a16z-backed Tellus wants to help people use their savings to become real estate investors

Crypto is not having a good week, as Bitcoin crashed to under $17,000 — its lowest level in two years. The stock market continues to post declines as layoffs abound. Meanwhile, inflation recently reached a 40-year high.

For those looking for a safe place to park their cash and actually earn a decent amount of interest on their savings above the national average APY of just 0.20%, the options are not exactly plentiful.

Enter Tellus. The six-year-old fintech startup claims it can offer people yields of 3.85% to 4.5% on their savings balances by using the money to fund certain U.S. single-family-home loans. 

With mortgage interest rates having more than doubled since a year ago, one might think that this is not the best time to be a digital mortgage lender.

But co-founder Rocky Lee believes his company’s unique business model sets it apart from other such lenders in the space. 

For one, the company has a very niche offering. It targets existing home owners who wish to upgrade to larger homes without selling the homes they live in, which makes it difficult for them to get approved for loans by traditional mortgage lenders.

If it sounds complicated, well, it is.

Lee breaks it down as such: “The home they [Tellus’ borrowers] buy typically is not the starter home. What they are seeking is called a super jumbo loan, which is designed for people that actually don’t have a ready to use mortgage solution. And we provide that solution for those categories of people.”

So where does the savings part come in?

Tellus’ interest rates are typically two basis points higher than the standard conforming mortgage. For example, in today’s market if a loan’s rate is 7%, Tellus will charge 9% — a premium because it claims it’s offering to lend money to American single-family-home borrowers “in prime cities” who would otherwise not be able to get such loans. Because it is using its retail customers’ savings deposits to fund these loans at a 3.85% to 4.5% yield, Tellus makes its money on the spread of what it’s paying out in interest versus what it’s charging its borrowers.

Its retail customers are able to earn interest on a daily basis, while getting help with things such as budgeting funds and setting financial goals. Tellus says it promotes financial literacy by quizzing users on financial terms, for example, and then rewarding them with higher interest rates. At the same time, the company touts that it is enabling these consumers to invest in real estate in a way they would not have otherwise been able to while having the ability to withdraw their money at any time.

While its strategy might sound risky, Lee told TechCrunch that Tellus utilizes “very strict underwriting criteria” and has not yet seen any defaults because the majority of its borrowers go on to soon after refinance their loans at more favorable terms.

Since its 2016 inception, Tellus has lent out more than $80 million with an average loan size of $2 million. It partners with mortgage brokers to find borrowers. And it finds its retail clients via channels such as Instagram, TikTok and Google. Since the company is mobile-first, it focuses on people using a smartphone. Tellus allows anyone in the U.S. to use its savings software. It only lends in California because that’s where it has a lending license and partnerships.

Despite a challenging real estate market, the company says it grew its revenue by 55% in the third quarter compared to the second quarter of 2022, according to co-founder T Zhu. And earlier this year, it raised $16 million in a seed round of funding led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and with participation from All-Stars Investments, Alumni Ventures, Decent Capital, Vectr Ventures, West Arrow and Westwood Ventures. Co-founders of YouTube, Lime and Sereno Group Real Estate also participated in the financing, which followed a $10 million SAFE.

The remote-first, Cupertino, California-based startup is emerging from stealth as it seeks to build out its engineering, marketing and product teams, adding to its headcount of 50. It also plans to build upon its recently launched new offering aimed at SMBs. 

a16z-backed Tellus wants to help people use their savings to become real estate investors by Mary Ann Azevedo originally published on TechCrunch

AARP Innovation Labs takes a holistic approach to age-tech at CES

When young (or youngish) people think of age-tech, they may picture mostly clinical solutions—telemedicine platforms, for instance. Growing older, however, doesn’t just have a physical component. Isolation, for example, is a serious issue for elderly people, especially during the pandemic. And older people still have to manage their day-to-day routines and finances, not just plan estates and wills.

