Brock Blake | Making It Easy to Get Business Funding

Access to capital in the startup phase – and to propel further growth – is a must-have for small businesses. But it’s not easy to get those much-needed funds, especially if you go through traditional channels. 

Lendio, led by founder and CEO Brock Blake, is a lending marketplace that has facilitated $1.7 billion in small business loans to more than 73,000 businesses. These aren’t the next Ubers or Facebooks but rather small retailers, restaurants, and the like – businesses Brock calls the backbone of entrepreneurship in this country. 

Lendio makes it easy to get funding and the process is transparent, and Brock goes into the how, but more importantly, the why, as well as…

  • The most important criteria for securing a loan (it’s not what you think)
  • How to face down a “near death” experience in your business
  • Why persistence isn’t enough by itself
  • Ways to balance business with family life (how you set up your day is key)
  • And more

Listen now…

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Transcript

Steve Gordon: Welcome to the Unstoppable CEO Podcast. I’m your host, Steve Gordon. And today I’ve got a really exciting interview for you. I gotta say, I’ve been looking forward to this one for a number of weeks now, ever since we got scheduled. I’m talking today with Brock Blake. He’s the CEO and founder of Lendio. They are the largest business lending marketplace in the US. And Brock is a big believer that access to capital should be simpler and quicker for entrepreneurs so that they can go out and do what they do best, which is innovate and grow. And he’s built a successful business around solving that particular problem. He’s got a great team that’s driving really phenomenal results at Lendio. They facilitated more than 1.7 billion in small business loans, which is a number that just boggles the mind. And while all of that is really, really impressive, Brock and I have something else in common. We’re both married and have four children. And he’s got a lot to say about how to have a happy and successful family while you build a successful business. So we’re going to touch on all of those things. Brock Blake, welcome to the Unstoppable CEO.

Brock Blake: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me on, Steve. Steve: Give us a little background. What got you to this stage of your career? How’d you get to the point where you’re solving all of the problems of access to capital for small businesses?

How Brock Got Into Business Financing

Brock: Well, it’s funny I like to say, you know, we got here by making a lot of mistakes. You know, as an entrepreneur, you go and you have an idea of what you want to accomplish and you go and start something and you realize, you try this and it doesn’t work and you pivot and you try that and it doesn’t work and, but you know, the key along the way is learning from it. And try not to make the same mistake twice. I mean, we, at the core of what we have built is this passion for small business owners. Out of school, I won an off entrepreneurial competition, won $50,000. And I could use that to go start any business that I wanted or go buy a business. So I went out and started talking to business owners. Tell me about what’s working and what’s not working. What are your challenges? And what are the things that keep you up at night? And consistently, I would hear from business owners that, yeah, I have this passion to grow this business, but I need money. And I don’t know where to get it. And I go to my bank, and I get declined.

And so I kept hearing that over and over and over again and just felt like there was an enormous opportunity to solve this problem of helping business owners get financed. And at first, we started a business that was trying to connect the entrepreneur to an investor, an angel, investor, a venture capitalist and we would these speed dating sites. You go around table to table to table, pitching entrepreneur or pitching investors your business idea and hope that one of them would invest in your business. And as we, we had a lot of interest from business owners, but we realized that most businesses are not the next Facebook and Uber and Twitter and all these different things. They are mainstream businesses.

They’re restaurant owners, and they’re landscapers and dry cleaners and retail organizations. They don’t need a half a million or a million dollars. They don’t need an investor. They need 25 or 50 or 100,000. And they need a loan. So you know, in 2011, we kind of shut down all that entrepreneur stuff, connecting the investors and really focused on this mainstream business owners, small business owners connecting them to loans to get financing. Now we’re eight years building that and, you know, I don’t want to short circuit all the learnings but, you know, we’re at almost $2 billion in loans that have been funded on our platform and really passionate about helping that business owner what we call fuel their American dream.

