This episode features Eric Youngstrom from Austin, TX-based Onramp Funds. Before Onramp, he helped launch, scale, and successfully exit ShippingEasy, which was acquired by Stamps.com in 2016 for $55M in cash. Today he is widely regarded as the go-to source for early-stage eCommerce growth specializing in SMB lending, shipping, and raising capital.
Listen as Eric shares the definition of a small business and how difficult it can be for a small business to get a loan. He discusses some of the common reasons that people are looking for additional funding and what happens if a borrower is unable to pay back.
Eric deep dive into his experience with growing and selling a company and gives a piece of actionable advice to a business owner thinking about applying for a small business loan.
Discover how Onramp started and what needs Eric saw in the market that started the company. Learn how OnRamp is different from the competitors.
Episode Action Items:
To find more information about Onramp, go to www.onrampfunds.com
ABOUT THE HOST:
Andy Splichal is the World's Foremost Expert on Ecommerce Growth Strategies. He is the acclaimed author of the Make Each Click Count Book Series, the Founder & Managing Partner of True Online Presence and the Founder of Make Each Click Count University. Andy was named to The Best of Los Angeles Award's Most Fascinating 100 List in both 2020 and 2021.
New episodes of the Make Each Click Count Podcast, are released each Friday and can be found on Apple Podcast, iHeart Radio, iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts and www.makeeachclickcount.com.
Andy Splichal 0:00
Welcome to the Make Each Click Count podcast. This is your host, Andy Splichal. We are happy to welcome this week's guest to discuss today's topic which is talking small business financing. Today's guest is from Austin, Texas based Onramp funds. Before on ramp he helped the launch scale and successfully exit ShippingEasy, which was acquired by Stamps.com in 2016, for $55 million in cash today is widely regarded as the go to source for early stage ecommerce growth, specializing in small SMB lending, shipping and raising capital A big welcome to Eric Youngstrom. Hi, Eric.
Eric Youngstrom 0:39
Hi, there. Thanks for having me today.
Andy Splichal 0:41
So we're excited to have you to discuss what many may or may not know about small business lending? How difficult can it be for a small business to get a loan? For the purpose of this conversation? How do you defined a small business?
Eric Youngstrom 0:55
Yeah, we will get a lot loaded in there, we define a small business as a company doing say less than probably 10 million in revenue. Some of our bigger clients are larger than that. But really, you know, any business that's just getting off the ground until they've kind of reached a point where, you know, banks are ready to look at their audited financials and start working directly with them.
Andy Splichal 1:20
And that's about 10 million before.
Eric Youngstrom 1:23
Yep, somewhere between five and 20 million in revenue, and probably two to five years of actual business history.
Andy Splichal 1:29
Okay, so that is the difficulty right there is that it's hard for them to get loans from banks.
Eric Youngstrom 1:35
That's right. But prior to that their banking relationships are based on their, their personal borrowing capabilities, or personal credit histories. And they're going to be personally liable, right, they have a personal guarantee, it's it's not a loan to the business is a loan to the person. And so it's, you know, it's not helping your business get off the ground, right? Well, I guess the cash is there, but you're not actually building the business's credit profile at that point. And so
Andy Splichal 1:59
When companies are looking for additional funding, what are some of the common reasons that they are doing so?
Eric Youngstrom 2:06
Well, you know, gosh, that, that spans the gamut. So there are, you know, you might look at equity financing, right, because you want somebody who's going to just help put money in the business to do everything, you might be looking for financing to buy, buy, buy a piece of equipment, right, so you do equipment financing, like a truck or a forklift, with a typical kind of, you know, five year loan on it, you might be looking to buy a warehouse, right with a, you know, a 10 to 30 year mortgage on that. Or, and this is where we specialize, you're gonna be looking for short term capital, right things to help purchase inventory to keep turning inventory over financing, just to manage the cash conversion cycle as you as you if you run your sales, turnover cycles, and your inventory, turnover cycles. So there's a there's a broad range of capital, and there's a, there's a capital stack. And it's really critical that small business owners understand the different types of capital available to them, the different providers that are working with and where each of them fit in that capital stack, because we're all quite happy to work alongside one another. But what we try to be very cautious of is that we're not working alongside a another lender, who is providing the same funding on the same kind of terms, because then you might be overextending yourself in that portion of your capital stack.
