Angelo is all about the minimal lifestyle. After his “great banking purge,” he now owns only eight shirts and five pairs of shoes. Zero suits. He has four apps on his phone. He swears by eco-friendly products that leave less clutter and carbon footprint in the world. To Angelo, KonMari is not a fad, but a way of life. However, as Country Manager of Tala Philippines, his days are anything but minimal.

7:00 AM – Conference call kickoff 

Angelo, and several team members in the Philippine office, usually begin work days with morning conference calls as early as 7:00 or 8:00 AM, syncing up with colleagues from Tala’s headquarters in Los Angeles toward the end of their work day. “It’s definitely not for everyone. I think it comes with a certain set of expectations that your time will be stretched. It takes a lot of preparation and planning, being adaptable, being comfortable with the information you have, and having the guts to make a decision. But what I find most fulfilling about working with a global team is that you get to work with the smartest people around the world. I know that I too have to bring my A-game in order to deliver for my team.” 

10:00 AM – (More) meetings

It’s not even 10:00 AM and Angelo’s had at least three meetings already. He’s off to another one, an in-person meeting this time, with one of Tala’s current business partners.

Safety first! Angelo rides to work daily on his electric scooter.

12:30 PM – Scooter ride to the office 

After lunch, Angelo makes his way to the office on his scooter, dangerously braving the streets of Makati and Osmeña Highway. “This isn’t Santa Monica,” he’s heard countless times but he insists it’s the faster and more cost-efficient option. Plus, he enjoys talking to food delivery drivers when stuck in traffic, getting a real pulse of life in Manila on a daily basis. The office is newly renovated, a far cry from the scrappy space he set foot in when he first joined the company nearly two years ago. “There were wires everywhere. We were doing user interviews, KYC, basically everything in this small room. I just came from New York then and called my wife because I thought I got scammed,” he recalls, laughing. “We’ve come a long way.”

Before diving into financial services, Angelo was a lawyer in Manila for five years. He made a career pivot when he pursued an MBA at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and spent the next six years in Citibank New York, most recently co-founding a startup in Citi Ventures, which exposed him to the world of fintech and venture capital. When asked why he decided to go back to the Philippines, Angelo says, “Personally, I feel more authentic here. When I’m in the Philippines, I’m closer to my culture, my roots, my family, my friends. Happiness is a very complicated word, but one of the strongest inputs there is the quality of relationships we have. I want to find a place where I can be most true to myself and I want my kids to have that same experience. Professionally, I think the biggest opportunity is Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is really a bedrock for innovation. We have funding, talent, and the market converging to disrupt financial services through technology.” 

Vanessa, our user researcher, goes over Tala’s research pipeline with Angelo.

2:00 PM – Time for the team

Angelo spends the rest of his packed afternoon catching up on Slack, getting work done on his own, and meeting with local leads for Growth and Operations. Internal meetings and whiteboard sessions with Angelo notoriously go over time. The same is true for unplanned chats, where his “Do you have a minute?” really means 20 minutes, and “Do you have 5 minutes?” is code for 45. His team can’t blame him. Angelo is a spirited and brilliant conversationalist. He brings energy into every meeting and challenges everyone to think 10X bigger, leaving people both exhausted and inspired. “He’s intense,” says Vanessa, user researcher for the Philippine team. “But the good kind,” she quickly adds. It’s not surprising that his energy and work ethic rub off on a lean team, which has been instrumental in catapulting Tala to the top of Google Play Store charts as the highest rated mobile lending app in the Philippines. To Angelo though, Tala has barely scratched the surface. “My vision for Tala is to be the leading mobile platform for bringing the most trusted, relevant, and accessible financial products for the unbanked in Southeast Asia. By bringing those products to the unbanked, we can graduate them up to the formal financial institutions.”

Angelo participates in a brainstorm session with our (unintentionally color-coordinated) Philippine Growth team.

Raised in a culture that is known for its agreeableness, Angelo seems like an anomaly. He follows his instincts despite deviating from conventional practices; he constantly debates and asks the hard questions. His persistence has helped push local and global teams to rethink and act on strategies that continue to positively impact the Philippine business. However, he admits that it has also gotten him in trouble plenty of times. “If you’re the person leading the change, you have to put yourself out there. It’s a difficult dance. When you’re the fire-starter, you want to change things, but people have different temperaments and situations, so there’s definitely a psychological cost. As a leader, you have to make the hard decisions, and you don’t get to those decisions if you keep on being agreeable.” 

Despite this, people know that Angelo only has the best intentions. He is passionate and generous, all stemming from a deep and genuine care and compassion for people. “That’s how my parents raised me. I guess I’m wired that way — to care for my team, to dive for the loose ball, to stand up for the people. Winning a business will take more than what I know. It’s not about me. It’s about the team, trusting each other and having the courage to push our services the best way we can to our customers who need us the most. Without that understanding, Tala will not be successful. If we invest in our people, the return in dividends will be significantly much higher. It’s one of the investments we have to make to move our business forward.”

5:30 PM – Family time

Before heading out, Angelo never fails to approach his team and ask, “Do I owe you anything?” He is a wanted man, and tends to get pulled into different projects for support and feedback. But at the end of the day, he recognizes that his main obligation is to his team. At 5:30 PM, Angelo heads home to his four bosses, his wife and three kids, where he says “the real work begins.” We don’t hear from him, as we shouldn’t, while he spends dedicated time with family in early evenings. 

9:00 PM – Last call

By 9PM, Angelo usually creeps up in Slack again, ending his day just as he started it, updating colleagues from the other side of the world.

Fond of analogies, Angelo explains that to thrive in a startup, one has to be like a duck — calm and graceful on the outside, but paddling vigorously underneath. Some may agree that Angelo is a duck, but with motor skills far closer to a jackrabbit’s. Others would say he’s a firecracker, but his fire never really goes out. Maybe he’s just fire, constantly burning, emitting energy and light. He didn’t sign off on this analogy, but as Angelo would know more than anyone else, sometimes you’ve just got to run with it.

As a team working to unlock access and opportunity for billions around the world, Tala believes that having equitable representation and opportunities within our workforce is critical to successfully fulfilling our mission. Following the end of 2017 — a year in which our company more than tripled in size — we undertook a study on the state of our company’s diversity, with a specific focus on our U.S. office.

