In 2006, well equipped with a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, Alexa von Tobel realized that she, along with many of her peers, did not know how to intelligently manage their own money. None of the books she read on the subject made it any easier to understand and professional financial planners were too expensive. Alexa soon realized that women were an underserved audience in the world of personal finance and the seed of an idea was planted in her head. After working for just under two years as a trader at Morgan Stanley and then briefly going back to Harvard for business school for one semester, Alexa cultivated that seed, determined to bring trusted personal finance information and education to women, in a really fun, easy to understand and hip way. Today, at age 27, Alexa von Tobel is the Founder & CEO of two year old LearnVest, a financial website for women that does just what she set out to do.
Alexa has been called “Suze Orman 2.0″, a moniker she earned from a Fox reporter. To date, LearnVest has helped over 1 million women gain control of their finances. So, Alexa’s comparison to the highly influential, financial advice giving, multi-media guru seems fitting. Alexa quotes that females in America make 83% of the spending decisions. With LearnVest she wanted to create a fun resource that spoke to them directly about all of those decisions they are making and guided them through step by step. Her site, which offers free membership to users, delivers financial content, tools and support for virtually any life stage a woman may be going through: going back to school, losing your job, changing your job, having a baby, renting or buying a home, getting a loan, etc.
The first things that struck us about the site are it’s magazine-ishly editorial style, the fun colors and it’s very cool vibe, overall. It’s odd to call a financial website “cool” but what we mean is that it doesn’t feel financial at all, in the intimidating, boring and and/or tedious sense that money matters typically can. We played around a bit and while some of the content and tools are not viewable until you sign-up (again, it’s free), the site is also packed with oodles of accessible articles with great lifestyle and money saving tips, the latest news and more to keep you in the financial know. We love the idea of the Bootcamps email programs that are designed to show you how to tackle a specific financial issue. LearnVest currently offers 7 different Bootcamps, all free: Baby On Board, Build Your Career, Take Control, Priceless Style, Personal Finance Basics, Cut Your Costs and Get Out Of Debt. The content is written by experts and specific instructions are delivered to your e-mail inbox five days a week for the length of the specific bootcamp program.
The heart of the site is the My Money Center, which lets a member track her expenses, create a budget and track progress against her budgeting goals with ease. It allows women to aggregate all of their financial accounts, such as bills, credit cards, checking accounts, savings, 401K and more, to give users a comprehensive view into the health of their finances. Members can link all of their accounts into a Financial Inbox, which allows them to track their spending. According to the site, LearnVest is protected by bank level security and encryption. This recent post from the New York Times Your Money Blog does a great job of breaking down each of the primary LearnVest features, if you want to know more before venturing onto the site.
So, if you need a little schooling in all things financial, from the basic difference between a savings and a checking account, to the more complex notion of an IRA or how to get a loan or find the best credit card, getting guidance from the young woman who brought LearnVest to life by managing to secure $1.1 million in venture capital seed money at a time when most people were hiding money under their mattresses might not be a bad idea. Aside from being the sole founder and originator of the innovative concept behind LearnVest, a triumph for which she deserves much credit, Alexa also has an incredibly impressive group of expert Advisors and Board of Directors backing her up including Lee Barba (Former CEO, Investools/thinkorswim), Ann Kaplan (Former Partner, Goldman Sachs), Catherine Levene (Former COO/CEO, DailyCandy), and Betsy Morgan (Former CEO, The Huffington Post). This LearnVest “dream team” adds even more intrinsic value to the site and credibility to what Alexa set out to do and continues to do, really well.
More To Alexa’s Success Story
After landing her initial $1.1 million capital boost, Alexa refined the prototype of her site. She was then selected to be a part of the TechCrunch50 in September 2009, where she officially launched LearnVest. TechCrunch50, an annual conference that ran for three years (2007 – 2009), was aimed at finding the best Web 2.0 start-ups and launching them in front of the industry’s most influential venture capitalists, companies and press. Her presence there put LearnVest solidly on the digital map and in front of all the right eyes. It’s interesting to note that Alexa was 1 of only 2 CEOs presenting a female geared company to the all-male panel of web industry insiders at TechCrunch50 that year.
Following TechCrunch50, LearnVest was online in its BETA or test phase from late fall 2009 until early 2010. During this time, users were allowed to start playing around with the site, which, by January 2010, gave Alexa and the LearnVest team solid, preliminary data to share with investors for the second phase of venture capital funding. It was a small news item that the lifestyle site DailyCandy ran on January 1st that then sent LearnVest’s user data skyrocketing into the “wealth of info” stratosphere. DailyCandy posted about the debut of LearnVest’s first financial Bootcamp email program.
Within 24 hours of that post going live, LearnVest had over 10,000 people signed-up. That level of engagement and that many users actually changing their financial behavior gave LearnVest even more great data to take back to investors. As a result, in April 2010, Alexa was able to secure more funding, despite the recession, once again. This time she closed a Series A round of funding totaling $4.5 million from Accel Venture Partners in 4 weeks. These are the same investors in Facebook, Etsy, Kayak, Groupon, and more. Most recently, Alexa closed a Series B round of funding totaling $19 million.
To add to Alexa’s obvious entrepreneurial stature and status as a great idea woman, consider the following. Since the launch of LearnVest at TechCrunch50 in September 2009, Alexa has been included on Business Insider’s Silicon Alley 100 list, named “One of the Coolest Young Entrepreneurs” in Inc. Magazine’s 30 Under 30 feature, titled a “Woman to Watch” by Forbes, listed as one of “18 Women Changing the World” in Marie Claire, highlighted on BusinessWeek’s annual list of “Best Young Tech Entrepreneurs”, selected as a 2011 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and recognized as one of 2011’s “Game Changers of the Year” by AWNY (Advertising Women of New York). Most recently, LearnVest was named one of “25 Women-Run Startups to Watch” by Fast Company, included on Forbes’ list of the “Top 100 Websites for Women” for the second year in a row and included on Time Magazine’s annual list of “50 Best Websites”.
Need we say more about this Woman You Should Know?