In the early days of Upsolve, we would call eight Upsolve users every Tuesday evening to see how they were doing and personally get feedback on how we can improve our app. During these calls, the most common question we heard was: “Why did you start Upsolve?”
The journey started when Rohan, one of our three co-founders, was in college at Harvard. “I learned from my classmates during my freshman year that technology shared a similar quality with public policy. If you build a technology product and put it out there, you can very quickly help a lot of people,” he said.
Unfortunately, most people were building technology to make rich people and companies richer. Not that many people were working on technology to help low-income families and marginalized communities. Rohan started to think that if he could find the right problem to work on, he could use technology to make a big difference.
Around the same time, Rohan started to work as a research assistant at a Harvard Law School research lab. While working at the lab, he learned about the Access to Justice Crisis in America. Over 4 in 5 low-income families can’t access the basic civil legal rights they’re owed because then can’t get the legal help they need. Rohan thought it was crazy that something like that was happening in America, and it wasn't even a part of our national dialogue.
“We have all these amazing rights on paper that are supposed to protect people. But when people try to access these rights, they often can’t because they can’t afford lawyers and the forms are too hard to understand. I had no idea that if you’re evicted from your home, trapped in an abusive relationship, or suffering from debt and in need of bankruptcy, you have no right to a free lawyer, no matter how little money you made. It made me very angry,” Rohan said.
That anger with the status quo led him to start looking for a way to use technology to help people solve their own legal problems. He realized that the challenge of equal protection under the law was too big for lawyers alone to achieve in their traditional one-to-one model. After spending a few months talking to lawyers, judges, and people in need of legal assistance, he started to discover a huge opportunity to help people file for bankruptcy.
Millions of people in America every year suffer from medical bills, layoffs, and predatory loans, and bankruptcy is an amazing tool for them to relieve their debt. Bankruptcy can also help people stop wage garnishment, improve their credit, and increase their chances of getting a job. Bankruptcy transforms lives.
During this journey, Rohan met Jonathan Petts, who shared this passion and ultimately became a co-founder. Jonathan has a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and extensive experience working both high-profile bankruptcy cases and helping individuals pro bono to file for bankruptcy. The duo linked up with Mark Hansen who used his engineering chops to build a product to help people access the transformative power of filing bankruptcy at scale.
Upsolve is lucky to have an amazing team of engineers and lawyers to move our mission forward; amazing advisors, including former judges that believe in the need for our work, and the best funders in the United States from the technology industry (the same people who wrote the early checks for Instagram, Uber, Facebook, and Twitter), traditional philanthropy (the Robin Hood Foundation is famous for the most rigorous evaluation processes in the nonprofit sector), and the U.S. government (the Legal Services Corporation receives $400 million+ every year from Congress).
Within four short years, Upsolve has become the largest nonprofit for bankruptcy in America and a leader in our field of using technology to help low-income families solve their own legal problems.
We believe there will always be an important role for lawyers in America. At Upsolve, we understand the limitations of our app, as we’re only able to serve people with simple cases. We believe that if you can afford a lawyer, you should hire one. We also believe that our website should not have to exist. It should be the job of the courts to provide forms that people can actually understand and websites that people can actually use. The system doesn’t need to be as complicated as it is today.
Moving forward, we have two main goals: (1) to help as many people as possible with our app, and to (2) to advocate for a more accessible, just legal system where people can solve their own legal problems when they can’t afford help. We'll never have enough free lawyers to meet the demand from low-income families who need help. So, we need to think creatively about how to address this need. I'm hopeful that Upsolve will play a central part in that work.
Jonathan Petts, CEO and Co-Founder
Rohan Pavuluri, Co-Founder and Board Chair
Mark Hansen, Co-Founder and Board Member