Paul Zhang of Avant

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Paul Zhang (co-founder and CTO) of Avant, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Avant – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

My co-founders and I have been involved in the fintech space our whole career. While I was in the Bay Area running my previous startup in Y Combinator Summer 2011, we realized how much of a gap there was in the lending space for a tech driven product. That was the reason why we started Avant in 2012 – to provide affordable credit in a digital manner to everyday Americans. There was a huge swath of Americans who didn’t have much affordable access to credit, and what access they did have was through clunky old processes. We are able to leverage cutting edge machine learning to offer affordable credit to everyday Americans, and provide them with a seamless, automated, digital experience.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

The biggest challenge was building our platform and scaling our product. We built a bespoke custom platform to provide the right experience and automation to our customers in an innovative manner. This involved building a lot of technology and infrastructure in house. We were also one of the first companies to leverage machine learning models and techniques to accurately price and underwrite our customers, which involved developing our own pipelines and machine learning processes.

What does the future hold for Avant?

We are committed to being the foremost digital bank for our customers. We believe both the demand for digital banking and easy, accessible credit options for the underbanked will only continue to grow, and we are wholly committed to providing products and services that meet both of these needs.

We are currently offering loans and credit cards to our consumers, powered by our cutting edge machine learning and customer experience technologies. Look for us to expand our offerings so that we are able to offer a plethora of products that fit our customers’ circumstances and needs.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Chicago?

Chicago is a very unique hub for startups. It’s an intersection of innovation and Midwestern sensibilities. We have had a number of successful startups that have come through the Chicago ecosystem, and I think the challenge is in making sure we continue to incubate and expand the pipeline. I think the Chicago startup scene is similar to Chicago itself – it takes some perseverance to scale and grow, but the startups that do that are primed to take off and expand sustainably.

What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Launch, test, and iterate. One of the quotes that stuck with me from Y Combinator was Paul Graham saying: “The only thing you should be doing is writing code and talking to customers”. I think it’s vitally important to get your product in front of your users as quickly as possible. That is where you will truly learn what is important for your users and therefore what is important for you to focus on. It was just two months from the founding of Avant to our first public launch, and I think that iteration speed has served us well in our years of life as a company.


For more exclusive interviews, see our full Profile of a Founder series