Damon Decrescenzo – Co-Founder & CEO, The Credit Pros

A lifelong entrepreneur, Damon graduated from St. John’s University in New York with a B.S. in marketing and has founded a number of successful companies, including a mortgage lender, a real estate development company, an online pharmacy, a successful affiliate marketing network, and a pioneering e-commerce brand. As co-founder and CEO of The Credit Pros, he leads one of the nation’s largest and most successful credit repair companies, serving tens of thousands of clients across the United States. The Credit Pros has been named to the Inc. 5000 list five consecutive times, Inc.’s first ever 50 Best Places to Work list, SmartCEO Magazine’s Future 50 list and SmartCEO’s New Jersey Corporate Culture awards, the Entrepreneur Magazine’s 2016 Entrepreneur 360™ list, and named one of the Best Places to Work in NJ for 2017. He is a progressive leader in credit technology and a vocal advocate of the credit repair industry.

How did the concept for The Credit Pros come about?
They say that “necessity is the mother of invention.” That was definitely true for The Credit Pros. Ten years ago, in the throes of the Great Recession, my partner Jason and I were developing affordable housing in Miami, and a core buyer requirement was good credit. Needless to say, our buyers did NOT have good credit, and so The Credit Pros was born to assist our buyers to improve their credit scores (and to assist us in selling our housing product). We saw an opportunity in the market to build an amazing credit repair and education experience, delivered by cutting edge technology at scale, so we chose to focus on building The Credit Pros into a household consumer finance brand.

How was the first year in business?
Our first year in business was difficult, as most are. On top of being in the middle of one of the worst economic environments in 100 years, we were operating in a new town (relocated to Newark, NJ), in an unfamiliar market, bootstrapped and underfunded, and without a clear vision for growth. It was not easy.

What was your marketing strategy?
We market to the consumer both directly (B2C) and via small and large strategic partnerships (B2B2C). We work with fintech companies, personal finance services, lenders, lead aggregators, call centers, and performance marketers to give them a reliable channel in which to monetize their poor credit leads and clients (through CPA, PayPerCall, CPL, etc). We also build technology to deliver consumer credit information to end-users to allow them to access our ecosystem very affordably.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We’ve been blessed to grow ~30-40% every year since we started our company and that pace continues through today. While maintaining consistent growth brings its own unique set of challenges, it’s afforded us the opportunity to tackle new and interesting challenges every year.

How do you define success?
I believe success is found in our “small wins.” Hitting a goal. Rallying the team. Getting noticed with some great PR. Our small wins, as small as they seem, are a lot more frequent and tangible than the BHAG-type mountain-size goals. They allow us to take a second, pat ourselves on the back or give each other a high-five, and get back to the grind. Success is that great little dopamine hit we collectively get when we tackle one of our “small wins.”

What is the key to success?
I believe the key to success lies in organizational alignment. As our team grows, it is too easy for silos to form, preventing one part of the organization from properly gelling with another. In our company, delivering a killer product is dependent on dozens of people across multiple teams collaborating seamlessly. When we are able to knock down walls, and keep everyone rowing in the same direction, The Credit Pros wins.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
As CEO, it is my job to ask questions more than give answers. I find that most of the time, our team has the answer they need inside them or right in front of them. It just takes the right question to bring it to light. Additionally, I find it much more effective if the team member feels they found the answer and it was their idea instead of a mandate given to them from “on high.”

What are some quotes that you live by? 
“Success leaves clues” – Tony Robbins

What are some of your favorite books?
Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Sometimes, we all get stuck with our “head in the sand.” Our team has built our organization to a best-in-class credit repair company, but the fact is as CEO I am also responsible for standing on the mountaintop and shouting our praises for all to hear, and in the past, I haven’t executed as well as I could have there.

One of my toughest days was hearing a potential investor’s opinion about our company. It was not entirely positive, and certainly very different than who I believed we truly were, what we built, or where we were going. It resulted in a missed opportunity, but was really tough because I know that I failed to clearly over-communicate our vision, mission, culture and values – not to our team, but to the rest of the world.

I learned that as CEO, my role is to paint a vision of The Credit Pros – both who we are and what we can be – to team members, partners, investors, and clients. And to do it as early and as often as possible.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The Credit Pros has nearly 100 people in our organization that count on our continued success. Not to mention, the hundreds of family members that depend on those TCP team members. When I feel that I am swimming against the tide, I think of the TCP family, as well as my own family, and push through for them. I know they would expect me to push through and not let them down.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
It’s been said, “ad nauseum,” to embrace failure as a learning experience, but what isn’t said enough is to be leery of success, especially early and easy wins. First, success is fleeting. If you haven’t found this out yet, you will, as nothing good lasts forever. Additionally, there is absolutely no guarantee that what worked yesterday will work today, let alone tomorrow. Every day is a new fight and a new struggle. Last, early success has the unfortunate side effect of giving one a false sense of mastery. There is always more to learn and always a million more ways it can go wrong. Attacking each day high on past success, and with anything other than a “beginner’s mind,” is a great way to let the old-timers like me sneak up behind you and “eat your lunch.”

Jason Navallo

Jason Navallo is the author of five books: American Dream, Thrive, Never Give Up, Success, and Driven to Succeed. He has an M.B.A. in Human Resource Management from Louisiana State University and lives in NYC.