As a former banking executive, John Jackson saw
firsthand the problems that financial institutions have tracking and
managing loans from application through closing. Often it's done
manually, Jackson said, with front-line loan officers sending e-mail
reports to supervisors, who would then spend the day piecing
together the parts of a financial jigsaw puzzle.
What bankers could use, Jackson figured, was a
computer system that could bring all the financial facts to their
fingertips, following every step of the lending process and
generating detailed updates. They needed a daily report rich with
charts and graphs and alerts showing how many applications were
being considered, where they were in the lending process, what
paperwork was still missing and how much money would be needed in
the coming days for closing.
Jackson could envision such a
program, but there was one problem: He didn't know how to create it.
"I wasn't a programmer. I was a bank guy," he said.
Jackson first took his idea to software
engineers, but they said it would take up to five years to create
the program. Then he took a different tack: Over the next 12 months,
"I went to classes, read books, and trained myself to be a
In December, three years after launching his
effort, Jackson released LendingCycle, a Web-based loan-tracking
service that is already making waves.
On Jan. 11, Jackson's new company secured its
first contract -- with Community First Bank, based in Harrison, Ark.
-- and Jackson said he expects to have three more deals signed by
the end of this month.
"We just rolled out the product," said Dave
Morton, chief executive of the Arkansas bank, which has 20,000
accounts, four locations and 170 employees. "We think it's going to
be an excellent tool."
Technology like LendingCycle can "save
everybody a lot of time," Morton said. "Eventually, I think it will
be very useful to our organization and something that'll become just
a routine -- like signing onto your computer in the morning and
signing onto your e-mail. That'll be the first thing you do, go to
your pipeline reports" on loan activity.
Jackson, who had been executive vice president
of First Bank in Louisville before taking a job with a startup
virtual reality software company, admits he didn't know exactly what
he was getting himself into when he began developing LendingCycle.
He had always loved technology and thought he
could master programming in three to six months. But it was "harder
than I thought it was going to be, he said. "I have unbelievable
respect for people who are commercial programmers, because it is
tough. I mean, it is not an easy discipline."
"Three months into it I thought I was crazy,"
he said. "I really did think that, man, it was a high-minded idea,
but maybe I made a bad choice here."
Fortunately, people in Louisville's tech
community provided lots of help, asking nothing in return, he said.
"I think once I got rolling on it, they were surprised at how
diligent I was in not giving up."
Jackson's quest meant sacrifices from his
family. His children, Blake, Kate and David, now 13, 10 and 4,
respectively, were warned that they would have to give up vacations
and other leisure activities for a while, "just because we can't
afford it. We can run up to grandma's and see her in Indiana."
Jackson gave up coaching his children's sports
teams. "But every night I made a point, since I started this, to
stop working at 6:30 and then I start again at 9:30 once everybody's
in bed, so that we have that time."
His wife, April Jackson, saw her home's formal
dining room converted to a tech center, with computer servers and
stacks of software boxes lining a table.
Money was always tight, but Jackson said he
resisted looking for investors early on because he didn't want
partners pressing him to bring the product to market before he
thought it was ready -- something "which happens a lot, and I saw
happen when I was at the banks," he said. "We probably sometimes
The finished product is run not out of his
dining-room tech center, but on servers in Indianapolis. It's
available by subscription for a monthly fee. That's a pleasant
surprise to companies that are "used to paying a big setup fee at
the beginning," followed by charges for quarterly or annual updates,
Jackson said. With LendingCycle, there are no setup fees, and users
never pay more than $69 a month per user, he said.
The system is designed to be quick and easy,
Jackson said, with most functions "available in one or two clicks."
So far, Jackson said, he hasn't tried to sell
his service in Louisville. When a startup goes to hometown customers
it's assumed, "Well, they don't have enough money or resources or
ability to get out to people outside of Louisville," Jackson said.
He wants to come back to Louisville's financial institutions when he
can say he is already doing business with banks in Arkansas,
Tennessee and Indiana. "That makes the conversation a lot easier."
While LendingCycle was designed with banks in
mind, the core of the software can be adapted for other businesses,
Jackson said. With that in mind, he has registered 97 Web site names
such as DayCycle.com, for day traders, AgentCycle.com, for real
estate agents and BrokerCycle.com, for mortgage brokers. For now,
however, the company remains focused on banks, Jackson said.
"You never know when you get into something
like this how it's going to turn out," he said. "And to take three
years to build it, not knowing for sure whether the market will
receive it or investors will either, and to have it work out as well
as it has so far has been fantastic."
"I wake up every morning and can't wait to get
at it," he said. "I'm happy I was able to stick to it."
Reporter Bill Wolfe can be reached at (502)