Industry Profile – Al Goldstein
CEO & Founder, Avant
Al Goldstein is no stranger to success. Having previously launched two successful companies, Enova International and Pangea Properties, the serial entrepreneur is now well on his way to tackling his next ambitious challenge with Avant. By leveraging top talent, innovative technology, and his own wealth of personal experience, Goldstein is quickly changing the way middle income consumers borrow money with Avant.
Raised in Uzbekistan before immigrating to Chicago with his family in the late 1980s, Goldstein is the living (and thriving) embodiment of the American Dream. After studying math and finance at the University of Illinois, Goldstein briefly flirted with a career in investment banking at Deutsche Bank. However, Goldstein gradually became dissuaded, seeing greater opportunity elsewhere. In 2004 he left to start CashNetUSA. Goldstein impressively grew the online payday lender to employ over 500 employees and generate $200M in revenue until selling the company for $250M two years later. The company is now publicly traded under the name Enova International. Not one to rest on his own success, Goldstein next saw an opportunity to invest in distressed real estate amidst the financial crisis in 2009. Partnering with his close friend and former COO of Enova, Steve Joung, the pair launched Pangea Properties – a private REIT focused on low income multifamily properties around Chicago. As he did with CashNetUSA, Goldstein once again applied technology and sophistication to a previously underserved and unsophisticated area. While Goldstein now serves as Chairman of Pangea, he abdicated his full time position less than three years ago to pursue his most ambitious project to date – Avant.
In late 2012, Goldstein teamed up with two former colleagues, John Sun and Paul Zhang, to launch Avant, having observed a huge opportunity to disrupt consumer credit in a new way. Early entrants in the online lending space, such as Lending Club, had been tremendously successful as a platform for prime consumers, but there had been little innovation with regard to middle class consumers, a niche that Avant sought to fill. One of the primary reasons for this void is that the credit process is far more complex for these consumers given the increased rate of default. Using big data and machine-learning capabilities, including over 1,000 different variables in its credit process, Avant is able solve this problem, offering borrowers a simple process for personal loans and line of credit products.
Today, Avant employs over 650 employees, has funded over $500M in loans, and operates in both the US and UK. The company has also raised more than $1B in venture capital and debt financing from some notable partners (August Capital, QED, Tiger Global, KKR and Peter Thiel), who Goldstein credits for their commitment to helping build the best long term business. Avant, like Goldstein’s two previous companies, is headquartered in Chicago. With the exception of such companies as Groupon, GrubHub, and Braintree, Chicago is not traditionally recognized as a tech and innovation hub. As one of the bigger fish in a relatively small pond, Avant is able to leverage its location and momentum to recruit and acquire exceptional talent from top tier engineering programs nearby at University of Chicago, Northwestern, and University of Illinois. Recently, Avant opened a Los Angeles office, which it plans on using for R&D while continuing to scale engineering and product management teams. The west coast expansion coincides with the company’s recent purchase of ReadyForZero, a financial software company that helps borrowers manage debt and protect their credit. The acquisition aligns perfectly with Avant’s long term vision, allowing the company to offer more financial products to a broader array of consumers.
While Avant has achieved rapid growth and success, the company has one foot firmly planted in the future. Goldstein has made a career out of looking ahead and identifying new markets, products, and opportunities. Moving forward, Avant is focused on scaling its global presence and continuing to invest in new products beyond personal loans. Goldstein notes that Avant’s mission has evolved as the company has grown. “Our goal is to lower the cost of borrowing for middle class consumers and make it easier and cheaper for people around the world to borrow money responsibly.”