10 Minutes with Chinwe Onyeagoro, CEO and Co-Founder of FundWell
FundWell is an online marketplace that helps small businesses and commercial property investors secure capital. FundWell users get access to the best funding options they are eligible for today, and improve their fundability for more and lower cost financing in the future.
Chinwe Onyeagoro, Fundwell’s CEO and Co-Founder, has a strong personal interest and a professional track record devoted to helping organizations raise capital. At its core, her company is endeavoring to create much-needed efficiencies in the commercial real estate capital-raising market for both investors and lenders alike.
We sat down with Chinwe to discuss her experience in REach, how the program contributed to her company’s growth and success, and her advice for startups looking to serve the commericial real estate market.
- FundWell can probably create benefits for verticals beyond real estate, but you’ve decided to put early focus there for the moment. Why?
CO: We started off actually serving all small businesses, under $25 million in revenue, and then we found that as we looked at the major milestones in a small business’s growth and success, the point at which they actually purchased commercial property is a major milestone that requires significant funding.
Often, small business owners don’t have ready access to capital from traditional banks to make that acquisition. So, we decided to zero-in on commercial real estate as an area where we would provide a lot of services, a lot of support and develop targeted partnerships with commercial real estate brokers.
- When you joined REach in 2014, what were you hoping to get from the program and did it meet your expectations?
We received a really good education about what commercial real estate brokers need and care about when it comes to securing funding for their clients. We’ve established some partnerships with entities within the commercial real estate world that are looking to empower commercial real estate brokers with financing tools.
We have received a series of introductions to a variety of partners within the commercial real estate marketplace that we believe will turn into major referral channels for FundWell to connect to commercial real estate clients looking for funding. We have a number of commercial real estate brokers and agents who have added the FundWell tool to their website and are using and promoting that tool to their clients.
The REach mentors were tremendously useful in providing firsthand feedback on the resources they need to run their brokerage practices better, and close more deals. The insight panels were very helpful in providing feedback on the usability of our software and tools, as well as signing up some FundWell widget partners.
The conferences were really helpful for networking with the decision makers and influencers in the marketplace, which has led to additional partnership discussions with both commerical real estate lenders and brokers.
- What advice do you have for other startups looking at real estate as an area to address?
CO: The advice we have for startups is that it is really important as you think about an industry vertical to connect to a platform that will give you real exposure to target customers and distribution partners. REach is a really powerful ecosystem that can get you the necessary information, introductions and access you need much more quickly than if you were to knock on doors all on your own.
In a new sector, oftentimes having credibility is a really critical piece of building trust and getting folks to test your product. The REach brand, and by extension the National Association of Realtors brand, has helped us gain credibility very quickly with not only commercial real estate brokers, but also with lenders and others who serve them.
So, my advice is to find a partner like REach to really help build your organization’s credibility. Also, remember that the reason why you’re thinking about and testing a new vertical like commericial real estate is because you’re not totally clear as to what you need to do to best serve that niche. So when you get feedback, make sure you are taking it into account as you think about your product planning, as you think about your messaging and your pitch, and as you think about how you approach building a business in that sector.
- What have you learned the hard way that you wish you knew before you launched FundWell?
CO: Great question! I think one thing that I’ve learned is the need to focus. When you build a product you’re really excited about the product and you’re also really aggressive about all of the problems you think that product can solve. Even if it is the case that the product can solve all those problems, it’s really hard, as a startup, to solve all those problems at once. So, it is really critical to focus resources, time, partnership discussions and messaging in one or two areas that you really feel you can demonstrate success in order to buy yourself the right to continue playing and expanding the field of folks who will benefit from your product.
Again, the REach experience has really allowed us to do just that. We wish we had known about it sooner!
- What is a company that you admire?
CO: I really admire Airbnb and Match.com. Both are marketplaces that I think have addressed a major inefficiency that exists. Airbnb finds affordable, yet comfortable, personal hospitality and lodging experiences. Match.com finds a good life partner in a country that’s large and diverse. Both cut across time and distance and they facilitate connections between buyers and sellers, renters and lessors. I really admire what they’ve done and how they’ve scaled their operations.
- Who is a leader that you admire?
CO: I really admire Malcolm Gladwell. He is a writer that writes human-interest pieces about how society works, perceptions and misperceptions about human behavior. I just admire his willingness to sort of peel back the layers and figure out why our society works the way it does.