I felt the vibration again. I braked and slowed to a stop on the side of the narrow speckled road. Red, yellow, orange, and brown foliage graced the asphalt below and lined both sides of the grey road in front where it met blue sky, as if beckoning me to continue. The autumn leaves crinkled into silence, only just broken by the distant call of a finch that ended in a strong, lively trill.
“What...Tony again?” I mutter as I take out my phone. This wasn’t the New Hampshire solitude I’d been hoping for. But I picked up anyway.
“I’ve got it!” Tony immediately blurted with excitement, “Payday loans, let’s take on payday loans!”
There was silence and I scratched my head a few times while shifting my weight from one leg to the other. “Uhhh Tony, payday loans are horrible. No.”
As a child, I grew up reclusive. Being overweight with a severe speech impediment didn’t help my self-confidence. People and other kids treated me differently - much worse. They made fun of me which lowered my confidence, and over time, I began transforming into who they said I was. My grades suffered and I withdrew inwards. I was too young to realize the trap I had walked into until my parents stepped in. They pushed me to take an intelligence test, and Mom and Dad explained the results of it to me while we were eating at Sizzler, a casual buffet chain near our home. Surprisingly, I scored really well. At that moment, I knew my parents truly believed in me. My parents empowered me to be more and do more. It clicked and things started to change.
My brother CJ is 2 years older than me and we used to play computer games together. Gunship, a wonky helicopter game, was a favorite of ours. But it was often frustrating - I had trouble getting past the early missions to the exciting action midway through the game where the air buzzed with the sound of engines and fighting was fast and frenzied. One day, CJ showed me how to edit a few of the .txt game files to skip the early levels and jump into the action. I was stunned. Now I know this doesn’t sound crazy amazing to you but it was eye-opening to me...and hey, it was the 80s back then. Before, I had always thought a game was a game, a radio was a radio, a phone was a phone. That’s just the way things were. But through this, I realized I can change things. I can take control and pull the curtain back - like the dog Toto knocking over a screen and revealing Oz with his microphone voice behind the scenes. It could be up to me.
“Please...please put your gun down.” A flashlight shined into the darkened room, revealing an armed man with a handgun. He was sitting at the far end of a cluttered dining room table. There was a tall wall shelf next to the table that held a small statue. The armed man’s expressions were unreadable but his hands were shaking as he pointed his gun towards the officer. The officer spoke, “You don’t want to do this. Let’s talk. Put down the gun. I won’t come any closer.” The officer’s directions were clear and concise but I heard the slight strain in the officer’s voice. The armed man responded inaudibly. Conversation continued flowing back and forth - the officer repeatedly told the man to put down the gun. My mind was going numb at the horror happening as if in front of me. Minutes must have passed. Another plea. Another inaudible answer. Suddenly, there were two deafening sounds, a motion, and the video rocked wildly.
Officer Davis shot and killed the gunman. He followed de-escalation protocol and did everything he could to prevent it. A few months ago, my team and I created the camera system that captured this crucial footage. The video exonerated Officer Davis from wrongdoing related to shooting and killing the gunman. This video provided transparency so that he wasn’t put on leave for 2 months. It showed to his family, friends and colleagues that he tried his best. This camera system we created at Axon...I saw the impact it could make. This idea of fairness and transparency to the enforcement industry could be so powerful. It was an idea bigger than myself.
We spent another 5 years improving and convincing law enforcement around the country to adopt our camera system. We grinded, showed footage, adapted, and persuaded, but adoption was slow. We fought to show value for both communities and law enforcement. But there was mortal liability to consider and decades of historical resistance to a product like this. And then the Ferguson shooting happened. The Axon Body camera system and our ideals of fairness in law enforcement became a national movement.
I cut short my vacation in New Hampshire and started Possible Finance with my co-founders Tony and Prasad. I knew nothing about the financial industry but as I peeled back the “payday lending” onion, I saw that it was more and more rotten as I got closer to the core. “Wow, things are really screwed up,” I thought. For decades, traditional payday lenders didn’t just sit front-row to the oppression of millions of families - they exacerbated the financial situation into the brokenness that exists today. With exploitatively high APRs, a single payment on the next payday, and misleading practices, these lenders suppressed generations of low-income and minority communities. In fact, 80% of borrowers take out another payday loan immediately after paying the current one and borrowers on average paid $520 in fees compared to only $375 borrowed. I couldn’t believe it. I thought of the story of Sisyphus, the Greek king fated to repeatedly push a large rock up a steep hill only to find it rolling back down when almost at the top. I imagined him smiling and embracing his situation without thinking of either past or future. Sisyphus worked tirelessly with braveness and purpose, refusing to surrender to the futility - the same futility that payday lenders place on their almost 12 million borrowers every year. That’s who I want to help. That’s the Possible customer to serve.
At Possible, we create better finances for our customers through our mobile app - clean, simple, fast and mostly behind the scenes. We empower our customers with the tools to make their financial dreams a reality. We help our customers believe that escape velocity from the debt trap is achievable. We remove the anxiety of the unknown and provide them access to credit. We offer them financial education when they want it.
Our product has a discreet purpose - to fulfill the financial potential of our diverse customers. Some folks say we do a “dirty job” because our APRs are higher than 36%. Others criticize us for steadfastly opposing payday lenders and the current banking system. We welcome these conversations and know that we need to continuously strive to do what’s fair and what’s best for our customers within the regulatory structure we operate in. Our customers have a Sisyphean task and we can help - even if it’s just to break off a small piece of the rock every time and carry it down with those we serve. Even if it’s just to give that last heavy push to get that rock over the hill. Financial fairness is bigger than me and bigger than our company, but I know our vision along with our action can empower the nation and make financial fairness possible.