Spring is right around the corner and with it the annual college loan application season. Around this time high school seniors, college students and their parents look at their options for school loans in an attempt to find one with a decent rate that won’t put them into too much debt. And Edulender, http://www.edulender.com/ site, is there to help them. We spoke with Suyeon Khim regarding Edulender and how she came to create it. We were interested in what her experience as a first-time entrepreneur was like and what advice she might offer others just launching their own entrepreneurial journey. Come along and hear what she had to say.
1). Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Seoul, South Korea, raised in Chicago.
2). What was your childhood like? What kind of kid were you, did you read a lot? Play sports? Start businesses?
I was apparently the neighborhood chatterbox. I did read a lot but I was also a tomboy“ lots of backward baseball caps and skinned knees. My family and I were immigrants to the US and we lived in a housing project on 47th street while my father was working on his doctorate at the University of Chicago. There’s an enormous generator between the two apartment buildings and my friends and I would hold bicycle races with goals like “10 laps around the generator”. I was a tiny kid but I thought I was pretty tough and I’d half-kill myself trying to win against boys twice my size.
3). What was your experiences with school growing up? Did you excel? Average? Struggle?
I excelled at classes, but I didn’t go to very good schools growing up. Looking back, I think I would have been happier if I had found avenues for academic pursuits outside of classes, but at the time I was pretty content to play with friends or read or watch TV instead. I’m grateful my parents pretty much left me alone to structure my own time. Some of my friends had parents who would make them go learn all sorts of things after school. I envied them at the time. But I think that if I’d had that upbringing, I might have had some advantages in school, but my ability to find my own way wouldn’t have been nearly as strong.
4). Your product is a godsend to many, but what prompted you to do more than just talk about it as a problem? What prompted you to say, I am going to change how the school loan industry works?
Getting a bad rate on a loan can be really expensive. But the few student loan comparison sites I found only showed lenders that were paying the comparison site to be listed there”I felt like a victim who was seeing their best advertisers instead of my best rates. I knew I wasn’t the only one facing the problem. The student loan industry was in turmoil and college and graduate students everywhere were faced with a huge problem in getting loans. There were hundreds of lenders making loans, many of them new entrants to the marketplace, but who they were and which ones you were eligible for as a student was extremely opaque. There were the few brand names that everyone knew about, but there were also a lot of credit unions, state programs, and charities that are making loans at great rates that very few people knew about. I wanted to solve this problem for myself and for others in the same boat.
5). I recently read an interview you did for midVentures were you mentioned you weren’t sure if you knew then what you know now if you’d do it again. Is that still the case now that you’ve received some funding?
I would challenge my previous statement for the midVentures interview. Not only would I do it again, I would be in a position to execute much better and faster knowing what I know now. But the change of mentality change isn’t attributable to receiving funding, it’s the result of developing a better understanding of the business we have built and the path that led us here.
6). In the same midVentures article you mentioned your original team fell apart, but that you picked yourself up and kept going. Congratulations on doing that and continuing to believe in your idea. I was curious to know though what other challenges/failures you ran into along the way and the steps you took to work through them.
Thinking I can do it all myself has put me in positions I didn't need to be, at times. It took a while for me to figure out how to effectively delegate responsibilities. A big part of that ultimately came down to hiring the right people and creating an environment in which everyone has real ownership of their domains. Having two really smart co-founders is great. They keep me grounded and efficient and they’re fun to be around. They’re also excellent at self-managing “ I can impart the end goals and they'll figure out how to get there. Working with them has taught me a lot about how to create an effective workplace.
7). What are your personal goals for the future? Do you want to be a serial entrepreneur? Continue focusing on making a social change? Retire from Edulender?
I’d like to see EduLender succeed wildly. Afterward, I think it would be fun to start another company with my co-founders. We talk sometimes about companies we might do after EduLender “ going to Silas’s farm to help him start a raw milk business, or pursuing Sam’s interests in the Android mobile app space. I’m also particularly interested in businesses that have a positive social impact and would like to continue to work closely with them.
8). Have you ever thought of moving the company to another state? Why or why not?
EduLender has a great network here in Chicago. We were grown out of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the Booth School of Business, participated in the Excelerate tech incubator, and received lots of support from local mentors, angel groups, and venture funds. There’s an active and growing startup scene and a great community of people working on interesting projects. All of the founders lived in Chicago when we started the company and so far there hasn’t been a reason to leave. But I think we’d consider it if there were a compelling reason to move.