Steve: That’s an amazing story, just to think that all of this started out of a, you know, an entrepreneurial competition. And you’ve evolved it and iterated, you know, since then, but, you know, and you’re having a huge impact. And I would imagine that that wasn’t all a foregone conclusion when you started. I mean, there would have to have been, like every entrepreneur unless you’re the first. I joke sometimes on the podcast, I’m waiting for the first guest to come on, the first entrepreneur to come on and say, Nope, I had the idea and then the rest was pretty easy. It’s all been roses. So unless you’re that guy, what do you do when it’s not all roses? How do you stay unstoppable and persevere through it?

Being an Entrepreneur is Never All Roses

Brock: Yeah, I mean, it is the exact opposite of all roses. If you are thinking that being an entrepreneur is all roses, and man it then you’re, you’re going to be disappointed, I guess is the best word to describe it. But it is fulfilling, you know, being an entrepreneur and going and you have this idea and you have this dream and you have this goal and you start working on it and, you know, you come across these challenges and you’re like, oh, man, I thought it was gonna be this way and then ended up being that way. And there’s times where you have, you know, I don’t know how many near-death experiences we’ve had at Lendio. We’ve run out of money. We couldn’t make payroll.

We should have died probably 5, 6, 8 times maybe along the way. You know, for me, I truly believe in this kind of one step in front of the other fight every single day to live another day and somehow you’ll get through it. Because the journey of an entrepreneur includes the highest of highs, some moments that are just incredible where you’re like, wow, look what we’ve built. Look at this accomplishment. Look at that deal we landed. You know, and there’s so much satisfaction, you know, in building this great team and culture. But it also includes the lowest of lows, times where I literally was kind of in fetal position on the floor, like, not sure I’m going to be able to get through these moments. And the thing is, is you just have to join the ride. You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low, and just fight and persevere. And I really feel like maybe there are those entrepreneurs that are just brilliant and, you know, just made to be an entrepreneur. But for the rest of us, you know, it’s persistence. And I think it’s not just persistence, but that’s a big part of what got us to where we are today.

Steve: Yeah, I think persistence is kind of a key ingredient. But you’ve got to have some wits about you at the same time. I mean, you can persist and make a whole lot of bad decisions. And I’ve seen that happen. And then that’s generally not a very good or pleasant experience for the entrepreneur. But, you know, but combined persistence with, you know, with some smarts and some reasonably, you know, effective decision making. And I think, there, you know, there is the opportunity to adjust, you know? And as you described, you know, at the beginning, where, you know, you had a different idea for how to fulfill, you knew what the need was that businesses needed access to capital, but your first attempt at trying to fulfill the need wasn’t quite a match. And so I think that’s a great example of it right there is like you looked at the evidence and then adjusted accordingly. You stayed persistent towards the goal. You know, and, but adjusted the mechanism. Yeah, I just, I think that’s a fantastic example of what it takes, you know, to be ultimately successful in business.

Brock: Yeah, I mean, as an entrepreneur, what you identify is you say there’s a problem in the market, I’m going to try and solve it. And naturally that the solution to that problem is starts off as a hypothesis. I believe that this solution or this idea will solve that problem. And then you have to get out and you have to test it and you have to, you know, and it might solve a piece of the problem but not, you know, an entire problem. And or you might have to, you know, okay well, part of this is right, but part of it’s wrong and you have to tweak and adjust and fail a little bit and then get back and learn some more and tweak and adjust and just keep working at it until you feel like you’ve got that product market fit where that, you’re nailing you know the customer problem and, you know, you’ve got happy customers and people that are willing to pay for your product or service. And then you start, then you get to the, you know, the scaling portion of it, which is a challenge, a unique challenge in and of its own.

Steve: Absolutely. Well, Brock, I want to take a quick break. And I want to come back and when we come back I want to talk about the work that you’re doing at Lendio and, and really talk about the importance of getting capital to, you know, to entrepreneurs, to small businesses and understand a little bit more about how you’re solving that particular problem. So let’s take a quick break. We’ll be right back with more from Brock Blake..

Commercial Break: Hi, this is Steve, I hope you’re enjoying this interview. We’ve got more to come in a minute but what I’d love for you to do right now is rate this podcast. Leave us a review. Rate us on iTunes. It’ll really help others discover the podcast and help us help other CEOs, other business leaders become unstoppable. So if you go to unstoppableceo.net/itunes, you can find instructions there and links that will take you right to where you need to go to review the podcast. Thanks so much. Now back to the interview.

