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The Boss: Why Alexa von Tobel Dropped Out of Harvard Business School to Get Ahead

4 minute read

When I was growing up, I loved school. I was fortunate to have great teachers and ultimately worked my way into a great college. But despite all the educational resources at my disposal, there was one thing that I was never taught in school — how to manage my personal finances.

As a 20-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. These were all practical things that I should have known (and wanted to know!) as a young adult and yet not one moment of my education was dedicated to learning and truly understanding the importance of financial planning. I thought working with a financial planner was akin to a luxury product, reserved only for people who could afford it.

The fact is that money is a huge cause of stress for millions of people. Many people live paycheck to paycheck. Not everyone contributes to their retirement. According to a recent survey, more than half of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts. We spend so much time thinking about big financial problems and confusions. For many of us, money is what keeps us up at night.

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. Something that was trustworthy and easy to understand, where I could get all my financial questions answered and take action quickly. I wanted to feel confident and in control of my money.

I believed I was onto something, and it was my dream to bring this idea to life. I wrote a 75-page business plan then went to Harvard Business School at the height of the worst recession in nearly 80 years. At 25, I dropped out to put all my energy into turning that business plan into a reality, moved to New York City, hired my first employee (when my business was just me, working out of a Starbucks) and officially launched my dream company — LearnVest — in 2009.

Think of it as GPS for your money. LearnVest covers all of your financial questions, such as: How can you make sure you have an emergency savings fund? What should you do if you’re planning for a baby or buying your first home? Should the money you earn first go toward your student loan debt or credit card debt? These are questions people ask every day but can be intimidating to tackle. Money is stressful enough as is, but I was determined to make financial planning easy, affordable and accessible.

In the case of LearnVest, necessity was the mother of invention. I wanted someone to help me understand what to do with my money. I also knew my idea was big enough to help more people like me. Nearly eight years later, LearnVest has helped people across the country improve their financial lives, a fact I am incredibly proud of.

Looking back on my early days, before I launched the company, I know the reason I succeeded was because I wasn’t afraid to dream big and take on something I was passionate about. For me, financial planning really hits to the core. For someone else, that may be food. In that case, if someone were to tell me they want to be a chef, I would say dream bigger. What if you were the chef of your own restaurant? You have to work hard and aim high, because no one else is going to do it for you. Your big aspiration comes first — then you figure out a way to make it happen.

Alexa von Tobel is the founder and CEO of LearnVest and the Chief Digital Officer at Northwestern Mutual. She is the bestselling author of Financially Fearless.

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