Why I Started Lean

Over the last decade, I have spent my career focused on building best-in-class financial products at scale, used by tens of millions.  This is how many of you know me: from my time leading Mint, or digital products at Amex, or data products at PayPal, and so on.  But for the past year and a half, I have been hyper-focused on one mission.

Tilak Joshi

CEO, Lean

September 8, 2021

Over the last decade, I have spent my career focused on building best-in-class financial products at scale, used by tens of millions.  This is how many of you know me: from my time leading Mint, or digital products at Amex, or data products at PayPal, and so on.  But for the past year and a half, I have been hyper-focused on one mission: to transform the financial lives of independent workers, directly through the marketplaces for which they work. Certainly, one of the reasons I went down this path is because fintech is a passion, but I want to share the personal story behind our mission and why I chose this as my next adventure.

Today, I’m proud to unveil Lean. We are backed by nearly $6M in funding from some of the best venture capital funds and angels: Inspired Capital, Atelier Ventures, Acequia Capital, Oceans Ventures, alongside founders and executives from Instacart, Uber, DoorDash, Postmates, Bird, and The Rideshare Guy.

Read on for where we came from, what we're up to, and where we're headed.

Where It All Started

I grew up in a single mother household. This form of upbringing is often perceived as a disadvantage, and while it can be for some, for me, it was (and is) a superpower. The perspective I gained growing up is unteachable: watching my mother work two jobs during the day, go to school at night, all while raising a kid, was inspiring to say the least. And I was lucky. My mother was able to get through to me on the value of education and fiscal responsibility. Whether I was ready for it or not, I understood the power of money from a young age. I saw the freedom and shackles it can produce. This experience led to an early sense of hustle - from selling grape juice boxes (that I loathed the flavor of) in middle school to hawking burned CDs from songs downloaded on Napster in high school.

After school, I grew into a nearly two decade journey in the corporate world. While I’m incredibly grateful for those experiences and the exceptional people and friends I’ve met along the way, I’ve been rekindling my relationship with a feeling that never left me: the hustle.

The Hustle Economy

This hustle represents me and so many other Americans who strive to breakthrough. And this last decade has been one for the hustlers. Between the rise of marketplace businesses like Uber & DoorDash and the creator economy with Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, there are more opportunities than ever before for hustlers. Independent workers represent more than a third of the US workforce, which has inevitably been accelerated by COVID-19.  This number is expected to grow to more than half of the US workforce in just a few years.

What’s most shocking about this metric is what life actually looks like for these individuals. 60% of independent workers struggle to make ends meet. 70% live paycheck-to-paycheck. 35% have inadequate coverage on health and auto insurance. They don’t have the luxury to even think about retirement accounts, HSAs, and investments. What seem like basic financial needs to many Americans are unmet for so many. And with the gig and creator economies quickly becoming the dominant American work segment, this could result in dire outcomes in as little as a decade.

A New Way Of Thinking

For too long, the worker narrative has been binary. Workers can either be 1099 or W2, where 1099 workers get the flexibility, and W2 workers get the benefits. Regulations like California’s AB5 and Prop 22 are equally shortsighted in that they operate under this binary framework.

The reality goes far beyond simple classifications. Those in the hustle economy are not choosing flexibility over benefits. Finding work is instead about empowerment and individuality. It is an economy that requires both flexibility and benefits. Workers don’t need a new label, they need a new model that enables them to work how they want AND get the benefits they need.

This is what we strive to offer with Lean. Lean aims to blur the lines and instead give value to every individual in the hustle economy, at scale. Our mission is to equip everyone with the capital and benefits they need to thrive. We believe that workers shouldn't have to wait a week to get paid or have to pay a fee to get paid sooner. We believe that workers shouldn't have to pay 20% APR for credit when federal interest rates are sub zero. We believe that workers should have equal access to mortgages and auto loans, and favorable rates for health insurance, HSA, 401ks, life insurance, and accident insurance. We believe that workers should not merely survive; they should thrive.

We’re Not A Platform. We’re The Solution

We’re not the only ones that believe change is necessary. Given the recent buzz around marketplaces and fintech, there are quite a few folks aiming to build separate platforms for independent workers and marketplace businesses. However, our approach is different. We’re not OK with building extortive payday loans disguised in subscription-based structures. We’re not OK with sitting atop decades-old payment technologies that are inefficient and fee-based. We also know modern BaaS platforms create unnecessary effort ( plus risk and compliance overhead) for marketplace businesses that far exceeds the value they get.

At Lean, we enable marketplace companies to offer financial products tailor-made for the 1099 and W2 flex workforce.  We enable instant payouts in milliseconds, completely free.  We also offer $1000 no-cost cash advances, with us taking on all the associated risk, compliance, and capital.  We're adding access to new financial products like mortgages, low-to-no-cost loans, income stability scores, and insurance.  Our platform is 100% free, and it takes less than 2 weeks to get-to-market.  With our existing marketplace partners, we're already rolling out to 200k+ gig workers.  We boost acquisition, retention, and economic value for the marketplace, while creating instant financial value for independent workers.  To all the marketplaces that have thought about this problem and attempted to solve it by spending thousands on workers annually to incentivize them, we’re here to help.

The Future Of The Gig Economy

Lean imagines a world where individuals can chase their dreams on their own terms—yet be fully protected and covered financially. We imagine a world where pay is real-time, capital is cheap, and benefits stay with workers wherever they go. Yes, WHEREVER, including globally. The boundaries created by work classifications and global nation-states are being broken daily and will cease to exist in just a few short decades. We’re accelerating this shift. We’ll help workers get work, get paid, get capital, get insurance, get taken care of instantly and all-the-time.

We’re just getting started and there’s so much left to do, but I am proud to be surrounded with the best team one could ask for. Alongside my incredible co-founder, Eden Kfir (Co-Founder & CPO), we’re ready to go!

If you dare to dream of a world like this, come join us in making it a reality: we're hiring.

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