At 25, LearnVest CEO Alexa von Tobel dropped out of Harvard Business School to dedicate herself to the company she founded just two years prior. Her mission: To help people master their personal finances—a skill she noticed wasn’t taught in schools across the country.
Her company was acquired by Northwestern Mutual for a reported $250 million in March, just days before she gave birth to her daughter. Now at 32, the Florida native gives us her recipe for success: hard work, a supportive family and mentors of all ages.
LearnVest helps its customers make a financial plan. Why is that so important, even if you don’t have a big salary?
When you don’t have a lot of money, it’s actually even more important that you don’t make mistakes, because you don’t have money to make mistakes with. Mathematically, it’s actually more critical that you have a clear financial plan than if you had millions of dollars.
What’s your gut reaction to people who respond with “Well, I’m not good with numbers”?
Personal finance is something that we all feel pretty ill-equipped to tackle. … I always tell people rip the Band-Aid off … the second you dive in and actually arm yourself with a bit of knowledge, it goes very far, and then suddenly, managing your money is very fun.
You raised more than $72 million in financing for LearnVest at a relatively young age. What advice would you give to people who are worried about being taken seriously because of how old they are?
If you take the time to worry about your age being a factor, you’re focusing on the wrong thing. … Rather than sitting there and focusing on the fact that I was young or female or blonde or a first-time entrepreneur, I just focused on saying I will have deeper, more thorough knowledge than any other person that can be interviewing me or wanting to talk about this topic, and I will let the results really speak for themselves.
What is one thing that you hope your daughter, Toby, aka “Bee,” can say 30 years from now?
There’s this massive debate about [whether women can] have it all, and I have no idea. I’m not even going to weigh in on that. But what I do think is that watching my mom [a nurse practitioner] have a fulfilling career, have a fulfilling family, be a happy parent … that really showed me that there is a way—it requires no sleep, but there is a way. So I hope my daughter in 30 years can say, “My mom was there for everything and worked and still had a full life.” I think I would be very proud of that.
In an interview with The New York Times in April, you mentioned that you pride yourself on having mentors from different generations. Expand on that.
It’s actually one of my secret weapons, to be perfectly honest. I have a mentor who’s 76 … I once interviewed him, and he called me the next day on my landline. … No text. No email. No “Hey, I’d like to call you.” He called. I picked up. I was shocked. And he said, “How are you doing? I’d like to get breakfast.” And it dawned on me that people used to pick up the phone and call people and make things very personal. And so from him I learned the power of a phone call. And then I also get my best ideas from people who are 15 and how they use technology, how they’re using Snapchat. It kind of gives you a clear window into what the future is going to look like.