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How Vishal Garg became CEO of Better.com and put the company on brink of $7.7B valuation


The ‘erratic’ chief executive of online mortgage broker Better.com who callously fired 900 workers in a Zoom call just three weeks before Christmas is married to a cryptocurrency mining firm executive and lives a lavish lifestyle in Manhattan’s trendy Tribeca neighborhood – where he once rented a $17,000-a-month apartment. 

Vishal Garg, 43, and his wife, Sarita James, live in Tribeca neighborhood – one of Manhattan’s priciest zip codes – with their three children and foster dogs and don’t appear to own any properties in their own names, according to property records. 

Garg said in an online profile that the family ‘continues to search for their dream home’. The family rented a $17,000-a-month three bedroom, three bathroom apartment near their offices at 7 World Trade Center ‘so they could walk to work’. 

The online mortgage executive – who once threatened to staple a former business partner to the wall and burn him alive – axed 9% of Better’s workforce last Wednesday including its entire diversity, equity and inclusion team, which deals with complaints about racism and sexism in the workplace.

He told his employees the ‘market has changed’ and savage cuts to the company’s 9,000-strong workforce were needed to avert disaster. The company however is expected to have $1 billion on its balance sheet and is set to go public with a $7.7 billion valuation after backing from Softbank. 

Garg came under fire in August after it was revealed that one of his closest executives, Elana Knoller, was given stocks potentially worth tens of millions of dollars, $8,000 per month for two homes and other perks. Knoller was eventually placed on administrative leave for bullying.

During his firing announcement, the CEO – whose net worth and salary are unknown but expected to be high given the company’s valuation – accused his employees of being so ‘lazy’ they effectively ‘stole’ from customers. 

Garg reportedly has a history of erratic workplace behavior and vulgar language. He has also been accused of manipulating financial documents. 

Garg and James (pictured) are said to live Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood with their three children and foster dogs as they continue to search for their dream home

Better.com CEO Vishal Garg (pictured) appears to live a more than comfortable lifestyle with his wife, Sarita James, who recently got involved in the cryptocurrency game

Better.com is a Softbank-backed mortgage lender with a massive $7.7B valuation

Vishal Garg’s Better.com offers pre-approval on a mortgage in minutes.

It saw its share price soar during the pandemic as the saturated home buying market, coupled with low interest rates, saw thousands of new customers looking for fast ways to get a loan.

The Softbank-backed company announced in May it was going public through an SPAC and received $750 million in cash as part of the deal. 

The company is prepared to have more than $1 billionon its balance sheet, and it will go public with a $7.7B valuation.  

Garg and his wife, Sarita James, 45, met in New York City and married shortly after one of his companies, understood to be MyRichUncle – a company he founded with his business school classmate, Raza Khan – went under.

Garg claims his family lives in New York City’s richest zip code, the trendy Tribeca area. According to a 2019 Business Insider report, the average income of Tribeca residents is $879,000 and is home to many celebrities. Real estate in the neighborhood is also pricey, which homes selling at a median price of $3.9 million and rental properties averaging $6,195 monthly. 

The couple’s current Tribeca address was not publicly available, however property records indicate that at one point Garg rented a 3 bedroom, 3 bath, 1,673 ft² unit on Chambers Street.

While the unit he lived in is currently unavailable for rent, suggesting the Gargs may still live there, a similar unit in the building is listed on StreetEasy for $17,000 monthly.

Garg has also lived in several New York City neighborhoods.

He previously rented a unit at luxury-complex Symphony House, located in Midtown Manhattan just two blocks from Central Park. According to Apartments.com, the building is currently renting at rates of $2,500 to $7,300 monthly, depending on the unit and its amenities.

He also rented a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,200 ft² unit in Chelsea. A similar unit in that same building is listed at $5,995 on StreetEasy.

Garg is also tied to properties in Manhattan’s Nolita, NoHo, Financial District, Midtown East and Seaport communities, as well as in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens.

Garg claims his family lives in New York City's richest zip code, the trendy Tribeca area. While his current address remains unknown, Garg once rented a $17,000 monthly unit in a building on Chambers Street (pictured)

Garg claims his family lives in New York City’s richest zip code, the trendy Tribeca area. While his current address remains unknown, Garg once rented a $17,000 monthly unit in a building on Chambers Street (pictured)

James (pictured with MIT students) was named CEO of Embark in February 2014 and has held the position ever since. She also became the Independent Board Director at Marathon Digital Holdings, a leading publicly-traded cryptocurrency mining firm, in August 2021

James (pictured with MIT students) was named CEO of Embark in February 2014 and has held the position ever since. She also became the Independent Board Director at Marathon Digital Holdings, a leading publicly-traded cryptocurrency mining firm, in August 2021

In November 2019, James – whose LinkedIn profile lists her as an Independent Board Director at cryptocurrency mining firm Marathon Digital Holdings – told Forbes that she and Garg had taken steps to ‘simplify our logistics’ and improve work-life balance.  

