Balancing the Grind with Gabriel Barkhan, Co-Founder at iLoanDirect

Gabriel Barkhan is the CEO & Co-founder of iLoanDirect, a pioneering SME finance aggregation platform poised to reshape the landscape of business lending.

Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to? 

Sure, At the age of 22, while working as a junior broker in the SME finance space at a prominent commercial brokerage firm, I embarked on a journey that would ultimately lead to the birth of iLoanDirect. It was during a routine weekly catch-up with my manager that a pivotal moment occurred. We were discussing an application that I had submitted to a lender renowned for their competitive rates. Believing that this opportunity could catalyse my client’s business, with funds earmarked for impactful marketing endeavours, I was eager to share my progress.   

However, what followed was a revelation that reshaped my perspective. My manager posed a direct question: “Did the client ask about the rate?” When I replied in the negative, my manager enlightened me with a lesson that left an indelible mark. They explained that if I had directed the client to lender A instead of lender B, our company would have pocketed a considerably higher commission. The key takeaway was clear – prioritise the best deal for our brokerage, even if it deviated from the client’s best interest.    

That night, an idea was ignited – a vision to democratise and empower the SME finance landscape. The result? A platform where local businesses, from your neighbourhood café to the corner hairdresser or electrician, could access unbiased financing. A loan that genuinely saved every dollar, an ideal that should be within reach for every small business.   

Fast forward 12 months, and iLoanDirect has just launched. Our platform stands as a testament to the pursuit of transparency, fairness, and unyielding support for local businesses across Australia. With iLoanDirect, we’re excited to provide SMEs and their owners with a technology, purpose-built to put the choice back into their hands.   

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday? 

Ironically, what is now a ‘typical’ day previously was so far from thought, I sometimes wonder how I got here.  

It usually starts with a 6-7 am wake up, in which I’ll be very religious and immediately catch up on all the sporting news and highlights from overnight. Then, the day truly begins. Whilst we’re in our infancy, I, as a founder have been wearing every hat on the shelf. What that means is that I am almost perpetually balancing and multi-tasking between:  

  1. Hourly catch ups with our development team based overseas to track critical (and sometimes not so critical) progress on due tasks. Anything from major product updates and a change to copyright font, I’ll make sure to weigh in on the matter, perhaps this is a case of being overly meticulous about everything iLoanDirect.  
  2. Back and forth meetings and phone calls with my 3 co-founders, in which we are constantly talking strategy, daily happenings and progress.  
  3. Even more calls, LinkedIn messages, email follow-ups and texts with our growing distribution network, with every new and prospective user being at the essence of what we’re trying to achieve, I diligently ensure that I personally maintain the iLoanDirect brand as one that is: Reliable, thorough, and quite candidly – The best place to go for all your business finance enquiries. I cannot overstate the immense importance of every one of our users, whether they are enquiring for a $5,000 loan or $500,000. We know that these early adopters will be the stepping stone into the ‘big pond’ that is the world of finance in Australia and beyond. 
  4. Lastly, through rants and tangents (sometimes wanted and sometimes not so much), I’ll ensure that all of our co-founders and employees remain true to their cause, motivated and go to sleep knowing that ultimately, iLoanDirect is on the precipice of something really unique that has the opportunity to truly do some real good when it comes to helping businesses achieve their goals without the rightful fear of being taken advantage of.  

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it? 

It’s funny, for most, you’d picture something along the lines of making time for family and friends, ensuring that their ‘social eggs’ are spread among many baskets. However, being quite a young founder, I’d say that I’ve needed to find more of the ‘work’ than the ‘life’ in that balance.

It’s no secret, and I certainly won’t be the first to say that starting a business takes immense sacrifice. From putting a dent in your lifestyle to the extremities of your livelihood, founding a start-up unanimously requires sacrifice and is unique to each founder and their business.  

For me, it has been earlier wake ups and later evenings, and whilst every day brings a new challenge and presents something completely unforeseen, it remains that my family and friends are my support network in more demanding times. All in all, a work-life balance for me is ensuring that I work more and play less, yet still find time to come up for breath, and enjoy the simpler things in life.  

Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance? 

Like previously mentioned, the big lifestyle change for me is time previously spent with friends is now devoted to iLoanDirect. At 23, with many of my friends still at university, or just starting out in the corporate world, there remains a large social aspect to our lives. My friendship circle culminates off the back of many years spent at school together, dating back to our first day, sometimes even earlier, so we’re a very tight knit group.  

That said, naturally, I have had to take a step back in recent times given the demand iLoanDirect requires. Nonetheless, I think it does bring about a newfound appreciation for the relationships I have built when the opportunity to catch up arises.  

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance? 

I’m quite a big fan of Jordan Peterson and tend to watch quite a lot of his content. I think he sheds some really positive light on mental health, particularly surrounding young men, in a time that is quite turbulent and difficult to navigate for them.

I think his insights have helped me to balance my emotions whilst traversing the world of start-ups which naturally bring about volatile states of stress, euphoria, fear, and pride. I highly recommend his content to young men who maybe feel a little lost and purposeless at times where gratitude perhaps prevails overall. Peterson’s sentiments have certainly allowed for my own self-reflections in challenging times. 

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers? 

As a 23-year-old, only just beginning an exciting journey and chapter of life, my ‘wisdom’ I think only goes so far and I know that there are many that have supported me through this journey that would probably shed much more insight and wisdom onto the readers.  

However, where I think I can shed some wisdom is onto any young audience members who have an appetite for entrepreneurship or just business for that matter. Something that has been repeated to me by some of my closest mentors, most notably my dad, whose support has been second to none throughout the journey thus far is this – “There are very few days as a founder that you celebrate”.

He could not be more right, and I have come to learn this as days gone by during this extraordinary adventure I have embarked on. Start-ups are really really hard to execute, and I am still trying to find the secret formula.

Most days are spent stressing about uncompleted development tasks or even on some occasions, the ‘what could have been’. That aside, and going back to my dad’s quote, it makes the good days extra special and extra emotional in the best way possible.

It takes a unique and highly determined individual to build a successful business from bottom up. I still await to see if I am one of them, but you don’t know until you try, and that’s what I’ll leave the young viewers with, who have their whole lives ahead of them to make mistakes and ‘fail forward’.  

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.