When people have to live paycheck to paycheck, life can easily get unbearable. Earnin offers loans against paychecks as collateral to alleviate this incessant pressure to low income families at affordable rates.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised? What kind of an early journey have you had?
Ram Palaniappan: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and moved back to India when I was five. I did most of my schooling there. I did my undergraduate studies there. Then I came to the US to do my MBA at Purdue. That was in 1998. I was there for two years. I ended up joining a startup that was funded by Procter & Gamble. I was there for about two years and did some consulting for a year. Then I ended up running RushCard from 2004 to 2012. Then about a year later, we started Earnin.
Sramana Mitra: Did I get it right that you founded another financial services company before Earnin?
Ram Palaniappan: Prior to Earnin, I was with a company called UniRush. The product was RushCard. The company had already started but it was run out of another company. The primary investors in that company were investors in other companies as well. We had people from the other company helping out with this company.
Sramana Mitra: How did you get connected with this company and in what capacity?
Ram Palaniappan: I was at Reflect.com, which is a company that was funded by Red Point and P&G. The CIO from there had moved to another company. He had brought me in.
Sramana Mitra: What role were you playing in Reflect?
Ram Palaniappan: I was running the operations. Reflect was selling customized hair care, skin care, beauty care, and fragrances.
Sramana Mitra: So you were brought in by the CIO of Reflect in what capacity? What was the business of this company?
Ram Palaniappan: This was UniRush. We basically had a prepaid debit card. This was a Visa card that you could use to spend. You could put money onto it and then spend it like a prepaid card. It’s very common now, but they were not as common then. The use case was people who don’t have bank accounts but were working. You get a paper check for your paycheck but you don’t have a bank account so you give it to a check cashier. The check cashier keeps 5% and then you get the rest in cash. We offered people to put their paycheck onto a Visa card.
Sramana Mitra: They were paying a fee to have that Visa card?
Ram Palaniappan: Yes, there was some fee, but it wasn’t as onerous.
Sramana Mitra: That was the business that you were with for about eight years?
Ram Palaniappan: Yes.
Sramana Mitra: What were you doing there?
Ram Palaniappan: I was President. When I left, we were about 90 employees.