Episode 16 with Jon Lederer

Written by Xinlan

On May 13, 2020

The SBA has announced that the PPP loan program has funded 3.9 million businesses to date as a response to the COVID-19 crisis. However, based on SBA’s data, there are 30.2 million businesses in the US that qualify, which means only 13% of the small businesses have actually received funds. Many small businesses are looking for other options. In order to help our audience and small business owners to further understand how to survive in the current environment, we have decided to welcome our very own Jon Lederer, VP of Sales. Jon can further explain how Celeri Network, a leading lending company, will support customers and help them get the funding they need. Jon is an experienced sales professional who has worked with multiple companies and has been actively involved with PPP loans.

In this episode, Jon discusses working in the lending industry, PPP loans, SBA regulations, the current COVID-19 crisis, and how business models are changing.

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Transcript

Angela– The SBA has announced that the PPP loan program has funded 3.9 million businesses to date under the current pandemic of COVID-19. However, based on SBA’s data there are 30.2 million businesses in the U.S. that qualify- equating to only 13% of them that received the funds. Many small businesses are furious and they feel neglected and out of options. In order to help out our audience and small business owners to further understand how to survive in the current environment, we have decided to welcome our very own Jon Lederer.

Jon– Thank you so much for having me, I greatly appreciate it.

Angela– Welcome!

Jon– Thank you!

Angela– So, Jon is the VP of Sales, and based on his extensive experience with Fin-Tech companies, Jon could further explain how Celeri Network, a leading lending startup can support the customers and help them get the funding that they need. Jon is an experienced professional that has worked with multiple startups and has been actively involved with loans. So, welcome again. So you’re currently working with Celeri Network, as their VP of Sales Department. Can you tell us more about your experience?

Jon– Sure, from the experience perspective, in the Fin-Tech and working with startups, I’ve been in sales for 30 years. It’s been a long time, and it feels like it’s been a second. But, I have been doing this for 30 years and reported to executive management for 25 years. For the last 25 years I have been in the tech industry, so for the first 10 or so years was in the lending business and retail banking. So what I love about Celeri Network is I’m able to marry my technical background with the lending background that I started my career with. So, it really comes to a full circle, it’s been a wonderful ride. We’ve really changed quite a bit since I’ve been here already- and having to work with this kind of environment has been challenging but very rewarding at the same time because we’re talking directly with customers. And when you’re able to fund a loan with a business and hear how related they are and how to save the business- it’s instant gratification.

Angela– And when you say “changes”, what are those changes?

Jon– Yeah, great question. So, for us, because of COVID-19 the lending world has been affected as well. Most of the lenders have literally either put their people on furlough or on a holding pattern, and they’re not lent. However, because Celeri Network is nimble, because Justin the CEO, and the management team are moving in the same direction; we’ve taken it upon ourselves to help with the PPP program. Although financially, it’s not going to be amazingly lucrative, it’s been extremely rewarding to help the banks. As you know, the Chases, the Bank of Americas, Wells Fargo’s, they’ve had great difficulties funding those loans. The technology behind the SBA, it’s almost like a 5 lane highway on a 405 in California, having a 4 car accident, and everything going down in one lane. So what we’ve been able to do, is the pivot, tell all our lenders that we understand that we are on break. However, we are going to help fund the PPP program, and we have been working directly with several of our lenders that are facilitating the PPP with the SBA, and because we have SBA experiences it’s been a natural pivot. The sales organization, the marketing organization, everyone in the company, we’ve moved to this PPP module and it’s been proving to pay a tremendous dividend.

Angela– How did Celeri Network get affected during the COVID-19? And how were you able to navigate through this crisis as their VP?

Jon– Yeah, I think for us no one could really work in an isolated way. So we all collectively came together and decided as a company to move in this direction. Once we do that, then as the VP of sales it becomes the execution model from the sales perspective. So it’s ensuring that the salespeople are knowledgeable, they’re empathetic, they’re understanding to the customer. We are talking to people every single day, that are frustrated, irritated, cannot understand why the lenders and bigger banks can’t get their deals processed. What I’m trying to instill in our team, is this level of empathy, customers are important, every customer has a family, every customer has a story behind it. It’s been fantastic. From my perspective, I’ve been a facilitator of my Psychology background more so than my Sales background. It’s also an organizational skill pivoted to make sure that we’re tracking opportunities that are honorable and that we’re following through. Building the infrastructure now to ensure that they can handle the volume and follow up on every single opportunity.

