In The Path, we spotlight different women making a difference in the beauty and medical aesthetics industry. Here, they share their road to success.
Alexa von Tobel’s motto of “Get up, dress up, show up” applies to every aspect of her life.
The 34-year-old founder of LearnVest has spent the last nine years shaking up the financial industry, and has made investing (and saving) an easier-than-ever endeavor, especially for those who may have once been intimidated by the idea of dipping their toes into the proverbial money pool. In addition to building portfolios, though, she also believes in investing in oneself.
“I like to think of sleep, exercise and vitamins as the ultimate investment in my beauty,” she says, crediting a minimalist routine as her key to staying fresh-faced in an oft-exhausting industry. She’s a cheerleader for arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible — a mantra that applies to both business and beauty.
Here, she shares her journey from a startup founder who set up shop at Starbucks to one of the most powerful women in finance, and spills a few of her self-care secrets along the way.
Spotlyte: What inspired you to want to start LearnVest? Why has it been so important to you to change the conversation around women in finance?
Alexa von Tobel: As a twenty-something, I didn’t have a financial plan. As it turns out, not having a plan is a very bad plan. I didn’t understand things like how to manage my credit cards or how 401Ks or mortgages worked. I wanted to be able to understand and easily manage my finances, but I thought that working with a financial planner was akin to a luxury product, reserved only for people who could afford it. I knew there had to be a way to orient myself, and also to help other people with their financial plans. I started doing a lot of research about personal finance and realized there weren’t many resources out there, so I set out to build what I — and so many others — needed. This idea became LearnVest.
In the finance world, I actually don’t feel like my gender had a huge role in my job. I think that’s probably because of inspiring women before me who worked really hard to make the environment more neutral. I worked in venture capital on Morgan Stanley’s proprietary trading desk for two years, where I was one of the only women in a very junior role as an analyst, so I was bottom rung. And then I founded LearnVest, so I’m in fintech — technology and finance, an intersection of two very underrepresented areas for women. Fast-forward five years after launching LearnVest, when we got acquired by Northwestern Mutual, I think six of seven roles on my management team were female — including my CTO, my head of financial planning, and my head of product. That was a proud day.
Spotlyte: What was the biggest challenge you faced when you first started? How did you get through it?
AVT: In the early days of LearnVest, there were some extreme days – one of which even landed me in the hospital with an alarmingly high fever. I had just dropped out of Harvard Business School and was traveling cross-country, all while starting the business. I literally worked myself to the bone and was so sick. It shouldn't take a fever so high that you are physically breaking to remind us all that we only get one body, and one mind. I quickly realized that "surviving startup mode" isn't just a clever catch phrase: It's an imperative.
Spotlyte: Was there a particular moment when you felt like you "made it?"
AVT: My team and I worked tirelessly for more than two years to make LearnVest a reality — from the initial idea to the actual website. The day the LearnVest site went live is a day burned in my memory. It was New Year’s 2010, and I was on a ski vacation with my family. I had spent the last few weeks building a website brimming with financial advice, but there was just one problem. The site crashed because we had so many people sign up so quickly.
I was actually literally sitting on the top of a mountain trying to get down on skis. I am lucky I don’t have a concussion — because that’s how quickly I was going to try and get down and get a computer to see if I could fix it. We had about 4,500 people sign up on that first day and in the first month, we had about 10,000 people sign up! That felt great. Five years later, when LearnVest was acquired by Northwestern Mutual, was a special day as well!
Spotlyte: What does your at-home beauty routine look like?
AVT: I keep it simple. I love simple products such as Dove, and I tend to wear very little makeup.
Spotlyte: What other beauty treatments do you swear by?
AVT: I sincerely believe that nothing is more beautiful than a fantastic attitude and a good night’s sleep. My personal motto is: “Get up, dress up, show up,” which is about waking up early (getting exercise!), dressing in a way that makes me feel good and showing up fully and with a great attitude!
Spotlyte: Is there a particular confidence-boosting beauty product or look that you like to use in the boardroom?
AVT: Red lipstick! Nothing beats a pop of color! I wear Elizabeth Arden [lipstick in] Fearless Red, which is perfectly named!
Spotlyte: What advice do you have for women who might feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the finance world, or even by dealing with their own personal finances?
AVT: Knowledge is power, so if finances intimidate you, sit down and research more. There are many resources to help both women and men understand and plan for their financial futures. Start small, by looking at how much money you have and how much you’ll need for retirement. Then set a budget and stick to it. If you falter, don’t ever beat yourself up! Get back on track and continue to grow your savings. If you're nervous, remember, knowledge is power!
Spotlyte: If you could offer one piece of "financial advice for women to live by," what would it be?
AVT: Have a plan! Not having a plan is still a plan. It’s a bad plan, but it’s still a decision that you make about how you’re going to handle your money. Make a decision about how you want to manage your money. Your goal after a plan should be to live below your means. You’ll never reach financial security if you always spend more money than you have. Debt is never the best option and you should avoid getting into debt as much as you possibly can.
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