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Why Simplicity is Key to Scale

May 23, 2016 No Comments

Featured article by Pamela Rice, SVP of Technology at OnDeck

“We have to simplify our systems.”

That one sentence can strike a sense of helplessness – or even fear – into the hearts of technology executives everywhere. And it should, because changes in technological approaches can be time consuming, expensive and may even require breaking down years and years of legacy processes and equipment—not to mention the headaches that arise with the implementation of new technology.

But it doesn’t have to be so overwhelming. In fact, simplification is key to successful scaling.

Over the past two years, I’ve served as the Senior Vice President of Technology at OnDeck, the leader in online lending for small business. We use data aggregation and electronic payment technology to evaluate the financial health of small businesses across the nation, with an end goal of efficiently delivering capital to these traditionally underserved markets.

During my time at the company, we’ve grown rapidly. But our successes thus far – both technological and otherwise – didn’t happen overnight. By embracing open source technology and DevOps methodologies, we’ve been able to simplify our mindset, and as a result, scale rapidly. Over the course of two years, we’ve made enormous strides in modularizing existing systems and centralizing our functionality in a multitenancy environment. We started with a long-term vision for the company and set interim milestones to evolve our IT with the evolution of our business. By creating a “North Star” architecture plan with the potential to scale, we’ve been able to quickly adapt our technology to support new product build-outs and increasing organizational demands. As our business has grown, we have seen the flywheel effect of small wins pushing larger company advancements.

Architecting to account for future growth may seem daunting. After all, the needs of a company with 10 employees are completely different from a company with a staff of 100 or 1000. But as I’ve seen over the past two years, embracing simplicity and scalability, coupled with the support of a passionate team, can lead to a successful and sustainable business.

But how do you adopt simplicity to achieve scalability? To start, recognize the strategies that are essential to lasting market share.

- The Importance of People: No matter how large or small your company, your people are arguably your most important asset, they’re yours to enrich, grow, feed or lose. As you scale, you must staff your team to grow along with the business – by looking for people who can pivot, people with a “can do” attitude and people who passionately believe in your company’s mission and future. Case in point: OnDeck’s business has grown rapidly, and our technology team has grown rapidly to make that growth possible. With that maturation, our hiring mindset has shifted. As a start-up, we were more inclined to look for tech generalists. Now, our hiring mindset is characterized by diversity: of people and specialization. We’ve become laser-focused on hiring professionals with specialties in areas our customers and stakeholders have deemed crucial, such as data security, DevOps and automation. Collaboration between our experts – from software developers to IT developers and more – from the start to end of the development cycle ensures that no one is a bottleneck to growth. Our people are breeding an environment of innovation that enables scale.

- Choose Automation: One of our foremost business priorities is to create a platform that is capable of being used as a service, whether we’re issuing and servicing loans ourselves or partnering with a company that is using our platform. Building a frictionless, omni-channel customer experience fueled by data and feedback is crucial to this goal. To many in the industry, achieving this type experience through technology is synonymous with automation – but this notion as an absolute is misaligned. Yes, it’s important to find repeatable processes and automate them, applying data to make a traditionally month-long process a much speedier one. But it’s also important to create a sense of intimacy with our customers. When we work with our small business customers, we don’t simply ask them to submit documents and take it from there. We make sure they can access our services via a mobile device (often their preferred method of access), and have a customer service representative readily available via text, online chat or phone call.

- Inspire Products With A North Star Architecture of Business Services: In an environment of constant innovation, tech companies can often lose sight of the importance of designing for the future. To build companies of scale, it’s imperative to find – and embrace – your North Star, creating a platform and products in support of your guiding principle. Think about the services which provide the intelligence you need to interact with your customer. I need to board a customer, but then I need to understand when they called so I can reference that call simply, and understand if they were satisfied or not so I can relate to them in the online or mobile experience. Lending is an emotional experience, and understanding our customers’ experience and using that to drive the next experience is very important in building the relationship that is not only differentiated but highly intimate. These services fuel the creativity of products and interactions with your customer.

In the ever evolving tech world, the importance of simplicity to scale can fall to the wayside of “sexier” goals. But success isn’t always found through deep-pockets and blue-sky ideas. Investing in your people, creating a platform fueled by select automation and ongoing innovation, and following your guiding principle are key strategies for companies looking to leave a lasting mark.

Pam Headshot Why Simplicity is Key to Scale

Pamela Rice, Senior Vice President, Technology

Pamela Rice has served as OnDeck’s Senior Vice President of Technology since March 2014. Prior to joining OnDeck, Ms. Rice was an early senior technologist and led credit product development at Bill Me Later, Inc. from July 2005 until it was acquired by PayPal, Inc., a subsidiary of eBay, Inc. in October 2008. She led Credit Underwriting including Global Credit Technology at PayPal, Inc., from October 2008 to February 2014. Ms. Rice holds a B.A. from the University of Hawaii, an M.S. in Information Systems from Johns Hopkins University and an Executive M.B.A. from Loyola University.

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