An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Shivani Siroya (founder and CEO) of Tala, which was honored in our:
- 2022 Best Tech Startups in Santa Monica
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in Santa Monica
- 2019 Best Tech Startups in Santa Monica
- 2018 Best Tech Startups in Los Angeles
Tell us the origin story of Tala – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
While researching microfinance for the United Nations Population Fund in 2007-2009, I interviewed thousands of people in developing countries to understand their financial habits and needs. I learned that most of them had reliable financial capacity, but no way to prove it to formal institutions, which prevented them from accessing the capital they needed to grow their businesses or better support their families. I also saw how massive the problem was – some 3 billion people globally are considered financially underserved, and the unmet need for credit in developing countries is upwards of $2.1 trillion. So I started to brainstorm ways to capture the data generated by people’s daily lives to prove their potential, better assess their needs, and design a scalable, customized liquidity solution.
I founded Tala in 2011 to offer instant credit scores to people in underrepresented markets such as Kenya, Tanzania, India, and the Philippines. What started as a micro-lending app has evolved into a highly sophisticated end-to-end financial services platform that processes more than $100M in transactions monthly and bridges digital and cash ecosystems across multiple geographies. Tala’s 100% digital servicing means that most customers can go from downloading the app to having money in their account in under 10 minutes.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
In the early days of starting the company, we were often mistaken for a nonprofit or charity. We had some early champions and supporters, but it was often a fight to be seen as a viable business with growth targets and a double bottom line. People didn’t see these underrepresented markets as places to do business. I had to overcome the assumptions people made about me as well as assumptions they made about Tala’s customers in order to prove that the company was both worthy of investment and opportunity. This adversity made me double down on the potential I saw, and fight harder.
What does the future hold for Tala?
Our ultimate goal is to build a financial system that works for everyone and enables financial agency for all, because we believe the world benefits when everyone can participate. Only 31% of adults globally are covered by a credit bureau and over 3 billion people go without access to adequate financial services. Helping these people tap into the global financial system has been one of society’s most enduring and intractable challenges. Although a huge undertaking, we’re always working toward expansion. We will always strive to make our platform more accessible to those who need it the most.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Santa Monica?
The Santa Monica tech startup scene is bursting with talent and opportunity. We’ve brought on great teammates from a variety of industries who are inspired by the challenge we are solving and excited to make an impact.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
You’ve already made the hard decision to pursue entrepreneurship! Be proud of what you’ve set out to do, and get ready to learn! Before I launched my business, I spent about three and a half years having an estimated 3,500 conversations with small business owners. I’ve collected many lessons from these one-on-one interactions, including the vast importance of listening to people (your customers, advisors, potential investors, etc.) to gather insights to achieve my goals.
Be relentless about staying true to your customers and solving the problem you set out to solve. Trust your vision and don’t get discouraged. Fundraising takes time and resilience, but is well worth the effort to secure the right partners to support you and your vision.