If you ask mortgage lender loanDepot, its new corporate campus is the most exciting thing to hit Southern California this year.
The campus — for loanDepot’s end-to-end digital lending brand mello — would be run of the mill in Silicon Valley. But for the mortgage industry, it’s certainly unusual.
The eight-year-old lender on Wednesday unveiled a 65,000-square-foot campus in Irvine, California for 400 technologists working for mello, its digital lending brand, and mello Home, the home services network the company is building to connect homebuyers who receive loans from loanDepot with real estate agents and soon, contractors and other home service providers.
The corporate campus is a few miles away from loanDepot’s much more standard office for the financial services industry in Foothill Ranch and the nearby Orange County outposts of Amazon, Google, and SpaceX. It’s all open space designed for collaboration, with green and purple pods, 36 miles of visible green and purple cabling running through the ceiling, an open-air, garage-style entrance to capitalize on the Southern California weather, ping-pong tables and a 30-foot metal slide as a transportation alternative next to the central staircase.
As much of Silicon Valley is growing tired of some of the cliches of startup life — ping-pong tables among them — loanDepot is trying to get in on them. This kind of atmosphere is all new to the 30 percent of the company’s tech staff that comes purely from the financial services world, and to loanDepot it represents a commitment to becoming a major player in the technology part of lending and real estate.
“The building today is such a huge signal and and confirmation for our company,” loanDepot CEO Anthony Hsieh told his staff in remarks Wednesday. “It also signals a new era — a new era of digital, a new era of fintech, and a new era of all of this bleeding into a brand for homeowners.”
Five men from loanDepot and mello, including Hsieh, gathered on stage Wednesday night to tout the launch of their new campus and what it means for loanDepot’s future. The company has poured over $80 million into mello.
The opening two months after employees first started working in the space invited about 500 loanDepot and mello employees, local loanDepot branch managers, executives and representatives from the Irvine Chamber of Commerce and Orange County Business Council to view the space in person. It went pretty smoothly, except for an accidental burst of confetti during a test run.
“This place is on par with any tech center anywhere in the world,” loanDepot Chief Technology Officer Dominick Marchetti said during his remarks.
“Think unlike stodgy mortgage, financial services company, more like innovative technology,” he added on a walking tour of the building.
The company refers to the space as an “innovation lab,” not as an office. Every desk in mello’s new building can become a standing desk, and there’s a fancy central control center where staff can watch for fraudulent traffic on the site, like people who say they’re seeking loans but are outside the United States.
About 20 percent of the staff in the building at any time, Marchetti said, will be working on products specifically for mello Home, the real estate and home services brand headed by former Keller Williams CEO Chris Heller.
One conference room is named “Loanstradamus” — a failed contender for the original brand name for mello. The name “mello” instead refers to a Greek translation of “about to be”: “always ahead of where technology is driving expectations for our customers, our team and ourselves,” a quote from Hsieh permanently up on an office wall says.
Everything is branded for mello, except for the sign on the parking lot, which due to building restrictions says Mello with a capital M, to the consternation of Marchetti. Luckily, a representative from Orange County who said he was the “final authority in the city on signage” handed Marchetti his card on his way out.
The hope for loanDepot and mello is that with an office that looks more like Facebook than like a mortgage company, they’ll be able to poach top engineers.
“I always remind people, theres no iPhone X without iPhone 1. You just can’t leapfrog it,” Hsieh said in his remarks. “There’s got to be a base, and then you make it better. I would say today we are officially, if we were a smartphone, we’re getting out of the iPhone 1 stage.”