The following letter outlines the results of that study and describes what diversity and equity mean to us. It also lists some of the steps we’re taking this year to build an even more diverse and equitable team. Though we still have a ways to go, we’re excited to open a dialogue on these issues and hear how other organizations are making diversity a priority.

This is our inaugural open letter. We look forward to sharing another that reflects on our progress next year, and doing so each year to come.

2017 was a year of reckoning across many industries, perhaps tech most of all. What was startling was not the breadth of workplace toxicity and harassment — which most of us were well aware existed — but the (mostly) unequivocal recognition that radical change is needed.

In this context, we undertook the first study on the state of diversity and equity at Tala. We intended to publish a diversity report, but after digging into the numbers and hearing directly from our teammates about the issues that mattered to them, a basic report seemed somehow insufficient. As a data company, we know that while numbers are important, they don’t tell the whole story. Demographic percentages do not necessarily equal progress (or regress) and do not capture the totality or humanity of a person’s experience.

In 2018, we don’t need more demographic reports. We need more companies willing to put in the hard work of building and rebuilding cultures that believe in the humanity of all people and create equality of opportunity.

So rather than publishing a diversity report, we are using this opportunity to outline our company ethos and mission, to which diversity and equity are inextricably linked. We’ll take stock of how we’re doing against this vision and what we aim to do to get better. We’ll also ask for ideas, because we know that for all the stories of harassment and exclusion, there are real, inspiring examples of leaders and companies who are getting this right.

Diversity, equity, and the Tala mission

Tala is a mobile technology and data science startup with a strong social mission: to expand financial access, choice and control for underserved people globally. We serve an increasingly global customer base with complex and unique needs, and fulfilling our mission requires a diverse team of equals working together across borders and boundaries. It is our firmly held belief that our company culture should reflect the kind of world we want to build: one where all people are seen, understood, and trusted and have an equal opportunity to fulfill their potential.

For us, this belief translates into a company culture that values not just diversity in the traditional, demographic sense but also equality of opportunity for all team members. Many companies call these initiatives “diversity and inclusion,” but we have deliberately chosen not to use the term inclusion to describe our efforts. While well-meaning in theory, we believe that the idea of “inclusion,” by definition, does little to dismantle the power imbalances that exist between those who do the including and the historically excluded. We want to go one step farther — to even the playing field from the beginning, for both our customers and our team members.

Throughout our growth — which has included more than $105m of venture capital raised and an expansion into several countries — Tala has built a global team that is rich in worldviews, experiences, and backgrounds. Our diversity is the foundation for a dynamic company culture that brings creativity and rigor to every new challenge, and we have worked to develop equality of opportunity through our cultural foundations and organizational structure.

But that’s not saying we’re getting everything right, or that we can’t get better. We know that, as we grow, we’ll need to find new ways to capitalize on the abundance of ideas and insights that come from all of our people in all of our offices. We’ll need to become more intentional about building and maintaining diverse and equitable teams. The culture we developed unconsciously, when we were a handful of people sitting around a few tables, will need to be consciously and deliberately realized.

Inside the Tala walls: Numbers and Culture

Building a team that has the diversity of perspective required to pursue our global mission starts with ensuring our workforce exceeds standard demographic measures for our industry. At the end of Q4 2017, Tala had around 165 employees, including 62 at our Santa Monica headquarters, 67 in Nairobi, and 31 in Manila. Additional team members are located in Mexico and India.

More than half of those 165 employees were from the countries where we operate, creating a rich experience day-to-day for not just our U.S.-based team but for all Tala employees who benefit from cross-cultural learnings and insights. (Today, that count is upwards of 250 team members globally, and that ratio is closer to one-third U.S., two-thirds markets.) Our engineering team is a great example of this commitment in action: at the end of 2017, out of our 17 full-time engineers, 8 of them were based in Kenya, with the same levels of responsibility and career opportunity as their U.S.-based counterparts. Our U.S. engineering team benefits from having engineers closer to the customers we serve and our Kenya engineering team benefits from working in a best-in-class technical environment.

While we know that our global offices contribute to the abundance of unique ideas and perspectives at Tala, we know that it would be a mistake not to examine the demographics of our Santa Monica headquarters. Diversity has a very specific meaning in the United States, particularly within the tech sector, where historically underrepresented groups continue to be underrepresented. Using 2017 EEO-1 data from 22 major Silicon Valley companies, including Apple, Google, Salesforce, and others, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that underrepresented minorities made up anywhere from 5%-24% of these companies’ workforces.

At the end of Q4 2017, our U.S. team was 47% women and 53% men — nearly equitable. Additionally, just over half of people managers (those with 1 direct report or more) were women. Gender equity, however, was not evenly distributed across all U.S. teams: only 33% of our data team and 11% of our engineering team were women; men made up only 25% of our people operations team.

When we looked at race and ethnicity in our U.S. office, our team in total was 47.5% white / Caucasian; 32.5% Asian; 5% black or African American; 2.5% is Hispanic or Latino; and 12.5% identified as two or more races. 48% of people managers in the U.S. (those with 1 direct report or more) identified as White/Caucasian and the remaining identified as Asian.

We’ve tracked these trends since raising our seed round in 2012. Over time, the gender balance in our U.S. office has remained nearly equitable; and while the overall percentage of White/Caucasian employees has increased, we’ve meaningfully increased the percentage of other 
underrepresented groups.

Categories such as these, however, are limiting for many reasons. Assuming clear gender binaries, for example, or using a descriptor as broad as “Asian” to describe a multi-ethnic demographic gives us only a small piece of the story. It helps us track progress year over year, but it does not capture the totality of our employees’ experience. We know that the hard work of building a diverse and equitable culture often happens in less concrete or quantifiable ways — for example, in the day-to-day human interactions between a manager and a report, or between team members spanning global offices, or even when we decide to do a “happy hour” focused on wellness.

We want a workforce that’s diverse by standard demographic measures, but once talent is in the door, we also want each employee at Tala to be free to be the best version of her, him, or themself and to have an equal opportunity to grow. The ongoing effort to build and maintain a diverse workforce begins with something we have control over: ourselves and our behaviors.