‘We both recently moved our companies into different floors of 7 World Trade Center, which allows us to walk to work from our apartment downtown,’ she told the news outlet.

‘Our kids go to the neighborhood public school so we can drop them off in the mornings. We’re very lucky to have both sets of our parents living in the city, and they are a big help.’

Current property records indicate that both entrepreneurs still have offices in the World Trade Center area. 

James, who earned her MBA at Oxford University, was named CEO of Embark in February 2014 and has held the position ever since. 

Prior to her roles at Marathon and Embark, James held leadership roles at Microsoft Corporation, Citigroup and served as a consultant at McKinsey & Company. She was also a White House Fellow and the Acting Branch Chief of the Small Business Administration’s Microloan program during the Obama Administration. 

James also ran the Strategy and Policy division for New York City Economic Development Corporation during Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s second term. 

Property records show that Garg and James have independently rented properties throughout Manhattan but, as Garg’s Better.com biography states, have not yet obtained their ‘dream home’.

The mother of three claims she learned much about entrepreneurship from Garg, noting specifically that he helped her find balance through the ups and downs.

He also rented a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,200 ft² unit in Chelsea (pictured). A similar unit in that same building is currently listed for rent at $5,995 per month

He also rented a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,200 ft² unit in Chelsea (pictured). A similar unit in that same building is currently listed for rent at $5,995 per month

Garg previously rented a unit at luxury-complex Symphony House (pictured), located in Midtown Manhattan just two blocks from Central Park. The building is currently renting at rates of $2,500 to $7,300 monthly, depending on the unit and its amenities

Garg previously rented a unit at luxury-complex Symphony House (pictured), located in Midtown Manhattan just two blocks from Central Park. The building is currently renting at rates of $2,500 to $7,300 monthly, depending on the unit and its amenities

Garg rented a unit on Park Avenue in Midtown East (pictured)

Garg rented a unit on Park Avenue in Midtown East (pictured)

Garg is also tied to properties in Manhattan's Nolita (pictured), NoHo, Financial District, Midtown East and Seaport communities, as well as in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens

Garg is also tied to properties in Manhattan’s Nolita (pictured), NoHo, Financial District, Midtown East and Seaport communities, as well as in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens

Garg was also embroiled in a fiery lawsuit, brought by his former business partner Raza Khan in 2013, who he threatened to ‘staple him against a f*****g wall and burn him alive’.  Garg later apologized during the deposition for letting his ’emotions run out of control.’

In 2013, he sued Garg claiming that their firm, MyRichUncle’s taxes had not been properly filed and that Garg had moved $3 million to his personal bank accounts. The pair have since been involved in a protracted legal battle. 

The pair met at New York University in the late 90s, founded online student loan provider MyRichUncle in 2000.

The business started with just a $30,000 investment and by 2007 had ballooned into a publicly traded company that handled more than $300 million worth of loans, making it one of the largest private loan providers in the US.

The financial crisis forced the company into a bankruptcy liquidation in 2007. However, the crash brought about by subprime mortgages inspired Khan and Garg to look into a new lending market.

Building on their algorithms developed at MyRichUncle, the business partners set up a company called EIFC, which could identify toxic mortgages. It was designed to help investors identify improperly issued mortgages to sue banks who were selling bad loans.

Although the early signs were promising, Khan told Forbes he noticed inconsistencies in the finances. 

In November 2019, James shared with Forbes that she and Garg (pictured) had taken steps to 'simplify our logistics' and improve work-life balance. One of those steps included moving their offices to the World Trade Centers to allow for a walkable commute to work

In November 2019, James shared with Forbes that she and Garg (pictured) had taken steps to ‘simplify our logistics’ and improve work-life balance. One of those steps included moving their offices to the World Trade Centers to allow for a walkable commute to work

James currently serves as CEO of Embark, a company that involved one of Garg's former business partners, Raza Khan (pictured). Garg and Khan are in an active legal battle. According to court documents, during one hearing in December 2019, Garg turned to Khan and said that he was 'going to staple him against a f***ing wall and burn him alive'

James currently serves as CEO of Embark, a company that involved one of Garg’s former business partners, Raza Khan (pictured). Garg and Khan are in an active legal battle. According to court documents, during one hearing in December 2019, Garg turned to Khan and said that he was ‘going to staple him against a f***ing wall and burn him alive’

Meanwhile, James also serves as the CEO of Embark, a software company that helps universities and fellowship programs with admissions, which was originally one of Khan and Garg’s ventures.

