Wemimo Abbey Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Esusu
How do you convince credit rating agencies, landlords, and renters that there’s a more personalized and equitable approach to building a person’s credit score?
On this episode of It’s Not Magic, Wemimo Abbey, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Esusu, joins our host, David Stiepleman, to talk about his mission to bridge the wealth gap with a fintech platform that leverages renters’ data. Wemimo’s beginnings in Lagos, Nigeria shaped his journey to Minnesota, where he relocated with his family at just 17 years old. Motivated by his family’s own struggles securing a loan, Wemimo created a product that helps residents boost credit scores and helps owners and property managers maximize returns, all while creating an experience that prioritizes relationships over transactions.
In 2022, Esusu raised a $130 million Series B round, making it one of the few Black-owned companies to reach unicorn status. Wemimo will walk us through the company’s growth, the remarkable origin story of Esusu, and the aspirations Wemimo continues to strive toward.
Listen to full episode:
More from this episode:
- Esusu becomes unicorn with SoftBank Vision Fund 2-led $130M funding
- Esusu Page
- Esusu Rent Relief Program
- Wemimo’s Favorite Restaurant – Denny’s
David Stiepleman: Hi everybody. Welcome back to It's Not Magic, our podcast from Sixth Street. We invite influential leaders to get to the core of how they're tackling complex tasks in their industry and the world. Today's guest built a unicorn around the insight that if credit scores could capture renter data, you can create a win-win for landlords and tenants and put a dent in wealth inequality. Take a listen.
Wemimo Abbey: We have a society whereby we're treating people like they're guilty until proven innocent because you have to go into debt to actually be credit worthy. So, what happens if you don't have debt? So, we saw this unique insight and said, “How do we then make sure when folks rent that data can be reflected on their credit score, so they get credit where credit is due?”
David Stiepleman: That's Wemimo Abbey, co-founder and CEO, of Esusu, the leading financial technology company for renter financial health. When Wemimo immigrated from Lagos, Nigeria to Minneapolis, he became acutely aware of the obstacles low to moderate income households face when trying to establish a financial identity. Motivated by his family's own struggles of securing a loan without a credit score, Wemimo created a product that helps residents boost credit scores and helps owners and property managers maximize returns all while creating a more personalized experience based on relationships rather than transactions. In 2022, Esusu raised $130 million in its Series B round, making it one of the few black-owned companies to reach unicorn status in the US. Wemimo walks us through how the company is doing today, the remarkable origin story of Esusu and the company's aspirations. It was great having Wemimo join me in our Sixth Street studio for this conversation. He's awesome, thoughtful, and driven. And with his co-founder, Samir Goel, Esusu has formidable leadership, convincing a big part of the real estate ecosystem to reimagine the process of building credit. It requires a lot of trial and error, but it's not magic. Wemimo Abbey, thank you so much for joining us. And actually, you're joining us in person in our studio, and I think you're the first person to do that on It's not Magic. So, it's pretty cool.
Wemimo Abbey: Wow. That's making magic then.
David Stiepleman: Exactly. So, I want to start with the insight. And I know you had – and you should talk about real personal experience in arriving at the insight. The insight being that, I'll get my numbers a little bit wrong, you please correct me. 120 million people rent in the United States. They pay a trillion and a half dollars or something like that in rent every year, right? It's a huge, obviously, part of anybody's discretionary income. Anybody's income is percentage of income goes, it's to paying for their housing. And then if it's not contributing to your credit score, you can't build a credit score, right? If you can't build a credit score, you can't access credit. You can't access credit, you can't participate in economic opportunity.
Wemimo Abbey: Precisely.
David Stiepleman: And that's, you know, when you filter that through the racial wealth gap, that means that that's disproportionately affecting people of color. It's disproportionately benefiting people who own homes, which are disproportionately white people. So, tell me about how you arrived at that insight.
Wemimo Abbey: You're precisely correct, David, I arrived at that insight from my own personal journey to the United States. I grew up in the slums of Lagos, Nigeria. I lost my father at the age of two. I was raised by my mother and two very spirited sisters. And one thing my mother believed in was just the importance of education. She barely had a high school degree herself and worked at the post office for over 21 years, but she always believed that education was the most important ticket for any child to have a better life. So, she afforded my school free to one of the finest high schools in the land. And that's what made me immigrate from 80-degree weather in Lagos to negative 22 degrees in Minnesota, which was a character-building experience. And during that transition, something important happened. We wanted to borrow money.
Wemimo Abbey: We walked into one of the biggest financial institutions in Minneapolis, close to where all the George Floyd matters happened. And we couldn't… We walked into one of the banks and wanted to borrow money and we couldn't borrow money. We were rejected because we didn't have a credit score. We walked out, had to go borrow money from a predatory lender at over 400% interest rate. My mother sold my father's wedding ring to a pawn shop and then we borrowed money from church members and that's how we got started. So, I was really inspired by that experience. And my co-founder and I, we haven't worked in corporate America or at places on Wall Street. We started a company on three core premises. No matter where you come from, the color of your skin and your financial identity shouldn't determine where you end up in the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen.
Wemimo Abbey: And to your point, over 35% of Americans rent. That's north of 110 million people, and they send close to $1.5 trillion to their landlords every year. Most of those people are low to medium income folks. The biggest driver of wealth in this country is home ownership. But we have a society whereby we're treating people like they're guilty until proven innocent because you have to go into debt to actually be credit worthy. So, what happens if you don't have debt? So, we saw this unique insight and say, how do we then make sure when folks rent that data can be reflected on their credit score, so they get credit where credit is due.