To this end, we recently spent the better part of a year defining Tala’s culture. We captured the behaviors and norms that have grown up over time and discussed what wasn’t working. We revisited our founding story to identify the key turning points and learnings that informed how we work and why.

The resulting system of beliefs and practices that make up Tala’s culture are summarized under the single idea of Radical Trust and supported by six Founding Principles. These principles are designed to help us bring equity to life across all teams: for example, reminding managers to “lead by serving,” or encouraging everyone of all levels to question assumptions

Throughout this year, with a strong culture as our foundation, we are focusing on taking actionable steps that can help build an equitable employee experience across all of our offices. These include:

  • Prioritizing collection of workforce analytics by maintaining good data hygiene through Applicant Tracking System, HR Information Systems and periodical qualitative surveys.
  • Adding annual unconscious bias trainings for all Tala-ites with a special focus on employees who have substantial influence on others’ employment lifecycle experience at Tala.
  • Harassment prevention trainings for all Tala-ites, with a special focus on employees who have substantial influence on others’ employment lifecycle experience at Tala.
  • Adopting new company-wide growth rubrics that provide equal growth and learning opportunities for every Tala-ite.
  • Reassessing the categories we use to measure and report on diversity and equity, including learning more about what diversity and equity mean for our international offices. This may include broadening definitions of gender or ethnicity, beyond standard demographic categories.

Outside the Tala walls: Recruiting and Pipeline

Tala, like most startups at our stage, is growing quickly. While there are larger, systemic forces affecting the diversity of the talent pipeline that we can work to influence, we wanted to better understand the levers we can directly control: who’s applying to Tala and who we hire.

At the top of our talent funnel, our applicants historically have mostly been white, Asian and mostly men. Interestingly, though, the highest conversion rate per category has come from our lowest volume — those who report as Hispanic or Latinx. What’s more, even though we get three times more men applying to our jobs, women have three times higher application-to-offer conversion rates.

These trends are meaningful, but we know there’s more we can do to attract and retain diverse talent, particularly for technical roles, and keep diversity at Tala moving in the right direction. Since we completed this study, we’ve seen dialogue open up around our talent sourcing, an increase in employee participation in affinity group events and speaking engagements, and the development of Tala Women, an inter-office employee resource group.

In addition, this year, we’re committing to:

  • Building a more diverse candidate pipeline for all roles at Tala but with a specific focus on teams that currently lack diversity.
  • Identifying ways to support organizations in the technology space (in the U.S. and Greater LA Area) that are working towards preparing the next generation of diverse tech talent by supporting, training and engaging with historically underrepresented groups.

In closing

This letter is just the beginning. We welcome ideas and input from others facing similar challenges and who share our commitment to progress.

Some of our questions include:

  • What can we do more of (or less of) to attract and retain a much more varied set of applicants from different minority groups? From different ages and career stages?
  • In what ways can we broaden our definitions of diversity to include socio-economic background, ability, upbringing, political affiliation, religious beliefs, and other traits that are less easy to see or easily identify?
  • How can we do our part to realistically influence market forces, pipeline issues and corporate equity — and other issues outside our immediate control?

Please send your ideas, thoughts, and suggestions to people@tala.co.

Thank you!
#TeamTala

Anay Shah is the VP of Country Growth at Tala. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Anay is responsible for growth across all of Tala’s markets by driving marketing strategies and Tala’s global partnership vision. He comes to Tala from Remitly, the largest independent digital remittance company in the United States, where he joined as its 9th employee and helped the company grow to over 400 people serving customers sending over $4 Billion annually.

With Tala’s recent $65 million Series C, we’re invested in growing our teams around the world (we’re hiring!) and reaching more of the 3 billion people who are financially underserved. We sat down with Anay to discuss what brought him to Nairobi, why now is an exciting time for Tala, and what he’s looking for in a new hire.

Q: Where did you grow up? What led you to Nairobi?

A: I was born and raised outside of Washington, D.C. in Maryland. My parents are from India and immigrated here in the 1970s. A sense of home was important to them, so we returned to Mumbai every couple of years. Visiting this colorful, vibrant, and complex country gave me early exposure to what life was like for a billion other people on the planet. After studying political science in college, I knew I wanted to combine my international interests with some degree of social impact, so I joined an international development consulting firm, and was lucky enough to spend the next four years working across fifteen different countries. I became enamored by this concept of a “for profit social enterprise” and moved to India to join d.light, a leading solar power start-up in emerging markets.

After business school, I moved to Seattle to join Remitly, which is now the largest independent digital remittance company in the United States. I was there for a little over four years and had the good fortune of helping build a high growth startup, initially doing product management, later leading Global Business Development & International Expansion and finally running Remitly’s largest business line.

Most importantly, during my four years in Seattle, I met and married my wife, Sheeba. With our mutual love of life in emerging markets, we decided to pack our bags and leave the US. We went through a six month process to discover what we wanted out of our next life chapter, evaluating economies that would support both of us, cultures we were interested in, networks we had established, and countries we felt would be really great to live in. While neither of us had ever lived in Africa, we said ‘let’s roll the dice and do it,’ and bought one-way tickets to Nairobi!

Q: How did you get to Tala?

A: It feels like a wonderful combination of luck and fate. I arrived in Nairobi fairly open minded. I found myself talking to dozens of investors and entrepreneurs, and as I learned more and more about Tala, it became clear to me that this is an incredible business with a massive vision. I have always been attracted to companies with audacious goals, and Tala truly has the potential to disrupt financial markets around the world.

After speaking with Shivani, Tala’s Founder & CEO, it became clear that the fit was almost too good to be true. With a strong sense of mission, a visionary founder, an exceptionally smart team, and an amazing culture, working for Tala felt like another rare opportunity to help build a successful fintech company that has the potential to transform markets.

Q: How long have you been in Nairobi? What’s your favorite part about the city?

A: My wife and I landed in Nairobi with our five suitcases on New Year’s Eve 2017, and the city quickly welcomed us with open arms. What attracts us to Nairobi is how dynamic the city is — a cosmopolitan hub full of ideas, a thriving arts scene, and a super friendly population always working on their “side hustle.” Nairobi is an innovation hub for Africa and a fintech hub for the planet. Tech-related services in Nairobi grew over 20x to the $300 million industry it is today in just a decade. It’s also an incredibly livable city for expats because the weather is phenomenal and the people are extremely welcoming and friendly.

