In 2013, Ohad Samet started getting calls from strange numbers. When he finally answered, he discovered the reason: He had a $120 balance on a store credit card. The agent making the call was not particularly pleasant, so, though Samet could afford the payment, he started thinking about what it must be like for those who can't. "You get all these calls, then it's, 'You owe money. Cash, check, or credit card?' And if you can't pay," he says, "you risk financial ruin."

So Samet, who previously worked on fraud prevention for PayPal and founded digital security company Signifyd, did some research. He discovered that the potential market was huge: One-third of all Americans have at least one payment in collections. Later that year, he founded TrueAccord, a collections agency that takes a different approach. Instead of inundating customers with calls, the startup communicates via texts and emails that are friendly--even playful--in tone. ("I've been sitting here eating ice cream and listening to breakup songs because I feel like you're avoiding me," reads one dispatch the company's sent.) Artificial intelligence then analyzes an individual's response patterns to decide what kinds of messages to send and when.

A little creepy? Maybe, but with a good payoff: TrueAccord says it collects money 50 percent more effectively than traditional agencies. It works with customers to set up payment plans they can afford, which helps them pay on time--and keep their credit scores up.

Today, the San Francisco-based company has $35 million in funding from investors including Khosla Ventures and PayPal co-founder Max Levchin. Yelp is a client, as are freelancing platform Upwork and fintech firm LendUp. The startup has interacted with six million Americans and counting, and in 2019, it collected twice as much money as it did the previous year.

Reviews from customers are shockingly positive--TrueAccord owns a 4.7 rating on Google Reviews and a 4.2 on the Better Business Bureau website. "Thank you, you did great," says one. "I can't believe I am saying this to a collection agency."