Angela– And the volume has increased tremendously!

Jon– One hundred percent! But even if you were to go to our website, we have a customer that gave us a testimonial on how they went to this large bank and they didn’t follow up and we gave them the attention and the deal funded. It was fantastic!

Angela– How successfully do you think Celeri has been with the PPP loans?

Jon– So, here’s the honest answer. I think we’re doing the best we can, there was a huge influx of leads that we received. We too had to furlough some people, so we have been doing more with less. But I think under the circumstances, the funding is one thing but we have been helping businesses one at a time. So we are doing the best that we can. The more important thing we need to address is after the PPP funds dry up, and as you said earlier only 13% of the businesses of the 30 million businesses are getting the funding. So for us, it’s about “What is the next thing?” And that is what we’re trying to Segway and plan for- how can we help once the funds dry up, what can we do to help the other businesses succeed.

Angela– Are there any current projects Celeri Network is working on that can benefit people in the current environment?

Jon– Yeah that’s a great question. So, we talked about PPP and we can elaborate more on that later. But the thing that I’m most excited about is this agent partner program that we developed. So 33 million people have lost their jobs, as of basically Wednesday, and that’s a tremendous labor pool that has been experienced that is acknowledged. It’s unprecedented, and we haven’t seen it since the Great Depression. The numbers are even greater as a percentage of people losing their job in one shot. So for us, and executive management, we’ve decided that we wanted to tap into that labor pool and that we have created an agent program, that are independent contractors, that have the opportunities based on relationships, and the desire to get into this business. Whereby, they have the means to earn extra money or to do this as a potential full-time job. What I find fascinating is when I’m talking to people all throughout the country, and it’s fascinating how despite the country is in isolation and not working together; there is still a very strong desire for people to help other people.

Angela– And come together!

Jon– Yeah, come together! What’s fascinating about this program that we’ve put together now is it gives people the opportunity to connect with others that they may know. To be able to fund their businesses and keep them going and that’s really gratifying.

Angela– What would you recommend small business owners to take action in during this pandemic?

Jon– Here’s what’s interesting, I think people need to temper their expectations. We’re going to come back online now as the President is now dictating to governors, “Hey it’s time to open their businesses back up.” Certain states now are opening up, and certain states only have 700 certain people. So those states would have an easier time maybe to open up. If we’re responsible for it, it should be a good thing. At the same time, I think we need to be patient and businesses need to have a plan. So here’s what’s interesting, there’s always opportunities. So, there’s this local Chinese restaurant and unfortunately, they closed one of their restaurants in another location but their takeout business is doing phenomenally well. So this business is flourishing, and they said that they have never been better. So for me, we need to be flexible, but we need to see where the opportunities are now. We need to be honest with ourselves with the business that I’m in now- where can I create new opportunities? I think one of the things that we bring to the table is being able to provide the additional financing is to give you the opportunity to potentially look at other avenues, and grow your business in other ways even if you don’t have the funds now. So I think it’s a business plan, it’s being open-minded to other opportunities, don’t think so narrow-mindedly, and stay positive and know that things are getting better.

Angela– Why should small business owners consider small lenders and fintech companies like ours, rather than the big banks and SBA. I know you went into it earlier but if you can maybe elaborate a little bit more and what is your opinion on this?

Jon– The digital lending business is a $2 billion industry going into 2026. So for the next 5 years, it’s going to be a 2 billion dollar industry. In 2015, it was a $500 million industry, so you’re starting to see exponential growth. I personally believe that based on now with the large banks as we talked about earlier, not being able to fund loans, not being responsive, I think people are going to start looking for more agile companies that can respond in short periods of time. I mean in certain instances depending on the loan type, we can respond in 24-48 hours. I think the larger banks are going to start to look at larger deals. They’re not going to want to look at smaller deals when $500,000 are being toyed around with. And the other thing is, larger banks might tighten up the credit based on the default rates, what’s happening now, credits are going to get tighter with larger institutions, which are going to give us an opportunity and for smaller lenders to get more creative and to be able to provide some work.

Angela– What do you think is the biggest difference or challenge of being a salesperson for Fin-Tech, like Celeri Network compared to previous companies that you’ve worked for?

