In January 2022, Esusu reached a $1 billion valuation — making the fintech company one of the few Black-owned unicorns in the U.S. and globally — as previously shared by AFROTECH.

However, “Success isn’t built overnight” rings true for the company.

In 2018, Wemimo Abbey and Samir Goel launched Esusu with the mission to help people boost their credit scores by reporting their monthly rent payments to the major credit bureaus. The desire to support those with poor credit scores, especially in the Black and brown communities, derived from lived experiences including that of Abbey.

Ahead of his discussion titled “The Importance of Investing in Innovative Fintech” at AFROTECH Executive Brooklyn, Abbey recalled to AFROTECH a time when he and his mother were rejected for a bank loan because they did not have a credit score after moving to the U.S. from Lagos, Nigeria.

“We walked into one of the biggest banks in Minneapolis to borrow money,” Abbey told AFROTECH. “We were turned away and had to go borrow money and pay a loan with over a 400% interest rate. My mother sold my dad’s wedding ring, we borrowed money from church members, and that’s how we got started in the U.S.”

Trials and tribulations such as what Abbey’s mother faced are what Esusu strives to combat under the premise that a person’s background shouldn’t pre-determine their life’s path. The platform leverages data to bridge the gap so that low-to-middle-income consumers can access financial resources. In addition, it provides zero-interest loans when people are unable to pay their rent — aiding in homelessness prevention.

While the vision behind the company was clear, raising money was a challenge in the beginning. According to Abbey, he and Goel spoke to over 300 VCs, and they each said no. Nonetheless, the co-founders were determined to shake it off and keep pushing forward.

Their perseverance was not in vain as eventually Acumen Fund, one of its biggest investors, was among the first to give them a chance. The global nonprofit impact investment fund led Esusu’s $1.6 million seed round in 2019, per a press release.

Another leading investor who believed in Esusu’s mission early on was tennis great Serena Williams. As previously reported by AFROTECH, in 2021, Serena Ventures participated in Esusu’s $10 million Series A funding round. Abbey says that she saw the company’s promising future.

“She believed in us because she had the experience growing up in Los Angeles and Florida, and the majority of the people that rent are people of color, so that resonated with her,” he said. “And she bet on us when it was hard to invest in companies like us.”

He continued, “So when people see the billion-dollar valuation and think Serena Williams came in then, no, she’s been there since day one and we really appreciate all her support. She does more than write checks. She helps with advice and finding the best people. And that’s what we want in an investor.”

With over four years of empowering people to build credit, access loans, and seize opportunities such as becoming homeowners, Esusu is looking to help create an even brighter financial future for working families. According to Abbey, the average white family has 10 times as much wealth as the Black family. Esusu aims to continue to close the racial wealth gap and create a marketplace for mortgages, auto loans, and more.

“Ultimately, we want to create a movement,” Abbey said. “A movement whereby people believe that when they’re part of the Esusu ecosystem, it’s not just any financial technology company. It’s a company that says, ‘You’ve been invisible but we see you.’ It’s a company that essentially says, ‘If you’re going through a trying time, we see you and we trust you.’ That’s what we’re trying to do.”