Ronnie Washington founded Onward to enable workers of all income levels to build financial security. Onward is a non-profit employer-based mobile savings and credit app that helps workers save effortlessly, build financial knowledge, and access responsible credit when emergencies strike.
What the 401k is for long-term retirement savings, Onward is for short-term emergency savings.
Ronnie sat down with the Financial Health Network to share what inspired him to found Onward, what he’s learned as a fintech founder, and interesting observations from the fintech industry.
Q. What was the problem in the world that inspired you to start your company?
Nearly two-thirds of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. These include working individuals who, despite all their efforts to save or plan, will have a financial shock like a car issue or unexpected bill destabilize their lives. I fundamentally believe that people need better options to deal with emergencies other than high interest credit cards, payday loans, and even car title lending, some of which make money when workers slip up or miss payments.
Q. What’s been the biggest business challenge you faced while starting up?
When we first started Onward, the most difficult challenge was identifying a banking partner that was willing to serve the low- and moderate- income (LMI) segment in a new way. In addition, we had to identify a partner that was technically fluent so that we could eliminate as much of the friction as possible limiting people from quickly building an emergency fund and accessing affordable credit.
Q. What was an early win or success that made you think you could be a successful startup?
Launching a pilot with a small manufacturing company in Kansas City, MO allowed us to gather enough data to show that our approach not only works, but has the potential for scale.
Q. What in fintech are you most excited about now?
There are already a number of fintech products on the market targeting wealthy or soon-to-be wealthy millennials, but what I’m really interested in is innovators who are building products for segments of the population who are often ignored and considered most vulnerable. Those fintech companies are serving their clients with the same level of care, concern, and support that they deserve regardless of income.
Q. Is there a piece of advice that you wish you would have known that other founders might find helpful? Why?
It is never too early to start building an effective culture. From who you hire to how you make decisions, a defined culture allows the team to problem solve, serve customers, and deliver product and strategy to the market in a way that consistently aligns with the values of the organization.
Q. What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received, and how has it impacted your company or career?
Build something that people love, not just like. You want to create something that is indispensable to your users because they gain so much value from it. While phase one might have been “get the product finished,” phase two is “delight our users and clients.”
Q. Would you recommend an accelerator program to others, and if so why?
Absolutely! In general, accelerators provide you with an amazing experience by surrounding you with a community of fellow entrepreneurs. The Financial Solutions Lab took that to the next level by introducing us to the innovators building the next generation of financial tools. Additionally, the network, access to J.P. Morgan mentors, and business support were all invaluable and helped lay the groundwork for scale.