Russian startup Blackmoon launches online lending platform in the U.S.

By Paul Sawers for Venture Beat

A Russian startup is launching in the U.S. this week to target the lucrative online lending market.

Blackmoon launched initially in Russia last June, and has since rolled out into Poland, Latvia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, and Finland. Today, it opens its New York office, and it will begin the process of integrating with lenders in the U.S. over the coming months. The company was cofounded by Ilya Perekopsky, who formerly served as vice president of Vkontakte (VK) (essentially the Facebook for Russia) and who is now business development officer at Blackmoon.

Blackmoon has raised $1 million in seed funding from its two founders — Perekopsky and CEO Oleg Seydak — along with VC fund Flint Capital, though Perekopsky tells VentureBeat that it’s currently pushing to close a new round of funding to expedite its growth in the U.S.

There are countless online lending platforms and services out there already, from Lending Club and Funding Circle to OnDeck and Prosper. But Blackmoon believes a key differentiator is that its platform uses a composite model that combines both balance-sheet and marketplace lending.

A composite approach

For the uninitiated, all lending platforms and marketplaces can be classed as the “loan originator” through which those seeking money apply for a loan. But under the hood, not all lending services work in the same way — some marketplaces are peer-to-peer (P2P) and merely serve to connect lenders with borrowers, like a matchmaking service. Other platforms are the actual lenders and lend money from their own capital, which is known as balance-sheet lending. Blackmoon refers to itself as a “marketplace lending as a service (MPLaaS)” — but how exactly is that different from a standard lending marketplace?

“The volume of loans generated by balance-sheet lenders is an order of magnitude greater than the loan volumes generated by traditional marketplace lenders such as Lending Club and Prosper,” said Perekopsky, in an interview with VentureBeat. “Blackmoon provides a technology solution that enables balance-sheet lenders to distribute their loans to investors; for investors, Blackmoon is providing access to an asset class that was previously unavailable to them.”

“We refer to the technology platform we are providing as ‘Marketplace Lending as a Service’. At its core, MPLaaS is integrated with balance-sheet lenders’ existing infrastructure, which provides balance-sheet lenders with access to investors that are seeking to invest in such loans. Such an approach provides them with a unique set of advantages: the flexibility and profitability of a balance-sheet lender on top of the scalability and stability of a marketplace.”

In terms of who a typical “borrower” through Blackmoon might be, well, the company works with lenders that offer both consumer and small-business loans, however, most of the loans made today are consumer-focused.

Big business

A recent report found that 13 of the biggest online lending firms in the U.S. doled out nearly $16 billion in 2014, up 700 percent from 2010. And in the first half of 2015 alone, that figure reached almost $12.5 billion. With some reportsindicating that marketplace lending could hit half-a-trillion dollars globally by 2020, Blackmoon clearly wants to get its piece of the pie by offering a more varied proposition.

“We believe that existing marketplace lenders have only scratched the surface with respect to the volume of loans being originated in the U.S. today,” Perekopsky said. “The size of the marketplace lending market is measured in billions of dollars, whereas balance-sheet lender loan origination volume is nearly a trillion U.S. dollars or more. We aren’t saying that all $1 trillion is available to Blackmoon, but we are confident the market is sufficiently large to support our business.”

Of course, launching in the U.S. is a different proposition from launching in Europe and comes with its own unique set of obstacles around regulation and licensing. With Blackmoon’s first official office now open for business in New York, Perekopsky says the company will be doubling-down on its efforts to ensure it’s ready to start operating in the coming months. “The U.S. regulatory environment and licensing requirements are more complex than in Europe,” he said. “We are in the process of working with well-regarded legal advisors and are happy with the process we are making on the regulatory side of our business.”

For Perekopsy, Blackmoon represents a vastly different type of business from what he was accustomed to at VK, which is the biggest European social network, albeit mostly among Russian-speakers. So why ditch social for fintech?

“I believe that fintech, and especially lending fintech, has the greatest potential for growth in the next 5 years,” he said. “It is obvious that the traditional financial sector will be dramatically changed. We found a great new niche for Blackmoon, and we are doing absolutely new things that nobody has done before. Plus, my ambitions pushed me to create a global project, not linked to Russia in any way. VK was just a Russia and CIS-oriented product, but Blackmoon is a global company that can operate everywhere.”

One final point we probed Perekopsky on. A couple of years back, reports emerged that VK creator Pavel Durov was suing a handful of former business partners, one of whom was Perekopsky, for allegedly resorting to extortion in an attempt to gain control of Telegram, the popular mobile messaging app also created by Durov. So where do things stand with that now?

“This dispute has been fully solved a few years ago, and all sides signed a peace agreement,” said Perekopsky. “Everything is good, and I am on good terms with Pavel, although we don’t have any common projects.

First appeared at Venture Beat