Steve: Welcome back, everyone. This is Steve Gordon. And I’m speaking with Brock Blake, who’s the CEO and founder of Lendio, and Brock, you described in the first part of the interview, how you perceived this problem with access to capital for entrepreneurs. And you saw it. It was a, you know, really too complex of a process for entrepreneurs to deal with, sometimes they have trouble getting access, going to their banks, and some of the more traditional, you know, ways that they get capital. And I’d love to kind of dive in a little bit and understand the problem, you know, as you originally, you know, discovered it. And then learn a little bit more about how you and how Lendio are solving that problem.

How Lendio Helps Solve Financial Roadblocks for Small Businesses

Brock: Yeah, so there are about 30 million small business owners in the US. And these business owners are really passionate and talented at what they do. As I talked about, it might be running a restaurant or it might be they have a retail shop or a manufacturing or design shop or other things like that. But they, and they’re experts at that problem or product or service. But what they’re not usually experts that is getting a loan from a bank. And they think, well, I’ve been banking with this bank for the last 10 years. So if anyone’s going to give me a loan, it’s going to be this bank. Unfortunately, every bank offers different types of loan products to business owners. So it’s kind of like I like to say it’s like restaurants. There’s lots of different types of genres restaurants. You can get Chinese food and hamburgers and Italian food and Indian food and all these different things. With a bank, it’s not a one size fits all. They don’t offer every type of loan product out there. So you might go to your bank and apply for a loan and get declined.

Not because you’re not creditworthy, but because you went to the wrong bank for the type of loan product you need. And once I understood that they’re, in business lending there’s 15 different types of loan products and different ways of underwriting. You can get an equipment loan leveraging equipment, you could get a commercial real estate loan leveraging land or real estate, you can get an SBA loan with some other assets, you can get working capital loan leveraging cash flow, you can get credit cards leveraging, you know, your personal credit score. There’s like, all these different types of loan products, you know, accounts receivable and all these different things that open up so many options for business owners to get financing. So to just go, you know, to one bank and fill out this long application, get declined or go bank to bank the bank and try and do that is really inefficient and a painful experience for the business owner.

So what we’ve done is we went out and gathered 75 lenders on our platform, including Bank of America, American Express, PNC Bank On Debt Capital across all these different loan products and make it easy for that business owner to fill out one application. Kind of like Expedia, you go to Expedia you fill out where you want to go and for a hotel and pops you to all these different hotel options and you choose, you know, based on what’s the best fit for you. We do that same thing. We’ve got a marketplace to allow that business owner to go to one place, get offers from several business owners and then, or several lenders, sorry, and then choose the offer that’s the best fit for the business owner. It’s free for that business owner. We make money from the lender who pays us when that loan closes.

Steve: Yeah. So really you’re bringing transparency to an industry that for a long time hasn’t had it. I mean banks to get a kind of get transparency in banking is difficult because they’ve all got different ways that they approach loans just as you described. And it’s very hard to compare one to another. But it sounds like you’ve been able to kind of bring all that together and not only give transparency to it, but simplify the whole process so that as an entrepreneur, I don’t have to go to 10 different banks. And some of them I might not, you know, in the past, you were, you tended to be limited to who was in your local area. It sounds like that limitation has maybe gone away as well.

Brock: That’s right. Yep. And, and we talked about delivering options, speed trust. So options are is that transparency, you know, I want to see what are the best options that I have available that I’ve choose from? Speed, you know, business owners are busy, they’re so wrapped up juggling so many different things. We want to make that simple and easy for them and trust that they, that this is an experience that they can, it’s going to be a positive customer experience. It’s one they can refer their friends to and their family members too and that it’s a white glove kind of customer experience. And so those are the things that we are really passionate about delivering to those business owners, the options, speed and trust.

Steve: Wow. So you originally started with the, you know, the concept in a different form. You said I think back in 2007, is that right?

Brock: That’s correct. Yep.

