September 13, 2012
An American, a Canadian, and a Russian go to Chile…
Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke your uncle might tell at Thanksgiving. Instead, it could be the start of an awakening for the increasing number of Americans leaving college and graduate school with large student loan balances.
Meet Evan Shoemaker, Andrew Josuweit, and Pavel Timofeev, the brains and brawn behind Student Loan Hero. I recently interviewed the guys, and here is what they had to say on their backgrounds, business, and Start-Up Chile.
Tech Cocktail: How did you meet?
Student Loan Hero: Evan and Andy met while studying abroad in Vienna, Austria, in 2007. In 2009, Pavel and Evan met while working together at a digital publishing firm in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Tech Cocktail: What does Student Loan Hero do?
Student Loan Hero: Student Loan Hero helps student loan borrowers create a financial strategy for repaying student loan debt. We help student loan borrowers repay their student loans more intelligently, saving time, money, and frustration.
Tech Cocktail: Why did you decide to tackle the student loan repayment space? What was the “aha” moment in pursuing this project?
Student Loan Hero: We initially applied to Start-Up Chile with a completely different idea – an app discovery marketplace. Personally underwhelmed by the idea of creating yet another app marketplace, we set out to solve a real problem – a problem that we were personally experiencing: intelligently managing student loan repayment.
The real aha moment came when Andy was trying to comprehend a pile of student loan bills. None of the lenders were offering financial suggestions, making it hard to understand what loans were eligible for which programs and the smartest way to repay student loan debt. At that point, Andy insisted there had to be a better solution.
Andy’s personal frustrations combined with a surge of student debt horror stories in the media led us to believe there was a big problem that needed to be solved.
Tech Cocktail: Did any of you have financial aid or student loan experience prior to starting Student Loan Hero?
Student Loan Hero: The team has a background in marketing and web development – not financial aid.
We’re building the product we wish we had, and tackling the problem from the loan borrowers’ standpoint. We understand the pains and frustrations that borrowers are facing firsthand, which has been invaluable, but we started out with a pretty limited understanding of the marketplace we entered.
We did our research by taking hundreds of phone calls and customer interviews, attending conferences, and hours of researching. We’ve gotten a much better grasp on the market.
Tech Cocktail: You’ve built the business at Start-Up Chile. What benefits have you gotten from the program?
Student Loan Hero: Hands down, the biggest benefit we’ve received out of Start-Up Chile has been time. Time to focus, hash out our idea, build a product, and develop our marketing angle. We’ve been extremely focused throughout the entire six months here in Chile and are happy with our progress on the product.
The network of global entrepreneurs has been amazing – being surrounded by 300+ hustlers and hackers from across the world is an awesome resource to tap into.
Tech Cocktail: Would you recommend Start-Up Chile to other entrepreneurs?
Student Loan Hero: Absolutely, 100 percent. Being a government program, there is inevitably some bureaucracy that you need to deal with, but overall it has been a no-brainer decision.
Where else can you receive $40,000 of equity-free seed investment and six months of dedicated time and resources to develop your idea and build momentum?
For later-stage startups who are looking to raise capital or acquire US-based customers, it may not make the most sense, but we highly recommend Start-Up Chile to anyone who is in the process of validating their product-market fit and/or planning the strategic direction of a company.
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