Just because you're in a fast-growing industry, it doesn't mean you'll do well. For that you need the right leadership. And until 2013, Prosper Marketplace, a peer-to-peer lender, was lagging peers such as Lending Club that enjoyed a boffo IPO last December.
But in the last two years, Prosper has been getting a new burst of energy and growth thanks to a new CEO, Aaron Vermut.
Earlier this month, I spoke with Vermut--a former principal at NEA Associates and co-founder of Merlin Securities (bought by Wells Fargo in April 2012)--who took over Prosper in March 2013 when it was on the brink of collapse.
Since he took over, Prosper went from losing money on under $10 million in sales to some pretty impressive growth--$19 million in 2013 revenue and over $80 million in 2014.
One clear change under Vermut's leadership is offering more attractive rates for lenders and borrowers. As he explained, "We went from paying 1% to 8% from lenders and from charging borrowers 22% to 14%."
And Prosper is not above acquiring other companies to boost growth. In January 2015, it paid $21 million in cash to acquire American Healthcare Lending.
Here are Prosper's five turnaround strategies.
1. Set Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)
If you come in to turn around a company, it helps to set ambitious goals. The reason is that such goals excite investors and help the new CEO figure out how to rethink the strategy and the organization.
This was particularly important for Prosper because it was floundering when Vermut became CEO. He likes the BHAG concept first popularized by James Collins. As he said, "My BHAG is for Prosper to reach $1 billion in revenue by 2025."
2. Change strategy to fit BHAG
Strategy is all about choice--which customers? Which systems and processes? What product features and pricing?
To set Prosper on the path to its BHAG, Prosper changed everything. As Vermut explained, "We started off talking to customer and employees to find out why they were still there and listened to their suggestions. That led us to put in a new credit underwriting system using a FICO score, to fix a broken business model by creating better pricing for investors and borrowers, do more marketing, hire a new chief risk officer, and measure what worked and what didn't and adapt."
3. Blow out senior team
Once you have a new strategy to achieve the BHAG, you have to decide whether you have the right senior executive team to turn the strategy into action.
Prosper had a mismatch between the people it had and the ones that it needed. "We had to change the culture to one that had a sense of accountability for achieving goals. We blew out the senior team. Of the 80 people we had when I came, only 36 are still here--and we now have a total of 270," said Vermut.
4. Hire new executive team
If you fire the people you have and you still need to get those vacated jobs done, whom do you hire? In general, it is good to hire people who share your values and have experience doing the job you think needs to get done.
Prosper is excited about the talented women it has been able to hire to fill many of the roles it emptied. According to Vermut, "We hired three women executives for senior roles. Our chief marketing officer had spent eight years at Hotwired doing ecommerce and branding; our CFO had been at eBay Australia and PayPal; and our vice president of business development was an early executive at WebEx."
Prosper attracts such talent by offering meaning and potential financial upside. As Vermut said, "People who work for a big company are working hard but they feel that they can't move the needle. We offer the ability to use their talent to shape the company's future, to give them a stake in a potential IPO, and to help people by giving them lower loan rates."
5. Stay humble
If you are able to do all this, perhaps you can be forgiven for being self-confident. But the line between self-confidence and arrogance is one that is easy to cross. And arrogance in a leader can endanger an organization's future since it causes the company to miss opportunities and ignore threats.
Prosper's CEO uses the 360 degree review to try to stay humble. As Vermut explained, "It's hard to see yourself objectively; you're in a bubble and lonely. I go to an executive coach and get a 360 degree review of my leadership ability. Getting feedback is not easy. I thought I was doing well but realized I could get better at helping people in the company to be successful."