Andy Splichal 3:22
Now, so there are different kinds of lenders, I mean, the one that comes to my mind that you see advertised everywhere is cabbage. Yeah, is that doing the same thing you guys are doing is a different different?
Eric Youngstrom 3:33
Yeah, they're cabbage is typically a kind of a one year or longer term line of credit, it is going to be to the business. Still, I believe. I'm not going to say this with 100% confidence, but I believe still personally guaranteed. It's an it's an American Express product. It's a good product. And it's good for kind of a longer term horizon, right? Like if if you wanted to go buy, say, equipment for your warehouse for fulfillment operations, right? Like a conveyor belt of, you know, maybe a small conveyor belt cost, you know, $15,000 something like that, right would be great for cabbage, because you'll pay it off over 1212 to 24 months, you know, nice, easy monthly payments, that kind of thing. Whereas what we do writer are loans that are typically going to be more kind of 62 to two months to six months, where we're coming in and a merchant says, Hey, I just need enough capital to dry my advertising and shipment shipping and fulfillment spend or I'm buying next quarters inventory. And so they'll borrow from us they'll go and complete that inventory purchase the inventory gets in and and you know, it's going to sell 90 days within 90 days of that arrival date. And then they'll come back to us and say, hey, now I need the follow on quarters inventory and just rinse and repeat. And so because of that, right, we just operate differently, much more aligned with the business cycles. The business. And then because we're a data driven underwriting engine, where we're actually looking at the sales history and performance, from, you know, our merchants, Amazon store from their Shopify stores Bigcommerce, wherever they sell, we're able to give a much better offer much more specific to the needs of the business than what traditional lenders in our space would do under an old retail model, where there was very little digital visibility, and there was a lot more risk.
Andy Splichal 5:28
Now, really, the purpose is it so you don't have as a business owner, you don't have to personally guarantee the loan instead, it's, it's looking at your business. So you're not risking risking your house to get more inventory.
Eric Youngstrom 5:42
That's right, that's right now, we do work with some businesses where we will request a personal guarantee just because some of the risk profiles, but I'd say 95% of who we work with, we're actually our goal with this is to help small businesses be in to treat them, like their real businesses. So if you think about, you know, software providers who typically sell into the small medium business segment, they are almost treated like consumer products, right, where there's, there's no phone number, there's no help, if there is help. It's a it's a, you know, an FAQ or maybe a forum someplace. But you're not getting that kind of expert hands on guidance, we actually want these businesses to be treated like like if they were an enterprise business, where we take the phone call or phone numbers and every page of the app, if you have questions about how to use different sources of financing, we help provide guidance there, if you're looking for support on Hey, am I I'm using your funds to drive marketing, but I might be not happy with my agency, you have a bunch of agency partners, or is there one you'd recommend that will then help find the right agency for that client based on the vertical they're in the products are selling, you know, kind of the challenges they're facing. And so what we've really built here is a solution very much like we did at shippingeasy, which is, is a white glove concierge type treatment of of our clients, so that we're not just a credit card, or a bag of cash, if you will, what we really are our financial advisors, and we're trying to provide a service that that maps in the use of funds in a way that a CFO would if that business were big enough to actually start hiring that CFO to come in and do that work for them.
Andy Splichal 7:23
So what are some of the things that a small business needs to be able to get alone without personally guaranteeing it?
Eric Youngstrom 7:33
or on ramp up, you need to be able to connect your your Amazon store your Shopify store, you'll need, you'll need at least kind of six months worth of sales history, although we do have a program for newer sellers. And then for you're going to need to have a sales history that that is sufficient enough that we can actually build a forecast on to really understand your sales turnover and inventory turnover cycles. Because that's how you know, that's how working capital works, right? It's about really funding the working operations of the business for the next, call it 90 days, and then rinsing and repeating that process over and over again, four or five times a year. Or, you know, some cycles can be a little longer two or three times a year. And so we really sit down and fill in that portion of the capital stack. But the connection is simple, right? It's it's two minutes to enroll you, you know, create a username and password, give us a few bits of demographic data, connect your store. And at that point, then we'll actually start doing all the underwriting and assessments and tell you what we can offer you. And then you know, if that's of interest, then you can come in and give us the rest of your data around, you know, the business banking credentials and connect your bank via plaid, you know, other things are super easy to do. But then let us finish the underwriting. We'll you know, we pull up business credit check, we want to make sure that the business is in good standing and things like that. And then assuming all those things check, then we can make the offer and fund. So you know from from a user's perspective, there's 10 to 20 minutes worth of work. And then really the works on us and we do it for them. And then we go back and and tell them what we can do and then try to customize the offer for what their specific business needs are.