David Stiepleman: So, I want to go… You and Samir kind of like have this insight and rewind back to the blank sheet of paper. You're like, okay, I have to get a check stub from a renter. I've got to maybe get cooperation, not maybe, definitely cooperation from the landlord. I've got to figure out how that data's going to have integrity and get it to the credit bureau so that they accept it and factor it into their score. Walk me through that wire chart.
Wemimo Abbey: Yeah. That was a painful three-year process for the different agencies and regulatory bodies to essentially embrace what we were doing when we started. We wanted to use a direct-to-consumer approach... We wanted to go talk to every renter and say, look, give us your rental data and report it into the consumer agencies. The credit bureaus had issues with that. Because that's what you call personal furnished data, which is not trustworthy. So, we then had to go build relationships with landlords and in this case, using period or principle one to many large landlords. So, we can get data at scale, clean the data, transform it, then report it into the consumer rating agencies in the formats they would actually accept. But it’s a challenge. How does a big consumer rating agency accept data from a tiny company that barely raised a million dollars?
Wemimo Abbey: So that process was just utterly painful. And it was perseverance and a really, really strong test from this institution. Cause they had to protect the integrity of the data we were submitting to them. Forced to get it done., So we pivoted, actually started as a direct-to-consumer business. We then pivot to B2B business. And one of the biggest breakthroughs we had was working with one of the largest landlords in the United States. So Related Companies, the owners of Hudson Yards. So, we met a gentleman called Jeff Brodsky. When we told him the idea, he destroyed it. He said, “What is the incentive for me to actually work with you? And I get rent every month. Why should I report this information? I'm trying to build trust with my renters. This is another point for me to lose trust with them if you screw something up.”
David Stiepleman: What was that reasoning? Was it, “I'm taking personal information from my renters, I'm going to give it and then I may be seen as ratting them out to the credit bureau.” I see.
Wemimo Abbey: Exactly. Cause some people don't even want their data to be reported.
David Stiepleman: Yeah. So, what'd you say?
Wemimo Abbey: Well, we said, how about we report positive only data at first. Let's capture positive only data. We will do the entire work for you. And we would also get in that industry, what we call SOC 2 Type Two certification, which is a security standard in most cases reserved for publicly traded company. That process was what we called purposeful pain.
David Stiepleman: Purposeful pain. Yeah.
Wemimo Abbey: Because a seed company has been forced to do things that publicly traded companies supposed to do, but we got it done.
David Stiepleman: Got it. And so Related Companies is like, okay, I like that. Now you turn around to the credit bureaus. Hey, I've got this huge landlord. I've got a lot of data. I'm cleaning it up. I'm SOC 2 compliant. And you obviously, you're telling them we're only giving you positive data. Why is the credit bureau okay with that?
Wemimo Abbey: The credit bureaus were okay with that because alternative data is a big landmine for these rating agencies. They want to make sure they capture things like renter data. Which is the largest monthly expense for renters. To give you context, renters on an average rent is 30% to 60% of their monthly expense to keep a roof over their heads. But the credit bureaus don't have access to it. That data, they only, by the very virtue of what it's called, the credit bureau did not have expense data. And how do you price risk? When you're not factoring the largest monthly expense? So, they saw an opportunity there. There was also an act from Congress that essentially let us report the data and gives the consumer the prerogative to opt out of reports on this data. So, Congress wanted this data to be captured en masse. The consumer rating agencies were also aligned cause their business is to sell this data to better price risk. And then working with the landlords, we made that trifecta happen. But that took three years. It didn't happen overnight.
David Stiepleman: It's a lot of trial and error and a lot of perseverance. Like you said. Meanwhile, I also heard you talk about this idea of the very fact of a landlord saying, hey, we want to collect this data and we want it to reflect well on you. And so that we can make better decisions about taking risk on potential tenants. That it builds community. It makes people think of themselves less as renters and less as their payees, as landlords and more as residents and owners. And so, can you talk a little bit about that? And does Esusu, by the way, what does Esusu mean? Cause I think this, I think it's relevant to this question.
Wemimo Abbey: Esusu is a West African Yoruba word that means if you want to go fast, you go alone. But if you want to go far, you go together. And it flows perfectly into your question. Which is, there's this complex relationship with landlords and renters today, or some people call them renters. I don't believe in that because of the slavery connotation associated with that. It is a transactional relationship where I pay my rent every time, every month. It's one painful thing that I do. Pay your rent, pay your rent. And the landlord, from a legal perspective is put in this restrictive position to always protect themself. They're either thinking about fair housing to make sure they're treating everyone equal, even at the expense of some of their loyal renters. They also think about different state regulations. Am I returning your security deposits to you on time?
Wemimo Abbey: And if it's one day over, you can send me to court for four times that cost. So, there's a lot of protection. And what we decide to do is be a little bit compassionate on both sides. Understand what the renters care about. Understand what the landlords care about, and then what's in the best interest of society at large. And that approach essentially involves us saying, we will undo the entire process. And that's what makes us valuable. If your landlord that has such transactional relationship with you wants to carry out that service, there's a distrust because that landlord might not be your landlord tomorrow when that property is sold. So, we came in as a service provider and said, we will be the trust factor. We will be that bridge builder to say, we'll capture the data, we'll clean it and report it on time so you can get credit where credit is due and get that reflected in your credit report. We would also communicate if their financial resources in case you fall in, you know, in areas or you, you get in trouble, give you resources so you can get back on your feet. So that way we're creating a win-win-win construct.
