We interviewed CEO Aaron Allred about pest control, fintech, name changing, and company growth.
Here’s the dirty little secret about creating a startup: no one really knows how things will turn out. Sure, it’s easy for CEOs of successful businesses to sit and tell you they never doubted company trajectory, it was only a matter of when (not if) they ascended to loftier heights. But the truth is, startups breed uncertainty — no matter how good the idea, or team, or execution, there is always a question of whether or not a company will flourish.
Three-and-a-half years ago, Aaron Allred co-founded Simple Finance alongside Shaun Stevenett. It was his first venture in the financial technology (Fintech) space and to be honest, he wasn’t entirely sure how things would go. This isn’t to say Allred had no experience building businesses — two times he had built successful pest control companies, including one that spanned 16 offices and 400 employees. After exiting his last pest control business in 2012, Allred promised himself he would search for something new.
“With pest control, it’s a business that there is a huge demand for, all you have to do is out-execute the competition and you’ll survive,” said Allred. “When I was looking for another business to start that was totally unrelated to pest control, I wanted to find something that was in a market where I knew there was demand for the product.”
Welcome to Fintech, definitely something new and definitely something unrelated to pest control. When browsing around for new business ideas, Allred and Stevenett noticed the rise of Fintech companies and immediately determined there was room for more. This led to the creation of Simple Finance in the Summer of 2013 and bam, they were off to the races.
Fast-forward to present day, where the company has grown to 200+ employees housed in Sandy, UT. This is sweet. What isn’t so sweet: not expecting to progress at such a rapid rate, Allred never trademarked Simple Finance which ruffled the feathers of the company that had, leading to a legal dispute that has resulted in a name change. Just like that, Simple Finance is now Acima Credit.
“I started thinking of Portuguese words, I went on a mission to Brazil, and I thought there’s no way I’m going to be able to get a trademark on anything English,” said Allred. “I wanted something that started with an ‘a’ and was somehow related to what we do in our business. Acima means ‘above’ in Portuguese and we like to think we’re helping people rise above their existing credit situation or existing financial situation.”
So now, Allred is the CEO of a thriving company. Growth is good, profit is good, life is good. So I asked him, “Did you expect this? When did it sink in that this company had a chance?” His answer: it still is.
“When we started the business, even three months in I was like, we might be onto something,” said Allred. “And then six months in I thought, we’re really onto something. Then a year later I thought, holy hell, this is way better than I imagined. And even now, three years in I’m like, oh my gosh, this is so much better than I ever imagined. It happened in steps. I’ve had multiple successful businesses in the past, but nothing ever like this where we grew so fast.”
Before we continue, I should probably explain what Acima Credit does. Allred relayed a story from 20 years ago, when he and his wife entered the time-snatching vortex known as RC Willey to buy furniture. After three hours of sitting through financing arrangements, they left the store with furniture and a bewildered sense of why everything took so long. I’m sure most people have felt this pain.
Acima Credit has built a platform that slices the financing process from hours to a matter of minutes. I would call it simple financing, but I don’t want any trademark issues to come and bite me. Let’s just call it Acima.
“We have a proprietary system we built where the customer can apply online at the merchant’s store or on their mobile device,” said Allred. “They’ll fill out an application in 20 seconds, we give an immediate approved or not approved within 1–2 seconds of them hitting the submit button, and once they’re approved we can get the contract signed and the deal done in another minute or two after that.”
By expediting this process between customer, merchant, and financial company, Acima Credit has found a niche. And though their software now runs without a hitch, their early approach was…interesting.
“It took almost a year before we went live with our software and we had already written 4–5 million dollars of leases before we launched any software,” said Allred. “Incidentally (in the beginning), I didn’t have any lease management software, I was using my pest control software to manage payments for my customers.”
I may be wrong, but I’m guessing this is the first and last time a Fintech company has used pest control software to get business off the ground. The lesson: if one is willing to try new things and work incredibly hard, it’s amazing what can be accomplished even with a mishmash of resources — in Allred’s words, “When you start a business, you do what you have to do.”
Thankfully, Acima is moving forward with their own software platform that makes life easier for everyone, on both sides of the equation. After bootstrapping for the first few years, Acima closed a $10 million equity round nearly one year ago with the majority coming from Aries Capital. That has helped lead to more growth and as things move forward — as employee numbers rise towards 300 — Allred expects good things to continue, but not at any cost. Acima Credit has changed their name, but how they grow remains the same.
“We want to keep growing as fast as we can, but only to the extent that we are profitable,” said Allred. “All of the money I’ve made through the years I’ve invested in Acima. This is the difference between an entrepreneur that starts his own business and bootstraps it, versus the guy that raises outside capital from day one. I still have a significant amount of money invested in the company and I think that informs, guides, and influences the way I make decisions. We want to grow as fast as we can, but only to the extent that it’s smart growth, manageable growth, and growth that translates to profit rather than volume.”