As Upgrade’s CEO, Renaud is enabling the company’s mission of helping consumers move in the right direction with responsible financial products that put more money in their pocket. Under his leadership, Upgrade has delivered over $18 billion in affordable consumer credit to consumers in just over 5 years and launched Upgrade Card, an innovative credit card named the fastest growing credit card in America by Nilson Report in 2021 and 2022, making Upgrade the only Fintech company ranked in the top 25 U.S. Card issuers. Upgrade was ranked the fastest growing company in the Americas by the Financial Times in 2021. The company was valued at $6.3 billion in its latest financing round in November 2021.
Renaud pioneered consumer fintech over 15 years ago, establishing personal loans as a mainstream affordable credit product for consumers looking for an alternative to high-interest credit cards. His efforts to reduce costs, improve user experience and transparency, and help consumers access more responsible credit products have set a standard for other fintech companies. Renaud founded and ran Lending Club for over 10 years and took the company public in the largest US internet IPO of 2014, raising over $1B in proceeds and valuing Lending Club at more $10 billion. Lending Club was then the largest provider of personal loans in America.
Renaud was ranked #23 in Bloomberg Markets’ 2015 Most Influential List, an annual ranking of the World’s top 50 most influential leaders across technology, finance, and politics. Renaud was also recognized at the Clinton Global Initiative by President Clinton for expanding access to affordable and responsible credit. In 2014 he won the Economist Innovation Award in the consumer products category. He was ranked one of the top CEOs by Glassdoor Employees’ Choice Awards in 2015 and was named the “best start-up CEO to work for” by Business Insider in 2014. Renaud was named Finovate Fintech Executive of the Year in 2020. Renaud holds the Newport-Bermuda speed sailing record with a time of 23 hours, 9 minutes and 52 seconds at an average speed of 27 knots.
Renaud holds an MBA from HEC and London Business School and a JD from Montpellier University.
What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?
I live in San Francisco, so a lot has already happened in Europe and on the East Coast by the time we get up and get to work, so the first couple of hours are really about playing catch-up and responding to questions from the East Coast. Then it’s usually a series of regularly scheduled meetings and one-off meetings and calls. I tend to divide my time equally between representing the company with outside stakeholders like investors, partners and press on the one hand, and working on product or marketing and spending time with the team on the other hand. I keep it productive by keeping it fun, focusing on what I like and do best, and allocating everything else to people who do it better than I would.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It’s all about the customer experience: when we work on new product ideas, we picture our customers using the product, including every minute detail of that experience and the value our customers will expect and derive from the product, and how it’s going to make a positive impact in their lives. For example, when we created Upgrade Card, we specifically designed the product for larger, occasional purchases (buying furniture, appliances, a bicycle, etc.) and visualized every step of the process. This really helped shape both the product experience and marketing campaigns, and Upgrade Card became the fastest-growing credit card in the US over the last 2 years.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The convergence of payment and credit products, driven by fintech companies like Upgrade. We feel we can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives by giving them the tools they need to make good decisions that will help them move in the right direction with their finances, and their life in general. Combining payment and credit helps bring better context and better tools to purchase decisions.
What is one habit that helps you be productive?
Tracking my time: I started doing this a few years ago, I know exactly how much time I spend on every aspect of managing the company. This is not just interesting data, it is a powerful decision-making tool and gives me the ability to allocate more resources (including my own time) to different areas of the company.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Keep doing what you’re doing, don’t get discouraged by the naysayers, you’re on the right track!
Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you on?
I think people should work on their strengths, not their weaknesses. It is somewhat counter-intuitive, as we all have a natural tendency to “not suck” at the things we do, but the reality is if you really suck at something and decide to expend a lot of effort and energy in that area, you might improve to the point where you become merely mediocre. But what good does that really do? On the other hand, if you’re already good at something, and decide to focus all your energy into getting better, you have a shot at becoming really great, and that makes all the difference in the world.
What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?
Recruit. Continue to be on the lookout for the best possible additions to the team. Building a team is a never-ending task in a growing company.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?
Product innovation. We never stopped innovating and bringing new solutions to market that help consumers move in the right direction and get more money in their pockets. Upgrade Card was already a very innovative product, and we made it even better by combining Upgrade Card’s credit card capabilities with debit-like features that make it even easier for consumers to manage their finances and optimize for rewards. This was innovation on top of innovation!
What is one failure in your career, how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?
I failed at managing compliance and internal control risks at Lending Club. I learned from it, and these areas have become key focus areas at Upgrade.
What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?
It feels like factoring should be a bigger industry in the US. It is big in Europe and in other parts of the world, someone will figure out how to make receivable financing more efficient in the US, there is no structural reason for the relative lack of availability here.
What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Slack is very useful for real-time communication, for a quick check-in on a matter that doesn’t warrant an email.
Do you have a favorite book or podcast you’ve gotten a ton of value from and why?
The Kaiju Preservation Society, a really fun science fiction book written during the pandemic. Very original idea and well written.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.