David Stiepleman: Yeah. I wanna talk about the rent relief fund in a second. I think it's a super interesting part of what you guys are doing. But I, want to stick on this for a second. In the community building part of it, right? So, if you had skepticism… You're hired, you're coming in, you encounter skepticism in the resident population. Are you doing things, did you learn to do things in the sort of convincing people to opt in or as part of your paperwork to kind of build that trust?
Wemimo Abbey: Yes. We did. As part of our onboarding process, Samir and I, my co-founder, actually described where we came from and every onboarding message that goes out, they play a video, and they learn a little bit about our story. Because a huge skepticism on who are these people? Is this another agent? Is this another company the landlord hired to take advantage of me? So, we had to set the record straight and tell our own stories to millions of people so we can build trust with them and know we are doing what's in their best interest, not only what their landlord is essentially paying us to do.
David Stiepleman: Right. Interesting. By the way, I'm assuming that it's obvious and, and it may not be. How does the business make money?
Wemimo Abbey: Well, the business makes money not by charging the renter. The business makes money by charging the landlords $2 per door per month. And what made it also very interesting because we created a construct, this win-win construct. The government or government sponsored agencies like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae sought what we were doing once again with relationship, once again with community building, decide to subsidize the cost for our landlords, provided they have some exposure to their loans. So, it's free for the landlords if they have Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae loans, it's free for the renter. And these institutions, particularly Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, they have a duty to serve. We're helping them fulfill that mission. So, it's a win-win across board.
David Stiepleman: So, you're seeing results, what, like when you go, go back to when you started to roll this out, I mean the related companies a pretty good, you know, initial or early client. It's pretty cool. What were you seeing in terms of credit scores, in terms of uptake, all that stuff?
Wemimo Abbey: That is what I am most proud of throughout this journey. To give you context, when we started with Related Companies, Related Companies, one of the largest landlords, 75,000 units in the country, close to 200,000 people living in their buildings. They started with us with just under a thousand units. They put us through purposeful pain. We didn't get everything right. It wasn't magic at first at all. It was a lot of pain; it was a lot of trial and errors, and it was a lot of faux pas. I don't want to, you know, seem like this is just magic and everything just happened. We learned a lot. And people like Jeff Brodsky coached us, made us better, gave us historical knowledge. And today a Esusu owners and operators have 4 million rental units in all 50 states with established credit scores for over 50,000 people.
Wemimo Abbey (16:36): Those are people that never had a credit score. The first thing they had on their credit report is Esusu. And that I am immensely proud of. In addition to that, we've seen people that have improved their, for folks that had credit scores, we've seen people that improved their credit scores on an average by 43 points. For folks that do not understand what that means. It could be the difference from you having what we call a subprime credit score on that 720 or above 720. It could mean the difference from you getting a car loan, a mortgage, a credit card. It could be one step away from you going to a payday loan lender like my mother and me. So that is utterly important. But we never talk about it in this society. It's just something that happens to people. It's not something we teach. In addition to that, we start tracking outcome data. Our vision at Esusu is to leverage data to bridge the ratio wealth gap. What we started seeing also when we walked through the credit bureaus to pull anonymized data is
Wemimo Abbey: We've seen people that have established or build their credit scores go on to become homeowners. We've established credit of over $6 billion. 2.5 billion of that $6 billion is mortgages. That's directly tied to them improving their credit scores. When we report their largest monthly expense, we've seen auto loans of over $1.5 billion and other credit activities. And when you think about bridging the racial wealth gap, it's all about financial identity. It's all about leverage. Yeah. America was built on cheap debt and it's all about home ownership. And to see that happen, regardless of anything we've accomplished, that is what I'm most proud of.
David Stiepleman: It's pretty incredible. As you think about analytics that will continue to be helpful to the population that you're serving, how do you, develop that? How do you or do you work with the credit bureaus on what would be helpful? Like more data they want to see, what's that process like internally?
Wemimo Abbey: You know, when we think about, so the first inning of Esusu is Esusu rent. What we are doing today. Yeah. The second inning is what we call Esusu financial identity. Which makes your question sort of poignant at this point because we need to see people different.
Wemimo Abbey: Judging people by just a three digit number that we created in the seventies that has a lot of imperfections is not enough. But one thing I am actually proud of, we often talk about institutions, especially our governments, about how slow and bureaucratic they are. But one thing I'm actually proud of is institutions like HUD, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, FHFA, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Cause we've worked tirelessly with them to think through some of these challenges. And now these institutions are now accepting rental data to be factored during your mortgage on underwriting process. So, we don't even need to disrupt what's going on with FICO or the credit bureaus. We can submit that data to them. But Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae under the guise of FHFA is now saying when you have rental data, we would look at that critical information as part of your mortgage underwriting process. That is powerful. That is groundbreaking. And that happened in the past eight months, but it wasn't magic. It took four or five years of convincing them. But that's what we do. There's an African-American saying, if you hang around the barbershop sooner or later you're going to get haircuts. We hang around.