Andy Splichal 9:10
And how do those short term non personalized, so not not personal guaranteed guests interest rates compared to loans that are personally guaranteed?
Eric Youngstrom 9:26
I don't think it's the personal guarantee that changed the rate. I think when most people think about interest rates, right? Unfortunately, the first thing they do is compare to a 30 year home mortgage. And what people don't understand is that's a very different product with a very different risk profile that home can't be moved, right? It's in a physical spot in and in a lot of places, right? The land value is probably worth more than the construction value of the house. And so because of that, right a lender then has the ability to say hey, you haven't paid the mortgage If we're going to take possession, foreclose and go sell that to, they can close their position out with, you know, business lending, right, you're actually talking about somebody's far more ephemeral, the assets of the business or their reputation, right? They're their customer list, right? Their ability to get inventory and make sure that there's always inventory to sell, you know, service, a customer demand when it comes in, you know, processing the order, getting it shipped to the customer on time, right. And then that product actually meeting the customer's expectations. And so because of that, right, businesses have different risk profiles. So it's really an apples to oranges comparison, when you think about a mortgage loan to a small business loan. Now, if you think about it, from a consumer credit card perspective, consumer credit card rates are 25%. And with, you know, current inflation and Fed funds rate probably going up pretty quickly. And so in those regards, right, where we're certainly not cheap capital. But you know, we're aligned with those kinds of business expectations. The thing that we try to do, though, is help people understand that, if you think about your working capital needs for the year, and borrow a year's worth of working capital upfront, you're actually paying interest in fees on money that you can't deploy for 90 days, and then 180 days and the 270 days later, because those are funds you deploy on a quarterly basis. And so what we're actually trying to help our customers understand and providing capital under this premise is that, take what you need for the next 30 to 90 days, and then come get more 30 to 90 days later. And rinse and repeat. Because now what you've done is actually reduced the outstanding balance, which means you're not paying interest on funds, you're not ready to deploy yet. And it means when you need that next round of funding, it's there. And so if you look at, you know, a product like amazon.com, you know, excuse me, Amazon's lending product, you know, those rates, the introductory rates, typically, you know, kind of six to 10%. But what they try to do then is get you to roll over in five to six months. And what happens is, then you move to a 15%, then to a 20, then to a 25% APR, and they're giving you a year's worth of funds. But if you spend all those funds in the first quarter, and you haven't finished paying back, because it's a it's an even payment cycle every month for 12 months, what do you do to finance next quarters inventory, you don't have the money anymore. And so maybe now you've generated even more demand, and that you gotta go back to Amazon and hope that they make you an invitation to borrow more. But now that invitation is going to come with that higher interest rate. And so you know, our premises, use the, you know, draw the funds you need today, turn it over quickly, and then and pay it down quickly, so that you can draw more, and that you're really using this as a really highly optimized line of credit that then solves that cash conversion cycle for the merchant.
So there's a lot in there. Yeah. Does the interest rate that you offer range a lot, depending on the risk profile of the company?
Yes, on the risk profile, and then the turnover cycles? And then the amounts? Yeah. So we structure all of that in. Now, we're not an interest based product. To be clear, we're a fee based product. And so what we do is actually take a small percentage of the total sales volume, while our loan is outstanding, typically somewhere between one and 2%, depending on the amount.
Yeah, so you're taking, you're taking a percentage of the gross sales? That's correct. And that depends on the amount that's being borrowed.
