Economic crisis, market volatility, geopolitical unrest, unprecedented inflation: The aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic have shaken the foundation of the global economy.
The tremors have touched nearly every sector, but few industries have been rocked as wildly as the housing market. Accounting for an expansive stake in the whole of US economic activity, the housing market often vividly reflects its nation’s economy.
According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the number of homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages peaked in spring of 2020 in the millions. While peace in the market gathers, many homeowners still seek support for their home loans.
That’s where Stavvy comes in.
What Stavvy Does
When Stavvy conducted its first-ever fully digital loan modification, the ripple effects were felt far beyond the room in which it occurred.
Founder and CEO Kosta Ligris remembers the moment vividly.
Stavvy and a lender were working with a single mother seeking a loan modification for her mortgage.
“There are many people that need to modify their mortgage because of hardship — as you can imagine, there has been a tremendous amount of hardship in certain sectors of the economy,” Ligris said. In a traditional loan modification, the burden of retrieving the FedEx package, filling out the modification perfectly on her own and returning the documents within a set time period would fall entirely on the borrower.
This dense, often complex process — which can drag on over a week — came and went in 15 short minutes on the digital platform, under the watchful eye of a veteran lender.
When every “i” had been dotted and “t” crossed, there was a pause. The borrower took a breath.
“Are we done?” she asked on a video call with a representative from the bank, Ligris and several of his engineering leaders.
“Yes,” the SVP of servicing and loss mitigation from the bank answered. They went on to share with the borrower how much her monthly payment had decreased in the last quarter of an hour.
Flooded with relief, she broke into tears.
“After the call, the bank SVP FaceTimed me and started crying,” Ligris said of the pivotal moment. “Then I started crying.”
“We were all crying for different reasons,” he continued, laughing lightly. “But it was a moment where I realized that we were living up to the expectation that Stavvy can really power a different type of experience for life’s defining moments.”
Ligris is no stranger to life-defining moments: Stavvy is in the midst of many.
“Buying a house is a huge moment in someone’s life, but sometimes the defining moments are signing a power of attorney when you’re sick, appointing a healthcare proxy, selling your business — or saving your business,” Ligris said.
“Or signing adoption papers,” he added, his voice softening.
When Ligris considers these lofty moments, he thinks about the room in which his customers sit.
“In these moments, people remember what the room looked like, what the room smelled like, who’s in the room with them,” he said. “These moments can be really scary, but to allow people to do it on their terms in an environment they choose is pretty powerful.”
While Ligris spoke, he sat with his hands folded on the smooth surface of the pine conference table in front of him, leaning forward as the story crescendoed. On either side of him, Chief Operating Officer Amy Huchthausen and Director of Business Operations Katelyn Nerbonne nodded along, immersed in Ligris’s storytelling.
Both Huchthausen and Nerbonne are visible stalwarts of Stavvy’s evolving culture. Nerbonne, whose voice is measured and calm, heads up the company’s year-old blossoming business operations team. Huchthausen has ascended through three C-level roles in her first two years with Stavvy.
“I was initially hired as chief impact and culture officer, then transitioned to chief administrative officer and just recently moved to the COO role,” Huchthausen said.
Ligris chimed in: “The first person to go through three C-level roles.”
“I tested them out to find the right fit,” Huchthausen said, grinning.
“As the number two, the only other role she can have is if she takes me out,” Ligris added.
Laughter erupted from the table, bouncing from the midnight blue walls that housed the trio.
In this moment, Ligris, Huchthausen and Nerbonne were gathered in one of Stavvy’s conference rooms. Light flooded through frosted plate glass windows, illuminating a whiteboard smattered with the smudged remnants of lively debate — a reminder of the past brainstorms, iterations and post-mortems that have led Stavvy to this moment.
Built In gathered with Stavvy’s leadership to discuss the company’s unique position in the digital world, its burgeoning culture and what they hope Stavvy will become in the future.
Kosta described your culture as deeply intentional. What does an intentional culture look like at Stavvy?
Founder and CEO Kosta Ligris: Sometimes people need a change, and I’ve always wondered, “Why do people need to leave a company to find that change?” That change can be created within an organization.
When you know somebody adds to your culture, it’s your responsibility to keep them within an organization — and find organic growth opportunities for them to develop their professional careers, dreams and aspirations.
NURTURING THE INNOVATION ECOSYSTEM
Chief Operating Officer Amy Huchthausen: To that point, we have invested well in our people operations team, which has allowed us to be thoughtful about our employee experience. As an early stage startup, our organization is shifting as we grow and mature. For example, when someone has capabilities that could be used in a different or new function, we can do an internal transfer to allow them to utilize those abilities in a new way.
We want to have the best technology, so we need to have the best people and the best people managers in technology. We invest a lot of time in our people operations team coaching first-time managers to develop them as leaders — which is important for retention of them and their team members.
Also, the diversity that we have here on the executive team reaches throughout the company. I was able to come in the door and see every day thereafter how we live up to our values — from diversity to how we care and respect each other, how we collaborate and how we hire and recruit.
Director of Business Operations Katelyn Nerbonne: Leadership sets the tone of understanding that people are humans first. There’s what’s happening in the office, then there’s what’s going on in our personal lives. Stavvy has a respect and celebration for those moments. You see it all over our Slack channels. You see it in our recharge days, in the mental health benefits and family time.
Office FOMO Is Real
We’ve talked a lot about Stavvy’s impact today. What does that impact mean to you?
Ligris: I’ve operated professional services companies and have been in the real estate, money and mortgage ecosystem for over 20 years now. Lending has really struggled to keep up with the level of innovation that other financial services and fintech platforms have been able to achieve.
We talk a lot about responsible innovation. How can our technology position financial institutions to better serve not just their existing customers but customers in underrepresented or underserved communities? There are parts of this country where there isn’t a branch of a local bank that can offer really competitive rates.
We’re aiming to take down some of the existing fragmentation and roadblocks that exist with brick-and-mortar lending and in-person notarization. One of the fastest-growing home buying populations in this country is Spanish-speaking families. Yet most disclosures are still provided in English. Most notaries are likely English-speaking.
This is where technology closes the gap.
When you’re doing the process online, you can schedule it and provide accessibility for all people — language accessibility as well as those with low or no vision. There are so many things that can be done using technology to improve what can arguably be a demeaning process for humans in the brick-and-mortar world.
Huchthausen: We’re aiming to disrupt an ecosystem that touches so many different industries.
And we’re aiming to disrupt in a way that is consumer-friendly with all the right sorts of responsible innovation. Beyond the huge challenge in front of us, I love the impact that we have on our customers: lenders, banks and consumers. These are people like you and I: friends, moms and dads. We’re driven by making their experience better.
Nerbonne: That defining moment of purchasing a home — and some of the headaches, frustrations and difficult decisions that go with it — resonated with my personal experience.
This is a technology that can remove a lot of friction from the experience. People are able to engage with a borrowing instrument in a way that they haven’t been able to previously. On the environmental side, we’re starting to measure the environmental impact of removing paper, transportation and shipping. Coming from an agriculture technology startup myself, I am excited to focus on sustainability.