Steve: Yeah. So at that time, I would imagine, I mean, I just remember what things were like back in 2007 through about 2012. It was pretty difficult to get any kind of business lending done because of what was happening in the banking industry. Have you seen that change over the last few years?

Brock: Yeah. So it’s interesting, that, you know, during that time, there were very few online lenders. The only, during back in 2007, 2008, you know, 2009 when the crash happened, it was primarily banks that were offering loans, and, you know, they’re, to get alone you really needed, you needed good credit, you needed good collateral and you needed strong cash flow. You needed to check all three of those boxes. But when the crash happened in 2008, 2009, what happened is many of the banks retreated and stopped lending. And what that created was this funding gap. A lot of business owners that were good businesses, but they didn’t have access to capital from their bank. And that opened the door for these online or alternative lenders to come in and start offering loans. And what was great about that is they started looking at underwriting in different ways. It wasn’t just I need, you know, all three of those things. I need to check the box of credit, collateral and cash flow.

A lot of them were underwriting saying, you know, let’s, I think we can underwrite based off of two of those things. You know, if they have good cash flow and good credit, then let’s give them a loan. Or if they have good collateral or good credit, let’s give them a loan. And even some of them now you can get a loan based off of just one of those things. And, you know, your risk profile will increase, but at least you still have options, whereas back in the day, you didn’t. So the market has changed quite a bit since about 10 years ago, and only for the better for business owners. They have way more options they’ve ever had. A lot more competition from lenders trying to get more and more business customers to lend to. And, you know, it’s a really, really great time for business owners to get access to capital.

Steve: Are you seeing, because I would imagine you, as you see these applications come through that you have to, I would guess, see trends in both volume that, you know, the business owners are requesting and in the types of things maybe that they’re looking to fund. Do you guys see any trends in how business owners are using capital through your system?

Recognizable Lending Trends

Brock: Yeah, no question. You know, obviously, there’s some things that are seasonal that we like to point out. You know, during this time of year, you have a lot of the outdoor construction servicing landscaper, snow removal, that are either gearing up for the winter if it’s, you know, it’s winter type business. Or, you know, they’ve just gone through the summer landscaping now they’re going to refresh their equipment. And so you know, you start to see trends around this time of year are different. Or the last few months has been around inventory for retail shops are trying to look and raise money to prepare for the holiday season and this influx of revenue that comes in from, you know, the Christmas season then people buying gifts and things like that. And so, you know, there’s, it’s fun to be able to look across, you know, we have 90,000 transactions, nearly $2 billion of funding on our platform across every state in every industry, in every geography in the US. And to, you know, we just put in an announcement out there that some, for some reason the South Atlantic states over the last six months, has had a real rise in loan applications versus compared to some of the other regions. And, you know, we’ve started to kind of do some research, why is that? And what’s the reason, you know, what’s driving that? And I get geeked out about that data as we, the more and more we dive in and start looking at this and that and the trends and it’s a fun aspect of our business to see what’s going on in the national economy.

Steve: Yeah, I would imagine you get some insight that gives you some idea of what’s gonna happen before anybody else sees it. You know, you’re seeing the demand for money kind of on the front end. I want to pivot for a second because you and I’ve talked before and you shared with me your passion for, I guess, talking about being open about the challenges of, you know, being a husband being a father, having a family, as, you know, as you’re growing an entrepreneurial company. And you’ve had tremendous success growing your company over the last 10 years or more now. And at the same time, you’ve done that while balancing a large family, you got four children. I do as well. I know, the kind of demands that puts on your time. So how have you made that all work and what have you learned from it?

Brock: Yeah, so this is a subject that I just love. And, you know, I wouldn’t trade the relationship with my kids and wife for anything in the world, including a successful business. You know, it was interesting. Early on in my career, we were raising venture capital to grow the business. And we had a term sheet from an investor. And he came out to spend the day with us in our office. And we went to lunch and we started kind of having a personal conversation. And it’s important, you know, as you’re looking to bring on an investor, this is going to be a partner you’re going to work with for a long time and to get to know them. So as we were getting to know them, he said, you know, I was telling him about, you know, a couple, at the time, I think I had two kids. And I was telling them about my son Jackson and my oldest daughter, Ellie, and how much fun I, you know, how much I enjoyed being with them and seeing them grow. And he said, you know, talk to me about your priorities. You know, is it being a dad and CEO?

