If you ask Tucker Haas and Neel Yerneni how they met, they’ll tell you, “under a bridge in Berlin.” Both computer science majors at Stanford, Haas was studying abroad and Yerneni was working in FinTech and mobile banking.
As they got to know each other better, they would find they had a lot more in common than a major and an alma mater.
Tucker’s experience of growing up in a family that experienced financial hardship as a result of medical debt meant he had a deep personal understanding of the problems millions of Americans face when it comes to financial services and their ability to build wealth.
Neel’s hands-on work gave him insight into the opportunities to create tech solutions aimed at those problems that big players simply had no incentive to take on.
So, over a summer when they were both back in the Bay Area working at Facebook, the two launched Quo Finance (originally Nillify) with the mission of helping make building wealth more equitable and began rapidly iterating through ideas.
Their first idea was around securitizing credit card debt. A second idea, and a product they shipped was aimed at helping people break the payday loan cycle. And finally, the Quo mobile app helped first time home buyers understand their financial situation and the exact steps they would need to take to qualify for a mortgage.
Over four years they’ve thoughtfully, but rapidly moved through the cycle of product development, fundraising, growing a team, and now an exit to ASG’s Homebot where they and the rest of the Quo team will be leading Homebot’s mobile experience work.
We’re thrilled to welcome Tucker, Neel, and their incredibly talented team to ASG and Homebot, and they recently obliged us in sitting down to share more of their founding story.
An interview with Tucker Haas and Neel Yerneni, co-founders of Quo Finance
We’ve gotten to know you two over the last several months, but for our readers could you tell us a bit about yourselves, how you met, and how you founded Quo?
Neel: Sure, I'm the co-founder and former CTO of Quo. I grew up in Houston and went to Stanford where I did both my Bachelor's in applied math and my Masters in computer science in less than 4 years.
I always had a pretty wide variety of academic and career interests, mostly focused on math, stats, and computer science. More concretely, that ended up translating into an interest in machine learning and artificial intelligence, as well as other topics like algorithmic game theory, quantitative finance.
I ended up getting really interested in FinTech, and I actually took some time off from school to work at one of the largest mobile banks in Europe called N26. That's where I saw there were a lot of interesting opportunities to really build a new generation of financial services for consumers that would go beyond just building a nicer mobile app for a bank.
It got me thinking about what else we could really do to create more innovative financial products. And that was around the time I met Tucker.
Tucker: My interest in financial services goes a really long way back. When I was five years old, my younger sister, Lexi, developed a rare and severe form of cerebral palsy shortly after she was born.
Her condition meant that my family went into a lot of medical debt and ultimately a bankruptcy that lasted for several years. That had a profound impact on me growing up — I was kind of always thinking about financial services and the struggles that people had with them.
It was actually an area that I really disliked at first and never thought I would be part of given that experience. But growing up I also got really into building things and programming. I taught myself how to program when I was about eight, making bots for games online to make extra money for the weekends. And then eventually, that turned into building mobile apps. So I built a bunch of apps growing up in Charlotte.
Later, that took me to Stanford, which to me is the mecca of computer science, to get my bachelor's degree. While I was studying there, I started a different company called OmniSono in the medical device space that could turn any 2D ultrasound machine into a 3D one. As that work was wrapping up, I met Neel, while he was working at N26 and I was in Berlin, studying abroad. I like to say we met under a bridge there, which is a true story!
We got to know each other a bit, and seeing the work he was doing at N26 really opened my eyes to applying these computer science and product skills towards actually bettering the financial services and the products that my family did not have much luck with.
That’s really where Quo got started. Neel and I lived together that summer and we both worked at Facebook (now Meta). We had all these ideas around ways we could impact those financial services and go beyond what a lot of these mobile banks were doing, which was kind of just a nice UI/UX on top of a checking account. We wanted to go into the deeper parts of the financial system that we felt were being ignored by the broader tech ecosystem. This was 2018/2019 and that’s when we started Quo with the mission of democratizing access to financial services and building wealth.
Tucker, I read in an interview with you that Quo initially started out in late 2018 as an idea around securitizing credit card debt — how did things evolve from there to what Quo ultimately became?
Tucker: So, when we started Quo, which was originally called Nillify, we had a very loose idea of what we wanted to build. There were a lot of interesting issues in financial services, and we knew that debt was a big one.
A lot of people struggle with managing debt and especially getting out of high-interest rate debt cycles. That was an area we were really passionate about, and credit cards were obviously a huge part of that. We were trying to figure out ways to help people access lower interest rate debt to refinance out of credit card debt, but also do it in a way that allowed us to not take on too much risk. We had a crazy idea around securitizing credit card debt, but it ultimately didn't work due to issues with the card networks and how they operate.
We also had a product that we did build that went after payday loans, which we saw as the other big side of the debt cycle. Payday loans are a nasty product in many ways. Most people know that there are insane statistics out there, such as 22% of people who take out a payday loan take out seven or more in a row because they have to keep cycling the debt.
That's obviously a huge issue. Our approach was to get those people who are trapped inside the debt cycle access to emergency funds they need to cover expenses like groceries or childcare, but then structure it in a way that helps them get out of debt.
