actually just stopped pitching at 1.2 because I knew if I stopped there and proved out the data I would be able to raise more institutional dollars. So I did that by design. That money was just our seed round, and our next round coming up will be our Series A.
PJ: When looking for a venture capitalist, what are you looking for? Someone who looks like you or whoever matches up with your interests?
TH: When I look at VC’s or potential partners I’m looking at what demographic are they familiar with, I look at what can they do for me other than give me a check. The check is half the battle because it helps you reach certain milestones, obtain key hires- but can they make introductions? What other resources will they bring to the table? You have to be strategic with who you take money from because all money isn’t good money.
PJ: Smart money vs Dumb Money
TH: Exactly. Some money is just money, and that’s not all you need. You need access to other resources, information and their experience to help prevent you from hitting the same roadblocks.
PJ: What would you tell the younger version of you?
TH: I would tell a younger me to be less emotional. I’ve grown out of this but at that time growing up I took a lot of things personal. If someone told me they didn’t like me or believe in me I took it personal. At this point I’ve realized everyone isn’t for everybody. All ideas aren’t for everyone’s consumption. Every drink doesn’t taste good to everyone. If you can take your emotion out of business you will go a lot farther because the emotion can stifle your growth being too concerned with what other people think. Being emotionless in business is necessary.
PJ: Last Question. What do you love about the barbershop, and what do you hate about the barbershop?
TH: So I’m gonna start with hate. What I hate about the barbershop is the wait- but because like I said earlier, a lot of the innovation for the pain points of the experience will develop from people who look like us. One of my good friends developed an app called Squire, which created a way for people to book their appointment ahead of time, pay via mobile app, and ultimately get rid of the line and waiting. That’s important to me and the value of my time especially because now I have less of it.
What I love the most is the debates and the experience that you get a shop from the various perspectives. Religion, politics, music, sports…I think there’s no better conversation in this world than at the barbershop.
We conclude our conversation, take a few pictures, and he's out- headed to his next meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Thanks for your time Travis! Find out more about Solo and peer-to-peer lending HERE