Marc Schneider founded the San Diego-based e-commerce company Zebit for one simple reason.
“Basically, people with bad credit are being ripped off,” said Schneider, the company’s co-founder, president and CEO. “They have predatory alternatives like rent-to-own, lease-to-own, payday loans where they end up paying two to four times the value of a product or service.”
Founded in 2015, Zebit – rhyming with Debit – caters to more than 100 million US consumers with FICO scores typically below 620 by allowing them to purchase items from more than 1,500 top brands on the marketplace of the United States to buy company.
Schneider, whose company employs 58 people and serves customers in all 50 states, is this year’s Top Workplace Leadership winner in the small business category.
The 53-year-old tailor, who is married with two sons, knows what it feels like to struggle financially.
“I’ve been on my own since I was 15,” he said. “I have experienced homelessness. I worked my way through elementary school and grad school.” Schneider deserves a bachelor’s degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago.
This interview has been condensed for space and clarity.
Q: Before we talk about leadership, what does Zebit do?
A: We basically invented Zebit to eliminate all bad alternatives and get a fair deal – to give someone with bad credit the ability to buy what they want at a fair price, for six months with no interest pay, with no late fees and no penalties.
Q: How do you make money?
A: We source wholesale and charge retail prices. And we have to be very, very good at understanding a customer’s credit risk when we first acquire them and their credit risk over time. All behavioral data tells us which orders we approve and which orders we reject.
Q: What is your leadership philosophy?
A: I’m more of a humanitarian leader with a very strong accounting background. My part of leadership is making sure everyone understands what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and the results. And I think there are very few companies where even the customer service representative understands the financial metrics, how they affect what they do, what their strategic priorities are, and what we do and don’t do and why. And they feel like they are part of the move of this company and the success is up to them, not just me.
It is my top priority to create a sustainable organization where people lead and do not rely on management. There is no middle management at Zebit. There’s a bunch of us at the top and there’s everyone else doing the work and they have the skills, the skills and the training and the decision-making authority to get the job done.
Q: Like most companies, you went out of the office during the pandemic outbreak. They told me that employees are still working virtually. How do you make people feel connected when they’re not physically in one place?
A: We have company meetings almost every month where we go through an agenda and tell all the departments what they’re doing, what’s going on in the business, how people are feeling, etc. But I think what I really do is I am accessible to people at all times.
It’s not perfect. But do I feel like our people still believe they are part of something bigger than them and us? I think they do. Would it be great if we had three or four offices and everyone was together? Secure. Maybe someday, over time. But as leaders, we need to make sure people don’t get lost in the ambiguity of Zoom and Teams meetings.