Q: How has your experience building Remitly affected the way you approach your role as VP of Country Growth at Tala?

A: It’s been incredibly instructive to reflect back on my Remitly experience. Remitly operated in the Philippines, Mexico, and India, three of Tala’s markets, so I was fairly familiar with the payments infrastructure, customer base, and fintech landscape in these countries when I joined Tala. On the operational side, Remitly is an extremely well-run organization that has a very clear and effective strategic framework, which has informed where I believe we want to go at Tala.

In terms of running country growth for Tala, I learned a lot about what true performance marketing means, and how to build a metrics driven culture where we’re making decisions that are both right for the customers and right for the business. At Remitly, and now Tala, we always connect the product that we’re building and the customer that we’re serving.

Q: What is the growth team currently working on?

A: The growth team is focused on expanding the reach of our product and services to billions more people in all of our markets. Whether it’s a Kenyan “mama mboga” food stall owner who needs capital to buy more fruits and vegetables to sell, or a Filipino worker who needs a bridge loan to make it to the end of the month, we want to be there for our customers. We have especially ambitious growth goals for 2018 and 2019, which will require us to make hard tradeoffs and execute exceptionally well. We also want to expand our credit offering, optimize our performance marketing engine and drive down unit costs so we can continue to be as accessible to customers as possible.

Q: Tala is looking for a Country Growth Manager to lead the business in East Africa and expand Tala’s product to millions more people. What most excites you about this role?

A: What excites me most about this role is that it will help drive an incredible brand in our largest market and in one of the most dynamic fintech markets in the world. We have a lot of fantastic ideas on how to expand our credit offering and services, and we need an outstanding, entrepreneurial, data driven leader to build the the strategy, roll up their sleeves, and execute on a growth plan for many years to come. We’ve only scratched the surface and there is so much room to expand.

Q: Describe the ideal candidate to join your team. What qualities are you most looking for in this role?

A: One of the things that has made Tala so successful is hiring people who are very empathetic to our customers, have high intellectual horsepower, and, importantly, are team players. We want someone who is a seasoned entrepreneurial leader and hungry to provide financial access, choice, and control to financially underserved people across the world.

Q: Why is it an exciting time for people come to work at Tala?

A: It’s an incredibly exciting time to join Tala because we are so well positioned to expand financial access to billions more people in path-breaking ways. Tala was the first to offer unsecured loans via smartphone in Kenya. When we launched, it was absolute magic — something that had never been done before! Over the last four years, Tala has built a brand around being visionary, being a market leader in the most dynamic markets in East Africa, and building deep trust with our customers.Now, with growth scaling 130% quarter-over-quarter, and over 50 positions to fill worldwide, the possibilities at Tala seem endless.

Want to build with @AnayShah and #TeamTala? We’re hiring! We are growth hackers, engineers, data scientists, customer experience designers, marketers, and finance geeks all passionate about extending financial freedom to the billions of underserved people across the globe. We believe in people from every type of background — around the world, and within our company. We call this #RadicalTrust. Come join our global team at tala.co/careers

Tala is excited to announce the recent internal appointment of a #TeamTala veteran who has been committed to our mission since day one.

Get to know Bonnie Oliva-Porter, our first Global Director of Diversity, Equity & Workplace Culture! Below, she shares her story, reflects on our industry and mission, and outlines a vision for diversity & equity at Tala.

A little over 7 years ago, a small group of impact-driven optimists working across two coasts began an adventure to explore a question: How might we make the financial services industry more inclusive and create visibility for billions of underserved people around the world? We called this founding team InVenture. Tinkering with simple feature phones and datasets around a kitchen table, we were nowhere near the international team and multimillion-dollar mobile credit platform we’ve built today. Despite our tremendous growth, one thing has remained consistent: the belief and practice that everyone sitting around the table is equally welcome to be their full authentic self, and contribute ideas that will be considered with equal value.

Tala recently released our inaugural open letter on the state of diversity and equity on our team, which nearly tripled in size over the past year. As a company focused on serving 3 billion financially underserved people around the world, it was important for us to reflect on how we’re creating access and opportunity within our own team. The letter reflected an effort to document our culture, revisit our founding principles, and capture the demographic figures of our fast-growing, global team. Our findings demonstrated that we have both a lot to celebrate and a lot of work to do; we believe that our diversity is key to innovation, and sharing the letter was just the beginning.

We considered the opportunity ahead of us — to build a team and advance a company positioned to solve a global challenge — and decided to restructure our People and Operations teams in parallel. After spending several years building and supporting our back-office infrastructure as we scaled, I was ready to pivot into a role that could address some of the company’s current pressing needs.

An excerpt from my job description reads, 
“The Global Director of Diversity, Equity and Workplace Culture acts as a strategic consultant to Tala’s business leaders and People team focused on attracting, retaining and developing talent that reflects our company’s D&E values and promoting an inclusive environment where employees at all levels can perform their best. This role develops, implements and monitors programs that promote diversity and equity at Tala. This role is responsible for developing training and initiatives to create and foster an open and equitable environment.”

I’d like to share why I’m elated to lead this work, and what I’ll do in the role.

I raised my hand to work at this because I care deeply about dismantling the unjust systems that are responsible for modern-day inequality, including the skill and opportunity gaps that have led to the formation of ivory towers in industries like tech. This industry, with its focus on innovation and disruption, is uniquely positioned to combat the legacies of racism, sexism, homophobia and other systemic issues that have led to widespread oppression and discrimination. In any fast-growing business, it can be easy to make tradeoffs between values and growth, and lose sight of the problem you set out to solve. However, with a clear mission and founding principles, Tala is committed to being a different kind of tech company, and my vision is for our company is to play a leading role in changing the industry standard and rebuilding new systems based on a level playing field.