And I said, You know, I really want to be a great dad and a great CEO. And he said something, he said, Brock, he’s like, candidly, I don’t think that’s possible. I haven’t seen that in my career, and I strongly believe that you can be a great CEO or a great dad, but you’re not going to be both. One of them has to give. And at that moment in that lunch, I knew that he was not the right fit for me as a business partner because maybe he hadn’t seen it and maybe it hasn’t been done. But I was going to do everything in my power over my career to be a great dad and a great CEO. And that’s kind of been my life’s mission ever since. And I’m not perfect at it. And I’ve got a long ways to go and it’s definitely aspirational for me. But it is something that, you know, I try. You have to give up other things. But I believe and hopefully one day will, you know, be able to kind of say, you know what, maybe I wasn’t great, but I did a pretty good job at kind of being a great dad and being a great CEO.

Steve: Well, you know, as you’ve approached this, what are some of the key things you think that entrepreneurs need to be doing as they’re trying to approach the same, you know, the same kind of fork in the road or a parent fork of the road. Culture tells us it’s very difficult to do both. I’m with you. I think it can be achieved. And I’m just, I’m curious what you’ve learned in the processes as you’ve tried to walk that line.

Achieving a Successful Business AND Family Life

Brock: Yeah. So, you know, some things that I have, you know, tried to do that have been good for me kind of these life hacks. You know, first thing is that to be incredibly disciplined on a schedule. So for me, you know, I wake up very early every morning. You know, I on three to four times a week I am exercising, either in the gym or go play very, you know, competitive basketball or something that gets some cardio going. For my sanity it’s important for me to get a workout in. I also take about 30 minutes in the morning to do personal study like scripture study or some sort of meditation. Or reading also helps with sanity. Want to eat with the family before as they’re off to school and we’re, you know, we’re kind of around the table. It’s not like a formal breakfast, but it’s, you know, it’s 15 minutes where we’re 10, 15 minutes where we’re kind of before everyone’s off and for the things of the day.

And then when I’m at the office, man, it is just, it’s on. It’s game on from when I walk in the office until I leave, you know, I try not to wait like every and, you know, fortunately, to a point now where I have an executive admin that really helps with this. But like, every minute of the day is, you know, dedicated to being productive. And so that, you know, when I go home, I have an opportunity to spend, you know, eat dinner with my family and attend, you know, what might be sports games or, you know, in the fall I coach my son’s football. You know, and then if I need to, I’ll get back online later at night after they’ve been able to go to bed. You know, I think that, you know, Fridays for me are date night with my wife and that’s really important to be able to put the phone away and go and enjoy some time with her.

And, you know, I think it’s just be where your feet are, right? And I’m not, this is something that you constantly battle with but if I’m at home with my kids try and put my phone away and be, you know, spend real time with them. And if I’m at the office, it’s like I am cranking and trying to be as effective as possible. And so it’s a work in progress but there’s just some things, you know, there’s things around vacations or, you know, and, you know, for me I, it’s important to get out and do family vacations and, you know, it doesn’t matter if it’s an hour away or it’s a staycation or if it’s, you know, trip to Hawaii, but some time with them on a regular basis. And so things like that. And I could go on all day about this subject, but it’s those are the few things that have helped me to balance this craziness. And it isn’t perfect. You know, when I’m on vacation, I work and, you know, and at home I, you know, a lack of sleep sometimes. But try and do those things which will be sustainable and give both, you know, the growing company and the family the time and attention they need.

Steve: You know, I thank you for sharing all of that because I think it’s important. I think the most important thing that you shared there is, and you said that several times, you said it’s a work in progress. You know, I think so many people are out there saying well you got to do this morning routine. Or you gotta, you know, schedule yourself this way and there’s some, as if there is some perfect way to do it. And I’m with you, I, you know, this is a, it’s almost like a daily, I don’t, I was gonna say battle. I don’t think that’s the right word because it’s a positive thing. You know, you’re really kind of choosing between two really great areas of life. But it’s that constant sort of adjustment back to the right path, you know? Maybe like, kind of like you’re navigating a plane or something. You’re always kind of tweaking the heading a little bit just to make sure you’re, you know, you’re heading in the right direction. So thank you for sharing that. The things that I picked up from that. It’s interesting because you and I are in sync on a number of things.