The pair purchased Embark from the Princeton Review in 2007 under MRU Holdings – the parent company of MyRichUncle.

Khan severed ties with Embark in June 2013 as the company faced financial struggles, InsideHigherEd reported. He claimed the business owed $4.7 million to its clients and was improperly spending funds in order to deal with its ‘cash flow problems’.

Khan also alleged that Embark officials intentionally delayed repayment to clients and ‘concocted false stories’ to cover up the delays, as well as circulated false financials. 

The former embark executive also claimed that he and Garg didn’t always align philosophically, specifically when it came to honesty.

‘People lie all the time, we should do it more often,’ Khan recalled Garg saying in 2001. ‘I thought he was kidding. But I think part of him, in every joke there may be a little bit of truth.’ 

This isn't news that you're going to want to hear...If you're on this call, you are part of the unlucky group that is being laid off,' Garg abruptly announced on the call

'Your employment here is terminated effective immediately,' the CEO added

This isn’t news that you’re going to want to hear…If you’re on this call, you are part of the unlucky group that is being laid off,’ Garg abruptly announced on the call. ‘Your employment here is terminated effective immediately’

Garg fired 900 of his Better.com employees in a brutal Zoom call on Wednesday.

One angry worker filmed the call and shared it online, complete with a moment where they cursed at the CEO as he confirmed the mass ‘termination’ of employees from the Manhattan-headquartered mortgage provider.

The unidentified male worker could be heard to say ‘F**k you dude. Are you f**king kidding me?’

Garg, who has been accused of being ‘erratic’ by workers, later doubled-down in a scathing blog post which saw him lay into his staff for ‘stealing’ through laziness.

The father-of-three wrote on professional network Blind: ‘You guys know that at least 250 of the people terminated were working an average of 2 hours a day while clocking 8 hours+ a day in the payroll system?’

‘They were stealing from you and stealing from our customers who pay the bills that pay our bills. Get educated,’ he added.

Speaking to Fortune, Garg – who once threatened to staple a former business partner to a wall and burn him alive, according to court documents – confirmed he had made the comments under the anonymous username ‘uneducated’, but refused to back down. ‘I think they could have been phrased differently, but honestly the sentiment is there,’ he said.  

Earlier, he described in his Zoom call how hard it was for him to fire the staff and how he hoped he would not cry as he had done in the past.

‘This is the second time in my career I’m doing this and I do not do not want to do this. The last time I did it, I cried. This time, I hope to be stronger. We are laying off about 15% of the company for a number of reasons — the market, efficiency and performances and productivity,’ he told workers.

A firm spokesman later corrected the boss’s figure, and said that the actual proportion of staff who’d been laid off was nine per cent.

Garg wielded the ax while blaming market fluctuations, despite a $750 million cash infusion the mortgage company received last week. 

The boss also said market efficiency, performance, and productivity were to blame for the firings, adding that it was necessary for the company to ‘move in order to survive.’ 

Better.com’s controversial CEO Vishal Garg, 43, fired 900 employees over a Zoom call claiming market fluctuations performance, and productivity. However, the mortgage lender, backed by Softbank, received a $750 million cash infusion last week, after announcing in May it was going public through a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC)

Garg told Fortune that four weeks ago the firm started reviewing employee productivity data, including missed telephone call rates, number of inbound and outbound calls, employees showing up late to meetings with a customer, and other metrics.

‘As we started to slow down our pace of hiring, we saw some alarming statistics and a number of our customers were not getting the service that they deserved from our teammates,’ he said.

Garg's rationale behind the firings was further debunked by reports that the CEO accused workers of being unproductive and stealing from the company by working two hours and clocking 8+

Garg’s rationale behind the firings was further debunked by reports that the CEO accused workers of being unproductive and stealing from the company by working two hours and clocking 8+

Staff said they were stunned by the move and criticized Garg for another ‘threatening’ companywide call he held after the layoffs were announced, saying that the performance of remaining employees would be closely monitored.  

‘His tone was extremely harsh and threatening,’ one employee told Fortune. Two others said that Garg warned next year would be a ‘bloodbath.’

‘It was just very strange,’ said one of the sources. ‘The comments were disturbing.’

Garg told Fortune that he did not threaten staff and that ‘there is no additional watching taking place,’ aside from that which is already required by the regulator. However, he did admit the firm was looking more at productivity data. 

He said his ‘bloodbath’ comment had been taken out of context and was a broader reference to the mortgage market. 

Better, which offers pre-approval on a mortgage in minutes, saw its share price soar during the pandemic as the saturated home buying market, coupled with low interest rates, saw thousands of new customers looking for fast ways to get a loan.

It has added 2,000 employees since Covid struck and was on target to bring in $800 million in revenue this year, according to The Information.

