We’ve all heard of Hipmunk, the Silicon Valley flight-search startup that helps travelers book the very best flights and rates. Excelerate startup EduLender applies the same winning formula to the student financial aid industry. EduLender tracks hundreds of loan providers (both state and federal) and updates rates and recommendations daily, making it the go-to place to compare student loan rates.
As if the announcement of a successful $1 million fund-raise from heavy-hitters like Sam Yagan (OKCupid) and Stephen DeBerry (Kapor Capital) wasn’t news enough, Edulender also unveiled its new web-based tool, OnePay. For borrowers struggling to manage several existing federal student loans, OnePay is the answer to their prayers; they can consolidate their loans, and save money by maximizing interest and savings deductions. I caught up with EduLender CEO Sue Khim, and here’s what she had to say:
Q. How did your business vision and strategy change from when you were first applying to Excelerate to today?
Ans. When we first applied to Excelerate, our business vision centered around one product, which was our student loan comparison engine. Immersing ourselves in the higher education financing world over the past 10 months has helped us realize one thing—there’s a lot of opportunity to improve the entire college financing process. Making it easy for students to find the best student loans was only the first piece of the puzzle. Today, we seek to demystify the financial aid process as a whole, so our business strategy has evolved and become more robust.
Q. Four pieces of advice you’d give aspiring entrepreneurs?
Ans.Follow-up with everyone you meet. You never know who could provide that critical piece of advice or that much-needed resource in the future.
Remember that one of your most important (and most challenging) responsibilities is to keep everyone, especially your coworkers, excited and motivated.
Focus on getting your product and features out quickly and revising as needed, rather than perfecting every little detail before launch.
Do your market research. Don’t be afraid to call your customers and talk to them directly about their opinions, needs, complaints, problems, etc.
Q. Most valuable takeaways from your summer at Excelerate?
Ans. Our biggest takeaway from Excelerate was our sense of team cohesion. Excelerate felt like the growing joys and pains of several years condensed into one summer and the end result was team unity. We also learned some invaluable lessons about dealing with ambiguity and risk, and walked away with trusted mentors who continue to guide us strategically.
Q. What surprised you most about the Excelerate program?
Ans. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I learned from the other Excelerate teams. We really benefited from being surrounded by dozens of smart, motivated entrepreneurs. It was a great environment to build a company culture.