Rodney Williams still recalls those chilling nights and scorching days in Baltimore, a city that molded his ambition and lent gravity to his life’s work. As a young boy, he experienced firsthand the desperate moments his mother faced, just days away from her payday, when she couldn’t muster enough cash to keep the electricity on. Her credit cards were more expensive than a viable solution, and payday loans were out of reach. “No electricity meant uncomfortable nights and spoiled food," Rodney says, "and that was just my childhood. The challenges for my parents were even starker.”
Fast forward to 2018, Rodney and his co-founder, Travis Holoway, decided they’d had enough of the financial services industry falling short for everyday people—especially for communities like theirs. “The financial system has ignored our needs for too long. Travis and I asked ourselves: what if we could change that? What if we could build a bridge that wasn't there before?” Their answer was SoLo Funds—a trailblazing platform where people support each other financially through community finance, a novel approach that transcends traditional short-term lending norms.
The uniqueness of SoLo Funds lies in its 'of the people, by the people, for the people' business model. Borrowers set their loan terms, and lenders can directly fund those loans within minutes. It’s a remarkable system that eliminates mandatory fees and financial gatekeepers. There's no institutional capital here; it’s all fueled by the power of community.
The journey to 1 million registered users wasn't smooth. Despite pioneering a human-centered financial platform that achieved significant milestones—such as $250 million in loans funded and regulatory wins in DC and California—the team has faced challenges, particularly in raising capital. “Most of the investment has come from Black investors, both through VC firms and on an individual basis. Being Black-led often meant more scrutiny and less room for error,” Rodney admits. Yet, these challenges never dimmed his resolve. SoLo Funds thrives on its mission and has found supporters who share their vision, like Richelieu Dennis from New Voices Fund and Kesha Cash from Impact America.
SoLo Funds is based in Los Angeles and boasts nearly 100 employees who are equally passionate about their mission. Despite being a remote team dispersed across the country, there's an innate spirit of collaboration and innovation that pulsates through the virtual hallways of SoLo. “Everyone who joins us should feel trusted and supported in taking bold steps,” Rodney reflects.
Looking ahead, Rodney is keen on harnessing trends that will intensify the need for community-driven financial solutions. More Americans are going to live paycheck to paycheck. Traditional solutions, like credit cards and payday loans, are going to become even more untenable. “That's why we recently commissioned a report to show the real cost of being cash poor. We're expanding our services and offerings, like the SoLo Wallet, and we're even making our first international move to Nigeria,” he shares.
As for advice to other Black founders, Rodney is unequivocal: “Build your network and stay enthusiastic and overly optimistic. When you encounter doors slammed and hurdles placed, remember the positive impact you're making. Keep going.”
To follow Rodney B. Williams and the revolution he’s fueling with SoLo Funds, connect with him on LinkedIn and Instagram @rodneybwilliams or through the SoLo Funds social media channels.