Stanford grads’ startup aims to create secure financial backup plans using AI

Sept. 17, 2019, 10:43 a.m.

With more than 40,000 people already on its waitlist, the new financial technology (fintech) startup Nillify, created by Tucker Haas ’19 and Neel Yerneni ’19 M.S. ’19, aims to create secure financial backup plans by using unique artificial intelligence to analyze users’ transaction data.

Yerneni told The Daily that he and Haas saw a growing issue “with antiquated, inflexible systems like credit scores and how they systematically relegate usually credit-worthy individuals to high-interest, predatory credit products like payday loans.” They are currently in the process of raising their seed round, which will be closed out in the middle of October, and they plan on launching a beta for Nillify by the end of the year.

Their idea came to life in spring 2018, when both were in Berlin, as Yerneni was working at European fintech company N26 and Haas was taking part in Stanford’s Bing Overseas Studies Program. They interned together at Facebook over the following summer, where they found a common passion for fintech.

“[Haas] had a personal connection to the issue, as his family went through a bankruptcy at a young age and has very visceral memories of harsh creditors and his family’s struggles,” Yerneni wrote in an email to The Daily. “He saw a system rife with inefficiency and inequality, and so we spent a lot of time talking specifically about improving credit.”

Haas, the CEO of Nillify, majored in computer science with a focus on low-level systems. His previous experience working in two startups developed his interest in building out scalable products and entrepreneurship. Yerneni, Nillify’s CTO, obtained his master’s in CS with a specialization in AI. He earned his bachelor’s in math and computational science.

Haas and Yernani have been advised by Blake Johnson, who was introduced to the two by a student in his financial management class. Johnson, an adjunct professor of management science and engineering (MS&E) at Stanford, told The Daily that his advisees’ knowledge in both business and tech makes their product comprehensive and unique. Johnson himself previously worked in investment banking and various startups.

Nillify was officially launched in Oct. 2018. Its name is a combination of the words “nullify” and “nil,” Yerneni wrote, as the original goal of the startup was to eliminate debt, thus “zeroing out debt.” The concept has since shifted slightly, he added, noting that the group is open to changing the company’s name down the road.

“We started with extremely low interest credit options to serve as refinancing solutions,” he wrote. “However, the conclusion that we eventually arrived at was that credit is fundamentally a constructive product that should afford people a level of security and liquidity. Instead, it has become destructive, where people get stuck in things like debt traps.”

Nillify has an app that guides users through a series of steps to map out their financial history and approve them for a certain credit line that they may draw down on certain interest and repayment terms. Allowing users “financial peace of mind” is what Nillify hopes to achieve by being “a line of credit available when you needed it,” Yerneni wrote.

According to Johnson, the app is like no other, offering a combination of insurance and lending that meets a need and educates people of issues that have been somewhat obscured in the past.

The founders hope to grow Nillify into a tool that “expands access to credit in a way that transgresses modern FICO score demarcations,” Yerneni added. “There are so many people who can’t access fair credit products because they simply don’t have the credit history or have experienced one rough patch which destroyed their credit score.”

A majority of the waitlist signups have been millennials, Yerneni wrote, as they are part of “the first generation in 100 years to have lower wealth velocity than their predecessors; there is a growing fear of an economic downturn; wage growth has stagnated; wealth disparity is increasing.” 

“This generation lacks good credit history and proper savings but desire financial security,” he added. “This would be the first product actually catered to their needs.” 

Contact Callia Yuan at callia.yuan ‘at’

Callia was a high school intern for The Daily in summer 2019.

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