That meant we needed a loan product that could give people loans between $50 and $400 that didn’t require a single lump sum payment back because that's a big feature of payday loans that make them difficult to pay back. So ours was amortized over six months and had a relatively low rate. That meant we needed to build in both novel underwriting and unique controls within the product itself.
We ended up having the funds dispersed onto a card tied to an emergency purpose. If you said you needed $400 for groceries, you could take that out onto the card and use it at a grocery store, but if you tried to go to a jewelry store, it wouldn't work. That helped us limit risk and fraud and ultimately allowed us to offer lower rates. That was how we went from securitizing credit card debt to building the first product with Quo, which was that small dollar loan product.
Neel: I think the big lesson in that story is that there's a misconception that to start a company, you need one light bulb, brain-blast of an idea. In reality, it's better to start with a very deep customer problem — like getting out of debt or building wealth — and just iterate through tons of ideas to address it in the beginning.
Credit card securitization is one of those ideas that we churned through and vetted to see if it was worth testing. Every idea goes through varying degrees of testing and validation. In the example of the small dollar loan product we built, we fully shipped it and even though we pivoted away from it, it still represented that process that a lot of early-stage companies go through.
Over the last 5 years or so, you’ve gone through business planning, more than one product launch, fundraising, and now an exit — what were your biggest learnings from that whirlwind cycle, and what advice do you have for other founders?
Neel: We've actually just done a few talks around these with different founder communities. I think that constructing a team effectively and efficiently is extremely important as an early-stage company. You have limited resources, and your biggest expense is payroll, so having a team that is both lean and utilized to its fullest extent is really important.
There's conventional wisdom that is thrown around a lot that you should "hire slow and fire fast." When you’re at the beginning of your journey, I think it's very hard to internalize this and not enough people set the bar high enough when they say "hire slow." Your bar needs to be even higher.
It took us time to develop our hiring bar. Not to say we hired people who weren't good, but for an early-stage company, you need a certain caliber and a certain mindset when it comes to early-stage employees. We were lucky to find some of those folks early on. Trevor was one of our first hires, and he's still here, killing it. But we also had some misses, and we had to let go of those people in the process.
That gets to the latter part of the statement, which is "fire fast." That is a lot harder than it sounds, and people underestimate how hard it is to fire people. That's not just the act of telling someone they don't have a job anymore, but also managing everything leading up to that. You can't just show up one day and tell someone they don't have a job. There's a lot of process involved in communicating expectations, feedback, making sure someone is on the same page as you and having systems in place to track that and manage it.
Our advice to early-stage founders is to communicate early and often. Have consistent feedback and cycles, and get someone to come in and start producing from day one. The earlier you have a pulse on someone's quality of work, the earlier you can make a decision on whether they're right for your team.
That’s easier to accomplish in something like a sales role, but it's incredibly hard to do in engineering because of the onboarding and the process involved in getting someone fully into your tech stack and codebase.
Our goal when we hired engineers was to get someone to ship code on their first day. We designed our tech stack to be extremely modular so that someone could come in and work on a piece of our product and not need to understand every single thing that it touched. Once we had that, it became much easier to get a gauge quickly on whether someone was a good fit for the team.
Tucker: I’ll keep the conventional wisdom theme going. You hear all the time that speed is the most important factor of founding a startup — whether it’s shipping an MVP or getting to product-market fit. And again, I think it's something that’s very difficult to internalize.
This has implications across pretty much everything you do as a company because many things that are important to building a company end up slowing you down. As you hire more people, raise more money, and grow your customer base, all of those things can slow you down because you need to manage those people, explain pivots to investors, and support all those customers.
These things are important, but they also have a right time, and you have to be very careful about when and how you make those investments. Ultimately, as an early stage company, the goal is to find product-market fit as quickly as possible so you can start making those investments with conviction, and not worry about changing everything in six months.
Once we realized this, everything we did was focused on how we could find ways to go faster and find product-market fit faster, whether that was through raising lots of money or making hiring decisions.
We made a lot of mistakes along the way, but we were able to pull back and make it work. Neel’s thoughts on hiring align with this idea of being fast. Being fast doesn't necessarily mean growing your team or raising money — it just means finding a path to iterating quickly.
Tell us more about meeting the Homebot team — what were you looking for in a partner, and what made you decide Homebot was the right one?
Tucker: We had heard of Homebot quite a bit, being in the mortgage space. So, we were already aware of the brand, and big fans of the product.
We randomly met Homebot’s CEO, Charlie, at the end of 2022 through a mutual connection, and he shared that Homebot was looking at how to build some new things that we had expertise in.
That conversation really just exploded into, "Oh, you guys are working on this mission? That's very similar to what we're working on. What would that look like if those were combined?"
You both joined Homebot to lead the native mobile experience. How has the experience been moving from your founder roles to leading a team within a company?
Tucker: It's been great. I think that one of the things that the Homebot team, especially Geoffrey and Charlie, recognized is that our strength is as a startup team moving quickly and having the independence and empowerment to do that.