I’ve been a member of #TeamTala for well over seven years, making me a veteran in startup terms. I’ve worked to help us grow from an idea to a company, from first customer to millionth customer (and counting!), and from small co-working spaces to a sunny, stylish office with two floors and a wellness room. I’ve seen us make mistakes, and then make tough decisions to course correct. I’ve led global operations and launched offices, establishing everything from corporate insurance to compensation policies, and all the other fun stuff that keeps our lights on. It’s through this work that I’ve gotten to know the intricacies of what helps team members in each of our markets feel motivated, effective, and seen. I’m excited to put structures in place that will formalize the practices and traditions we’ve created to empower global team members and create new traditions.

The work of diversity initiatives is not to keep everyone on their toes about being politically correct, or check for and judge levels of ‘wokeness’…but to further equip all Tala team members with tools and spaces that allow them to feel safe, brave and creative, so they can be fully empowered to help create access, choice and control for billions of people worldwide.

I had an incredible childhood growing up in the Bronx as the child of Honduran immigrants, surrounded by the rich Afro-Latinx culture that shaped my love of food, music and history. Like most immigrants, my parents instilled in me the importance of a strong education, and I attended world-class schools (De La Salle Academy, Phillips Academy Andover, Wesleyan University) that provided me with nurturing but complex environments. This allowed me to further deepen my connection to my identity, take part in building supportive communities, and be an advocate for those facing challenges within those environments.

As Tala’s first Global Director of Diversity, Equity & Workplace Culture, I’m thrilled to step into a role that proactively makes space for all of the identities at Tala to continue to thrive, and create space for new ones. We realize, of course, that this work goes much further than creating programs.

The work of diversity initiatives is not to keep everyone on their toes about being politically correct, or checking for and judging ‘wokeness.’ My team and I work to further equip all Tala team members with tools and spaces that allow them to feel safe, brave, and creative, so they can be fully empowered to help create financial access, choice, and control for billions of people worldwide.

My role will focus on helping our team answer some of the questions we outlined in our open letter, as we seek out best practices for scaling our values across new markets and growing offices. I’ll navigate how we make spaces for current and future team members to live those values, and raise awareness about issues that matter to them.

Here are a few key focuses of this role:

  • Designing and launching diversity & equity programs across all offices in support of underrepresented groups and all team members at Tala
  • Leading company efforts to develop a deeper understanding of how we might influence market forces with potential to broaden our talent pipeline and challenge our definitions of diversity
  • Building partnerships for our talent sourcing and recruiting initiatives by supporting and sponsoring organizations that are training and developing the next generation of diverse tech talent

When someone chooses to work at Tala, it’s because they care about seeing social change in the world. We want our culture, and the structures that support it, to help each team member harness that value into action. Serving our global customer base starts with serving each other, and co-building an environment that reflects a simple truth: whether we’re making decisions around a kitchen table, or charting strategy in the boardroom during a global conference call, there’s a seat for every Talaite, their identity, and their story.

My question and challenge for you is to consider: how does your team scale for people-first values? Let’s discuss! Share your ideas with us at people@tala.co.

Anmol Rastogi leads Tala’s India Product Team. As Tala’s India office continues to grow, Anmol shares why the Indian market is so unique, what he’s looking for in new hires, and his vision for Tala in India and beyond.

Tell us a little about yourself. What led you to Tala and how have your experiences working around the world shaped the way you approach product management?

I loved math and computers growing up, so I started my career at IBM as a software engineer. I soon realized I was more drawn to software design than coding though, as I really wanted to understand and solve consumers’ problems. This led me to product design roles in Australia, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, where I confirmed both my passion for managing the entire lifecycle of products and appreciation for seeking diverse solutions for complex problems.

India was booming left, right, and center at that time, so I returned for an MBA and worked at multiple startups as a product manager, including Paytm, India’s largest fintech. A former colleague then reached out to me about Tala. I was immediately drawn to Tala’s mission. I had actually started my own non-profit working with underprivileged children in Bangalore because I wanted to give back to my community but too much bandwidth went into securing the resources I needed to sustain. At Tala, though, we can provide our customers with access to the financial products and services they need at scale in a much more sustainable way. That’s why Tala is a sort of a holy grail in terms of having a cutting edge product and mission.

Tala is preparing to officially launch in India soon! What is most exciting about the Indian market in your opinion?

One of the single most exciting aspects of the Indian market is its size. Right now, we have hundreds of millions of potential customers in India, which is more than the combined population of other countries Tala is working in. There is a massive number of underserved people that need access to financial services, and Tala has the potential to help them. It’s the right time and we are doing the right thing.

With this scale and the need for our services comes other fascinating elements as well. India has multiple languages and cultures. There is massive diversity from the southern part of India to the north and from the east to the west. One cannot say that a set of hypothesis will always work within a particular city, so there’s no way you can do that for the entire country. These variations will come into play while shipping products in India and are also what make this market so exciting.

You’re hiring multiple android and backend engineers as well as a product manager. Can you describe your ideal candidates?

An ideal candidate for our product manager role is user-centric. They understand the customers pain points and can think from their point of view. Whenever they think about a solution, they not only have to think about how to build it but how to validate certain hypotheses. Moreover, there are changes that happen almost on a daily basis in India, with respect to consumers, competition, and regulations, so candidates should be very flexible in managing and adapting to change.

For our open technology roles, the primary characteristic we are looking for is the ability to think at scale. The solutions we are building are for a massive scale right now and we need people to help take us to the next level. Tala is like a rocket ship right now. If you join the rocket ship, you don’t know where the rocket will take you. There are hundreds of millions of customers in India and over three billion financially underserved around the world that we are aspiring to reach. As a product manager and as a techy, I have always dreamed about working on scale, and this is absolutely humongous scale we’re talking about.

Want to build with Anmol and #TeamTala? We’re hiring! We are growth hackers, engineers, data scientists, customer experience designers, marketers, and finance geeks all passionate about extending financial freedom to the billions of underserved people across the globe. We believe in people from every type of background — around the world, and within our company. We call this #RadicalTrust. Come join our global team at tala.co/careers

Mo Alabi is Tala’s Content Marketing Manager and is based in our Santa Monica headquarters.

What did I learn in Nairobi?

I ask myself this and stare at a blank screen.

At Tala, I manage content strategy — how audiences interact with everything from our voice, to our creative and visual communication — so a trip to get to know my Nairobi-based colleagues and interview our customers about their Tala experience should result in something akin to epic montages, captivating photography and page after page of ideas and possibilities.