David Stiepleman: We're in the Bay Area. By statute, you have to say the words generative AI in every conversation. I say generative just so I can seem like I know what I'm talking about. I think I know what I'm talking about. It seems like it could be incredibly, these technologies, they could be incredibly useful to what you do. They could also be incredibly hurtful to what you do. Cause you're at the intersection of helpful, but also if you build in bias, you could really take a step. Are you thinking about that yet in any kind of active way?
Wemimo Abbey: Yes, we are. The approach we take at Esusu is to do no harm. We will never sacrifice profits at the expense of the people that we want to have a better life or live their financial best. There are ways generative AI could be helpful and we're working with Open AI and just got some credit grants from them. Where it becomes unique is there's a lot of financial information that's foreign to the population we work alongside. What separates someone on Wall Street than someone in the Bronx in New York is information and likely education and the network you find yourself. And what we want to do is level that playing field. If someone on our platform can ask what happens over time and ask Chat GPT like function and say, look, what's going to happen if I set aside a thousand dollars every month, what happens to it in 30 years? And you get an instant calculation, and you don't have to go figure it out or you don't need to hire a fancy financial advisor to tell you that. That could be powerful, and you can change behaviors. So, what we are thinking about is two things. How do we from an efficiency standpoint, automate customer support? So, the repository of financial literacy contents we have or frequently asked questions, how can generative AI help us out by feeding in that data? And number two, financial literacy.
Wemimo Abbey: All these things we learn, we don't need someone in front of us after time. So how can we give people content so real time they have questions, and they can get it. They don't have to go pay someone a quarter million dollars or they don't need to get a couple basis points over assets being managed. Rather, they can get the information real time and we level the playing field that way. So that's one practical way we're going to use functions like Chat GPT, working with Open AI or other institutions to make sure people get the information they need.
David Stiepleman: Got it. Let's talk about the capital raising process. Because I think you were just describing to me, I know you were describing to me a process where you went from insight to kind of understanding what the company was. In a nascent way. And then realizing you're a data company. And what was that I've heard you talk about, and you were at our offsite, we'll talk about that in a little bit. Over 300 rejections. And then what happened? Was it, I mean you, you talked to concrete rows, you talked to other, tell, tell us like what kind of unlocked it and that process, if you don't mind.
Wemimo Abbey: Yeah. We spoke to over 326 investors. I'm very specific cause I keep scores and each and every one of those rejections hurt. And they said no. And I'm not going to make assumptions as to why investors said no. But one thing I could say unequivocally is proximity on an average loads of medium income people in the United States, particularly that don't have a financial identity, they're invisible. 45 million people in this country. The average debt in America is $92,000. Yeah. If you do that math, we're leaving trillions of dollars that should be contributing to our GDP annually behind. And that's the story I was trying to tell to investors. It's not about only reporting rental data, it's the access we can unlock. Trillions of dollars that creates a win-win construct. But if I'm talking to someone that doesn't know what it feels like to grow up in the slums, so if I'm talking to someone that has never got to payday loan, I don't expect you to understand. But a difference and what our cap table is, makeup, the makeup of our cap table is folks that understand that construct.
Wemimo Abbey: It's folks like Sean Mendy and the Concrete Rose team because they get it. It's folks like Serena Williams that can say, look, if you report your rental data, it's not factored today. They're like, that's ludicrous. Why is that not factored? And those are the people that took a chance on us. They make up 75% of our cap table. Yeah. And they invested in us in large parts. When the company was valued at $10 or $15 million. They saw a unique opportunity. And it's because of institutions like yours at Sixth Street that believed in them and invest in them. That's how they're going to find unique companies like us and create the virtual cycle.
David Stiepleman: And as we set up at, at the top, like that was a valuation not that long ago. You obviously raised money in 2022 that put you over a billion-dollar valuation, which is incredible. I do want to talk about that. You were at the offsite that we had at the beginning of May in Austin. And one of my colleagues, Alyana Verjee, she ran a panel. I don't know if you heard that panel. I'm not sure which day. I forget which day it was. But, and they were talking about, look, the environment when you raised money in 2022 was growth at all costs. You know, let's capture market share. Let's do what we got to do. Right. Grow, grow, grow. Now you got to grow into your capital, right? Presumably there's pressure to show profitability. Is that right? Is that the correct assumption? And are we reading the market? And how has that changed how you're… What you're doing if at all?
Wemimo Abbey: Yes. So, we did raise $130 million that valued the company at a billion dollars. And you're right, it's a valuation that we need to grow into. But to give you context, when we raised that amount of money, we had a million units on our platform. Now it's 4 million today.
Wemimo Abbey: Given what has happened in, from a macroeconomic standpoint, we saw this coming. You know, we speak to a lot of folks in our network, in the family office ward in our, from our team. We do something at the Esusu called Economic State of the Union where we educate every employee about what's going on. And we've been beating this drum beat since 2021 before we even announced around the financing. It's simple. If you go back to the eighties, Mark Twain said that these three rhymes. You pump a lot of cash. You look at M two, the ISD has ever been, so M two is money supply. You're going to have inflation. We knew that. Right. It's common economics. Macroeconomics 102, not 101, unfortunately it's 102.
David Stiepleman: Didn't get that right. Yeah, I got you.
Wemimo Abbey: So, in this case we knew what was going to happen and we saw the traction in our business and raised this amount of money. But it's big pressure. But once again, David, we've built a business that's fundamentally doing well and doing good. We've built stakeholder relationship working with the government. The government usually pays or 99.99% of the time pays its bills. So, we've built a constructs right now and commercial real estate, which is tough, where interest rates have been raised 12 times where we can actually help our partners, our landlord, property manager partners. Because if people can afford to pay rent, we're also there to support them and we can report this data and they are not paying for the most part. Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae is open to subsidize this cost. And you create a win-win-win construct. And today I can say you'll be the first one to hear it in Q1, Esusu was cashflow positive.