Despite the lay-offs, Better still has 9,000 staff across the US, India and the UK. 

Garg told Fortune that the firm’s board and investors were ‘totally supportive’ about the job cuts and they way they were handled. He refused to say which board members or investors offered their support.

Better.com CEO Vishal Garg warned workers in ‘threatening’ emails that 2022 will be a ‘bloodbath’

Two current employees and an ex-aide told Fortune that Garg was renowned for being ‘erratic’ on Better’s internal Slack messaging system and in company meetings. 

Garg told Fortune that four weeks ago the firm started reviewing employee productivity data, including missed telephone call rates, number of inbound and outbound calls, employees showing up late to meetings with a customer, and other metrics.

‘As we started to slow down our pace of hiring, we saw some alarming statistics and a number of our customers were not getting the service that they deserved from our teammates,’ he said.

Staff criticized Garg for another ‘threatening’ companywide call he held after the layoffs were announced, saying that the performance of remaining employees would be closely monitored.  

‘His tone was extremely harsh and threatening,’ one employee told Fortune. Two others said that Garg warned next year would be a ‘bloodbath.’

‘It was just very strange,’ said one of the sources. ‘The comments were disturbing.’

In another message, on Slack, Garg wrote: ‘If you are not interested in working hard you need to find another place to show up everyday.’

Office managers were also criticized for failing to keep the mini fridges filled with water from Fiji or Perrier.

Garg also insisted on bottles of Gerolsteiner, his sparkling beverage of choice, according to Forbes. 

‘Why do we have biscotti here like this??’ he once demanded from office managers. 

In one furious email obtained by Forbes, he wrote: ‘You are TOO DAMN SLOW. You are a bunch of DUMB DOLPHINS… SO STOP IT. STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME.’

In a dispute with a former business partner, Raza Khan, he accused Garg of not properly filing the firm’s taxes and claimed that he had moved $3 million to his personal bank accounts.

The pair have since been involved in a protracted legal battle.

According to court documents, during one hearing in December 2019, Garg turned to Khan and said that he was ‘going to staple him against a f***ing wall and burn him alive.’ 

Two current employees and an ex-aide told the site that Garg was renowned for being ‘erratic’ on Better’s internal Slack messaging system and in company meetings. 

‘If you are not interested in working hard,’ he wrote in one Slack message, ‘you need to find another place to show up everyday.’ 

The CEO is said to be demanding of his staff, right down to the smallest details.

Office managers were criticized for failing to keep the mini fridges filled with water from Fiji or Perrier.

Garg also insisted on bottles of Gerolsteiner, his sparkling beverage of choice, according to Forbes. 

‘Why do we have biscotti here like this??’ he once demanded from office managers. 

In one furious email obtained by Forbes, he wrote: ‘You are TOO DAMN SLOW. You are a bunch of DUMB DOLPHINS… SO STOP IT. STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME.’

Better's headquarters is 44,000 square feet of office space on the 59th floor of 3 World Trade Center in Manhattan

Better’s headquarters is 44,000 square feet of office space on the 59th floor of 3 World Trade Center in Manhattan

The Daily Beast also reported that Garg told a former business partner that he was ‘going to staple him against a f**king wall and burn him alive.’

It comes as Better, which featured in the Forbes Fintech Top 50, hopes to go public before the end of the year.

It received $1.5 billion in debt and convertible notes earlier this week ahead of its planned debut. 

Better, which is backed by Softbank, received a $750 million cash infusion last week, after announcing in May it was going public through a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC). The company now has a valuation of $7.7 billion.

Born in India, Garg moved to Queens when he was seven and went to Manhattan’s renowned Stuyvesant High School.

He showed an early business mindset, buying CliffsNotes and books which he sold to fellow students for a profit.

‘My superpower, I think, I was good at math and good at, like, being able to spot an opportunity,’ Garg said in a podcast in 2019.

Another teenage venture was buying clothes in thrift stores and then selling them for more on eBay.

However, a Better spokesman later confirmed this was not true because eBay wasn’t founded until after Garg left school.

The CEO claims he founded Better because he and James were still renting while she was pregnant with their second child.

‘We ended up losing a place that we wanted to buy to an all-cash buyer, because our mortgage process was so long and inefficient,’ he said.

Garg founded Better in 2014 with the concept to cut down the process and offer ‘pre-approval on your mobile phone in about 3 minutes.’

It would also skip the traditional borrower-paid fees, making it cheaper for consumers.

Once issued, Better would sell the mortgages to lenders like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Wells Fargo. 

The concept has turned out to be a massive hit, perhaps no more so than during the pandemic as millennials sought to get onto the property ladder while saving thousands of dollar by working from home.   



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