Or so, one thinks. I stare at a blank screen and ask myself how I could possibly capture the smirk on Joshua’s* face, when we asked him about how he started his business and keeps up with customers. It’s a smirk that is filled with kindness, a sense of humor, and a look in his eyes that hints at the many, many stories he’s lived and trials he’s endured on his journey to entrepreneurship.

I stare at my screen and ask myself about how I can write about Mary’s* adorable kids, peeking out from behind her couch, as she shares her insights about growing with Tala and building trust with the customers that frequent her duka.

I think of eating nyama choma for the first time, then the third, fourth and fifth time with my colleagues while sitting at an outdoor restaurant and lovingly teasing another co-worker about his faux French skills.

I think of these things and ask myself what I learned and how to convey it here on our team blog. Several false starts later, the things I learned/felt/tasted/saw/loved/embraced about my time in Nairobi can be summarized in a few thoughts:

Community is key to success. We met our customers in their shops, and a byproduct of this was getting to observe how often they interacted with fellow shop-owners and neighbors. It was clear that maintaining these strong relationships was key to a thriving business; having the sort of interaction with a customer that makes them want to return — to share a joke, to seek advice, to purchase a meal or product. These all rely on a genuine shared experience that builds trust.

There’s creativity in resilience. Our customers like Mary and Joshua expressed how they learned what stock to keep, what products to sell, and how to price stock by paying attention to what was working for their businesses, being nimble about what was stagnant, and getting creative with available resources to sustain their work and customer base.

Learning from our customers, Tala strives for our product and company culture to hold these same values. We seek to foster community within our team, and leveragehuman-centered design strategies in creating new products or processes. We say ‘yes’ to risks, ‘yes’ to opportunities to improve our customer experience, and ‘no’ to anything that hinders us from our vision of opening up financial access for the billions of credit-invisible individuals around the world.

So, what did I learn in Nairobi? That I chose the right career path, the right company, and will dedicate my time on this team to helping make sure Tala is always the right choice for our customers.

*Names changed to protect customer privacy.

Tala is thrilled to introduce Reini Chipman as Tala’s first Chief People Officer! Reini joins Tala from Simple, a fintech company devoted to transparent banking, and has spent the last twenty years in technology, building and empowering world-class teams. As she starts her new role, Reini shares what attracted her to Tala, her top priorities for the role, and why now is an amazing time to join Tala’s rapidly growing team.

After learning about Tala’s incredible mission to provide financial access, choice and control for the underserved around the world, I was immediately inspired. I’m now thrilled and honored to join this team in solving a meaningful global problem and building a sustainable organization where people truly love their work.

As I settle into my new role, I wanted to share what I’ll be doing and why it’s such a privilege to lead a team comprised of some of the most passionate, brilliant, tenacious, and innovative humans from Santa Monica to Tanzania, Mexico, India, Kenya, and the Philippines.

As Tala’s CPO, I’ll be partnering with Tala’s CEO, Shivani Siroya, and her leadership team to build a world-class organization set up to realize Tala’s vision and business goals. Tala currently provides instant credit scoring, lending, and other personalized financial services for a massive underserved population in emerging markets. To continue expanding these services, one of my team’s top priorities is to build out our scaling plan, global organizational structure, and hiring forecast. We’re also investing in furthering our organizational capacity and effectiveness, diversity and equity, and employee engagement.

Now is an incredible time to join Tala, especially its leadership team. Not only are we hiring, but we have so much juicy work to do. Tala is serving over two million customers in four countries, with over 350 employees. To get to this stage is extraordinary, and we’re just getting started. There are still close to three billion financially underserved people out there who don’t have access to credit. We now get to focus on growth and scaling our ability to service more customers than ever by continuing to bring our highest value — Radical Trust — to life every day.

For a little background on myself, I’ll be moving to LA with my partner and son from Portland, Oregon. I’m excited to enter LA’s thriving tech scene and for my six-year-old to enjoy the rich diversity of humans and experiences in LA. I’m also psyched that after 20+ years in the Pacific Northwest I can finally take vitamin D supplements off my self care regime.

I’ll be bringing a strong belief in people to my role. Tala has a world-class team, and I’ll be focused on empowering them to continue doing what they do best. And since Believe in People is one of Tala’s six founding principles, I know I’m in good company. More than that, we don’t need to over-complicate or be bureaucratic. We simply need to build fair systems that ensure a diverse and equitable environment. Tala’s exceptionally talented team will do the rest.

Perhaps most importantly, as the chief people person, it’s on me to model what it looks like to love what you do. At Tala we have audacious goals, and we know we can’t achieve them without each person feeling able to bring their full, authentic self to work every day. Tears are welcome. So are belly laughs. If you’re up for the challenge, I invite you to come join us. You won’t regret it.

— Reini Chipman, Chief People Officer, Tala

Want to build with Reini and #TeamTala? We’re hiring! We are growth hackers, engineers, data scientists, customer experience designers, marketers, and finance geeks all passionate about extending financial freedom to the billions of underserved people across the globe. We believe in people from every type of background — around the world, and within our company. We call this #RadicalTrust. Come join our global team at tala.co/careers

Tala is thrilled to welcome Jen Loo as our new Chief Financial Officer! Jen joined in November 2018 and brings a unique blend of business, finance, and legal acumen through executive experience at high-growth companies. With experience spanning tech, e-commerce, and digital media, Jen shares what brought her to fintech, her thoughts on LA’s startup ecosystem, and how Tala is positioned to expand its help for millions of financially underserved across the world.

What’s most exciting about joining Tala’s leadership team now?

From a personal perspective, joining Tala is literally a dream come true. I vividly remember being an idealistic college senior learning about micro-finance for the first time. I fell in love with the idea of being able to give an individual — or, more incredible still, an entire community — a path to financial choice and freedom. But I also remember how insurmountable the problem of financial exclusion seemed, with high transaction costs, geographical dispersion, and limited budgets.

Fast forward over a decade and new technology, accelerated mobile penetration, and data science have unlocked previously unfathomable scale. This is what Tala has figured out and is leveraging to to help thousands of underserved. Every. Single. Day.