David Stiepleman: Wow. Congratulations.
Wemimo Abbey: And we still have over a hundred million dollars in the bank account. Why? Before we raised money, before we raised our first $1.6 million, we got hundreds of nos. And now you give us this money. We're scrappy, we're humble, we look at every line item on the P&L because we've been there. We know what it looks like to be, to have a scarce mentality, but we are also going to invest in growth. So, what we are doing is running a value business that's yielding growth outcomes.
David Stiepleman: That's amazing. Congratulations again. Talk to me about you and Samir. Samir Goel, your co-founder. Great guy, great professional. You've been tied at the hip from the beginning. I mean you guys are tight and you're bigger now. You got a lot of people who work for you, work with you, you're running around doing a lot of things. How has it changed? Like do you have core areas that each of you are doing. Do you do everything together? Like how have you adapted the relationship and the working style to…You know what I'm saying?
Wemimo Abbey: Yeah. This context. Samir and I are not only best friends, we're work husbands and we've been through it all. During the fundraising journey when both of us had over a hundred thousand dollars in credit card debt, we went to a Denny's in Fargo, North Dakota to essentially spend the nights there and eat rand Slam. And Denny's is still one of our favorite restaurants by the way. We got kicked out of the Denny's because we were dozing off and the restaurant manager said, guys, you have to go or else I'll get fired. We were kicked out of a Denny's together. Myself and Samir have been in the foxhole together. The good, the bad. He was the best man in my wedding. I was the best man in his. We've seen it all. Yeah. So that friendship was built on what we established at the beginning of this company, which is to check your ego at the door. What we are building is bigger than us and if we're not fit one day to run this company, we will step away and let someone else run it. It's bigger than us.
Wemimo Abbey: And when it comes to our responsibilities, there's certain things Samir is good at that we have a major minor approach. We have a co-CEO relationship that a lot of people poo-pooed on and said we'll never work. And our goal is to continue to prove people wrong against all odds. Samir worked at LinkedIn and has exceptional sales operations experience. Samir is the king of follow up. He's gonna chase you down. I love chasing people down also, but it's a process. There's a method to that kind of madness. When he's talking sales operations, even if I have an opinion, I'll listen to it. But I would defer to him when I'm talking finance, when I'm talking strategy or I'm at, when I'm talking stakeholder mapping in terms of how you build long-term relationship. I not only went to school for it, I have a master's in public policy and the first thing you learn down the road in Berkeley is Policy 101
Wemimo Abbey: How do you think long-term from a strategy finance perspective to get the things that are not only tactical but long-term and strategic. So, we divide functions, but we have major minors. There are things that I might not be too sure of. I don't have decades of experience like you David. There's some things that I don't know. So, we rely on each other, and bounce ideas off each other. And we also have an expanded network of folks that have mentored us, invested in us. Jeff Weiner is one of them. The former CEO of LinkedIn who's an advisor who sold LinkedIn for 26 billion and whose chief of staff Brian Rumao. We also lean on folks like you. You're helping us with strategic things to help us make the company be the best it can possibly be. And the extended Sixth Street family where every time I talk to people there, I'm like, how do you assemble all these all stars? But I realize those things take years. It takes decades of each and every one of your experiences that one day we'll get to, we divvy up responsibilities in different functions, but we bounce ideas off each other. And when we eat a ceiling, we go to the village. You know, it takes a village to get what we're doing done. And I'm glad people like you are a member of that tribe.
David Stiepleman: We are too. And it's been amazing to, to work with you and have a small part in your, in your ongoing success. It's great. When you guys disagree, how do you do it?
Wemimo Abbey: When we disagree, which is seldom. It does happen. We use the Jeff Bezos approach. Disagree, but commit. So if he has a strong perspective on particular matters, he has strong expertise on, and I fundamentally disagree, we’ll either go to a third party and if the third party supports the notion, even if I'm not supportive, I disagree, but I commit. But I only disagree in in camera when we are together. But when we're in front of the team, you think it's my idea You support against all odds. You show your support, and you never show trails of weaknesses because we need to be a unified front. And the same thing applies to me. So, we have, if we don't disagree on how the company should be ran in particular cases, we go to folks that have been there, done that. People like Jeff Weiner and people like you. And once we get consensus, we come back, follow that advice and we support each other unequivocally.
David Stiepleman: It's a great cultural model to set for your team also. I mean, you know…
Wemimo Abbey: It's bigger than us David. It's not like afterwards issue is ego. It's if, look, if Esusu becomes great today, it's not about me. If we need to change a CEO today, take me out. All I care about though is the mission what we are doing. Are we staying true to what we said we're going to do? If not, George Washington could have been the president for 3, 4, 5 times. Leading by example, saying it the way it is and knowing when to step away. Leave when the ovation is high.
David Stiepleman: Yeah, exactly. I'm super interested in how you interact with governments, regulators. This has been a theme of what we've been talking about, right? I mean yes. We've kind of danced around the rent relief fund. But there's a million things where you're, interacting with public instrumentalities and elected people. What have you learned? How do you do that effectively? This is a big part of your business.