AARP Innovation Labs, the incubator program, highlights the many facets of aging in its CES’ virtual presentation with a roster of startups that were divided into five groups: community, clinic, wellness, financial services and housing.

The program included fintech startups because of the pandemic’s economic impact, focusing on three companies that “are helping aging populations better manage finances and budgets, and effectively plan for the future.” Originally created to teach kids and teenagers financial literacy, Goalsetter is expanding its reach to more people with savings and investment management tools. Genivity creates customized financial projections based on users’ health and lifestyle habits, medical conditions and retirement goals, showing them how many years they might need to work before retiring and and what point they may need extended care. Trust & Will, meanwhile, makes it easy for families to create guardianship plans, wills and trusts.

Isolation was a serious problem for older adults even before COVID-19 and the pandemic has made loneliness worse. AARP Innovation addresses that problem with its selection of “community” startups. While many people already rely on other video chat apps, Kinoo wants to tailor the experience for families with elderly relatives living away from them. It IoT toys for kids that let them play games and do projects with their grandparents and other family members through Kinoo’s app.

A tabletop console gaming system, Gameboard, also lets family members enjoy fun time, instead of just chat time, with one another. It hosts hundreds of games, including role-playing games. Beeyonder is a marketplace for live virtual expert-led tours around the world, and can help alleviate the boredom of staying at home while the pandemic drags on.

Many of the startups in AARP’s incubator focus on aging in place, or helping older people stay in their homes instead of moving into a care facility. Its “Housing” section included three companies focused on personal mobility. Camino Robotics is creating “e-rollators,” or smart walkers with features that help people walk over slopes and uneven surfaces, brake automatically when going downhill and folds into “compact mode” for navigating tight spaces. Braze Mobility says it can turn any wheelchair into a smart wheelchair with patent-pending blind spot sensors that warn about obstacles through lights, sounds and vibrations. Meanwhile, De Oro Devices’ NexStride, created for people with Parkinson’s, is a small device that can be attached to canes and walkers and uses audio and visual cues to help users overcome freezing episodes and go on longer walks.

Meanwhile, Tellus is a startup that helps people live on their own with small wall-mounted sensors that can track biometric data, including heart rate, breathing, sleep and falls, from up to five meters away, and sends alerts to caregivers and family members through an app.

In its wellness category, AARP Innovation presented three startups focused on overall health and well-being. These included Zibrio, which was also part of AARP’s CES line-up last year. Zibrio is a scale that not only measures weight, but also gauges a person’s balance and fall risk. The company says Zibrio’s balance scale can predict if you are at risk of falling within the next 12 months, and its app then gives personalized care recommendations. While many people track their nutrition and exercise with apps like MyFitnessPal or Noom, Mighty Health was developed specifically for people over 50 years old. It connects users with a health coach and features nutrition and workout plans created for older adults.

Mental wellbeing is also incredibly important. Ompractice was started to help people who “experience geographic, economic and inclusivity barriers” get access to health, wellness and mindfulness features by partnering with fitness studios and working with large organizations, including health systems, to make their services accessible to users.

Of course, improving healthcare and the delivery of health services for older adults is extremely important, especially in the United States with its fragmented healthcare system. Included under AARP Innovation’s “clinic” section, Folia Health is a health “individual operating system” that lets patients answer multiple choice questions each day, when are then reviewed by their providers to help with diagnostic and care plans. It can be used to manage several conditions and communicate with multiple care providers. Telemedicine startup Tembo, on the other hand, partners with senior care communities, enabling them to provide remote medical services to their residents or clients. Embleema was created to make pharmaceutical studies easier by making the evidence generation and regulatory review processes faster.

For individuals, the clinic section included two startups. MindMics are smart earbuds that analyze biometrics, including heartrate, and send them to an app. JoyLux specifically addresses menopause with a roster of products, including devices for pelvic floor exercises, lubricants, supplements and cooling pads.

Read more about CES 2022 on TechCrunch