21 May 2015

Kenny and Sean Salas: Camino Financial


Kenny and Sean Salas (MBAs 2015)

Tell us about your business.

Camino Financial is an online lending platform extending credit to underbanked small businesses. The company uses a proprietary credit scoring system to assess the credit for businesses with limited or no credit history. Our products and services are uniquely designed to service the largest and fastest growing underbanked business segment in the U.S.— Hispanic-owned businesses.

Tell us about yourself.

We’ve been business partners for 30 years. As twin brothers and classmates, we founded Camino Financial at HBS and have always been determined to make an impact in the Hispanic community. We believe that extending capital to Hispanic-owned small businesses is a big way to make a difference. We grew up in an entrepreneurial family with our mother (an immigrant from Mexico), who started a small Mexican restaurant and grew it into a restaurant chain in Southern California. We witnessed both the successes and hardships our mother experienced in managing a small business. When she closed her business after 25 years, we moved to Mexico, where we lived until we were 20 years old. Determined to relive the American dream, we attended UC Berkeley and thereafter worked in investment banking and private equity in New York City. Attending HBS gave us an opportunity to revisit our passion to make an impact in our community. Hence, the birth of Camino Financial.

What have you learned from HBS?

The most transformative learning experiences at HBS come from our peers. We often encounter what we call “black boxes,” in which we find an issue that we don’t quite understand. For instance, we had never heard of a credit scoring algorithm before attending HBS. To learn about what an algorithm actually is, we met with a fellow classmate who had built one for a peer-to-peer lender. It’s not unusual to find industry experts attending HBS. And poof, all of a sudden we were building our own. Today, Camino Financial’s algorithm is in its second generation and will serve as the technical foundation for our credit decisions going forward. In addition to the algorithm, we have encountered countless black boxes that have turned into rays of light.

The New Venture Competition was a tough learning experience. We (and many others) thought we had a real chance to win the competition given our early business traction, but we ultimately did not even make it to the semifinals. When anyone questions your capability to tackle big problems in the world, it hits you like a ton of bricks. And yet we made a big mistake in not anticipating all concerns about the business model and the team. We have since retailored our pitch to proactively address all potential concerns. We are also quick to remind prospective investors that 300 businesses owners have already trusted us and our capabilities. As is common knowledge at HBS, numbers don’t lie.

Where is your business headed in the future?

To date, Camino Financial has originated almost $800,000 in loans and is expanding into Los Angeles to make a big splash in the Hispanic business market. We plan to raise up to $1.5 million to grow our sales and marketing efforts and further develop our IT capabilities. In the medium-to-long-term future, our vision is to create the leading financial services provider to underbanked small businesses in the U.S. and beyond.

What do you, personally, hope to accomplish in the future?

Simple. Raise our families and help our community.

An interesting fact or two about yourselves.

In our earlier lives, we co-directed several short-films and aspired to be Hollywood actors/directors.

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