Throughout his twenties, Byron Sorrells was terrible with money.
“My parents were great with their money,” says Sorrells. “Not me. I figured out a lot the hard way.”
A few years ago, when he was working as a senior software engineer at Twitter, he realized that many of his colleagues were in the same boat.
“A lot of people didn’t even know the basics,” Sorrells says. “They had no understanding of what their credit score means, how it comes together, or even worse, why it actually matters.”
What if there was an app that could tell you why your credit score is a big deal? One that doesn’t just help you track your finances, but teaches you how to keep a budget, build an emergency fund, or choose the right checking account?
And another thing: the language shouldn’t be too “banky.” It should be more conversational, like getting advice from a friend.
Sorrells says it was an article in The New York Times that convinced him that he was on the right track. A man had lost his job after an illness, falling far behind on his bills. After he recovered, he couldn’t seem to find work.
“He kept almost getting the job, but then they would go dark on him or he’d get a vague response that they had gone with somebody else,” says Sorrells. “It turned out that employers were checking his credit, which is pretty much business as usual these days. It’s crazy, but his bad credit was preventing him from getting a job.”
Sorrells, a WeWork Dumbo Heights member, says his original concept for Lemon was to make it all about teaching yourself the basics of your finances. He figured out pretty quickly that it wouldn’t work.
“I thought that this was it—that I was going to change the world with my financial literacy app,” says Sorrells. “But before I could get it launched, I realized it was too abstract.”
People needed to be able to apply the knowledge to their own lives.
“It’s like reading a book about exercise,” says Sorrells. “You think, ‘Great, I will try that one day.’ It’s not like going to the gym with a personal trainer.”
Disappointed that his original idea wasn’t working out, Sorrells took some time off, gained a little perspective, and came back to it last August. That’s when things really clicked.
Sorrells and his team—which now has grown to four people—realized that the selling point was being able to link to all of your personal financial information. That way, you could see how you were doing financially, and take any necessary steps to improve things.
“It had to be applicable to your own life,” says Sorrells. “Here’s a fact that affects you, and here’s what you can do about it. Click here to do it.”
And Sorrells was adamant about something else: unlike some other financial apps, he wanted to stay unbiased. He didn’t want to take money from banks or other institutions to recommend their products.
“I want to build the trust with the user,” says Sorrells. I want them to think, ‘Hey, these guys are looking out for me.’”
Photos: Katelyn Perry