Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and an online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Matt Tengtrakool, the CEO of Oban Market. Let’s learn what’s happening at Oban Market and how Matt is making a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Hi Matt, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Oban Market?
Matt: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! At Oban we are working to make fair credit accessible to individuals and Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) in Nigeria. Limited financial literacy and credit history in microfinance markets results in insanely predatory lending rates: 15-35% per month for borrowers. By providing an online microfinance marketplace and financial empowerment tools, we provide proxy credit scores that help ensure that borrowers can secure the best rates on their loans, improve their financial knowledge, and have a long term plan for credit.
Spiffy: Those are shockingly serious lending rates! Could you elaborate on what further motivates you to do it?
Matt: To the both of us, my co-founder Hilea and I, this is an extremely important passion. Growing up, I've been very passionate about building tools to make finance accessible, especially for young people. My first startup was focused on financial education, and along with that I built a paper-trading tool for students. I met my co-founder Hilea as roommates during our freshman year at Harvard, and his experience as an international student from Ethiopia where his family struggled to get credit inspired our mission to make financial opportunity as accessible as possible. Before this we worked on a lot of different projects together from building decentralized credit networks to AI financial advisors.
Spiffy: What is the impact of your work?
Matt: So far we have helped over 10,000 people on our platform to find the best loan plans that fit their needs. For a majority of these users we improve their lending rates by 5% or more per month; our average interest rate cuts the average in half. We are continuing to learn about how we can best improve our users’ financial health day by day, and our goal is to help impact the lives of one million users by the end of this year.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your community?
Matt: We are currently working on our education program, a series of educational videos and courses that help people improve their financial literacy as well as unlock access to better loan deals. Moreover, we are partnering with leading banks and microfinance providers in Lagos to establish this education program to their customers, as well as build pipelines for Oban users to port credit histories from one provider to another. We were recently a finalist for the President Innovation Challenge Open Track. This support from Harvard means a lot in helping us to catalyze our growth into the future.
Spiffy: Congratulations! Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Matt: You can visit our financial comparison tool at oban.market. We are a growing team hiring passionate engineers and problem solvers who are interested in building creative solutions in accessible finance. We are growing fast and backed by amazing founders and investors in the African fintech space. I would love to tell the audience, especially the young people who have a vision of change they want to see in the world: if there's a problem that you think should be solved, go out there and solve it. Every great movement starts with a small idea and a whole lot of persistence.
Spiffy: True that! Thanks for speaking with me today, Matt—it’s been an honor!
Matt Tengtrakool is a sophomore at Harvard, originally from Burlington, Massachusetts. He studies Computer Science and Statistics, focusing his work on fintech and AI. Outside of school and his work at Oban, he loves to chat about the outdoors, write about civics and ethics, and play tennis! (Nominated by Alex Parks at the Harvard Innovation Labs. First published on the Ladderworks website on June 14, 2023.)
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.
© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.