Wemimo Abbey: You know, one quote that resonates with me is obviously someone you are related to, Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote, you know. She said very well, which is, you know, the courts will not change, you know, by the weather of the day, but by the climate of the era. And that's how the institutions we have are structured. Just because I want to get something done doesn't mean they'll change everything they focus on to prioritize it. A large part of working with governments, institutions is patience, understanding their priorities and creating solutions. It might not fit like for like with what you are trying to do, but you have to be aligned with what they're trying to do, provided it is in the best interest of the greater good and the people that you are targeting. And that's what we did. I'll give you an example. With Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae, for example, FHFA, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said you have a duty to serve.
Wemimo Abbey: And they have this plan called the Equitable Housing Plan, which is to help people have a good financial identity and hopefully one day become homeowners. How do you do that? You need good credit scores. Well, we have 45 million people in America that don’t have a credit score and 110 million people rent. And that data is not factored. So, we went to them and said, how can we help you fulfill this mission? We convinced them, they walked with us. The rhetoric is usually government is slow, governments is bureaucratic. And yes, some of that is true, but they have really good people in government. People that could be earning millions of dollars that sacrifice their time to go make sure we live in a more perfect union. When I talk to some of the people in Freddy or Fanny or FHFA, some of the smartest people I've ever come across. And I question why you not working in private sector? But they stick with it to make sure we have what the founding fathers essentially wanted us to have. So, in this case, we presented what we were doing at Esusu, which is how can we help people capture their renter data and report into the consumer written agencies and they came in to subsidize the cost. That's a classic example of a reasonable public-private collaboration to do a greater good for folks that otherwise won't have a financial identity.
David Stiepleman: It's really ringing a bell with me when you're dealing with a public instrumentality regulator, an elected representative. Being credible and not having your hand out, or not just talking your own book, and actually like having a real conversation seems to relax the mood and makes it a more constructive, not surprisingly, I mean it's…
Wemimo Abbey: Human nature. It's once again, Policy 101. Who are you talking to? What is the issue? What do they care about and what are they trying to get done and is in the best interest of the public and the greater good. It is bigger than you. If you really want to have an impact. It's not about your widgets and how you construct your widgets. Yeah. It's the flexibility of that process and that's what we are interested in to come in and to be obsessively curious.
David Stiepleman: Are you finding that they're picking up the phone and calling you for your insights on things? I would imagine they are. Yeah.
Wemimo Abbey: Yes, they are. And it's…
David Stiepleman: That's amazing. I mean that's huge.
Wemimo Abbey: It's back and forth and it's such a beautiful relationship whereby they can lean on us and we can lean on them, you know, to help every day consumers.
David Stiepleman: Talk to me about, if you don't mind, so your social media strategy, you guys are very good at it. You know, you're very visible. What are you going for? And how do you think about what you'll do, what you won't do, how you do it? I'm super interested in that.
Wemimo Abbey: We're very out there, especially on LinkedIn. And it's intentional. And it's not something that happened on yesterday. This is how we started. If you go as far back Samir and I posting since for over five years now. it's not just something that's new.
Wemimo Abbey: The purpose of what we are doing is threefold. And I've never talked about this before and I'm glad you asked this question. The first one, there are not a lot of people that look like us that have raised the amount of money we've, we've raised that get the kind of partnership that we do have. It used to set an example and to make sure if there's a kid that just graduated from Stony Brooks or CUNY that just got his first LinkedIn account and is trying to build something special and hopefully greater than what myself and Samir and the rest of the team has built. When they see our stories can believe that indeed they can do something like that and hopefully better. It's to inspire. Number one. Number two is to show our clients that we have some sort of pedigree in the market. The market that we work in is predominantly white, predominantly male.
Wemimo Abbey: And we need to tell stories to make sure people understand that hey, we work with over 50% of the largest landlords in America. If you don't tell your story, others will tell it for you. Or people won't just believe. We can't hide under the rock. So we need to tell our stories. We need to put content out there. So, there's a repository of information that folks can go to if they're doing research to know that we are the real deal. This story won't tell itself. This country we live in, as an immigrant I knew what it was to, to have a more perfect union. And I was in the slums of Lagos, Nigeria. I was rooting and watching the presidential elections of different eras and looking at the electoral map about what's going on in the United States. But why is that? This country told us the stories of no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, if you walk out, you can get ahead.
Wemimo Abbey: And that's why we live in a nation of immigrants. And that's what we're trying to do also with the business. That if you look like me, you can build a business like this. And better. And if you are my client, look at everything we've done. Trust us. Give us a fighting chance. Give us a shot and we'll show you what is possible. And the last part, the third piece is essentially the idea of justice capitalism. Doing good and doing well is not mutually exclusive. At the last offsite, the Sixth Street offsite, you asked me a question, do you have conflict with profits over purpose?
Wemimo Abbey: If that happens, if I investors, and this is on the record, and if they are listening, they should hear this. For me, if it comes a time where we have to make decisions of profits over purpose on Esusu and I disagree, you can vote me out as CEO. And you know what, at least I can become an entrepreneurial resident at Sixth Street. I have a fallback plan. So, we will not compromise. And let me be very clear about that. We built this business talking about what is possible in America. We built this business about what is possible in creating a just capitalist system that doesn't capitalize on a win-lose construct, rather a win-win construct. And we've gotten this company thus far, we're not going back.
