Many of the greatest entrepreneurs in history are known today due to their willingness to do things and take on risks that others could not or would not face. David Zalik, the founder and CEO of GreenSky , is a good example. Zalik, 44, risked literally everything he had more than 12 years ago to found the company that today ranks as one of the most important firms in the fintech sector. It was Zalik’s unique combination of certitude, willingness to take big risks and, somewhat paradoxically, deep business conservatism that have defined the success of GreenSky .
Now, as the company mulls an IPO that some analysts are saying may be worth as much as $10 billion, the world is watching to see what the next step for GreenSky will be. But as many who have closely observed the firm over the course of its history will point out, the GreenSky business model itself has not changed much from its earliest days. It has just proven to be so versatile that the company appears to be doing radical new things when, in fact, it is simply applying the same solution to a wide variety of different industries.
Big moves for a small company
When Zalik first conjured the idea behind GreenSky based on his years of working in the home improvement business, he had difficulty finding a bank willing to lend him the startup capital needed to get his venture off the ground. Eventually, this problem became intractable. Desperate, Zalik effectively reverse mortgaged his entire $12 million commercial real estate fortune and poured every cent of it into his new business.
This risky all-in move at a time when his company had barely registered as a corporation would prove to be one of the best bets in American industry over the last two decades. By 2018, GreenSky was worth in excess of $4 billion. Zalik’s vision of creating a seamless way to provide retail-level bridge financing for big-ticket items has been roundly vindicated. GreenSky’s soaring valuation provides evidence of how farsighted Zalik’s original bet really was.