Yeah. So if you think about the next 90 days, gross sales, if you borrow, say, 15% of that your fee is going to be roughly 1%. If you borrow 30% of that next 90 Day sales, your fee is going to be closer to 2%. And so what we're trying to do, right is, is structure this in a way, that's very simple for the merchant to understand, right? Because all of these business owners think about running their businesses in terms of not just top dollar, right, but the percent gross margin percent net margin percent profit margin. And so if we can go in and price it that way, and the merchant says, Hey, I've got a 12% net profit margin, but it's all captured in that working capital inventory, cash conversion cycle, and OnRamps will intercom and say, I'll give you 15% of your next 90 days revenue, which is more than 12% profit. And for that, we're going to charge a 1% fee, the merchant can quickly say, Well, hold on, I have a 12% profit margin. I can't get that 12% out with this 15%. I'm getting my profit out. But now I'm going to have an 11% profit margin net of the help from onramp. But if I want to put my own money back in now, I don't have 15% to drive the business. I've got 26 Because I have that 11% And so how much faster can I grow? So really, that's where we're structuring it right? We think it's really Simple Product for the merchant to do a just quick, you know, back of the envelope calculation in their mind that says, hey, is this a value to me or not? Versus how long I'm going to hold this? What's the compounding of the interest? Are there fees and penalties that all of a sudden mean that you know that that cost is actually more than I anticipated, so the implied interest rate just went higher. And because our payment process is you pay a percentage of sales to pay the principal down? Well, if your sales, slow down your payments, slow down, if your sales accelerate your payments accelerate, but that means if sales are slowing down, you actually probably don't need to buy inventory sooner, you're gonna have more time for that she also got more time to pay us down. If sales are accelerating, you're gonna need more inventory sooner, but that means you've actually cleared your current position, which means you're eligible to get more cash sooner. And so what we're trying to do is make sure that the way you borrow with onramp means that OnRamps always there when it's time for that next big expense. And that you have the ability to draw from us to go get to that to that get that next expense that next inventory Purchase in. So you always have inventory in stock to keep turning over and keep generating demand and keep responding to that demand.
Now, you made another interesting point where compared to a mortgage, where it's a fixed asset, it's not moving small businesses, you know, unfortunately, can come and go, What happens if a borrower is unable to pay back? Are you sending Guido to break thumbs, what's going on?
We don't break thumbs. Look, if the business goes under, that's the risk we're taking. And we're underwriting for that, right, we're looking to understand that and we know that there will be businesses that just don't succeed, and that won't be able to pay us back. You know, we're certainly disappointed when that happens. And, you know, for two reasons, one, because I don't want to see any business fail. And then two, because, you know, we we put cash out that we're not collecting, but that's risk and we price for that risk. Now, there are there are instances where customers don't pay back. And it's not because the business is performing, it's because they decided not to pay. And when that happens, then we have collections agencies to work with. And, you know, we pursue, you know, the appropriate legal avenues. But you know, those are all just the aboveboard things that you know, that the 50 States support, we're fully compliant with all the laws and how we do things and really are not breaking thumbs not breaking. And our objective, our objective is, look, we understand when business is slow down, like I have, I have clients right now, where, you know, they've had reserved problems or return problems, where we've actually gone into eighth grade, we're going to do just a very, very small kind of weekly payment, because it demonstrates this, so you'll you'll work, we'll work with them to try and get him to the other side, right. So that their operating capacity again, because I think that's going to create a great long term partnership between the two of us. And then we also know that that businesses fail. Now we're underwriting for that, and we see it happening, so long as you're paying through that to the point where it just stops, then, you know, that's something we just have to write off. And, you know, we built a model around understanding, you know, what that write off percentage is going to look like and, and making sure that we can then appropriately and do that and still build a really good business and help great businesses understanding that, you know, business is a high risk thing.
Now, there's been a lot of news recently about the economy entering into a recession or possibly entering into a recession, depending on who you speak to. But given that, if you had a magic ball, where would you see small business loans going over the next 12 to 18 months? And is there going to be more risk? For you guys to loan? I mean, are the rates are gonna have to go up? Because there is going to be more risk? What do you see coming?