The team has done an excellent job of setting us up for success in that way. As we've come in and started to build out that native mobile experience, they've allowed us to operate largely the same as we were, but integrated with the team at the right places so that we can get everything done and move very, very fast. Of course, being able to move quickly is one of the great advantages of being a startup, and ultimately, it’s been really exciting to be able to keep that same cadence and mindset going.
Neel: In some sense, it’s a little weight off the shoulders for us. We're no longer responsible for all these other things that before we had to make sure were okay to keep the company going. Tucker and I can really just fully focus on the product in a way we haven’t been able to since the earliest days of Quo when we had very few employees and less company operations to manage. It's been cool to revert back to that where pretty much every day, everyone is just talking about “How are we building this? How can we make it better?”
It's also been cool to work with a bigger team again. We've gotten to meet a lot of great people already across different functions, and I've specifically gotten to talk to and learn from almost ten different people from the sales and business development side. It's been really interesting to see every team kind of build up their own ethos and strategy in the last few years or in their time at Homebot. And it's been really cool to break that down and see how Homebot has gotten to where it is today and how the different teams have been a part of that.
Let’s talk about the industry. What’s your vision for how mobile and tech can enhance and improve the home ownership life cycle experience? And how can brokers and lenders use tech to their advantage?
Tucker: From a mobile perspective, I think real estate tech is still a bit behind, despite being a big trend 10 years ago when it started to develop. Mobile apps for consumers in real estate haven't received much attention, even though that's what consumers expect now — being able to interact with the service and company from their phone.
Of course, there are things that need to be done on a computer, but most people want at least some of the experience to be mobile-friendly. This matches up with how the home buying process works. You're out and about, looking at homes, and you want to know what the house is worth or how you can buy it. There hasn't been any real innovation in this space for a long time.
In terms of a vision for where we see mobile in real estate tech, we ideally want to enable consumers to make the best decisions possible, wherever they are, with respect to buying or selling a house. We believe this means building a better relationship with customers and helping them connect with loan officers and real estate agents, and we aim to make the experience even better with Homebot.
Neel: I think the biggest pattern we see is around changes in that home searching process. We're already seeing a lot more focus and emphasis being put on highly contextual search experiences, specifically with respect to people's finances. There's no reason why the process of finding a home should be so disjointed from the financing of the home and understanding what one can afford and how they can afford more. These things should be deeply coupled.
That was a big part of our thesis with Quo. As we built our search experiences, showing someone the type of homes they could buy went hand in hand with them understanding how much they could afford, how much the home would cost them on a monthly basis and how long it would take them to afford that home.
We're starting to see a lot of search players go that way, especially those with a loan or brokerage team, trying to connect those experiences as much as possible.
At the end of the day, there's only so much you can innovate on the loan product side — home loans are highly regulated. It's really about how to create a more integrated, streamlined, optimized customer experience. That's where everyone is headed, and it's what we're trying to do, too.
Tucker: Neel stole the words out of my mouth. Customer experience is the number one thing that lenders and real estate agents can differentiate themselves on. And I think as we look at the industry surrounding this space that that is very clearly where all of the effort has gone. Even looking at things like iBuying, that’s just another play on customer experience to make buying and selling a house as easy as possible.
This trend is just going to continue and whoever is able to really create the best experience of finding the perfect home is going to be a major winner. Right now the experience is pretty fragmented. People are self-serving with tools like Zillow, and then engaging an agent and a lender, so there’s still a ton of room for innovation to bring things together for the consumer.
So in your view, agents and lenders aren’t just competing with each other, but also with homebuyers who are self-serving to create the experience they want. Talk a little more about that.
Tucker: Right, I think home buying is becoming even more of a ‘choose your own adventure’ approach. Over half of all home buyers find the house they purchased themselves online and not from their agent, and that number rises to over 60% for buyers under 40.
There are so many different search modalities now that brokers have a lot of work cut out for them. But there’s also a ton of opportunity for brokers and lenders to differentiate by providing even better customer experiences. And to tie this back to Homebot, that’s what we’re trying to build — a way for them to provide that better customer experience and stay highly relevant to consumers.
What are you looking forward to most in this next chapter?
Neel: I think a big one for me is getting to focus on reshaping our product and putting all our effort into improving it. As I mentioned earlier, we didn't really have the chance to do that with Quo, but now we have the opportunity to take our product to millions of people and scale it up. In many ways, it feels like we're continuing our journey, which is exciting. There will be a lot of new problems to think about and solve.
Beyond the product, I'm also looking forward to working with the team more broadly. There's a lot of problem-solving that we can do organizationally, such as building more efficient processes, shipping things faster, and innovating in the market. It's been really cool to work with leaders across the Homebot team and hear their perspectives and thoughts. In many ways, it's been a gut check for our beliefs around the space and the market.
Tucker: The growth of Homebot is definitely the thing I'm most excited for, and how we can take what we built for first-time homebuyers to a much broader audience. Our mission has always been the same — to make building wealth more equitable. I'm excited that now we get to take that mission to millions of people, with Homebot. That's really what we wanted out of Quo and I'm glad that we got there.
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