LA Peer-to-Peer Lending App SoLo Funds Raises $10M

Pat Maio
Pat Maio has held various reporting and editorial management positions over the past 25 years, having specialized in business and government reporting. He has held reporting jobs with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Orange County Register, Dow Jones News and other newspapers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
LA Peer-to-Peer Lending App SoLo Funds Raises $10M

An L.A.-based mobile platform that allows users short on cash to borrow and loan funds of under $1,000 has attracted a $10 million Series A investment.

SoLo Fund's target market has always been Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck. The peer-to-peer lending app sees itself as an alternative to high-interest payday lenders.


The stay-home economy that has shuttered restaurants, closed down hotels and emptied shops has accelerated its use, as retail and service workers find themselves in a financial pinch, many unable to make payments on their car or electricity bill.

"We were doing this before we realized how big this would be, and it was magnified by the global pandemic," said SoLo co-founder and CEO Travis Holoway. "It was an opportunity for many businesses."

The fintech startup's rapid growth helped it land the investment. The latest round was led by ACME Capital, and includes Impact America Fund, Techstars, Endeavor Catalyst, CEAS Investments and others.

SoLo borrowers are not charged interest but instead participate in an auction-style process to get up to $1,000 deposited into their checking account by a lender on the company's platform. Anyone can borrow or lend via the SoLo app.

SoLo app

The borrower agrees to terms with the lender to repay in no more than 30 days the loan principal plus a so-called tip, a premium on top of the loan amount. SoLo can also get a cut of the payback in loaned money if the borrower OKs an additional payment – called a donation – to the company. The tips and donations are voluntary. Tips made by borrowers to the lenders average about 10% of the loans, with roughly 3-4% of the loan amounts donated to the company, Holoway said.

The average loan size is $200 with a payback term of 15 days.

SoLo is one of several fintech startups in the peer-to-peer loan space.

Other platforms include Santa Monica-based Tala (where SoLo tapped co-founder Jon Blackwell to join its team as chief product officer about two years ago); Irvine-based microinvestor Acorns Grow Inc.; billionaire Mark Cuban-backed Dave Inc., located in the Miracle Mile; San Francisco-based nonprofit lender Kiva Microfunds; and Burbank-based Zest AI, formerly known as ZestFinance Inc.

A key feature that has helped fuel SoLo's growth in the past year has been the addition of a "lender protection service" that safeguards the loan in case the borrower is delinquent, which in turn eliminates the risk of significant loss for the lender.

When a lender selects a loan to fund, they are given the option to protect the loan against default by paying a minimal fee – roughly 5% of the loan, according to Holoway.

In the event a borrower is unable to fulfill the terms of the agreement, the lender is credited the full principal of the loan, which they can then use toward a subsequent loan on SoLo.

"This is fueling our growth," Holoway said.

Though the platform has been slow out of the gate, it has completed about 100,000 loans to more than 300,000 users as of this month, Holoway said.

The nearly three-year-old company projects a revenue run rate of $30 million by the end of 2021, and expects its lending and borrower base to grow substantially in urban areas hit hard by the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

SoLo was initially founded in April 2018 in Cincinnati, but its founders moved to L.A. within a year. Plans are on the drawing board to possibly move from its downtown digs by the end of the year to Culver City or the Arts District in downtown L.A. The latest round of funding will also help double the size of the company to about 50 personnel – including the hiring of backend engineers and data science professionals to expand its reach.

Rodney Williams (L) and Travis Holoway are the co-founders of SoLo. Rodney Williams (L) and Travis Holoway are the co-founders of SoLo.

SoLo co-founders Rodney Williams and Travis Holoway.

Holoway and his partner in the startup, Rodney Williams, raised $2 million in seed funding when the platform was initially launched. Its biggest investor in that round was Liberian-American beauty mogul Richelieu Dennis of Essence Ventures, who sold his Sundial Brands beauty products company to Unilever in 2017.

Besides Dennis, past support ($2 million) has come from investors West Ventures, Taavet Hinrikus of Transferwise, Jewel Burks Solomon of Google Startups, and Zachary Bookman of OpenGov.

The latest round is led by ACME Capital and includes Impact America Fund, Techstars, Endeavor Catalyst, CEAS Investments and others. ACME Capital is the same venture capital firm that has been an early stage backer of stock trading platform RobinHood, business communications platform Slack Technologies, sports betting company DraftKings and vacation rental online marketplace Airbnb.

A Series B round could come within the year, with plans to possibly take the company public or sell the business down the road, Holoway noted.

"We have the ability to become a unicorn," said Holoway, referring to venture capital-parlance for a company that one-day becomes valued at $1 billion. "We will evaluate what makes sense."

🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

🔦 Spotlight

Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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  • Penguin Random House agreed to acquire comic book publisher Boom! Studios from backers like Walt Disney Co. - learn more

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.


Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110

Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab

Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor


Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo


Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect


MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


KidsX

The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health


Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP


Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space



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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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