While our credit product is an important step, the team recognizes that it’s only the first in delivering full financial access. Joining now means I have the great privilege of helping define what’s next in Tala’s journey to reach and uplift the billions of underserved worldwide.

From LegalZoom to Reformation, you’ve worked with companies at different stages of scale and in very different industries. Can you describe your shift to fintech, and Tala specifically?

I have been remarkably fortunate to work for some incredible, mission-driven companies. I started my career at LegalZoom, whose founders and team were obsessive about fixing a broken system and making fundamental legal protections accessible to everyone, not just the privileged few. After that, I joined mitú, a digital media startup that gave a home and voice to the millions of Latino youth who rarely — if ever — saw themselves in mainstream American media. And most recently, I was at Reformation, who is committed to bringing sustainability to fashion.

While these companies were very different from each other, they shared two important characteristics, which I knew I wanted in the next chapter of my career. One, each leveraged technology to disrupt their respective industries. And two, each had a double bottom line and a strong mission that not only complemented growth, but drove it. Suffice it to say, Tala checks both these boxes a thousand percent.

As Tala’s first CFO, what’s top of mind for your new role?

Tala is creating the first financial platform for the world’s emerging middle class, and to get there, we need to expand our reach, deepen our product offerings, and continue to scale our operations. As CFO, my top priority is to ensure that data-driven decision-making fuels long-term financial sustainability for not only our customers, but also our company, our employees, and our investors. Together we can make good on Tala’s promise of financial freedom, without bias or boundaries.

What makes LA’s startup ecosystem especially interesting right now? In your opinion, how does LA stack up against other more established tech hubs?

When I started my career, LegalZoom was one of few thriving startups on the scene, so it’s absolutely thrilling to see LA grow into such a vibrant startup ecosystem. For those of us living in LA, it has always been clear that the talent and opportunities are prolific, but it’s only been in recent years that the recognition and capital have followed suit.

Many will say of LA, “well, it’s no Silicon Valley.” They’re not wrong! The LA ecosystem has had the freedom to grow organically, outside the confines of Silicon Valley playbooks and expectations. LA founders are also incredibly diverse, in both their backgrounds and their experience; they have have blazed their own paths, defined their own success, and written their own stories. Some have bootstrapped their businesses, while others have had to hustle harder than their Silicon Valley counterparts to get the same attention. But there’s power in that diversity of experience, and a strength in that hustle. I’m excited for LA to continue to grow and thrive, in its own way and at its own pace, and even more excited for companies like Tala to shape and drive LA’s future.

Want to build with Jen and #TeamTala? We’re hiring! We are growth hackers, engineers, data scientists, customer experience designers, marketers, and finance geeks all passionate about extending financial freedom to the billions of underserved people across the globe. We believe in people from every type of background — around the world, and within our company. We call this #RadicalTrust. Come join our global team at tala.co/careers

Diversity at Tala

A logo for Tala

This is not a diversity report.

As a team working to unlock access and opportunity for billions around the world, Tala believes that having equitable representation and opportunities within our workforce is critical to successfully fulfilling our mission. Following the end of 2017 – a year in which our company more than tripled in size – we undertook a study on the state of our company’s diversity, with a specific focus on our U.S. office.

The following letter outlines the results of that study and describes what diversity and equity mean to us. It also lists some of the steps we’re taking this year to build an even more diverse and equitable team. Though we still have a ways to go, we’re excited to open a dialogue on these issues and hear how other organizations are making diversity
a priority.

This is our inaugural open letter. We look forward to sharing another that reflects on our progress next year, and doing so each year to come.

2017 was a year of reckoning across many industries, perhaps tech most of all. What was startling was not the breadth of workplace toxicity and harassment – which most of us were well aware existed – but the (mostly) unequivocal recognition that radical change is needed.

In this context, we undertook the first study on the state of diversity and equity at Tala. We intended to publish a diversity report, but after digging into the numbers and hearing directly from our teammates about the issues that mattered to them, a basic report seemed somehow insufficient. As a data company, we know that while numbers are important, they don’t tell the whole story. Demographic percentages do not necessarily equal progress (or regress) and do not capture the totality or humanity of a person’s experience.

In 2018, we don’t need more demographic reports. We need more companies willing to put in the hard work of building and rebuilding cultures that believe in the humanity of all people and create equality of opportunity.


So rather than publishing a diversity report, we are using this opportunity to outline our company ethos and mission, to which diversity and equity are inextricably linked. We’ll take stock of how we’re doing against this vision and what we aim to do to get better. We’ll also ask for ideas, because we know that for all the stories of harassment and exclusion, there are real, inspiring examples of leaders and companies who are getting this right.

Diversity, equity, and the Tala mission

Tala is a mobile technology and data science startup with a strong social mission: to expand financial access, choice and control for underserved people globally. We serve an increasingly global customer base with complex and unique needs, and fulfilling our mission requires a diverse team of equals working together across borders and boundaries. It is our firmly held belief that our company culture should reflect the kind of world we want to build: one where all people are seen, understood, and trusted and have an equal opportunity to fulfill their potential.

For us, this belief translates into a company culture that values not just diversity in the traditional, demographic sense but also equality of opportunity for all team members. Many companies call these initiatives “diversity and inclusion,” but we have deliberately chosen not to use the term inclusion to describe our efforts. While well-meaning in theory, we believe that the idea of “inclusion,” by definition, does little to dismantle the power imbalances that exist between those who do the including and the historically excluded. We want to go one step farther – to even the playing field from the beginning, for both our customers and our team members.

Throughout our growth – which has included more than $105m of venture capital raised and an expansion into several countries – Tala has built a global team that is rich in worldviews, experiences, and backgrounds. Our diversity is the foundation for a dynamic company culture that brings creativity and rigor to every new challenge, and we have worked to develop equality of opportunity through our cultural foundations and organizational structure.

But that’s not saying we’re getting everything right, or that we can’t get better. We know that, as we grow, we’ll need to find new ways to capitalize on the abundance of ideas and insights that come from all of our people in all of our offices. We’ll need to become more intentional about building and maintaining diverse and equitable teams. The culture we developed unconsciously, when we were a handful of people sitting around a few tables, will need to be consciously and deliberately realized.

