After graduating with $74,000 of student loan debt, Andrew Josuweit started Student Loan Hero in 2012 to help consumers figure out the best way to repay their student loans. He led the company as CEO until it was acquired by LendingTree in 2018.
How did the concept for Student Loan Hero come about?
I graduated with $74,000 of student loan debt in 2009, during a terrible job market. Over the next few years, my student loans ballooned to $104k at their peak. During my journey, I received terrible financial advice from my student loan servicers. Student Loan Hero was our solution to help consumers get better student loans and financial advice.
How was the first year in business?
Our first year was exciting, and exhausting. We were accepted into a business incubator called Start-Up Chile and received $40,000 USD equity free as part of the program. Our time in Chile was spent on competitive research, launching a minimum viable product, business development, and generally trying to find product market fit. By the end of year one, we were running out of cash, so I moved to New York City to raise an angel round. We failed to raise money due to low revenue traction, and we soon turned our efforts to ramping up internal marketing efforts, which ultimately allowed us to bootstrap our growth.
What was your marketing strategy?
Our primary strategy was content marketing. By 2018, we had 20 plus full-time employees on our editorial team producing financial education and content for our blog. Secondly, we further developed our marketing fly-wheel by spending millions of dollars on our paid, social, and email marketing efforts, as well as conversion optimization. At the end of the day, our high level marketing strategy was to provide consumers with the best tools and resources to quickly answer their financial questions.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Our first year, in 2012, we made less than $10,000 USD. Our second year was around $40,000. After year three our growth was exponential, growing into eight figure revenues before we were acquired by LendingTree in 2018.
How do you define success?
Success to me is when you build a team that is engaged and excited about your purpose and journey. When you have a great team in place, you can produce great products and services that truly solve problems.
What is the key to success?
Working hard everyday, testing things, learning from mistakes, taking time to understand your customers, and keeping an open mind.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
You can be great at anything you want, it just takes time and energy. Most people don’t achieve their goals because they don’t put enough time and energy into achieving their desired outcome.
What are some quotes that you live by?
Work hard, have fun, and be kind.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
A co-founder left the business in our second year, when we were failing and about to run out of money. We had to make a decision on whether to continue our journey and keep pushing the business, or to give up and quit. It felt like we not only lost a co-worker, but also a friend and a general belief in our company mission.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Fear of failure and mediocrity.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Success doesn’t happen overnight – be patient, work hard, and try lots of things. I believe new businesses take 1-2 years to get early traction, and 6 years or more for significant returns.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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