San Francisco-based Tillful was established in 2015 by Flowcast, a Series A fintech backed by ING Ventures, Experian Ventures, BitRock Capital and Katalyst Ventures. By leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), Flowcast helps financial institutions create high-performing predictive models to assess risk and automatically optimize credit offerings.
As CEO of Tillful, Ken So's objective was to leverage Flowcast's technology and expertise to give small and midsize businesses (SMBs) free and real-time access to credit scores, financial assessments, and actionable data to guide decisions about credit and cash flow.
Having grown up in an entrepreneurial small business household, So had seen the difficulties SMBs face, especially with accessing capital to grow their businesses.
"My dad had multiple businesses when I was very little, growing up in Hong Kong," So said. "He sold his businesses to immigrate to Canada and started from scratch in Montreal. Being in a foreign land, we had no car at the time and so we were doing deliveries on the subway train. The whole family would help out and carry big boxes on and off the train platforms."
So recalled seeing his father carve out a niche as a wholesaler in Toronto, where he landed some large clients but kept his company small because he wanted to conserve cash and avoid borrowing. So noted today's business owners have more opportunities and resources, stating he wanted to know what's keeping SMBs from scaling up and resolved to solve this problem.
"We recognized that there's over a $2 trillion financing gap for small businesses. Knowing this was the essential genesis of the company—we wanted to find ways to solve that," So said. To that end, Tillful was created with the following key principles:
Unlike traditional credit scores from D&B, Experian and Equifax, which are based on static factors, Tillful's cash-flow-based model applies real-time bank and credit card transaction data to an ML-based credit model that assesses business credit scores. These cash flow patterns could include increasing or decreasing cash balance trends, irregularities in inflow and outflow, and usage of overdraft facilities, So stated.
Recalling the early days, So mentioned his team began by working out of a Philz Coffee, eventually moving to a co-working space, followed by the Alchemist accelerator. "Alchemist was our first network where we got plugged into the whole startup ecosystem," he said. "We got introduced to investors and other potential customers, which gave us the foundation and infrastructure to scale. We didn't pay ourselves until we got the first check from a customer."
So further noted that Tillful, as Flowcast's recently launched flagship product, has facilitated over $10 million in funding to small businesses. Today, So leads a 30-member team at Tillful and is on track to reach 80,000 SMB users in 2022. From a customer acquisition perspective, the company is growing at a rate of about 200 percent, achieving better-than-average performance ratings in the online lending space, So noted.
Tillful recently partnered with Experian to help SMBs establish Experian credit files and explore adding real-time transaction and cash-flow data into traditional business credit scores. In addition, the company launched a secured business card to help SMBs improve their liquidity and credit scores. SMBs qualify for the card after three months in business, So noted.
Established SMB clients can also qualify for Tillful Funding and other capital sources, So added. "We don't want to be a one-and-done transaction or the type of company that extracts as much as possible from small business owners," he said. "We want to be alongside them from their inception to reaching their full potential."
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