First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 Times?
Charlie Youakim: Good! We are taking care and being safe. I haven’t been going into the office and adjusting to WFH nicely.
Tell us about you, your Career, how you Founded or Joined Sezzle
Charlie Youakim: I founded my first company, Passport, in 2010. At Passport, I learned a lot about building a company, and I tended to learn it the hard way. We didn’t have any startup experience or connections, so we had a bumpy ride. But, as I always say, “Stormy seas make strong sailors.” We became strong sailors. At Passport, we took that company that started in the last place to first place over the five years that I was there.
I moved on at the end of 2015 to co-found Sezzle. I started Sezzle with my co-founder, Paul Paradis, who I had met in business school. Our journey into this industry began when we noticed a significant trend towards debit card payments in the USA among young consumers. We built our product at Sezzle around the idea that young people were using debit because credit cards didn’t work well for them.
We loved this short-term, interest-free installment payment model because it was very consumer-friendly, which meant it was something we could get behind. We launched our product in August of 2017, and since then, we’ve experienced explosive growth.
How does Sezzle Innovate?
Charlie Youakim: We are a consumer-first company, so our innovation stems from our users’ wants and needs. Whether utilizing surveys, focus groups, user data, or just social media and the communication of the internet – we are adding product features that our consumers value most. Just this summer, we are rolling out credit building and a financial literacy platform, among a few other upcoming product releases. When we see a need from consumers, we act on it; and I think that really molds our success.
How the Coronavirus Pandemic affects your Business, and how are you coping?
Charlie Youakim: Amid the pandemic, we discovered the truth of how BNPL really is the ideal payment method for a crisis. With retail going completely online, eCommerce rose drastically, yet with consumers’ incomes affected, they turned to alternative payment forms to delay finances. Sezzle has over 16,000 online merchants that can utilize the benefits that Sezzle brings their consumers, seeing people actually able to make purchases by splitting up the costs.
After many surveys and hearing our customers describe their financial anxieties and widespread loss of employment, we knew that the right thing to do was to relax our payment further reschedule policy. We now allow customers experiencing hardship as a result of COVID-19 the ability to reschedule their payment up to two times at no cost, allowing them an additional four weeks of interest-free financing (a total of up to 10 weeks) to pay for their purchases.
We’ve seen these consumers turn away from credit and need a smarter way to budget their spending, so we’re proud of the fact that more than 95% of Sezzle users report that Sezzle has helped them ease their financial anxieties during the pandemic.
Did you have to make Difficult Choices, and what are the Lessons Learned?
Charlie Youakim: We had to review our risk model and make some pivots just because people’s income streams were going down. We needed to make sure that our business model would still be supported, and our customers would have the ability to make their payments.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Sezzle in the future?
Charlie Youakim: Spending time with family and friends, reading, and just taking time for myself are some great ways I reduce stress. Also, being able to see everyone sharing the success of Sezzle and the commitment that all our employees have to the company, and our mission is the most rewarding part of the job.
I expect to continue to see Sezzle’s growth, especially as the Buy Now, Pay Later model accelerates in the US market. We will continue building our product to meet our users’ needs and maintain our sincere focus on their sentiments. I look forward to seeing the growth at Sezzle and sharing this opportunity with all those around me.
Who are your Competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the Game?
Charlie Youakim: Our competitors include Klarna and Afterpay, among a few others. We differentiate Sezzle on our commitment to bringing a mission-driven approach to payments. Whether that means relaxing rescheduling fees during COVID, building and promoting financial literacy content, or simply giving our consumers’ access to a budgeting tool that is intended to help, rather than harm, we are definitely the most mission-driven company in the market. Our consumers, investors, and retailers all see this – which is why they are proud to promote the Sezzle name and product.
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