The Inc. 500 List


Just a few months ago I was both honored and proud to stand on stage and accept a reward on behalf of Optima Tax Relief for its incredible achievement of being ranked #3 on the Inc. Magazine Fastest Growing Private Companies list for 2015.

To me, Optima Tax Relief represents the culmination of over 15 years of dedication to consumer finance and making a difference in the lives of so many that have experienced financial hardship in one form or another. I think what separates Optima from other firms in the consumer finance sector is a dual focus on both our clients and our team. We recognize that content employees make the entire customer experience better and creates a flywheel effect that only enhances all that we do here. Remarkable growth can’t be achieved alone and what the Optima team has done over the last few years with zero outside capital from investors is simply remarkable. That strong focus by ownership truly created something that has set the standard not only for tax resolution, but for the entire consumer finance community.

Jesse Stockwell

Jesse Stockwell – Finovate Spring 2015


LoanNow Unveils Group-Signing at Finovate Spring 2015


I’ve been fortunate to experience many cool moments in my two decades of entrepreneurship.  Recently, LoanNow (for which I’m co-founder and lead investor) gave me yet another moment that ranks among the coolest.   I joined my fellow co-founders at Finovate, Silicon Valley’s legendary tech and finance conference, where we unveiled our latest innovation: LoanNow’s Group-Signing.

Group-Signing expands upon our mission to revolutionize subprime lending – finally bringing fair, affordable and transparent loans to consumers with less-than-perfect credit.

And a tip of the hat to my partners, Harry Langenberg and Miron Lulic, for delivering a sterling presentation on stage!

To see Group-Signing in action, check out this video from the event:


Why Hard Work & Perseverance is Key to Success


There are two extreme and opposing views on success.

One the one hand, you have those that think unsuccessful people deserve their sorry state because they are lazy and lack focus; and that the wealthy, famous and happy among us are entitled to their success because they have earned it through pure determination and good work ethic. Not surprisingly, most of those who hold to this view are already successful.

The other view is that family money, dumb luck and connections are the main drivers of success. Again, not surprisingly, that view is particularly popular among the poor and less accomplished members of society.

Thomas Corley’s book, Rich Habits; The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, has an interesting statistic that summarizes well these opposing worldviews.

When asked whether good habits or luck played a more important role in creating opportunity, 84% of the wealthy believe good habits create opportunity, while only 4% of the poor feel good habits are the determining factors of opportunity.

A classic example of people who preach the work ethic route to success with evangelic zeal is Morgan Freeman. When interviewed by Don Lemon on CNN on the subject of income inequality he was asked whether he thought race had anything to do with inequality. He answered:

“Today? No… You and I, we’re proof. ‘Why would race have anything to do with it?’ he added. ‘Put your mind to what you want to do and go for that. It’s kind of like religion to me—it’s a good excuse for not getting there.’”

I mostly agree with Freeman. After all, the whole purpose of this article is to make a strong case for perseverance and hard work as drivers of success. However, to say that race, gender, the old boy network or being born into money have no effect on income inequality is naïve and disingenuous, and flies in the face of countless studies. But don’t be too hard on Freeman, according to research by social psychologist Paul Piff, narcissism and psychological entitlement are a side effect of being wealthy.

I don’t care if rich and famous people think they are entitled to their success and that everyone could be just like them if only put their mind to it and worked hard. They are not actually hurting anybody and if it makes them feel extra special, so be it.

However, when you believe that success is just a product of blind luck and corruption and that only those with family wealth and connections can be successful you’re not only wrong, you’re also holding on to a belief that is destructive because it breeds complacency and pessimism.

So here is my case for hard work and perseverance as keys to success.

The Odds Are Stacked Against Success

Whether you’re talking about finding the perfect spouse, getting a big role in Hollywood, or starting the next billion-dollar business, the odds of actually achieving your goal are, to put it kindly, slim. So you better be ready to fail plenty of times if you want to have a chance of succeeding.

Take for example venture capital investments. Venture capital companies are run by highly trained, wealthy and well-connected people who make a living from investing money in promising businesses. Yet, according to a recent research by Shikhar Ghosh, a lecturer at Harvard Business School, three out of four startups backed by venture-capital fail. His research was based on 2000 companies that received at least $1 million between 2004 and 2010.