You know, particularly with, you know, morning routine. I always make sure I’ve got time in the morning with, you know, with the kids as they’re off to school and with my wife as she’s off to work. And then in the evenings we always make it a point, we always have dinner together. I mean, it’s very rare unless I’m traveling that we don’t. But, you know, the, I think that the thing that that you shared that I know I’m going to take away, is really getting better about the calendar and making sure everything’s in there and scheduled. I’m probably a little too loose with it, you know, and winging it a little bit right now. But I think it’s a fantastic piece of advice. You know, put it on the calendar and then be wherever your feet are. And I appreciate you sharing all of that because I think everybody listening who has a family feels that struggle, and they know it. And it’s nice to see, you know, hear from somebody who’s fighting the good fight and making some progress along the way as you clearly are.

Brock: Yeah, I mean, I think like I said before, you know, I’m not, I mean, it is a work in progress. And but the key there for me is just trying to be disciplined with it. You know, I like, I’m not a big believer in like diets and things like that because I don’t like to do things that I can’t sustain for a really long time. And so it’s like try and eat healthy or do those things that you know, like over a really long time you can keep it going and it’s not like start it, stop it, start it, stop it. And so, for each person, they’re going to have their own different calendar and different schedule and things they can sustain. But those are the things that have helped me to be able to, you know, not get burned out at the office because that’s a real struggle. You know, you spend so much time there and you’ve got all these challenges, you never turn it off, like it’s healthy to turn off the phone and like things can wait. It’s healthy to make sure, you know you get exercise in and get some meditation in and good sleep. And so it is, you know, and I haven’t always been this way. Early on in my career, I mean, I got very little sleep and I was always, you know, working.

And I mean it’s part of the job of being an entrepreneur or CEO is there’s demand all the time. But I also think that you can, you know, for your sanity and for the long term sustaining of it, you know, you have to figure out, what can I, what’s the discipline that I can build the structure, the schedule, the process, that allow me to be happy, healthy and sustain this over a long period of time.

Steve: Yeah, I think that’s so critical. I want to make sure we get people connected with you who may be thinking that they want to learn more about what you’re doing both at Lendio and I know you’re beginning to talk more about your approach to family and entrepreneurship. So if somebody’s listening to this, and they go, Hey, I’m growing like crazy, and I need some cash to fund it. How do they get hooked up with Lendio and get into, you know, the process there to potentially access some capital?

Brock: Yeah, so lendio.com is where you can go. And again, it’s a free service. There’s no kind of, there’s no payment or anything like that. We’ll see what options we have. We can’t, I don’t want it to come across that we can get every business owner financing if there’s, you know, there’s challenges around, you know, really bad credit and no cash flow and no collateral, that’s a recipe is going be really challenging. But it doesn’t hurt to come in and go through our process, our online application. We have a funding manager that we assigned each business owner to help answer their questions, talk them through the experience, see what we can do to help and guide them along the way. And so lendio.com is the place to go and let’s see if we can help you out through your, through getting use of financing.

Steve: Very good. And I know as you do more and more thinking and publishing around the idea of work and family and all of that, is there a particular place where they, where folks can connect with you and follow what you share there?

Brock: Yeah, so I share a lot on Twitter. My Twitter handle is just Brock Blake on Twitter. That’s probably the best way if, you know, people want to reach out to me they can do it through Twitter. Or email me, you know, at Lendio. Brock.blake@lendio.com will reach me as well.

Steve: Very good. Well, folks go check out Lendio if you have that need. Brock, thank you so much for sharing some of your expertise with us. And we’ll link to your Twitter profile. We’ll link to Lendio in the show notes for anybody that’s looking for those links. And thanks again for investing a little time with me.

Brock: Yeah, my pleasure, Steve. Appreciate you having me on.

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