Mom to Kai, 9 and Mei, 6 // Co-Founder and COO of Borrowell
Written by Jessica Gedge // Photographed by Joelle Segal
We recently spent a summer afternoon playing ping pong with Eva Wong, co-founder and COO of Borrowell and chatting all things work, life and building a tech company. Not only did Eva kick our ass at ping pong, but she did so with grace. We have a feeling she does this across all aspects of her life – kicking ass, gracefully. Borrowell is one of the largest financial tech companies in Canada and was the first company in Canada to offer free online credit scores and reports. Their focus is helping Canadians make great decisions about credit. With a staff of 70 and over one million members, the five year old company has experienced rapid growth and great success. Eva says they’re just getting started.
Tell us about Borrowell.
Borrowell‘s mission is to people make great decisions about credit. We were the first company to offer free credit score monitoring, and we help you choose the best products for you with our AI-driven financial product recommendations. Borrowell is one of Canada’s largest financial technology companies, with more than one million members. We have 70 employees at our office in Toronto, and we’ve been recognized as one of the Best Workplaces in Canada.
People may be surprised to know that you don’t have a tech background!
That’s right! I have a general business background and then worked for a non-profit. I met my co-founder, Andrew, while volunteering with an organization called CivicAction. One of the biggest things I always try to share with other founders is that you don’t have to have direct experience in order to start. I decided to go full-force with Andrew on Borrowell during my maternity leave with my daughter which was actually perfect timing for me because it was a time of re-evaluation and self-reflection. It didn’t feel like it was a big risk – if it didn’t work out I would have just gotten a job. But if I hadn’t taken this step I would have regretted it. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t make you unemployable, so I knew I had to give it a try.
During the five years of running Borrowell, you’ve grown the team from 5 to 70. Tell us about the company culture you’ve developed here.
Working on our culture has been a very intentional process as our team has grown. Early on, we developed our core team values and we want to truly live up to them every day. We often hear from our team that Borrowell is different from other places they’ve worked. We think our culture is a really positive thing and we work hard to keep it great. A part of this comes from hiring based on a values fit and not just a culture fit.
We notice that you’ve won Canada’s Best Workplaces in a few different categories (among other accolades) so clearly what you’re doing with team culture is working! Are there a few key things that are particularly important to you when it comes to building culture?
Diversity is really important. To us, diversity equals business success. Our user base is diverse – across all demographic aspects – and having a team that truly reflects a variety of demographics and experiences is really important to us.
Secondly, open communication is critical. Do all members of the team feel they can challenge ideas and speak their mind and be heard?
You mentioned your user base is diverse which is interesting because I actually had the impression Borrowell was targeted towards Millennials.
Yes, it is really diverse! Our oldest member is 103 and our most engaged members are actually between 30-50 years old. Geographically they’re spread out – we have customers in the most northern tip of Canada!
How do you maintain team synergy in an era where remote working has become more common?
We actually don’t have a ton of work from home – we really believe that face-to-face collaboration works the best for our organization. We can ideate and solve problems together and we try to have team members cross-pollinate by changing the seating in the office regularly. This gives everybody the chance to connect with each other on a human level – getting to know one another happens on a deeper level and it helps to avoid team vs team scenarios. We also encourage everyone to have a monthly random coffee – we have an algorithm that matches people to go for coffee who don’t typically work together. This way, there can be a deeper understanding of what your colleagues are working on which ultimately helps tighten the bond of everyone at the office as a whole.
We love the office design and that it lends itself really well to collaboration. The board room names are awesome.
We love this space because of the open desk situation, with options to adjourn in separate meetings rooms or sit in sound-focused pods if you want to have a one-on-one conversation. Because of all the concrete in the office, a lot of the decorative elements are actually acoustical treatments and help to dampen the sound.
How do you balance work and family?
I try to work fairly regular hours and my husband works pretty predictable hours so between the two of us we can manage life and our kids. He’s able to leave work each day at a regular time so he handles the after-school shift and gets dinner ready.
Do you have a go-to dinner recipe?
I wouldn’t call it a recipe, but I do have a go-to dinner solution. As much as I like to cook (and I realize not everyone does), I don’t do very much cooking on weeknights. We keep it simple, which seems to make everyone happier, including our kids. Our Thursday dinner (for the kids, and sometimes the parents) is grilled cheese sandwiches with some sort of raw vegetable on the side. It’s super easy, we almost always have the ingredients, and the kids love it. Particularly when their dad makes it, because he’s more generous with the butter!
What do you do in the realm of self-care?
Well I definitely recognize that I operate better with sleep so I make that a priority. If I’m tired, that’s when the impatience comes out. I also just joined a gym and I ride my bike to and from the office. I’m very inspired by my mom, who is 70 years old but is the most active person I know! She plays ping pong, swims and bikes. It’s just getting into the cycle of good habits and hopefully once I’m in the cycle I can maintain it. Talk to me in the middle of winter though, to see if I’m still getting up for 6am classes!
What’s it like being a part of the tech community in Toronto?
It has been so supportive. It’s a great community – we started out at the Ryerson DMZ and One Eleven. When you share physical space with other people in your industry, you have that built-in support. I would say that having that peer-to-peer mentoring is really valuable so if you don’t have one mentor in particular, that’s okay because sometimes we learn the most from others who are going through the same challenges as us at the same time.
Do you have advice for other entrepreneurs that you’d like to share?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions – if you don’t know something, ask. Learn the answers and make yourself an expert on whatever it is you’re lacking. It shows curiosity, not ignorance.
Eva didn’t let her lack of experience in technology hold her back. She trusted her gut, asked a ton of questions and became a subject matter expert. Eva has co-founded a company which has made huge impact on the fintech world in Canada, while also shining a much-needed spotlight on diversity in the workplace. Like we said – kicking ass, gracefully. To learn more about Borrowell, click here. If you enjoyed this article, sign up for our newsletter, to get all upcoming #xochats straight to your inbox!