Yeah, so I would argue we're already in a recession, although I will say it's a very, very strange recession, you know, the historic kind of indicators two to two successive quarters of negative GDP growth, which we've had. But it there's also an employment and an unemployment factor, which we haven't seen, right. So, you know, there's a lot of nuance in that. And I think it's fair that you know, different people have different opinions of it. I do think, though, it's going to get worse. And, you know, we are prepared for that. I also know that great businesses are built in recessions and started in recessions. You know, Slack and Uber. Were both started in 2009. Right, in what was an economic meltdown at that point in time. So, you know, I think recessions are actually interesting environments to build businesses, because it gets because the requirements are, are so back to just basics, that you have to do everything right. And you're so focused on making very smart decisions and really, tracking KPIs, tracking your metrics, you know, doubling down where things are working, being very clear. about testing new things and making sure that you're seeing early results before, before throwing money at things that it actually really hones the business owner. And then when as we come out of recession, right, those those people that really hone their skills, they're very well poised to go grow their business. So, you know, the question around the risk profile the next 12 to 18 months? Yes, I think I think it increases. We're certainly monitoring that. I think that the nice thing about an on ramp, and this is good for us, and it's good for our Merchant, is because of the the velocity, right, that we're turning these loans over every, let's call it 90 days, the likelihood of failure in the next 90 days, no matter how bad things get is always very small. Right? It's, it's the longer term. And so if you take from us today, and we see the business declines by 50%, over the next 90 days, and it actually then takes you 150 days to repay, well, that's okay. We're still working with you. And because we don't have a fixed payment schedule, you're not, you know, up against a wall saying Hold on, how do I make that next $5,000 payment when I when I only generated enough to pay 500. And so I think that alignment, and be in that speed means that we're able to help merchants in a way that other creditors can't, because they're actually looking at a longer term horizon where that risk of failure is much higher, especially in a recessionary environment.
Now, what would be a piece of actionable advice, you would give a business owner thinking about applying for a small business loan, whether with you or someone else,
I understand what the loan is for. So it's, it's funny, $1 is $1, it does anything, right, or anything that it's legally allowed to do, and I guess, sometimes illegal to do, but who you borrow from, actually determines what it really needs to be used for. So you know, if you if you take money from a mortgage lender, you know, for a warehouse, and for whatever reason, and then spend it on inventory, you've got a big problem, because there's no warehouse, right and, and you don't have the money to go make those payments. So that would be a misuse of funds, right? That would actually be fraud. And I don't, I'm not suggesting people do that. You know, if you're gonna borrow from on ramp, you want to borrow for the working capital activities that drive sales and inventory turnover. You might even go say, hey, I want to use Amazon, because the one year alone, and I want to buy a forklift, and I always I want to make payments over the next nine months to pay that thing off. That's a great that we actually work alongside that very, very well. And you might then say, I need to buy a Toyota pickup truck to run the business. And I'm gonna go get a loan, you know, from Toyota finance, or my local bank, we see that we operate alongside that, that's actually not a problem. But it's because the merchants actually are being smart about how they use funds. And you know, on those payment terms where they're deploying those funds, because then it's really optimized. So I think the mistake that we see people doing far too often is, is taking a line of credit that's optimized, say for that two year cycle, but using it for for a 90 day process, and then not having the ability to pay it down when they need more. And so it's really just being aware of and thinking through how you're using capital, and then being very clear about that getting the use of capital from the people who are optimized for that use, so that you're not mixing and matching in a way that actually puts you in a bad spot.
Now before Onramp you are with Shippingeasy. And that was bought out by stamps.com for 55 million now that that's the dream of many startups to start a company gets bought out by a huge sum. Can you tell us a bit more about that ride of growing a company and ultimately having it sold?
Sure. Yeah, it was, it was a great ride. I, I was recruited by the CEO to be the first member of our executive team when the company was launched. This is, this was the, I guess, kind of fourth startup that I worked in, it was the third in a row where I was kind of one of the first, you know, well, one of the first two or three hires. And so I came on with Katie, and you know, really started looking at strategy and business development and partnerships. But in those early stages, right, also took customer support calls and did anything that needed to be done to help grow the business. We had a great SAS software business, we were able to layer in really kind of shipping label monetization that gave us you know, a, you know, not a business with a single revenue stream, but with multiple revenue streams. And we were one of the first to do that. And that made us really a compelling target from stamps.com. And they came in and purchase us they actually, you know, they did a roll up really of a number of different properties shipping easy ship station ship works. And so, you know, we then joined a portfolio of companies that had been, you know, interesting enough competitors prior Are and you know, and then that company built in grew bigger and actually was taken private by private equity about a year ago. And you know, they've rebranded to octane now. And they're building just a really cool set of tools over there to help the broader ecommerce industry in the back office. So I'm really proud of what we built. I'm proud of the people I got to work with, have great relationships and really admire what they're building today.
