What may cause the next financial crisis? Student debt. Most of us have some and get stuck paying it off for a long, long time.  

Today’s guest is Joseph Gracia, CEO of Nickels, an Ann Arbor-based business focused on reducing borrowers’ student loan default rates. By being a trusted financial guide, Nickels helps them enter the working world and build up their credit profiles, rather than undermine their financial futures.  

Episode Highlights

  • 2:26 Power of Behavioral Science: How energy consumption reports led to Nickels.
  • 5:38 For-Profit Business: 4 steps to successful Software as a Service (SaaS) scalability. 
  • 8:56 Student Debt Data: 45 million owe and in default of loans crushes credit score.
  • 10:35 Correlation/Causation: Less you owe, more likely you’ll default on your debt.
  • 11:45 Pitfalls: Nickels is an automated, digital tool that addresses borrowers’ behavior.
  • 13:13 Default Options: Different countries offer different opt-in and opt-out programs.
  • 16:39 Choice Overload: Suspicious activity of who and why do you owe money?
  • 17:22 Identify or Ignore? Six-month grace period, fresh start dates, and student loans.
  • 19:30 Parents Play Role: Whether they initiate student debt or not, who pays the price?
  • 23:00 More Debt, No Problem: Decisions that lead to bigger problems, lack of support.
  • 25:33 Why change name from Principal Interest to Nickels? Trademark protection. 
  • 28:15 Educational Ideas and Opportunities: What do you want to do next?
  • 30:43 Guidelines/Guardrails: Checklist for vetting behavioral passion to build business.
  • 33:10 Move to Michigan: Entrepreneur-in-residence experience and midwest kindness.
  • 36:36 Raising Money: Don’t start too early, but validate and do more to gain traction.  
  • 38:15 Value of Education: Habits for dealing with purchase and ROI of student debt.
  • 41:57 Debt Hacks: As soon as first loan is dispersed, build relationship with servicer.
  • 46:39 Financial Literacy: Offer specific, timely, personalized recommended actions.
  • 47:48 Success: Changed from higher titles/salaries to expand growth and development.
  • 49:45 Doubt: Unable to convince super smart, successful person what will work in future.
  • 53:12 Lasting Lesson from Failure: Right or wrong, survive rejection of being told ‘no.’
  • 55:00 Easiest/Hardest Parts: Fundraising was fun, but naming business was frustrating.

Links and Resources:


DTE Energy



Influence and Other Books by Dr. Robert Cialdini 

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

Nudge Unit (Behavioral Insights Team)

Against the Rules Podcast with Michael Lewis

100 Days of Rejection Therapy 

Failure Games from Noah Kagan

LOB Episode 15: Let’s Make Sauerkraut with Social Capital featuring David Klingenberger of The Brinery

Huck Finch

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