The phrase ‘student debt’ has become more or less synonymous with words like torture, agony and inconvenience -- just to name a few.
The process of sorting through and filling out the FAFSA can be extremely daunting and confusing, and it’s not exactly as if you’re given a hand to hold to help walk you through it.
That’s where Frank comes in.
Founded by 25-year-old Charlie Javice, the online platform helps college students fill out the form in under five minutes.
In the past six months alone, Frank has helped award a whopping $3.5 billion in financial aid to families across the country.
In the words of Javice herself:
“The government’s hiding billions of dollars from you to go to school, so let’s help you find it.”
We had the chance to chat with the 25-year-old CEO about Frank’s mission, successes and what it’s really like to run your own company at such a young age.
AOL: In simplest terms, what is Frank?
Charlie Javice:“Frank is an online platform to make college more affordable. our first product streamlines and simplifies the FAFSA, so that you can fill it out in under four minutes.”
AOL: How did the name Frank come to be? Is there a deeper meaning behind it?
CJ: “Who do you turn to for financial advice? When you’re between the ages of 18 to 26, most people seem to say some crazy uncle…your parent’s best friend that you trust, but would never trust a parent…Frank just seemed to be really fitting for that.
Everything that deals with student debt is very corrupt … it’s not honest. We wanted something that stood for respect, dignity and honesty and Frank meant honest as well, and it’s super easy to remember…it just seemed to be a good name that was approachable, friendly, simple and honest.”
AOL: What was your personal experience with the FAFSA? Was there any point in the process that a lightbulb went off to create something like Frank?
CJ: “I spent a lot of time on the banking side trying to figure out how to lend money in a more responsible way, and have banks give a shit. it always came back to the one thing which was here was no ally for students. I would meet all these amazing families across the U.S. that would suffer from student debt … you just want the best for everyone and you need to find the way to do that … and that was the turning point for Frank, realizing that banks wouldn’t be the allies of students, the universities wouldn’t be the allies of students, and the government was subsidizing the whole space. there had to be a good actor that really stood by a family’s side even when most people didn’t think it was a valuable opportunity … we believe the opposite and built a big business from it as well.”
AOL: Who did you turn to when you came up with the idea — How did you assemble a team and how did they help you get it off the ground?
CJ: “This is my second tech company — it always helps to have a network of people that you turn to … I’m very lucky that my pervious investors were willing to take another bet with me … But honestly, the first people that you go to are your customers.
I spent a lot of time in high schools — part of my personal volunteering has always been around helping high school students around math, science and college applications, from a tutoring perspective. I got to understand their stories a lot better, and understand why it was so painful. and looking at it through their eyes really shaped the company first.
In terms of assembling a team … you hear a lot about diversity when it comes to Silicon Valley and how difficult it is, but what people don’t realize is that diversity isn achieved at your 100th employee when you name a chief diversity office, or at your 10th. it starts at the very beginning. It was very important to me that the first hires that we made were from different socioeconomic levels, had different backgrounds, but still had the professional experience to bring to the table.
And i think its reflected in our team from the standpoint … i think thats super important as you build something, to build something thats representative of the product you’re selling.”
AOL: How long did it take you to get Frank rolling, from the time you had the idea to where you are now?
CJ: “I moved from the banking side in June 2016, and we had a version of our product ready for October 1st of last year.
We worked with 5 high schools in the South Bronx, which was the poorest congressional district. It was two charter schools and three department of education schools that we went into and helped students file FAFSA with our software, and that was all done offline … it was private. And then we launched March 29, 2017 … we’re now over 120,000 and $3.5 billion of aid awarded through our platform.”
AOL: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as young entrepreneur?
CJ: “I think the biggest thing along the way turned out to be almost like a definition of optimism that you learn, and how to communicate effectively between your customers, your investors and internally on your team. And as an entrepreneur, you get up everyday thinking ‘Today is going to be a good day,’ or else you would not get out of bed. The big thing that i learned is whether you believe it’s a good day, you still need to have your two feet on earth and make sure everything’s running to connect the dots and make everyone around you motivated to also get up everyday and say ‘Today’s a good day.’
AOL: Is it challenging being a young boss? What age range do you find most of your employees fall under?
CJ: "We have tremendous talent — some in their 40s and 50s and some where we’ve promoted people that are 23, that are on that same level. And i think thats the beauty of having a product thats mostly geared toward millennials, between 18 and 24, there are many things as a young entrepreneur that you’re actually more intuitively aware of with the market you’re serving.
I think leading by example is one way [to manage the age discrepancies], making decisions with data is something that almost becomes necessary — To fill the trust gap between people who have 20 years of experience is basically 20 years of accumulating more data than you have. What it ends up being, is that you lead in a very rational sense and you expect your direct reports and your executive team to be questioning everything you do just as much as you question everything they do. It becomes this very non-emotional way to lead an organization, so that you know you’re making the right choices as fast as possible to move the company forward.
AOL: What’s next for Frank?
CJ: “We are looking forward this year to being the market leader in helping students with financial aid and getting to 10 percent of the population — hopefully between 2.5 and 5 million people filing FAFSA with us!”
You can learn more about Frank here.
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