2017 Challenge Winner
Learn about the challenge


More than 25% of Americans overdrafted in the past 12 months. And 10% have overdrafted more than eight times. The vast majority of overdrafts happen on small purchases, like a McDonald’s Happy Meal or a recurring expense like Netflix. Dave alerts you ahead of time and can instantly advance up to $75 at 0% interest to prevent overdraft.

Their Story

All it took was a $3 latte to convince Jason Wilk he needed to develop the business idea he’d been turning over in his mind for some time. That latte, which resulted in a $40 overdraft fee, underscored for Wilk just how prevalent and frustrating the experiences of getting slapped with overdraft fees can be. “You make this rationalization that you can afford a $3 cup of coffee,” says Wilk. “But sometimes using your debit card is like playing roulette – and clearly many of us are bad at roulette.”

As a result, more than a quarter of Americans have ended up overdrafting in the past year, with ten percent of those people having overdrafted more than eight times. In 2016, U.S. banks made a whopping $33 billion in overdraft fees alone. But what if there was a simple way to keep track of how much you have in your account and stay on top of overdrafting before
it happens?

Wilk and his co-founders John Wolanin and Paras Chitrakar decided to build a product that would be helpful to the majority of consumers and their common financial pain points. But first, they surveyed 1,000 people across the U.S. so that they could better understand what those pain points were. The answers came as no surprise: Most respondents to their survey were worried about overdraft fees, and not having a readily available $400 fund in case of emergencies.

In 2015, Wolanin, Wilk and Chitrakar began exploring ways to prevent easily avoidable overdraft fees while also creating a means for consumers to borrow small amounts of money to cover costs they’d otherwise be charged overdraft penalties for. They found that a lot of potential overdrafts are the result of transactions of less than $20 in total, on purchases like a latte or paying a Netflix monthly subscription fee.

The co-founders created a prototype for an app they called Dave – named after “that friend everyone has who spots you some cash when you need it.” The app alerts users in advance and can help prevent overdrafts by instantly advancing the user up to $75 at zero percent interest. Arriving at this simple and straightforward solution took quite a bit of trial and error, says Wolanin, who has a doctorate in psychology and has long been fascinated by the intersection of product design, human psychology, and technology.

Dave’s design team went through more than 200 iterations of the design for Dave.com before arriving at the version that consumers use today.

In all that trial and error, the co-founders learned quite a bit about what matters most in developing a fintech app. For example, when first iterating the app, the logo initially used was the cartoon image of a young hip-looking guy, but the designers quickly learned that swapping that image out with what is the current Dave logo – a smiling cartoon bear – had a surprising effect on users. “We wanted to have a really friendly and secure-feeling brand,” says Wilk. “People really resonate with the bear. They find it cute and safe.”

Finding the right language to communicate with users in a succinct and clear-cut way also took quite a but of experimenting. For all app users, there’s a measure of anxiety, confusion and frustration that comes along with opening a new app on your phone, says Wolanin. He sees his primary job as designer to minimize that confusion as much as possible using clear and smart design. “A lot of designers do their app a disservice by putting in dummy text when designing,” he says.

It was also important for the app to provide a way for people to keep track of overdrafting without having to constantly remember to check up on it or stay on top of their spending. “There’s this tendency to think people will look at your product and come back to it every single day. Unless you are in the top five apps, they won’t continue to use it everyday,” says Wilk. How, then, to create an app that does its job even when users aren’t looking at it?

Dave notifies users of important overdraft information via text message so that they don’t have to keep tabs on what is happening on their own. “I’d rather have someone set it and forget it,” says Wolanin. To do this, Dave connects directly with users’ checking accounts and then looks for recurring trends in each user’s spending and income via a set of predictive algorithms.

For example, if you have $50 in your account and the app has detected that you have a $70 cable bill coming out in the end of the week, it will notify you to prevent that overdraft from happening. Users are also able to get a percentage of their upcoming paycheck up to 10 days ahead of time for as much as $75 in order to prevent small overdrafts. “We predict all your upcoming expenses and typical spend before your next paycheck,” says Wilk.

For access to this service, users pay $1 a month and are given the option of adding a tip onto their balance after they’ve been advanced some of their paycheck. Dave continues to develop the algorithms running in the background that enable the app to work on its own.

“We want to make it so that we are doing all the work and the customer wonders how it happens,” says Wolanin. Participating as part of the FinLab’s 2017 cohort has played an important role in helping to make that happen. “We’ve learned a lot about the industry from CFSI,” says Wilk. “The fact that they can connect us with these institutions and regulatory bodies has helped us tremendously.”

What They Do

Key People

Jason Wilk

Founder & CEO

John Wolanin

Co-Founder & CPO


Los Angeles, CA



2017 Challenge Winner
Learn about the challenge

Let us know what's on your mind.