Embattled digital mortgage lender Better.com reveals string of new senior exec hires in ‘rebirth’ attempt

Online mortgage lender Better.com is on a mission to reinvent its image.

The embattled startup announced today several new hires of senior executives, including a new chief growth officer and a new head of sales.

In case you missed it, Better.com has seen a flurry of execs depart the company in recent months during which it let go thousands of workers across multiple rounds of layoffs. 

Now, the New York-based startup says it has named Sushil Sharma as its first chief growth officer. Sharma previously served as chief product officer at LendingTree and Match, where he helped that company go public and led product, marketing analytics, CRM and revenue.

Steve Riddell has been appointed the company’s new head of sales. He has three decades of executive sales experience at companies such as Casper, Sprint and Blinds.com, which was acquired by Home Depot.

“In only six years, Better has originated nearly $100B of mortgages,” said Vishal Garg, CEO and founder of Better, in a press release. “Expanding our team with seasoned pros who are still fast, hungry, and eager will be pivotal to achieving our next phase of growth.”

In addition to Sharma and Riddell, Better has also named Ryan Jewison head of Better Cover, the company’s digital insurance arm. He previously worked at US Bank, Doma and Elavon. Nick Taylor has been appointed head of Better Real Estate, and previously worked at Zillow in sales and strategy and at Modus. Josh Durodola has been named head of Better Services after having served as the company’s director of strategy and operations. Brian Ro has been appointed VP of people after previously leading total rewards and compensation strategy at Deloitte, Zeigler, Ripple, Chekr and Gopuff.

Jennifer Malin has been named head of enterprise risk and previously was a partner with global law firm Winston & Strawn. And Nitin Bhutani has been appointed head of marketing, after having previously worked at HSBC, LendingTree and J.G. Wentworth.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Ro told me that he joined the company in May and is encouraged by the company having “talented people who want to be here and be part of the rebirth.”

“And frankly, that’s the reason I joined the company as well,” he added. “I believe in the mission, that the home buying process should be faster, easier and less expensive. Better is still the top online mortgage provider in the country. So they are a leader in what they do.”

Better was set to go public last year via a SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) that would have valued the company at more than $7 billion. Over the past several months, the company’s reputation and business has suffered from a plethora of bad publicity and deteriorating market conditions, including a slower housing market and higher mortgage interest rates. Better’s handling of its first round of layoffs, as well as subsequent workforce reductions, also have led to a host of issues for the company.

In June we reported on the fact that the company had lost three senior executives, including the SVP and VP of sales. The company’s CTO, Diane Yu, in April transitioned from her leadership role to an advisory position.

In February, TechCrunch reported that Sarah Pierce, who served as executive vice president of customer experience, sales and operations, and Emanuel Santa-Donato, who was senior vice president of capital markets and growth, were no longer with the digital mortgage company. Their departures followed those of three other executives who left the company last December in the wake of the layoffs: Patrick Lenihan, the company’s VP of communications; Tanya Gillogley, head of public relations; and Melanie Hahn, head of marketing.

In June, Pierce filed a lawsuit against Better.com alleging that the company and CEO Garg misled investors when it attempted to go public via a SPAC.

When Pierce parted ways with the company earlier this year, it was not clear if she left voluntarily or was asked to resign, but Pierce indicated in her suit she was pushed out.

In her lawsuit, according to The Wall Street Journal, Pierce alleged that Better.com misrepresented its business and prospects so that it could move forward with its SPAC. Since that lawsuit, multiple employees have expressed resentment at Pierce for “getting a big payday” while many employees have been left out in the cold.

Better.com’s move to lay off about 900 employees via a Zoom video call on December 1, 2021, ended up going viral. It was hardly the first company to lay people off over Zoom during a global pandemic, but it was the manner in which it was handled that offended so many. Co-founder Garg was universally criticized for being cold and unfeeling in his approach. He also added insult to injury days later by publicly accusing affected workers of “‘stealing’ from their colleagues and customers by being unproductive.”

Then, on March 8, the company laid off an estimated 3,000 of its remaining 8,000 employees in the U.S. and India and “accidentally rolled out the severance pay slips too early.”

In April, a filing revealed that Better.com swung to a loss of more than $300 million last year, a sharp turnaround from its profitable 2020. Garg is also the target of multiple lawsuits by PIMCO and other investors involving entities he controlled.

Also, in April, a video of Garg and CFO Kevin Ryan addressing the remaining employees right after the chief executive performed those layoffs emerged, confirming many reports of his brash style and harsh words about those affected.

In that video, obtained by TechCrunch, Garg was seen addressing the layoffs and admitting to making a number of mistakes, including not being disciplined in managing the company’s cash and in its hiring strategy.

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