By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
“Reading a book about personal finance sounds like the worst thing I’ve ever heard of,” joked Alexa von Tobel, CEO and Founder of LearnVest.com, a website designed to “provide trusted personal finance education in a simple, easy-to-understand manner and help women everywhere take control of their finances.”
Personal finance is a subject von Tobel recognized as crucial a few years ago, as a senior at Harvard University. She had just been accepted to Harvard Business School, and was about to begin a career as a hedge fund trader at Morgan Stanley – and yet, with all of her business education and experience, she says, she had absolutely “no clue” about what to do about her own personal finances.
“Very few schools actually teach the basics of personal finance – which actually affects every day of your life,” she explained. “We want to educate as many women as possible.”
A Personal Finances Website Built Specifically for Women
The site, built with the backing of 4 of her former professors, and $1.1 million in venture funding has already taken the online community by storm – being named one of TechCrunch‘s 50 most promising start-up companies for 2009.
LearnVest features financial advice from experts, on topics such as budgeting and spending, credit cards, health insurance, retirement, and more. But, unlike many personal finance websites, it’s not boring – and more importantly, it’s a site that speaks to women. “I wanted to build the site I wished existed for me,” explained von Tobel.
“Of all the things out there, no one’s really focusing on women,” she said. “99 percent of women say they can’t give themselves an A on personal finance.”
The site’s target audience is women between the ages of 25 and 45, but von Tobel says the site’s audience is actually much more diverse: women and men of every age group are utilizing the information.
Critical Lessons for Personal Finance
Von Tobel stressed the following personal finance lessons:
- “Start learning early – if you tackle finances in your 20s, the rest is easy. You’ll save so much stress and heartbreak.”
- “Avoid credit card debt – you’ll save so much pain and money”
- “Open an IRA early – compounding interest is like magic. It’s the most powerful thing we can do.”
The site also offers tools to help women budget and save. “We’re like weight watchers for personal finance,” von Tobel explained. “You can do all of the things you want to do, but we can help you in big ways.” When a user logs on for the first time, she is encouraged to take a diagnostic test to determine which personal action items will go into her plan. Then the user is guided, step-by-step, through each action item. Additionally – and this is a big perk – each step is accompanied by an approximate time to complete – with most under 10 minutes.
Recently, LearnVest undertook its first Financial Resolution Boot Camp – providing 6,000 subscribers with a 10-minute action item, each day, for 20 days, to help them get their personal finances in order. Von Tobel says the program was extremely popular – she’s still receiving email from women sharing their success stories. The next Financial Resolution Boot Camp begins on February 15th.
Advice for Women Considering Their Own Start-Up
Von Tobel has the following advice for women thinking about starting their own company. “Do your homework,” she says. Then test it. “We talked to hundreds of women before doing a live test with real people,” she explained. And then, “Do it – 100 percent. Give it all your energy. Startups take all your time and energy. Go for it full time and make sure it’s something you really love to do.”
There are, of course, downsides to building your own company from the ground up in your 20s. Von Tobel reports working 18 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week. She says, “there’s really no balance.” But she and her team are extremely passionate about LearnVest, and about helping women get control of their personal finances. “It’s very motivating,” she says. “It’s a big mission, but we can do it.”
“I wake up and want to go to work,” she continued. “If you really believe in what you’re doing it, go for it. Go for it all the way.”
To sign up for the next LearnVest Financial Resolution Boot Camp, click here.