First-time entrepreneur Charlie Kroll opened the doors of his startup, Andera, in June of 2000 -- two months after the Nasdaq stock index reached its apex and subsequently began its long descent.
"The dot com bubble was busting around us as we were opening," says Kroll, 34, of Providence, R.I.
Kroll founded Andera with the original intention of building and designing websites. Though Kroll's background as a freelance web developer put him in a good position to start such a company, "It wasn't great timing," he said.
But instead of giving up and pursuing opportunities with more stability, Kroll decided quitting was not an option. "Being a first-time entrepreneur, the stakes seemed really high," Kroll recalls. "A serial entrepreneur on his fifth company might have thrown in the towel. It was my first company, my first time with employees and benefits to pay for."
So Kroll and Andera weathered the storm until an opportunity developed. "We bounced along the bottom for a couple years," Kroll says. "But we ended up building a software product for one of our clients that ended up becoming a product to allow us to get out."
That software product is the core of what Andera does today.
Kroll and the Andera team developed an online platform to open up a checking account without wading through piles of paperwork. The service was originally intended for a small community bank, Bank Rhode Island, which wanted an easier way for students to open student checking accounts.
Kroll soon realized, however, that the platform could be useful in a lot of banks. "We were just coming out of college and we didn't understand financial services," Kroll explains. "What we found is that every bank almost without exception makes you visit a branch or download forms and fill them out. There is no reason for it to be that way."
The product was so popular that Andera started adapting the online platform for other small banks looking to get a technological edge. "We thought there was a problem we could fix," Kroll explains. "So we transitioned out of the web design business into the software business. By 2006 we were firing on all cylinders."
Kroll's ability to persist despite the challenges by adapting to the market circumstances was a big part of Andera's success. Now the company helps over 500 small banks across the country with account opening and lending technology, something Kroll believes is important for smaller lenders.
"We help small banks compete against the big guys," Kroll says. "Small banks don't usually have the resources to develop great technology."
In addition to saving time and hassle, the Andera banking platform produces another result -- one not often associated with technology: increased human interaction. For banks with tablet technology, the Andera platform allows for the whole transaction to take place easily between the account manager and the client. "If you think about the last time you opened an account, you had to fill out a lot of paperwork, the banker had to scan the document, take your signatures, walk back and forth a lot," Kroll says. "We turn it from a very transactional experience to a very collaborative experience. No big banks are doing that today."
Kroll started Andera while still a student at Brown University, a school he believes fosters the entrepreneurial mindset. "It is all about students who are trying to figure out how to walk that path," Kroll says.
One of Kroll's professors at Brown was Barrett Hazeltine. Kroll describes Hazeltine as a major inspiration to many Brown alumni. Though his courses were focused on engineering and management, Kroll says, his rhetoric and presentation fostered the entrepreneurial spirit.
Though Kroll can't pinpoint exactly when he became interested in starting and running a business, his passions and interests mirror those typically held by fellow entrepreneurs.
"I like creating things, I like solving things," Kroll says, "and I like being around people who like creating and solving things."
This profile is part of a series featuring innovative small-business owners taking part in The Huffington Post's Entrepreneurship Expo in Tampa and Charlotte, in conjunction with the 2012 political conventions and HuffPost's "Opportunity: What Is Working" initiative.
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