Now, personally, have there been any business books out there that you can attribute to your journey as an entrepreneur?
Oh, no, not business? Well, no, not business books. I don't, I think both most business books should be pamphlets. You know, that they're probably 20 pages of material. And then the next 280 are just filler examples to try to make it a book. I but from but I do love to read and so that I think books that make me a better entrepreneur, you know, I I've read, why am I drawn a blank on the Peloponnesian War acidities I just think reading as much as you can, right reading the business press, reading books, reading, you know, I'm reading Peters en, these days, the beginning of the end, or the end of the world is just beginning on geopolitics and geography and demographics. You know, I think, you know, I've read a lot on the, you know, the history of finance, and, you know, the rise of JP Morgan and things like that, that I think are really compelling. I think understanding, you know, Greek and Roman history because of the, you know, the Romans collapse because of currency debasement over time, right? I mean, one, they stopped being a Republican and became an empire and, and then Emperor's debased currency, but that had a huge impact on their ability to, you know, to continue to defend themselves. So, you know, I think just being well read, write helps you to connect dots, even reading fiction, right, you know, to see the fictional character connecting kind of multiple dots, and all of a sudden, you know, that can drive insights into your own mind. I think, you know, it's just important to be well read. And you know, it's something I do every day I fall asleep written books every night. That's just how I go to bed.
Now, tell us a bit more about Onramp When did on ramp start? And, and what was the need that you saw in the market that there may be a start this company?
Yeah, so I, you know, it shipping easy, and it stamps, we actually saw the working capital challenge, we saw people who needed to get shipments out who are out of cash and couldn't pay for the next label. And what's really sad about that, right is, there's a known good order that has cleared payment processing. But because of payment timelines, right, you get an order today, that deposit is not going to show up for three or four days. And if you're out of cash, right, now, you can't generate the shipping label, to hand that order to the carrier to get it from your warehouse to your customer. And so, and then that would mean that you actually maybe have a customer that would say, well, great, if it's not going to ship on time, cancel the order, refund my money. And now you've paid credit card processing fees to take the order and refund the order to get nothing for it. And so, you know, that shipping easy, we had about 30 35,000 customers, when we required it stamps, we know we're supporting hundreds of 1000s. And so this was, this was not unusual thing to see. And so really started kind of exploring what we could do to solve that problem. And it looked like a really interesting way to go to an interesting opportunity to go build a business specifically around this problem. And so in 2019, I started talking to those guys about my departure, they were incredibly gracious to give me the time to, to noodle around on this idea, my weekends and free time. And, and kind of figure it out. And then I left in 2020, I helped recruit my replacement, and spent a lot of time training him up and actually even post departure spent a lot of time just being, you know, really helpful in that transition. Because, you know, the stamps team was so good to me, in letting me explore these things while still, you know, doing my full time work for them. So I left July 2020, to go full time to build this right, you know, kind of right at the beginning of that whole COVID crisis and just saw you know that there's just too good an opportunity to pass up to go build something that would really help small business owners. And that would be a fun business to go build. We started raising money in I guess q1 of 2021 We did a small round or they go build their MVP that went really well last year and then we did another raise earlier this year. And now we're really just rocking and rolling and and proving our go to market enhancing product and that sort of thing.
Now, are the loans coming from on ramp or is are you sourcing them out?
We work with a creditor part we have we have we have credit partners who are funding on ramp is the brand and then we have a lending entity that does all the loans to the to the merchants but the merchant really works with on ramp right so that the on ramp interfaces where they operate. They're working with our support and sales teams. Right? We manage the payments on behalf of that lender. So it really is our relationship that drives it.