Why Dream If Not Enormously? LearnVest Founder Alexa von Tobel

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Alexa von Tobel, founder of LearnVest
Gino DePinto, AOLLearnVest founder Alexa von Tobel at AOL headquarters in New York
Dream enormously. If you get one third of the way there, it's better than reaching small goals.

That's the advice of Alexa von Tobel, the 30-year-old CEO and founder of LearnVest, and author of the book "Financially Fearless." (She wanted to name it "The F-Word" because people don't talk about money, but Walmart wouldn't carry the title if she did.) Some battles are not worth fighting.

"If we can get this in every household, we can change lives," she says of the LearnVest financial planning platform, noting that 76 percent of the country lives paycheck-to-paycheck.

The feisty von Tobel may not have specifically set out to disrupt the financial planning industry when she quit Harvard in the midst of her MBA studies to hunker down and start a company to teach people about money. But she is. Listen to her tell the story in the video.

LearnVest CEO, Alexa von Tobel, on Growing Her Company


"We're creating a new market," she says. "There's a lot of people out there who don't think they're deserving of a financial planner. I'd spent two years thinking about the problem and then I jumped off the cliff. Head down. I had no option to fail."

What's wrong with most financial institutions? "Do you have five hours," she quips before rattling off stats. They won't touch you if you have less than $250,000 in liquid assets. (That's the top 3 percent – 4 percent of the whole nation.) Then they charge 1 percent – 2 percent to manage and recommend funds that charge another 1 percent – 2 percent.

"That's bananasville," she says.

Most people are doing things like saving for a baby, or buying a home. There was no one to serve that market. So for a $500 annual fee, LearnVest now can match you with your own dedicated financial planner on demand.

One thing von Tobel's learned along the journey is that people want to talk to someone about their money, not just read advice columns. That's led to the subscription product that connects you with someone who will evaluate your financial circumstances and be "on call" to answer specific questions.

When the effervescent von Tobel went after capital, she didn't think of herself as a woman. She just knew her stuff cold.

"I just knew more about the space than anyone. Do you want to bet against me?"

"Don't start a company you don't believe in," she says, because you will be working all the time.

LearnVest is hiring about 50 new staffers with its latest infusion, many of them software developers to supplement the existing team of 100. She just hired a director of mobile.

"If you are willing to persevere," she says, recalling her early days on the couch in sweatpants, "you will overcome anything."

The ecosystem to start a company that has since developed in New York makes becoming an entrepreneur a no-brainer for anyone with the determination and a strong idea. She spoke recently at AOL headquarters as part of the BUILD series.
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