Hundreds of miles away from Cleveland, Steven Muszynski discovered a home away from home on Sundays in the fall.
Whether it was in Houston or Atlanta as he began his professional career, Muszynski would take a seat at his local Browns Backers club, surround himself with complete strangers and immerse himself in the kind of community that reminded him of home. For those three hours, it wasn't much different than if he were watching with his parents at their home in Lyndhurst or across town in his friend's backyard viewing the game on a projection screen.
In between the sacks, touchdowns and celebrations, Muszynski pondered what was next as he set out to launch his own company. No matter the idea, Muszynski kept coming back to Cleveland, first figuratively and then in a literal sense.
"For a lot of people it's about your upbringing, your community and your friends," said Muszynski, whose parents were in the stands for the Browns' 1986 AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos. "I'd watch the games, grab a drink and you'd have a good time. I would think about Cleveland and I'd think about the community.
"The whole thought process was I'm from Cleveland, I care about the Cleveland community and I want to invest in Cleveland and I want to start a company in Cleveland."
That's exactly what he did, and his growing business is positively impacting the community the way he envisioned since its formation in 2013.
Muszynski is the CEO and Founder of Splash Financial — a Cleveland-based, leading student loan refinancing marketplace and technology platform that partners with credit unions and banks to deliver on its mission: to help people save money on their student loans. Muszynski, an Ohio State University Honors College graduate, wanted to "make a splash" — hence the name — and it's happening in the place that means most to him.
"We named ourselves that when we looked at the market and saw student loans were holding people back," Muszynski said. "They're not allowing people the freedom to go on and live their life — whether that's living their life without the constant pressure to think everything you're doing needs to pay back your debt or living your life to make the choices you want to make.
"People are holding off having children or buying a home. There are a lot of things people aren't doing because their student loan debt is holding them back. The whole idea is by helping people save money or allowing them to go out and make a better impact in their community or life. We've seen it firsthand how rewarding it can be."
The amount of money Splash Financial customers can save depends on the amount of debt they carry. Regardless of the size, the savings can make an immediate difference, as Splash's pool of credit unions and banks can provide interest rates as low as 1.89 percent APR (variable) and 2.8 percent APR (fixed).
"If you're able to save a couple hundred bucks, it can go a long way," Muszynski said. "It's the difference between being able to take a vacation and not. It can be the difference between many, many different things someone has going on in their life. It could also be the difference between actually getting approved for a home."
As a proud partner of the Browns, Splash Financial is looking to grow its collaborations in the Cleveland area and showcase the impact and benefits of refinancing student loans. In the coming years, Splash is looking to double its staff, which currently sits at 75, and continue to grow its pool of lenders, which will, in turn, provide even better rates for Splash Financial's valued customers.
"As a company we care about three things: Saving people the most money they can on student loans, doing it as fast as possible and making the process as easy as possible with a good experience," Muszynski said. "Money and our growth allows us to do that by re-investing in technology, hiring people, making the process faster and on-boarding more lending partners.
"It really allows us to continue to invest in growth in Cleveland."
Muszynski has worked from his home office for months during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the momentum at Splash Financial continues to build. A miniature Browns helmet on his nearby windowsill serves as a daily reminder of what it means to make an impact in the place and for the people who mean the most to you.
"The Browns in this town don't stand just for football. They stand for community," Muszynski said. "You think about these memories and the history of the franchise and those get passed down from generation to generation. While the team hasn't been as good as people would desire and as good as the Browns would desire over the past few years, the fan base is incredible. It's because it stands for community.
"That's really why the partnership is important to us and what we were looking for. We're a community-based product that can help people save money. The Browns are one of the leading organizations in this area, if not the leading organization that represents the community."