Name: Alexa von Tobel
Company: She founded LearnVest in December of 2009 with a mission to educate women on their personal finances. The company provides content, tools, and support for women and their money online. LearnVest has an advertising-based revenue model in place to support the website and newsletters they produce.
Measure of Success: The site receives an average of half a million unique visitors a month. She then raised $1.1 million dollars in seed funding and was selected as a TechCrunch50 company. LearnVest subsequently received $4.5 million from Accel Partners, a VC firm that backed Facebook, Groupon, Esty and Diapers.com. Headquartered in New York City, LearnVest now has 28 employees.
Why She’s fierce: In the fall of 2008 the economy was falling apart, Lehman Brothers was going under and von Tobel was enrolled in Harvard Business School. But, instead of heading up to Boston, she made the very bold decision to take a leave of absence from Harvard, move to New York City and spend her entire savings to start LearnVest. In just one year, von Tobel has become a media mainstay and is being dubbed Suzie Orman 2.0.
In Her Own Words:
Daria Meoli: Why focus on women and finance?
Alexa von Tobel: First of all, women are a massive audience and by no means a niche audience. A basic principle of business is if you have a target audience and focus on that target audience, you’re going to do a better job of actually talking to that audience. I happen to be a 27-year-old female founder who’s living and breathing a lot of the things we talk about at LearnVest.
For example, how should you split rent with a significant other? What finance considerations do I need to think about before I get married? How should I save for a big trip? What do I need to do with IRAs and 401(k)s? I wanted to target an audience that I know. But, more importantly, there are some major trends happening, such as women are getting married later in life, divorce is at an all time high, the average woman is outliving a man by almost six years. There are a lot of women out there that are taking care of their finances on their own in some capacity. Women are the chief household officers and they are very powerful. They make 83 percent of spending decisions in the United States.
And we just simply said, “This is a tremendously cool and powerful audience that we happen to be part of. Why don’t we talk directly to them in a way that’s not girly, it’s not glittery, and it’s not pink? Let’s talk to women like adults about their money.” And that’s all we do.
DM: Why did you decide to use your savings to start a business at the height of a recession?
AvT: It was a very bold decision. I have a basic principle that’s hard to live by but when everyone zigs, zag. Everyone was really terrified and people thought it was the craziest time to drop out of Harvard Business School, which is a very safe place to be, to go run a start-up with no venture backing and no funding. But, I was really committed to the cause. I was really committed to our mission and I was really committed to actually building something for people who needed it most. And I think that’s still what gets me so excited to this day about what I’m doing.
Was it the right time for me personally? No, it was terrifying. But it was the right decision because I saw it as an opportunity to build something that could help a lot of people who are really scared. Educating women on their personal finances is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time and I realized that if I was ever going to get people to pay attention to money, make money cool, and make being on top of your finances fun and interesting, it was going to be when people were in the most difficult financial times.
Daria Meoli is the Executive Editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org