Not long ago Renaud Laplanche had workers smash a hole through the floor of his downtown San Francisco office and build a staircase to some newly leased space below. As he led me down the stairs recently for a tour, the soft-spoken, French-born CEO and co-founder of Lending Club, the largest player in the red-hot business of peer-to-peer lending, gestured to the rows of new desks and marveled at his company's rapid growth, "We're just getting so big!"
The numbers bear that out: Lending Club issued $173.4 million in consumer loans in July, a 288% jump over last year. But the company's public profile might be growing even faster than its business. Originally launched as one of Facebook's first applications back in 2007, Lending Club has emerged as the most successful of a series of startups -- Prosper is another -- that have attempted to disintermediate banks by connecting borrowers directly with lenders.