If even venture capitalists, with all their wealth and influence, fail most of the time, perseverance and hard work must be an important factor to success for the less privileged.

Grit as A Predictor For Success

It’s not only big time successes, like becoming a billionaire or a world celebrity, that are difficult to attain. Even modest successes like raising a functional family, keeping a job, staying out of debt, saving enough for a comfortable retirement, just or graduating from high school are challenges that have ridiculously high failure rates. What predicts who will succeed and who will fail?

According to research at the University of Pennsylvania, grit and self-control are the best predictors of success. Researchers performed longitudinal studies on West Point cadets, National Spelling Bee participants, U.S. Special Forces candidates, novice teachers at tough schools, and graduation rates at inner-city Chicago high schools and found that grit and self-control, not IQ, SAT scores or physical fitness, were the best predictors of success. They also found that grit correlates closely with lifetime educational and career achievement.

So what is grit? Grit is the tendency to sustain interest and work hard toward long-term goals. It is strongly linked to self-control, because it often involves controlling your emotions and avoiding behaviors that would provide immediate gratification but would jeopardize your ultimate objective. It’s not surprising that people who are willing to forego short-term benefits for a long-term goal are more successful.

Many successful people, such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Jackie Chan and oil magnate T. Boone Pickens, aren’t great fans of inherited wealth because they feel hard work and learning how to struggle and overcome failures are key to achieving true success. That is why they (and many others) don’t plan on leaving much, if anything at all, to their children.

As Jackie Chan famously said to a Channel NewsASIA reporter, “If he [his son] is capable, he can make his own money. If he is not, then he will just be wasting my money.”

Good Habits As Products of Grit and Drivers of Success

Eating healthily, lifelong learning and exercising regularly are just a few examples of good habits that require grit and are good predictors of success. Thomas Corley’s book, Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals lists many good habits that correlate closely with success in business. His research is mainly limited to his clients, he is a little quick to equate correlation with causation, and many of his conclusions are just common sense, but some of the examples do illustrate the importance of perseverance and hard work. Here are my favorites:

– 70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day.
– 23% of wealthy gamble. 52% of poor people gamble.
– 88% of wealthy read 30 minutes or more each day for education or career reasons vs 2% for poor.
– 86% of wealthy love to read vs. 26% for poor.
– 80% of wealthy are focused on accomplishing some single goal. Only 12% of the poor do this.
– 67% of wealthy watch 1 hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% for poor
– 6% of wealthy watch reality TV vs. 78% for poor.

So there you have it. Just avoid junk food, don’t gamble, exercise and read daily, obsess on a single goal, and avoid watching too much TV – particularly reality TV – and you will be on the road to a life of bliss and success.

The Bottom Line

The rich and privileged have an unfair advantage over the rest of us. Just like those of us who were born in developed countries have a huge and unfair advantage over most of those born in developing nations.

Get over it already. Work hard, expect to fail most of the time, and show some grit. It will not make the world any fairer, but it will go a hell of a long way toward improving your chances of success.


Why Search Marketing Is Crucial For Any Businesses


If you seriously have to ask why search marketing is important for businesses, you might as well ask why electricity and telephones may be of value to your businesses.

Actually, that question was asked when phones were first invented. It’s one of my all-time favorite “bad prediction quotes.”

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” Western Union internal memo, 1876.

Although you could argue Western Union has done well to still be around 120+ years later, it should be a larger telecommunications company than Verizon and AT&T put together, instead of the niche money wiring company it now is. When telephones first came out Western Union was the leading telegraphy provider in the United States and was ideally positioned to transfer from telegrams to telephones. Western Union did dabble a little in telephones but soon lost interest in the newfangled contraption.

If your company is not already investing aggressively in search marketing, here are some reasons why you should consider it.

Most Internet Traffic Comes from a Search Engine

Search marketing focuses on improving the visibility of your business when consumers search for keywords related to your business in search engines and social media sites. This can be done in two main ways, by ensuring your business appears close to the top on search engine results or by paying search engines and other websites to sneak you to the top of the line. As a 2013 study by Conductor indicates, these are effective methods of driving potential customers to your website. The study found that over 50% of all website visits originates from natural search traffic and 6% comes from paid visits.