David Stiepleman: I wasn't sure what you're going to say. I knew you had a really thoughtful answer to that. If people check out your stuff on LinkedIn, it's very purposeful, it's very buoyant, it's very positive. It's unapologetic I'm glad I asked you. Go back to when you were a kid. I think I've heard you say you were entrepreneur, you're still a kid, but you've been an entrepreneurial since you were a kid, you were selling game boy cartridges or something like that in school and you had a clean water business that served a quarter of a million people in a bunch of different countries in Africa. I mean, can you teach that, or was that something like, was hardwired into you? I mean, business schools have entrepreneurship classes. Do they work?
Wemimo Abbey: It's a very thoughtful question and you know, if I go back, honestly, my entrepreneurial endeavors were just a means of asking why. And a means of, because of the environment and the sacrifices my mother had, of saying why not me? My mother worked at the post office for 21 years and I used to go to our post office and see, look at just the motions of the day. And as a kid, like…
David Stiepleman: And this is in Lagos?
Wemimo Abbey: In Lagos. In Lagos. In primary school or secondary school. In the equivalent in America, middle school or high school. You don't have a job; you don't have responsibilities. So, I just look at, I'm like why are we in this situation? Why are we destitute? And it's my mother's fault because she afforded my school free to go to school with the sons of the president or the prime minister or the governor. And I'm like, why do they get to go to London during the summer and I have to just come hang out with you at the post office. And by the way, I can't even hang out at home because you're worried about me doing things with the kids in the neighborhood and not get in trouble or be arrested. Like why? Like what can I do to just be seen as equal or have the opportunities these kids have? As a kid you are just blinded, and you are frustrated every time you don't understand.
Wemimo Abbey: So earlier on I started noticing, well what do these kids want and how can I add value? And how can I add value and get paid for the value? So, to your point, GameBoy cartridges, Pokemon crystal, Pokemon Red was my trade. PlayStation games, margins on that were like in the thousands because we had boarding school students. I was a day student. I will go to the market, I will buy, I'm admitting now, pirated PlayStation games and then come sell it to them at a hefty margin. And they will pay. It's nothing to them. And it got to the point whereby I made twice as much as my mother made at the post office. I paid my SATs by myself. The cost because you don't get to do SATs in Nigeria. You get to do what we call WAEC, the West African Examination Council. And I had to understand American English because it's not the Queen’s English, which that's what we study. So, I think it was just out of necessity. I wouldn't say there's anything special about me, it's just necessity. And why. Why do you get to go to London? And I get to sit with my mother at the post office in Nigeria.
Wemimo Abbey: I want to be like, I want to do the things you are doing, and the questions are, well that's how trade and entrepreneurship kicked in.
David Stiepleman: That's pretty incredible. I would differ that there's nothing special about you, but I appreciate your modesty. Paying it forward is very important to you. I know that one thing that you and Samir do is post all of your investment documents. Your, maybe it was your series B doc, I don't know, like publicly so that other founders could benefit from what you, how did that, like what, how did that go? That's a great idea.
Wemimo Abbey: Yeah. So, you know David, what frustrates me is when you talk to people about the fundraising journey, everyone gives you hypothetical advice. Oh, you know, you talk about your go-to market strategy, you talk about how big the addressable market is and then, you know, they use all this fancy words like TAM, SAM. I'm like what's going on. CAC, LTV. I don’t understand this, all this stuff. But I'm just like, wait, I was someone that literally graduates from Lagos that doesn't understand all this lingo. It's sort of exclusionary how they gonna get around. And if I'm struggling with some of these terminologies, like how other people gonna figure it out? Yeah. So, what we wanted to do is cut through the BS. Cause there's a lot of BS in what we do. It's all lip service. We just don't want to inspire, want to give people the tools.
Wemimo Abbey: So, when we finish that series B round of finance, we literally told the story. We hired someone because we have to still run the company. We sat down with them, a consultant and say, “Everything from my data room, tell people what a data room is. Tell people what you put in a data room. Tell people how you organize the data room. Tell people financial model, how they should, how they should position it and walk through every step of the fundraising process. So, you demystify this thing people glorify as fundraising. It's a process. It's a sales process, it's a funnel. And you go through the funnel. And when you wire people's minds and understand it's a funnel, even if they get 300 rejections, I haven't just found my person. You keep going and we tell them one day you find your Sean Mendy, one day you find your Serena Williams. You know, one day you find your David, one day you find your Waxman, you find your people so just keep going. But the advice that was given to us was just so vague and opaque and wasn't helpful. So, we paid someone and told them our story and made sure it's professional and then give them the tools, templates to be able to plug it in if it applies. So, they can, they can do exactly what we do and hopefully better.
David Stiepleman: So we're very big in Lagos. This podcast. So, if someone's listening there, where do they find those papers or where do they find that that guidance?
Wemimo Abbey: You can find it on LinkedIn because we posted it. We’re selective about it. Cause we actually now heard that people are using it and putting it on a paywall. That was unfortunate. We heard that. So, if you want it, you can reach out to us on LinkedIn, Google my name Wemimo Abbey, drop me a LinkedIn note. Literally we have someone that will send you down link consistently and you can download all the information and do what you need to do with it.
David Stiepleman: We'll put your, we'll put your that info into in the notes of the show. I have a million more things I want to ask you, but I'm mindful that we we're going to have another session with you. This is incredible. Let's do it.
David Stiepleman: What's next for, for you, for the company, for Esusu, for you and Samir. Like what, just give us, a little bit of a roadmap.