Jon– I think, as I mentioned earlier, it’s the instant gratification you get with Celeri that I absolutely love. It’s so gratifying to watch a business basically give you a virtual hug. Whereas in my previous positions, despite some of them being startups and different stages, they tend to work with larger businesses. The benefit you see over time, but you have to see it as a long term benefit; so the strategy is different. I’m seeing 12 months to 24 months out versus to really seeing the progressing improvement or to see the change. Whereas with this, people are basically coming to me and saying “look I want to add more people, I want to expand my business,” fund it, and with a short period of time, the change occurs. I think for us, we’re seeing every customer as a strategic partnership. I’m not trying to fund you a deal, I’m trying to become a business partner with you, and I believe I got that skillset from retail banking. We’re trying to change people’s futures and I think the more we understand what they’re trying to accomplish because Celeri does offer a variety of products, we may or may not be able to help them. However, long term relationships are what’s really important.

Angela– What are some changes that you think we should expect from small businesses that were affected by COVID-19?

Jon– That’s a great question, I think COVID-19 is going to be something that’s going to stick around for some time. Even if it disappeared tomorrow, I think some of the changes are going to be permanent. For example, social distancing may not be permanent but I think it will be with us for some time. Restaurants may take time to recover because we’re going to need more space, you may not be able to put in a lot of people in a restaurant.

Angela– So you think the restaurants will be hit the hardest?

Jon– I think the recovery is going to take time. But there are other opportunities like take-out, and there may be other revenue streams that offset the lack of people sitting in seats. But I do believe that the other thing that’s certainly going to change is this concept of remote work. The advent of Zoom, and Google Hangouts, I think if companies weren’t doing things remotely before at least they’re going to have to entertain it now- which could be something potentially permanent. We were leaning this way technologically, but I think this was a catalytic agent or event. Another thing (this is more of a philosophical thing), we need to see each other as we’re all connected. I think the more businesses can relate to their customers, and their customer needs, and not take them for granted, and really cater to them, I think that’s something that’s going to bode well and build customer loyalty.

Angela– I also don’t think larger corporate banks don’t empathize with their clients as we do, we try to connect with our clients a lot.

Jon– Completely agree.

Angela– Have you dealt with tough clients during your sales career? And how did you overcome these obstacles? And what did you learn from them?

Jon– Yeah, that’s an ongoing thing, especially as a VP of Sales. Speaking of my role when things are going peachy well, I tend to not hear from people. From my perspective, it’s all about empathy. To me, it’s about knowing that the person on the other end of the phone and if they’re upset or concerned about something- to diffuse the situation I validate what’s concerning them. The quickest way to deal with an upset customer is to acknowledge that there’s a problem that exists. There’s no reason to get defensive, let’s solve the problem together, let’s look at the problem together, and if we can’t solve it- we need to be honest. I think there’s a lost art of honesty and integrity in the business world; particularly in the lending business, that I think needs to come back. As technology and machine-learning and automation becomes the norm, I think Celeri Network wants to go into a contrary route. We’re going to do more white gloves, more hand-holding, more empathy, and just being very honest with our customers.

Angela– Based on your experience, what characteristics are essential for a potential successful salesperson?

Jon– I lead by example, so everything that I described to you is what I try to instill or expect from my people. Which is honesty, integrity, but also the love for what you do? I find when people truly love what they do, they tend to want to work more and be more empathetic. So to me, it’s really about being dedicated, having a plan, and loving what you do. I think when those things are coupled together, you tend to find success.

Angela– I want to know what your day to day is like, as a VP of Sales? How do you start your mornings, with coffee or tea?

Jon– I’m a coffee guy. But also for me, it’s all about planning and self-actualization. It’s like looking inward and seeing what I did today, what could I have done better, and then I plan the day going forward. That’s me personally but I also instill that to my manager, we have morning calls every day and talk about what transpired the day before, what are we doing today, what’s the plan, what’s working and what’s not. So I’m not overly concerned with a 12 to 24 month strategy as I normally am while being the VP of Sales, I’m much more tactical as opposed to strategic. Although we did mention about how we have to navigate based on what happens after PPP, for me it’s really about making sure that we’re connecting with our customers, making sure that we do what we said we were going to do, try and get more people into the PPP program, and help all the 30 million businesses.

Angela– Thank you so much Jon.

Jon– Oh, it was my pleasure!

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