ApplePie Capital CEO & Co-Founder Denise Thomas Makes Marketplace Lending Success Look Easy

Apr 4, 2017  |  Erin Hobey

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“We have gained a foothold within the industry by partnering with 42 brands to date. Moving forward we will continue to innovate…”

Having spent more than 20 years as a corporate executive in companies backed by prosperous VC firms including Kleiner Perkins, Mohr Davidow and Sequoia Capital, ApplePie Capital CEO and serial entrepreneur Denise Thomas continues to help companies create viable businesses from entrepreneurial ideas.

A founder three times, Thomas has held executive and management positions with National Seminconductor’s POS Division, Onyx Microcomputer (IPO and acquired by Corvus), Kao Infosystems (US Division of Kao Corporation of Japan, a multi-billion dollar company also referred to as the Proctor and Gamble of Japan), Post Communications (acquired by Netcentives for $380M), OffRoad Capital (acquired by NYPPE), LesConcierges (providing global concierge service to companies such as American Express, Bank of America, and Leading Hotels of the World), Navigenics (venture backed genetic testing company) and Healthiest You, a collaboration with Humana (a neuroscience based lifestyle and behavior service delivered online), SharesPost, a private marketplace for late-stage,  enture-backed companies. Thomas has participated in over twenty rounds of financing, in addition to her IPO, acquisition, and public and private companies experience. In short, Thomas is a force.

In 2014, Thomas co-founded marketplace lender ApplePie Capital with Stephen Pelletier.  The firm’s franchise loan marketplace enables entrepreneurs to obtain financing in order to start or expand their franchise business.

I recently connected with the CEO and Chairman via email to learn more about ApplePie’s unique niche, what “Fintech looks like”, Fintech’s future, successful partnerships, and advice for fellow and rising fintechers. Our interview follows:

Erin: Congratulations on your Award at LendIt as Emerging Small Business Lender.  How did you come up with the concept for ApplePie? Matching P2P with Franchise Loans?

Denise Thomas: Thank you! We are excited about the recognition, our team has worked tirelessly over the last 24 months to build our platform and it’s great affirmation from the industry. To give some background on my history and what led me to ApplePie, I am a what they call a serial masochist, also known as a serial entrepreneur. I enjoy building businesses from scratch, taking concepts and ideas and making them a reality. I came up with the idea for ApplePie when I noticed a lack of market dynamic for investors in small business, which was a fragmented space due to the rate of failure for small businesses. This rate of failure becomes much more predictable through the blueprint of a franchise business model. In addition, I personally invested in Supercuts equity, which has provided nice returns over the past 30 years giving me more confidence in the strength of franchise over the long term.

Erin: You recently signed new investors plus funding capital, thus standing out in a challenging market. Please share details about your MO. How long did it take to raise the money?

Denise: It took five months. The two main sources of funding we closed were new strategic partners and existing investors. We did not add any new venture besides those familiar with us. We started raising capital in a turbulent environment. The Lending Club news came out within a few weeks of our initial talks with potential investors. Our strategy was to continue to tell our story and educate investors about franchise debt as an asset. The story resonated with investors and held water over those initial months regardless of what was happening in our industry.

Erin: Please share your experience about dealing with a prominent Bay Area VC saying, “You don’t look like Fintech.”

Denise: Statistically, there are far more men running fintech companies, clearly there are some biases out there around that. A study released by Peterson Institute for International Economics in 2016 found that “An increase in the share [on executive teams and boards] of women would be associated with a 15% rise in profitability.” Personally, I don’t think about it. I can’t answer for the people that do. That experience only reflected upon that one individual rather than the entire firm. At the end of the day, you want people in your board room who are supportive.

Erin: What challenges have you encountered and do you continue to witness as a female Fintech innovator and disruptor? How can women shatter the glass ceiling?

Denise: I have never viewed that there is a glass ceiling. As a female in fintech, I find that I am often remembered just because I am a female and that stands out statistically. This is a general statement but I also find that I am sometimes underestimated initially and that can be an advantage in negotiations.

Erin: What advice can you provide for other women entrepreneurs/founders in the financial services sector?

Denise: Run for the hills! Just kidding. I would say understand that you can have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time. There are going to be times where you have to focus and make sacrifices. As a CEO of a fintech startup, the reality is that my job is 24/7. Surround yourself with great people because you can’t do it alone. With a great team, you’ll find the opportunity to increase the balance.

Erin: You have spoken quite positively about your relationship with Fifth Third. How and why does ApplePie’s relationship with this bank differ from others?

Denise: As opposed to our other loan purchasers, Fifth Third has made a strategic investment in our company and holds a stake in the growth of our business. They co-led our B round with QED Investors, with whom they have now also partnered to make strategic investments in VC-backed fintech companies. They have a long term vision for our industry and provide their expertise to create better financial solutions and a superior experience for our borrowers.

Erin: ApplePie Capital’s loans are backed by personal guarantee and unsecured. Personal assets are not required to back loans. Tell me more…

Denise: We provide loans to the franchise industry and we’ve found the indicators for risk are much more predictable than a one-off small business. In franchising, there is a blueprint for the business owners to follow, in terms of cost analysis and every other aspect. This is measurable and people have a path to multi-unit ownership. We look at each brand and evaluate the sustainability of the business model, which has proven itself over the last 25 years through historical SBA data.

Erin: What type of market opportunity do you forecast? Why?

Denise: The franchise industry has an annual capital demand of $45B domestically, which includes both debt and equity. We have gained a foothold within the industry by partnering with 42 brands to date. Moving forward we will continue to innovate and expand our product offerings to meet the needs of more brands and become a holistic solution for their franchisees.