David Potter (middle) and Abb Kapoor (second from the right) met in college as freshmen, after they were randomly paired as roommates at the University of Maryland.
Potter grew up in an impoverished home but was a disciplined student: He earned a full-ride scholarship from the Gates Foundation. Kapoor immigrated to the U.S. with his parents. In search of the “American Dream,” he studied engineering and computational finance.
As they entered their sophomore year of college, Potter and Kapoor were faced with a dilemma: They were denied from every off-campus housing opportunity as, individually, they hadn’t yet established a credit score.
It wasn’t the first time poor or unestablished credit had impacted their lives. Kapoor came to America with immigrant parents who weren’t knowledgeable about credit management. Potter grew up in poverty with unstable housing conditions.
“Bad credit is poverty in different words,” Potter said. “Credit cripples people who don’t know how to manage it.”
Together, they set out to create a solution. The result was Curu (short for “credit guru”), a credit management application that automates people’s ability to build credit and shows them how strong credit can empower their lives.
The pair earned their certifications in credit counseling and applied their newfound knowledge with friends and family. Through this process, they learned what worked — and that people don’t necessarily want to know all the intricate details about credit.
“People trust a computer or algorithm to manage their finances more than they trust a person,” Potter said. “We learned that people don’t care to learn all the ways to manage their finances; they just want it automated.”
In their search to identify the target demographic for their initial product offering, they gravitated toward the 2009 Credit CARD Act. This act was meant to protect students from predatory lending but had the ill effect of barring financial institutions from offering any products — including credit cards and financial literacy services — to students. This effectively raised the age for students to obtain a credit card from 18 to 22, meaning when students graduate college they haven’t established any credit.
“We decided to focus on students and millennials. Curu offers an approachable way for students to start building credit,” Potter said. “Not only do we have a unique solution, we are operating in a space where there are no existing startups and banks aren’t legally allowed to operate.”
The app offers simple tips for improving credit quickly, which Potter says is as easy as buying a pack of gum. It covers (and automates as much as possible) concepts like credit utilization and ways to use your credit card with low risk.
The development of Curu started in their dorm room in College Park, Md. The team took advantage of the university’s strong business and entrepreneurial programs and utilized them to their fullest by the end of their sophomore year. This turned their sights externally to continue developing their business and build strong relationships with financial management companies. They were soon accepted into the sixth class of the Queen City Fintech (QC Fintech) accelerator, dropped out of college, and moved to Charlotte.
“[QC Fintech] was focused on getting you access to C-suite executives of different financial institutions,” Potter explained. “It provided a platform to accelerate our growth… to have the capacity to take Curu seriously, gaining a higher-level network and empowering us to make this a powerful space to better execute our goals.”
The accelerator also provided insights on the structure of their team. The team found an interim CTO, who also serves as their technology advisor, who came with a background in recruiting and interviewing technical talent. He encouraged them to build a local, in-house development team.
“Building our team from two to five people inherently changed the way we communicate,” Potter said. “We are embracing tools that allow technology workflow to be understood from a higher business level but executed on and maintained in their daily workflow.”
Potter describes himself as intensely focused, an attribute that bleeds into the rest of the team’s performance.
“There is value in creating powerful environments,” he said. “Internally, make sure your mind is strong. Externally, make sure your home and workplace are the most powerful places for you to be in.”
After the program, Curu relocated back to the Maryland area, only to realize that Charlotte was the best city for them. It enables the team to work effectively in an environment they love with access to the financial institutions that propel the venture forward.
For aspiring entrepreneurs, Potter says to move fast but strategically. He referenced a quote by Jeff Bezos, who says to be “stubborn on vision but flexible on details.”
“We were told to move quickly as a startup, but we addressed a lot of things early that were fundamental and made us sustainable,” he said. “Know that you will achieve your vision and execute it no matter what happens. But between point A — where you are now — and point B — your goal — be open to the array of possibilities.”
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This story was co-authored by David Stunja and Lexie Banks.