When I knew Alexa von Tobel as a college freshman, it was clear to everybody who met her that she was going to accomplish big things sooner rather than later, and with a mega-watt smile on her face to boot. Just a few years later, rumors were circulating that she had dropped out of Harvard Business School to start her own company.
Depending on who was doing the talking, I heard this decision described as either brave or foolish, but it was undeniably a risky choice given that this was 2008 and the economic climate was, let’s say, less than friendly.
It was the right move: in 2009, Alexa founded LearnVest, a start-up focused on offering personal finance advice to women. The LearnVest website offers its readers the “unbiased information you need to make the best financial decisions possible” in the form of lifestyle and money tips, an easily digestible analysis of market events, organizational and budget tools, and an advice center. Alexa herself is now looked to as a personal finance expert and stunningly successful entrepreneur.
It’s a role she was born to play. Alexa says she has known she wanted to be an entrepreneur since she was a little girl, filling notebooks with all her plans for future projects. As an undergraduate at Harvard, she studied psychology and happiness (“money skills are critical to happiness,” she adds).
The inspiration for LearnVest traces back to Alexa’s senior year. It was 2006, and she was graduating from college and heading for a job on Wall Street. But, she says, “while I was starting a career in finance, I realized that I had never learned the basics of personal finance. Despite my college diploma, I was lost when it came to IRAs or credit scores.” When she sought guidance, she could only find “dense books or expensive financial advisors.” Where was the resource that would speak directly to her?
Turned out, there wasn’t one, and the idea for LearnVest was born. As for that brave/risky/foolish decision to leave Harvard Business School, Alexa explains, “Leaving HBS in the middle of an economic crisis may seem like a crazy idea, but the fact that the economy was so uncertain meant that it was the perfect time.” Despite being admittedly “terrified,” she knew there was a need for what LearnVest was offering and she had to follow her gut.
As for why LearnVest is targeted specifically at women, Alexa says she recognized a huge gap in the market. “Women control approximately eighty percent of household spending. It seemed like a no-brainer.” Plus, the meager personal finance information aimed at women that already existed was “pink and sparkly,” and Alexa wanted to offer help to women at all stages of life, whether they were paying off college loans or planning to start a family.
Today, LearnVest receives hundreds of emails a day from women who feel the company has changed their lives for the better. Alexa says nothing is more rewarding than these kinds of inspirational LearnVest success stories, whether it’s “helping someone get out of debt, gain the courage to ask for a raise, or set herself up for financial independence.” The lack of sleep is worth it, she says, because of how passionate she is about what she’s doing.
When I asked her for some LearnVest-approved advice for women who are just starting to think about their finances in a serious way, Alexa told me, “The best step is to set up a budget. Think about what you want to achieve in your life and what you can do financially to help you get there. It’s never too early to start saving for your future.” And, she warns, “Don’t put off handling your finances until you’re in a bad spot.”
As for what other women can do to follow in Alexa’s impressive footsteps, she says, “When everyone zigs, you zag. I would advise all young women to believe in themselves and think bigger. If there’s something missing and you can create it, go for it!”
Women Working to Do Good is a series that Hello Giggles and the White House have been collaborating on. We will bring you stories of women in communities across the United States who we think are stars in their own right. Whether they are young entrepreneurs, active community organizers, or making a difference in a single life or community, we think these women are amazing and want to share their stories with you! Each story will also be featured on the White House blog, and we are working together to bring more strong female role models to the forefront.
If there is a woman in your community who you think should be honored in this series, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!