Inside the Tala walls: Numbers and Culture

Building a team that has the diversity of perspective required to pursue our global mission starts with ensuring our workforce exceeds standard demographic measures for our industry. At the end of Q4 2017, Tala had around 165 employees, including 62 at our Santa Monica headquarters, 67 in Nairobi, and 31 in Manila. Additional team members are located in Mexico and India.

More than half of those 165 employees were from the countries where we operate, creating a rich experience day-to-day for not just our U.S.-based team but for all Tala employees who benefit from cross-cultural learnings and insights. (Today, that count is upwards of 250 team members globally, and that ratio is closer to one-third U.S, two-thirds markets.)  Our engineering team is a great example of this commitment in action: at the end of 2017, out of our 17 full-time engineers, 8 of them were based in Kenya, with the same levels of responsibility and career opportunity as their U.S.-based counterparts. Our U.S. engineering team benefits from having engineers closer to the customers we serve; and our Kenya engineering team benefits from working in a best-in-class technical environment.

While we know that our global offices contribute to the abundance of unique ideas and perspectives at Tala, we know that it would be a mistake not to examine the demographics of our Santa Monica headquarters. Diversity has a very specific meaning in the United States, particularly within the tech sector, where historically underrepresented groups continue to be underrepresented. Using 2017 EEO-1 data from 22 major Silicon Valley companies, including Apple, Google, Salesforce, and others, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that underrepresented minorities made up anywhere from 5%-24% of these companies’ workforces.

At the end of Q4 2017, our U.S. team was 47% women and 53% men — nearly equitable. Additionally, just over half of people managers (those with 1 direct report or more) were women. Gender equity, however, was not evenly distributed across all U.S. teams: only 33% of our data team and 11% of our engineering team were women; men made up only 25% of our people operations team.

When we looked at race and ethnicity in our U.S. office, our team in total was 47.5% white / Caucasian; 32.5% Asian; 5% black or African American; 2.5% is Hispanic or Latino; and 12.5% identified as two or more races. 48% of people managers in the U.S. (those with 1 direct report or more) identified as White/Caucasian and the remaining identified as Asian.

We’ve tracked these trends since raising our seed round in 2012. Over time, the gender balance in our U.S. office has remained nearly equitable; and while the overall percentage of White/Caucasian employees has increased, we’ve meaningfully increased the percentage of other underrepresented groups.

Categories such as these, however, are limiting for many reasons. Assuming clear gender binaries, for example, or using a descriptor as broad as “Asian” to describe a multi-ethnic demographic gives us only a small piece of the story. It helps us track progress year over year, but it does not capture the totality of our employees’ experience. We know that the hard work of building a diverse and equitable culture often happens in less concrete or quantifiable ways – for example, in the day-to-day human interactions between a manager and a report, or between team members spanning global offices, or even when we decide to do a “happy hour” focused on wellness.

We want a workforce that’s diverse by standard demographic measures, but once talent is in the door, we also want each employee at Tala to be free to be the best version of her, him, or themself and to have an equal opportunity to grow. The ongoing effort to build and maintain a diverse workforce begins with something we have control over: ourselves and our behaviors.

To this end, we recently spent the better part of a year defining Tala’s culture. We captured the behaviors and norms that have grown up over time and discussed what wasn’t working. We revisited our founding story to identify the key turning points and learnings that informed how we work and why.

The resulting system of beliefs and practices that make up Tala’s culture are summarized under the single idea of Radical Trust and supported by six Founding Principles. These principles are designed to help us bring equity to life across all teams: for example, reminding managers to “lead by serving,” or encouraging everyone of all levels to
question assumptions.

Throughout this year, with a strong culture as our foundation, we are focusing on taking actionable steps that can help build an equitable employee experience across all of our offices. These include:

  • Prioritizing collection of workforce analytics by maintaining good data hygiene through Applicant Tracking System, HR Information Systems and periodical qualitative surveys.
  • Adding annual unconscious bias trainings for all Tala-ites with a special focus on employees who have substantial influence on others’ employment lifecycle experience at Tala.
  • Harassment prevention trainings for all Tala-ites, with a special focus on employees who have substantial influence on others’ employment lifecycle experience at Tala.
  • Adopting new company-wide growth rubrics that provide equal growth and learning opportunities for every Tala-ite.
  • Reassessing the categories we use to measure and report on diversity and equity, including learning more about what diversity and equity mean for our international offices. This may include broadening definitions of gender or ethnicity, beyond standard demographic categories.

Outside the Tala walls: Recruiting and Pipeline

Tala, like most startups at our stage, is growing quickly. While there are larger, systemic forces affecting the diversity of the talent pipeline that we can work to influence, we wanted to better understand the levers we can directly control: who’s applying to Tala and who we hire.

At the top of our talent funnel, our applicants historically have mostly been white, Asian and mostly men. Interestingly, though, the highest conversion rate per category has come from our lowest volume – those who report as Hispanic or Latinx. What’s more, even though we get three times more men applying to our jobs, women have three times higher application-to-offer conversion rates.

These trends are meaningful, but we know there’s more we can do to attract and retain diverse talent, particularly for technical roles, and keep diversity at Tala moving in the right direction. Since we completed this study, we’ve seen dialogue open up around our talent sourcing, an increase in employee participation in affinity group events and speaking engagements, and the development of Tala Women, an inter-office employee resource group.

In addition, this year, we’re committing to:

  • Building a more diverse candidate pipeline for all roles at Tala but with a specific focus on teams that currently lack diversity.
  • Identifying ways to support organizations in the technology space (in the U.S. and Greater LA Area) that are working towards preparing the next generation of diverse tech talent by supporting, training and engaging with historically underrepresented groups.

In closing

This letter is just the beginning. We welcome ideas and input from others facing similar challenges and who share our commitment to progress.

Some of our questions include:

  • What can we do more of (or less of) to attract and retain a much more varied set of applicants from different minority groups? From different ages and career stages?
  • In what ways can we broaden our definitions of diversity to include socio-economic background, ability, upbringing, political affiliation, religious beliefs, and other traits that are less easy to see or easily identify?
  • How can we do our part to realistically influence market forces, pipeline issues and corporate equity – and other issues outside our immediate control?

Please send your ideas, thoughts, and suggestions to people@tala.co.

Thank you!
#TeamTala