However, search engines only work for you if you’re good at search marketing. A June 2013 study by Chitika showed that the top ranking listing on Google’s results page received 33% of the traffic. The second result received 18% and the 10th result only got 2.5%.

Internet Users Are Too Large A Demographic to Ignore

According to a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Internet Project (, 87% of American adults use the internet. In the United States alone, there are over 500 million internet connected devices.

Ignoring minorities, such as left-handed people (10% of population) or the color blind (11%) may be mean, but it’s not necessarily bad business. Businesses require a critical mass of potential clients before they can justify the investment cost of entering into a new demographic.

Ignoring internet users, however, would be more like turning away all right-handed customers or focusing your entire marketing budget exclusively on the color-blind.

The increase in internet use is not only an American trend. The 2013 edition of Internet Trends ( indicated there are now 2.4 billion Internet users around the world. That represents around 30% of the world’s population (7.2 billion in 2013 according to the United States Census Bureau).

It’s Bigger Than TV, Radio and Print

People now spend more time online watching and listening to their smartphones, desktops and tablets than watching TV. A 2013 survey by eMarketer, reported that we spend 5 hours and 9 minutes a day on digital devices and 4 hours and 31 minutes watching TV. Although radio and print are still relevant – we spend 1 hour and 26 minutes a day listening to it and 32 minutes reading newspapers and magazines, the attention they receive from consumers is dropping dramatically.

If you believe advertising is an important tool for your business (duhh!) and you want to reach as many people as possible (double duhh!) then online search marketing should be your first priority.

Even People Who Don’t Buy Online Research Your Business Online

Even if you feel your clients are unlikely to buy your product or services online, the chances are they will check your website or read reviews of your business before committing to making a purchase. According to a report on “Consumers in the Americas” by Euromonitor, 84% of shoppers in North and South America now use smartphones as a tool to compare prices or to respond to queries rather than talking to an employee.

This trend of researching online when buying products and services is even more dramatic in the United States. A study by NPD Group revealed that 97% of consumers in the U.S. research online before they make a purchase.

Ensuring you have a solid online brand and that your clients get the information they are looking for when they google your business is no longer a cute gimmick. It’s as basic as putting a sign on your storefront or having a business card. In fact people are much more likely to see the information about your business online than by walking past your office or reading a business card.

Most Internet Traffic Comes from a Search Engine

Search marketing focuses on improving the visibility of your business when consumers search for keywords related to your business. This can be done in two main ways, by ensuring your business appears close to the top on search engine results or by paying search engines to sneak you to the top of the line. As a 2013 study by Conductor indicates, this is an effective method of driving visits to your website. The study found that over 50% of all website visits originates from natural search traffic and 6% comes from paid visits.

However, search engines only work for you if you’re good at search marketing. A June 2013 study by Chitika showed that the top ranking listing on Google’s results page received 33% of the traffic. The second result received 18% and the 10th result only got 2.5%.

My Business Is “Just For Locals” Is No Longer An Excuse

One misconception that has prevented many businesses from looking into search marketing is the idea that it only makes sense for large national and international corporations and that local businesses are better off investing in tried-and-tested traditional marketing methods. The actual data on this issue paints a much different picture.

According to a May 2007 report by Google, 73% of all internet activity is related to local content. Another study by the Kelsey Group and ConStat found that 70% of American households use the internet to shop for local products and services. This is not just a few passionate techies driving up the numbers. A study published by Moz, a leading search engine optimization consulting company, shows that 86% of internet users have used the web to search for a local business.

In fact, search marketing is more important than listing your business in the phone book. A survey by comScore revealed that 54% of all searchers (online and offline) have given up on phone books altogether.
If anything, local businesses – particularly smaller businesses – have more to gain from investing in search marketing targeted to local users.

In a Nutshell

Whether you own a quaint mom and pop shop or you’re the CEO of a multinational corporation, you will benefit from a well-implemented search marketing campaign. It’s not just that search marketing opens your business to more clients; it also provides much higher quality leads than traditional advertising methods.

Search marketing allows businesses to target only consumers who are specifically looking for their products and services. Search engines have turned marketing on its head. Instead of businesses spending money to tell consumers what they need; now it’s consumers who search for the services and products they want and companies who compete for their business. Businesses have a choice. They can either sulk and complain about the new state of affairs or adapt and use search marketing to elbow their way to the front of the line.