Top Two Lessons Learned Building Upsolve

April 17, 2019

As we near the third year mark of Upsolve, I’d like to share the two most important lessons we’ve learned building our nonprofit. For background, Upsolve helps low-income families across the United States file for bankruptcy for free, using online “do it yourself” software. In the last six months, we’ve relieved 30 million dollars in debt for over 500 families.

Bankruptcy helps families who suffer from medical bills, layoffs, and predatory loans get back on their feet before things get worse. That’s important because when families are trapped in debt, the downstream effects on society are devastating. These include hunger, poverty, and homelessness. Bankruptcy is a tool that stops the problems before they happen.

But here’s the problem. Bankruptcy is impossible for most people to access because they can’t afford $1,500 for a bankruptcy lawyer. In the words of one of our users: “if I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t be bankrupt.” Millions are priced out of our courts. At Upsolve, we’ve set out to make the lifeline of bankruptcy accessible 

Here’s how it works. A person comes to our website and takes an online screener to see if they should consider bankruptcy. If they are, they use our online web app to provide their financial info. We then generate their forms, and one of our attorneys reviews them. Our users then file their forms with the court, and we automatically track their case, sending them text messages with updates.

I now want to share the two most important things that we’ve learned building Upsolve over the last three years.

First, federal law plus technology equals impact at scale. At Upsolve, we quickly scaled across the entire United States because we chose bankruptcy, a matter of federal law. We also scaled across the country because we chose software to deliver our free bankruptcy service. This allowed us to move fast, keep costs low, and find families where they most often look for legal help. Google. I’m hopeful that other areas of the law present like Social Security Disability present a similar opportunity.

Second, self sustainability equals more time for mission. At Upsolve, we cover over 50 percent of our own operating costs with earned revenue rather than outside fundraising. We do this by giving high income people who end up at our site and fall above our bankruptcy income limit the option to request a free consultation with a private attorney. We also give people who are not a good fit because they own homes or expensive property, need Chapter 13 bankruptcy, want to file a joint case, or have a personal injury lawsuit this same option. Attorneys pay us for these leads. This means we can spend much more time, energy, and money fulfilling our mission of helping the low-income families who need us rather than on fundraising.

Over the next two years, we aim to become the first legal services organization in the country that covers 100 percent of its operating costs with earned revenue, so that we invest additional philanthropic capital into improving our product and growing the number of people we reach.

Thank you so much to the Legal Services Corporation for believing in our work and our team since Day One. Here’s to making the next three years as fruitful as the last three.