How long will it take you to pay off your student loans? How much money should you be contributing to your 401(k)? What's the easiest way to save to buy a home — and how long will it take? If you don't know the answer to these questions, you're not alone. Alexa von Tobel noticed there was a disconnect between young adults — particularly women — and their financial knowledge, so she created a company to help people take control of their finances. "We don't learn about personal finance in high school or college," Alexa says, "and it's really one of the most critical ways to protect and support your family and to be able to follow your dreams."
After graduating from Harvard, Alexa worked as a trader at Morgan Stanley. She then enrolled in Harvard Business School, but took a leave of absence to launch LearnVest, a financial planning service that empowers everyone to take control of their money, regardless of how much of it they have or what their financial goals are. On her path to empowering Americans to become financially savvy, she has written a New York Times best seller, been a staple on the TV circuit as a financial expert, and named an inaugural member of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship by President Obama — and she did all this by age 30. Here Alexa shares some insights into dreaming big and starting your own company:
1. Be your own first client.
In order to feel prepared to walk away from Harvard MBA program and create her own business, Alexa had to put what she had learned — and was hoping to educate people on — to the test. "The way that I was able to go and start LearnVest was that I actually had to set up a financial plan," Alexa says. She assessed her income, created a manageable budget, and stuck to it until she had enough of an emergency savings to last her nine months — something her company helps people do. The same thing applies to other industries: for example, if you want to become a personal trainer, put yourself on a few different fitness regimes or help a friend, or if you want to be an interior designer, make over a room in your house. Once you've done a practice run with yourself, you'll be better equipped to take on outside clients.
2. Dream big because no one else is going to dream for you.
Alexa's company has already raised more than $72 million in funding from investors and has helped more than 1 million Americans, but even so, she continues to set goals and dream big. "When people ask me if we're really successful I'll say, 'Yeah, we've accomplished a lot of great things, but I want to accomplish a lot more,'" she says. Alexa wants to impact 10 million households, which she admits will take her a very long time, but she's committed to seeing this dream come to fruition. "I'm extremely passionate about making sure that we get there," Alexa says. "It really keeps me motivated and helps me keep my head down and stay focused." Whatever your passion, the limit to your success in a large part will be contingent on you, so aim high.
3. Make sure you understand the challenges.
Taking risks are an essential part of starting a business, but you can minimize the chance of failure by being well prepared. Before Alexa launched LearnVest she did her research. "The 75-page business plan I wrote was just for me, no one else ever read it," Alexa says. "It was something I did so that I knew I really understood what I wanted for LearnVest." First step is dreaming, second step is preparing, then it's time to take the leap!
4. Be comfortable with failure.
Even with the most diligent of planning, failures are inevitable, but that's OK. Innovation requires one to take risks and Alexa says that failing comes with the territory, so you shouldn't be afraid of it. "We fail a little bit everyday and that's because we're trying new things," Alexa says. "I think that getting comfortable with failure is a really important part of being able to jump and take the leap of faith." For every leap there will be some misses, but more importantly there will be many successes — it's a sacrifice that's worth the risk. "We are willing to make small decisions that just don't work in order to make sure that we are constantly testing the best ideas." You'll never know how awesome your new idea is unless you try it — and if it doesn't work out, don't dwell, learn from your mistakes, and move on to the next thing. Read more on cosmopolitan.