That’s why I founded Line – a modern inclusive financial network that is rebuilding the exclusionary and predatory financial systems that have kept millions of Americans back from reaching their true potential and breaking out of the cycles of debt and poverty. We started with the most acute problem these people faced – instant cash for emergencies such as gas needed to get to work and earn a paycheck or, as seen in the popular book and Netflix series Maid, funds to pay for subsidized child care so they can work extra hours to make ends meet.
How we got here?
To do this, we needed to get a deep understanding of an individual’s financial life. In pursuit of this, we ended up building a suite of tools and services along with an emergency line of funds without interest, credit checks, need to establish credit history, or demonstrate steady income. In order for this to work, we needed to ensure that we didn’t end up aligning our product with the economics of delivering the service, but the everyday realities of our customers. We ended up providing our solution as a monthly subscription similar to Netflix or Spotify, but at a way more affordable rate starting at just $1.97/month.
Line came out of stealth last July and in a little over six months has over half a million registered users, growing 100% month on month. And in an environment of story-selling startups raising millions without any meaningful revenue, Line has become revenue positive. But, most importantly, this has given us an incredible opportunity in partnership with our users to study their financial life from early pandemic to post-pandemic/early inflation, helping us understand their predicament during acute financial stress, how they managed during this time, and where they need the most support, allowing us to carefully craft the next phase of our journey in service of our users.
Where are we today?
Today, I am excited to share that we’ve secured $25M in Equity and Debt so far, to continue our journey. We raised our funding from a carefully chosen group of investors deeply aligned with our mission. The oversubscribed round was led by Massive and joined by Goodwater Capital, Village Global, existing investors TASC Ventures, Techstars, Strada Education Network and a group of BIPOC investors, impact funds, serial immigrant founders, and women-led funds. In light of these milestones, I wanted to share our origin story with you and how we got to this point.
At Line, empathy drives everything. Well beyond the traditional ‘dogfooding’ of our product, it is very important for us to understand the experiences of those who have been left out of our current financial ecosystems. I’ve had a front-row seat to a lot of these problems growing up poor and being raised by parents who came from extreme poverty — a very common family story in the United States, yet one often overlooked by both incumbent as well as new entrants joining the financial ecosystem.
The origin story
After working as the leading inventor at PayPal for years and securing dozens of patents, I had the opportunity to reimagine services for the underbanked and underserved, but very quickly realized that incumbents as well as new fintech entrants, however well-intentioned, were mostly looking at the problem from a product, engineering, or business opportunity and lacked the customer’s point of view because most of them had never been in financial harm’s way and were much too far from the everyday realities that millions face. It was frustrating to see all the resources spent competing for the same set of look-a-like customers.
A fan of Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the seminal book that narrates how Phil Knight and his coach Bill Bowerman, both athletes who started Nike after being frustrated by the lack of an athlete’s point of view by their era’s sportswear monoliths, I felt something similar could be done in financial services. So, I decided to go at it on my own. However, I had done well for myself for over a decade and felt I had catapulted myself away from where I started.
To ensure my newfound biases don’t impede me from better understanding the community we wished to serve, I decided to take a hiatus from my tech career and re-embed myself in the community. I spent over a year as part of the community by driving on Uber and Lyft. I drove over 36,000 miles in the extended San Francisco Bay Area from Fresno to Folsom, living with the community, learning about their everyday predicament, how they go about tackling them, what’s working, and what’s not working.
I’d take the 5 to 11 a.m. shifts at airports, and report back for the 5 to 11 p.m. shift, sometimes working until 2 or 3 a.m. Because the airport is where drivers hang out en masse waiting for their next ride, I could really get to know them and hear their stories. So many had other jobs and needed to work an extra shift to cover a medical expense – like prescriptions required to survive; the fees to get a kid started in sports; or even the uniform required to start a new job or gas money to cover their work commute. What surprised me most was that the majority of my passengers faced similar predicaments as my fellow drivers… in the Bay Area!
I was driving medical staff, government workers who took multiple trains and traveled two hours each way while getting paid low wages, needed Uber for the last leg and were barely making ends meet. They were the tour directors showing off a city they couldn’t afford to live in, the security staff, retail clerks, fitness instructors, warehouse staff, and the list went on and on and on. The need for Line was abundantly clear – even in one of the richest cities in the world, among folks who interact every day with people building the “products of the future.”
The future of work
The problem is that too often, those builders and future thinkers don’t actually see the cook at the Wendy’s in the airport, or the lab tech analyzing their blood. They don’t think about how someone can afford to live on the wages they make, serving at Starbucks; instead they grumble over prices rising due to inflation or talk about the future of work with a sparkle in their eyes without realizing that the future of work may not only be the same for most but may be worse than what they have today.
All of that firsthand experience, every one of those conversations, every weary eye and determined look and caring parent and hardworking person is why I started Line. Line is a Public Benefit Corporation building an inclusive, interoperable financial network that eliminates the inefficiencies of our fragmented, expensive ecosystem currently subsidized by fees paid by people with the least resources. Line provides instant cash for emergencies for users who may be denied by other institutions due to having a poor credit history, an unsteady paycheck or a victim of poor corporate policies (like lack of paid leaves for women who often have caretaking responsibilities) — or who may pay fees that ultimately leave them in worse shape because they need to solve a problem now.
Where are we headed?
In a matter of months, we’ve been able to help hundreds of thousands of people like our customer Jenny. Jenny was a homemaker who had never applied for credit or had a bank account outside of a joint account with her husband who passed away while in the US Army. Jenny was thrown into a new world where she had to pick up the pieces of her family’s financial life while raising her three daughters, living off the proceeds of her Etsy shop, VA benefits and child credits. Most innovative financial companies that supposedly were designed to help the underserved refused to help her because she did not have a steady paycheck or a traditional work arrangement.
This pain is being felt by households across the country, and we’re proud to be building a new system from the ground up that helps uplift millions more like Jenny. I truly believe that Line will continue to be a gamechanger for millions of underserved Americans and encourage you to join us in this journey by being part of our team, our network of investors, supporters or simply by telling more people like your plumber, gardener, uber driver, barista, maids and more, about Line.
Line is building a modern, inclusive and interoperable financial network of people, tools and services that work together to put more money in the average American’s pocket. The Line app allows individuals to establish trust and credit-worthiness without the need for credit history, credit score, traditional working arrangements or a steady income, while delivering essential financial services such as instant cash for emergencies for a monthly subscription fee as low as $1.97/month via its iOS and Android apps that are powered by the Line network. Line is founded and supported by a team of doers who come from humble beginnings just like their users, and have built financial platforms that bring in over $5B year-over-year, personal finance management apps that rank #1 in over 27 countries and the world’s leading platform for the underbanked and unbanked individuals worldwide. To learn more, visit https://useline.com.