EqualSeat: How This Platform Helps Retail Investors Diversify With Alternatives

By Amit Chowdhry ● Feb 12, 2024

EqualSeat (a member of AVANA Companies) is a platform that combines innovative technology and decades of lending experience to bring a simple and effective alternative investment option to individual investors. Pulse 2.0 interviewed AVANA Companies senior product manager Anish Dhanjee to learn more about the platform. 

Anish Dhanjee’s Background

Anish Dhanjee

Dhanjee leads the team that created EqualSeat, a private credit investing platform that levels the playing field for retail investors by allowing them to co-invest in commercial debt loans. And Dhanjee said:

“I started at AVANA Companies over a decade ago as a marketing associate and over the years my role has evolved, touching marketing, operations, loan servicing, investor servicing, data analytics, and all things tech. Leading the EqualSeat team provided me with the opportunity to leverage my holistic understanding of the business, as the platform serves as a natural extension for making our private credit investment opportunities accessible to retail investors.”

Goals Of AVANA Companies 

Could you tell me about AVANA Companies and its mission? Dhanjee replied:

“Since 2002 AVANA Companies has supported small businesses and investors with impactful, socially driven investment opportunities that preserve and create wealth. We have 21 years of experience managing over $1B in assets annually and we have a robust financial ecosystem in place. The mission is to ‘Build Capital for a Better Tomorrow,’ which comes to life through AVANA’s different initiatives. EqualSeat is one of those initiatives; it democratizes access to private credit investment opportunities that make an impact socially and environmentally.”

Differentiation From The Competition

What differentiates the company from its competition? Dhanjee affirmed:

“AVANA is an asset management and commercial lending company first and fintech company second. The EqualSeat platform was designed around what the AVANA team is good at – providing capital to borrowers and stable, reliable returns to investors. Every deal put on EqualSeat goes through a rigorous, in-house underwriting process. We know these deals inside and out. Also, unlike P2P platforms, loans on EqualSeat are already fully funded by institutional investors. This means that when retail investors invest in a loan, they start earning interest right away instead of waiting for a loan to close and fund.”

Future Company Goals

What are some of the company’s future company goals? Dhanjee noted:

“We’re actively planning new ways to expand EqualSeat to new markets and investor classes. The idea is to make investing more equitable and inclusive of groups historically underrepresented in investing.”

Evolution Of AVANA’s Technology

How has the company’s technology evolved since you joined the team? Dhanjee pointed out:

“In 2017 we established a digital transformation team. This started with simple things like reducing manual entry of information by creating a ‘single source of truth’ which drastically reduced manual entry error and the amount of time our talented employees spent re-keying information into multiple systems. This, along with other small projects, set the groundwork for us to set our sights on larger, full-scale development projects like EqualSeat. What we’ve learned along the way is that technology is a never-ending evolution that constantly needs to be improved to best serve our customers.”

Formation Of EqualSeat

How did the idea for EqualSeat come together? Dhanjee reflected:

“As the name suggests, the inspiration for EqualSeat was to give all investors an ‘equal seat’ at the table. Debt investing historically has excluded certain groups, reserving high-quality investment opportunities for the wealthy few. Our team wanted to create a way that made private investments available to more investors, and not just high-net-worth individuals. AVANA already works with institutional investors, providing loans and investments into SMBs. We wanted to open EqualSeat to investors who typically don’t have access to these investments, like retail investors, women, and underserved communities, enabling them to ‘join the table’ and co-invest.”

Favorite Memory

What has been your favorite memory working on this platform so far? Dhanjee shared:

“One of my favorite memories working on EqualSeat so far was traveling to Belarus to visit the team members who were developing the platform in its early phases. This was a really meaningful part of EqualSeat’s development because at the time the team that was creating the platform was scattered across the globe in seven different countries. This was when the team was able to really sit together for the first time and work on the platform side-by-side. Spending 6 months working in person with them and seeing the ideas that inspired EqualSeat blossom into the physical platform was really impressive.”

Core Benefits

What are EqualSeat’s core benefits and features? Dhanjee explained:

“EqualSeat is one of the only debt investment platforms out there that’s focused on commercial real estate. The platform is grounded in financial literacy and transparency. We’ve designed the platform so investors can research the loans. For the investor that’s looking to take a more hands-off approach, there is an auto-invest feature that allows you to customize your portfolio and the amount you’d like to invest and then the platform invests on your behalf. Our two-factor authentication system was designed with user data protection as a priority and the user experience in mind. We have added a FAQ section so users can learn more about the investment opportunities, and included visual charts that users can view from their account dashboards to help them better understand the investments and see credit updates. In addition, the ‘cart’ functionality lets an investor build a portfolio of multiple investments where they can adjust investment amounts and see how that affects not only the portfolio being invested in, but the effect of the investors overall portfolio before they invest.”

Challenges Faced

What challenges has Dhanjee faced in developing the platform? Dhanjee acknowledged:

“A big turning point was receiving feedback from our Friends and Family trial period. We focused specifically on feedback that was relevant to the user experience and were able to make some major updates to the platform. We were able to help users better see and understand what they were investing in with full transparency.”

Significant Milestones

What have been some of EqualSeat’s most significant milestones? Dhanjee cited:

“One of EqualSeat’s biggest milestones so far is its launch to US-based accredited investors. Our team believes that focusing on accredited investors is the first step on a long roadmap to democratize the private commercial debt market.”

“Furthermore, a future milestone includes prioritizing education in fractional investment. We want to educate investors on how to build a strong diverse portfolio.”

Feedback Received

Can you share any feedback you’ve received about the platform? Dhanjee replied:

“Our overall feedback on EqualSeat has been very positive. People enjoy the transparency and trustworthiness of the platform.”

Retail Investor Involvement

Retail investors are able to co-invest in loans through the platform. Can you tell me how you made that possible? Dhanjee commented:

“While the framework for co-investing or fractional investing already exists in the finance industry, it is usually an option only available to certain high-net-worth individuals. Our team took that framework and made it more accessible through the EqualSeat platform. The biggest hurdle was implementing the investment options in an easy-to-understand and highly visual format.”

Measuring Success

How are you measuring the impact/success of this platform? Dhanjee answered:

“AVANA is measuring the success of EqualSeat in two ways. The first is that we are keeping count of retail investors joining the platform. This is an internal measurement of success for our team because as more retail investors invest money, AVANA will be able to increase its capacity to lend to a greater number of small businesses across the country ultimately leading to positive social impact. The second way is measuring social impact. We’ve hired a third-party company to independently measure the clean energy we’ve generated and jobs our customers have created. This will help us create a baseline that will allow us to be more intentional about choosing industry segments so that we can make decisions that will have an impact in the long run.”

2024 Predictions

What are your 2024 predictions for fintech and investing tech? Dhanjee concluded:

“My main prediction for the space is that we’ll see an increase of private credit investment opportunities through fintech platforms. As this space continues to mature and information becomes more widely available, I believe investors will have access to the knowledge they need to make smarter and better investments. This will lead to more thriving fintechs that are built on solid fundamental foundations.”

“My biggest wish for 2024 is that we see a bigger focus on massively reducing friction for cross-country investments, especially in the payments and the transfers space.”