We’re all familiar with it — the almost always uncomfortable, awkward conversation when a family member or friend asks to borrow money. Will they be mad if you say no? Do you trust them to pay you back? Why did they have to ask you in the first place?
Well, that’s exactly where Brian Bristol found himself in early 2020 when a family member asked to borrow a large sum of money. But instead of letting it become another uncomfortable conversation, the situation inspired him to create his business venture, Pigeon Loans — the easiest way for friends and family to set up contracted loans between each other online from over 30 countries.
Josh Barker, CEO of City Innovations, sat down with Brian to chat about the story behind Pigeon Loans, pivotal points in starting a company, what’s next for the business, and some words of wisdom to intra- and entrepreneurs starting up their own company.
Dive in by listening to the podcast video below or keep scrolling to read the podcast recap.
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Back to the Beginning: How it All Started
24-year-old, Brian Bristol, had always been a technical person growing up. Now, as the Founder and CEO of Pigeon Loans, he has created a company dedicated to enabling friends and family to make loans with each other online from almost anywhere in the world.
But Brian didn’t originally go through high school thinking that he would study computer science. So, how’d he get here? It was after going to Bowdoin College, a smaller liberal arts school in Brunswick, Maine, where he studied computer science and philosophy — all thanks to taking a Computer Science 101 course — when his knack for tech started.
“When I took that first 101 [Computer Science] class, I was like, ‘All right, I like this.’ I like the ability to create things with computers. I like the ability to make technology do stuff for me that I don’t really want to do. It saves me time. It saves me effort. It saves me a lot of pain. So I really ran with that.”
During his schooling, Brian was able to use his liberal arts education to learn about the theory behind computer science and engineering. Upon graduating, he took what he learned and began implementing it into his work. Previously, Bristol had worked in Silicon Valley at Pinterest and Intuit within the security and computer science sector. However, it wasn’t necessarily his passion.
“I’ve always wanted to use technology to help the world,” stated Bristol.
So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, he saw an opportunity to help family members and friends in a new way.
“I was faced with a situation in my own family where money became super tight. When the stock market was crashing and people were losing their jobs… my family, and pretty much a lot of people that I knew, were struggling financially,” explained Bristol.
During that time, Bristol was approached by a family member who requested his financial help for a large sum of money.
“When I got this ask, I was like, ‘All right, well yeah, I can definitely help you out because obviously, no one knows what’s going to be the end of this whole pandemic journey.’ So with the sum [of money] being so significant, I had to take a step back and say, ‘Look, let’s make a loan out of this.’”
From there, Bristol worked to research a platform that could create a loan with documentation between him and his family member. But after countless searches, he found that nothing like that had existed.
Over 12 weeks, Bristol built his own Minimum Viable Product (MVP) platform where friends and family could create legally binding loans and transfer money between each other — called Pigeon Loans — without the uncomfortable, awkward conversations around lending/borrowing money.
After some research, Bristol found that in the United States over $200 billion in loans are made each year between friends and family. Around the world, that number jumps to over a trillion. This was definitely a problem that needed to be solved.
Once an MVP was developed, Bristol shared it out through his personal social media platforms to see how his connections would react. The result: overwhelmingly positive feedback.
“When I [shared Pigeon Loans], that’s when it shifted from just being cool, to actually becoming a business idea and concept.”
Fast forward to today and the company has approximately 13,000 users across eight different countries. In total, the platform has managed over 2,400 loans. And at the end of 2021, they hit a record month with over six figures in active loan volume.
A Pivotal Point for Pigeon Loans
Segueing into a key pivotal moment during the initial launch of the company, Brian explained that he first created Pigeon Loans with himself in mind — the lender. But at some point, the company switched to being a tool that allowed borrowers to ask for and receive money quickly. However, this wasn’t landing well with the company’s target market.
“I actually spent close to 4 months going kind of in the wrong direction, advertising to borrowers, advertising to people who need money, trying to create tools and features for them. And then eventually realizing that the product that was made for me in mind — and I was the lender in my specific situation. So I had to take a real step back.”
From there, the company changed all of its messaging to be lender-focused with the specific idea that lenders were helping their friends and family while still maintaining relationships with them.
“That’s when we started to get people using the platform. We sat idle for a long time at the beginning because we weren’t speaking to the right people who need us. And when we shifted to the point where we understood our value-adds and what we were creating, that’s when we started to actually find the people who want to use our service. And that’s when we started to get great customer stories,” stated Brian.
Fast-forward to today, the company is proud to have had zero loan defaults in the past year and a half by its users, a true testament to it simplifying a problem.
What’s the Next Step?
When asked whether Pigeon Loans has hit product-market fit yet, Bristol responded stating that they were 90% of the way there.
“Product-market fit is something where the minute you put your value-add out there in the market… people just get it. And they get it instantly,” said Bristol. “For us, we have gotten to the point where we think the product sings a little bit and the market likes what we’re doing. We just need to get them a little bit closer together, make more puzzle pieces that connect so that we finally have something that’s humming on all cylinders.”
As of winter, 2022, Pigeon Loans became a Y Combinator company, while receiving mentorship from Michael Seibel — tech guru and Managing Director for Early Stage and Group Partners at Y Combinator. Now their company is working within the Y Combinator batch to better hone in on their product-market fit through conducting customer interviews and experiments.
Some Words of Wisdom for Intra- and Entrepreneurs
As for passing along wisdom to other intra- and entrepreneurs, Brian stated the following:
“It’s a common mantra that if you’re an entrepreneur, you should stop pretending to play startup or stop pretending to be successful — because you’re supposed to know exactly what translates into dollars for your company.
But oftentimes, you’re pressured to just throw out big numbers like, ‘There were 30,000 social media impressions today for our platform.’ But in the end, do those impressions translate into dollars? Probably not.
I’ve come to learn that it’s better for you to be honest with yourself as an entrepreneur and know things are ugly sometimes.
The best investors and the best people that are working on Pigeon Loans know the true stories and the true metrics, and they believe in us regardless. Having that support is way more powerful than trying to convince someone you’re already balling.”
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