Shao

Shao

Finli Inc., a downtown-based fintech startup, is adapting to the Covid-19 crisis by helping its customers adapt.

The company was founded last year to digitize administrative processes for small businesses such as daycare centers, martial arts studios, music schools and dance studios.

Finli’s cloud-based portal is designed for businesses that have traditionally relied on manual tracking of things like registrations, appointments and payments.

The Finli app, which is connected to the company’s portal, allows customers of these schools and studios to adjust schedules and make payments.

Finli said it charges a flat 1% of all tuition that a business collects from its platform.

The business was growing nicely until the coronavirus pandemic forced all of Finli’s clients — most located in Southern California —to close their doors.

“One hundred percent of our customer base is struggling,” said Finli founder and Chief Executive Lori Shao.

So Finli quickly pivoted to building a marketplace feature, or what it calls the #standupforsmallbusiness initiative.

The goal is to help those neighborhood businesses move their tai chi, songwriting, meditation and other types of classes online.

The product was developed in less than one week by Finli’s in-house engineering team, according to Shao, and it launched April 1.

Classes are priced at $250 for four sessions or $500 for eight sessions. Each session lasts 30-40 minutes, the company said.

Finli charges each person enrolled in a class an additional 5% fee. The full tuition goes directly to the neighborhood business.

Classes are targeted at companies and professionals in banking, insurance, real estate and other industries.

“When Covid hits, (people in these professions) can no longer wine and dine their customers and maintain that active dialogue and relationship,” Shao said.

The company’s “Finli packages” can be offered as a gift to help maintain business relationships.

Up to 10 people can join each session. A real estate agent, for example, can invite several clients to each session or can give one client a series of private sessions.

Shao said more than 50 organizations had registered to offer more than 100 virtual classes. About 80 of the classes have been purchased through the Finli platform.

The company said U.S. Bank has bought classes and donated them to community organizations, including Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Other clients like Silicon Valley Bank have been buying classes for employees and customers.

“For many of the instructors (on the platform), this is probably the first time they taught online. For many of them, this is actually the first time they taught adults,” Shao said.

Finli leads a 15-minute run-through to prepare schools and studios for teaching corporate clients virtually. It also sends out surveys after the class for feedback, the company said.

Shao said the company will keep developing the marketplace feature even after the lockdown ends.

“There is this lingering fear that I believe many of these small business owners will carry on with the for years to come. They’re looking for a backup plan to their day job; they’re looking to diversify their customer base; they’re looking to expand their customer reach. Our platform is already built today to help them get there,” she said.

Shao said Finli’s investors include Mid-Wilshire based incubator Techstars Los Angeles, Beverly Hills-based Muse Capital and Hollywood-based Core Innovation Capital.

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