[quote style=”boxed”]I like batting ideas around in small groups with people of different backgrounds, expertise and opinions. Once something is half-baked, we’ll test it – either in-market or through modeling. [/quote]
Frustrated by getting his first mortgage, Doug Lebda saw a need to empower consumers in what is, for most, the largest financial transaction in their lives – financing a home. He envisioned a process where lenders would compete for the borrower’s business in a fair and open marketplace. And through this process, lenders would be able to target exactly the right consumers to grow. With that vision, LendingTree.com was founded in 1996 and has revolutionized how consumers shop for loans and how lenders reach new customers, recently helping the 30 millionth borrower through their mortgage process.
After the company was founded in 1996, it was launched nationally in July 1998. Doug led LendingTree through a successful IPO in 2000, through the dot-com meltdown of 2001 and a successful sale to IAC/InterActiveCorp in 2003. From 2005 to 2008, Doug served as IAC’s President and Chief Operating Officer, leading the company through a transition from a holding company to a unified operating company. In 2008, Doug rejoined Tree.com as it spun out from IAC as a separate public company. Today, Tree.com connects consumers and businesses more broadly than just mortgages including; cars, auto finance, education and home services.
In 2010, Doug launched the LendingTree Foundation which empowers individuals in their personal financial lives through education, action and support by matching clients with personal financial coaches. He’s also a former Trustee for the Darden School Foundation and a former Board member of the Bucknell Alumni Board.
In addition to LendingTree and his non-profit work, Doug helps lead other companies that are transforming the way consumers transact online. He’s the Chairman of the Board of Recyclebank (recently named one of the 50 most innovative companies in the world), Co-Founder of Tykoon (an innovative financial platform for families and children) and is an active mentor and angel investor. In his free time, he enjoys time with his three daughters, is an avid runner and enjoys an occasional round of golf. Doug has also completed two ironman triathlons, accomplished the Mount Rainier summit with a group of LendingTree employees and recently competed in ultra-marathons.
What are you working on right now?
Finding ways to improve the LendingTree customer experience through technology and product innovation. We’ve had a shift in focus towards the customer and providing the best possible experience that we can deliver.
Where did the idea for LendingTree come from?
While working at PwC in 1996, I started the home buying process and realized that the mortgage rates posted in bank windows and in the newspaper weren’t the rates that I was being offered. In order to compare rates from different lenders, I had to go in person to fill out multiple applications, all of which had the same questions and complex language that as a CPA I had difficulty understanding. I thought that there had to be a better way to find a mortgage and feel confident I made the right choice in my home loan decision.
How do you make money?
We have a network of over 250 lenders who compete for the business of the customer. When a user submits a qualifying form on LendingTree.com, that information goes through our matching algorithm and is delivered to lenders who would most likely be able to help that particular customer. While lenders do pay a fee for each ‘lead’, there is no cost to consumers.
What does your typical day look like?
I’ll usually try to exercise by either going for a run or doing CrossFit, then check emails and normally do a call on the way to the office. I’m typically in meetings most of the day, split between investors, management updates and working sessions with people in our product and technology group. Between meetings, phone calls and responding to emails, I also connect with a few start-up companies that I mentor on the side. I’ve been in their shoes and wish I had someone who could advise me professionally.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I like batting ideas around in small groups with people of different backgrounds, expertise and opinions. Once something is half-baked, we’ll test it – either in-market or through modeling. I tend to take on the role of coming up with the bigger concept and then I trust my team to bring it to fruition.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’d have to say mobile. Having every piece of information literally in the palm of your hand is fascinating.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
One summer I was a dishwasher in a restaurant. I learned what it felt like to start on the bottom and the value of hard work. Thankfully, within a month I was promoted to the esteemed position of prep cook.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t have been as reluctant. I took a leave from business school to start LendingTree and I almost didn’t do it. Looking back I wish I would have jumped in head first instead of hesitating.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Talk to your customers. There is nothing better than direct feedback. Not through a report or spreadsheet but with actual people who have had good and bad experiences with your company.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Being worried about dilution from investors. We went public in 2000 and we needed more money than we raised but I assumed the market would be better in 6 months after we were public and a year later, had to scrape together an equity round at one quarter of the value. When money is available, take it.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There should be a one stop shop for every service related to your home and not have to comparison shop or figure out who to call. When something is broken, it would be great to call one number and you know you’re getting quality service at a great price and it’s taken care of.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I’d have a less intrusive government. I believe that people left to their own devices would unleash and would create a much better society.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
If I could do any job in the world other than the one I have, I’d want to go to culinary school and become a chef. I’d certainly be kind to the dishwashers.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
1. Pandora – you can play music for whatever mood you’re in without having to know more than a few songs.
2. iPhone Navigation because I have no sense of direction
3. Netflix – there’s nothing like having your three daughters be able to get along for two hours in the backseat of a car.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Jim Collins – Good to Great. Instead of an author’s opinion on what it takes to succeed, it’s based on solid research on how to build a great company.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
Jack Welch – as a legend, he has great insight and posts thought provoking content that usually makes you stop and rethink your management strategy.
Fred Wilson – He links to some fascinating reads and gives followers interesting information
Guy Kawasaki – he gives great marketing insights and his blog is inspiring
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
A friend of mine recently lost his father and when I first heard the news, my five year old daughter, Sophia, asked me why I was upset. I explained how my friend’s father passed away and that everyone will miss him. Sophia paused, gave me a hug and then replied with “Well when you die, I’m just going to keep you here as my dead daddy!” She has impeccable comedic timing.
Who is your hero?
What’s been the key to LendingTree’s success?
Employee empowerment. Give employees the tools they need to do their jobs and then get out of their way.
What’s one thing still on your bucket list?
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with my childhood best friend, Dave.
LendingTree on Twitter: @LendingTree
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.