Wemimo Abbey: You know, you talked about philanthropy. I think one thing that means a lot to myself and Samir is paying it forward. So, there's this idea of creating documents for folks. There's also an idea of addressing one of the biggest challenges we have in our society today, which no one is talking about, which is homelessness. You know, myself and Samir, of all the equity we have, we've dedicated a decent amount to a homelessness initiative because as a society we solve homelessness backwards. We let someone be on the streets and try and find ways to rehabilitate them. When in San Francisco and on my way here, there were a lot of tents. And this is the Mecca of wealth. Talk about the gold rush. Talk about what's going on in Silicon Valley. It's an outrage. It's an outrage for us to have this level of inequality in society today.
Wemimo Abbey: We should as we should be ashamed of ourselves. We're generating the biggest wealth. And yet we have a tales of two cities whereby our fellow human beings, they have the same two eyes. One nose, one mouth, is living on the streets in the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen. So myself and Samir, we don't believe in rhetoric. We believe in putting our money where our mouth is. And one of the things we've done, if Esusu goes public one day or we get acquired, a portion of our wealth is going to go into an eviction prevention fund to make sure folks have an opportunity and contribute towards policy working with the government. We have a track record of doing that and saying, this is what we've done at Esusu. We have a rent relief initiative, and this is how you can learn. The city of Los Angeles did the same thing, dedicated a hundred million dollars for eviction prevention.
Wemimo Abbey: Yes. Prevent people from being homeless. The lot of other counties were working with. We spoke to the mayor of Sausalito and Marion County and they're thinking about ideas. Also, we want to not only think about ways to catalysize change in society but do policy through execution that scales nationally. We've done it with Esusu and now we want to do it with this particular work. From a business standpoint. So for folks that care about the growth trajectory of the company, let me also speak to you. We have a business that essentially is saying on average landlords collects $1.44 trillion or $1.5 trillion in rent every year. Esusu has captured a lot of rental data. We have over 22 billion of gross lease volumes today and growing. That's nothing compared to where we could be. And what we are doing is now building a marketplace.
Wemimo Abbey: We have a wealth of data that folks have entrusted us with. And now how can we complete the virtual cycle of we help you establish a credit score. How can we take you on that journey to then hopefully get an affordable credit card, a car note so you can drive your kids to school and if you choose to do so, buy a home and contribute in the compounding wealth building structure of the United States. We're creating a marketplace of quality financial product with a strong TAM over a hundred billion dollars. And there are companies that have been successful in this realm. You know, Ken at Credit Karma has built a successful business that was acquired by Turbo Intuit. That's the kind of business I want to build, margins business. A gross margins are in the late eighties, early nineties, but that can also have an impact and fulfill the vision of why we started the company. Leverage data reporting rental data to bridge the racial world at getting people access to quality financial products. The average white families today have 10 times as much work than the average black family. The Latino family, 12 times more. We need to stop the rhetoric and we start creating solutions that actually move the needle. And I think we have the opportunities to do that at Esusu.
David Stiepleman: I think you do. And, I would just say thank you of course for this conversation and more broadly for, you know, you paint a picture of this country as being a place where opportunity should be equal and you’re helping us close that opportunity gap and getting us closer to our ideals and, and so, so thank you. And it’s just a pleasure able to talk to you always. And I've really enjoyed our conversations over the years. And I'm going to hold you to it. You’re going to have another one on here. If you'll do, it'll be great. So, thanks.
Wemimo Abbey: It's going to be fun. No, you have, you continue to be an integral part of the Esusu Village and advise us to be the best we can possibly be. So anywhere you need me to show up, I will be there. But thank you for everything. I think you interview and share people's stories and break down what's not magic. And it's truly not magic. But you often, you don't talk enough about yourself in terms of the things you do behind the scenes. And throughout my journey, it is rare to find people like you that just genuinely care. And you're not a BS person. You truly want to have an impact. And that's rare.
David Stiepleman: That was Wemimo Abbey, co-founder and CEO of Esusu. We spoke on June 29th, 2023. Wemimo's entrepreneurial journey is a great reminder that often it's the challenges we face that are our most defining moments. And from the time his family was denied a loan to the hundreds of rejections he received from investors experiences, which he calls purposeful pain, that all pushed to Esusu to evolve into the company that's now giving millions of renters a shot to build credit and economic opportunity. I thought, Wemimo and Samir and Esusu are living the idea that doing good and doing well don't have to be mutually exclusive, as Wemimo said. That's clear from the company's results. Also, by Esusu sharing its capital raising playbook to support other underrepresented entrepreneurs. Thank you for the insightful conversation, Wemimo. I'm looking forward to seeing what Esusu accomplishes next. And thanks to everyone for listening. You've been listening to It's Not Magic, a Sixth Street podcast. You can read more about our guests on sixth street.com and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. If you enjoyed today's podcast, please share it and follow it @SixthStreetNews on Twitter for more news on the show and our firm. Thanks to Sixth Street's production team Patrick Clifford and Ritvi Shah for putting this together, with Sound Engineering by Stephen Colon. Our theme song is It's Not Magic, an Original Creation by Patrick Dyer Wolff. Once again, I'm David Stieplman. Thanks for listening.
David Stiepleman: The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Sixth Street and Sixth Street is not providing any investing, financial, economic, legal, accounting, or tax advice or recommendations in this podcast. Please see additional disclosures on our website for more details.