Marc Russell’s adoptive father died right in front of him in 2009. The sudden passing of a parent, already devastating, also came with a financial punch to the gut.
“My dad, who was the breadwinner [of the family], didn’t have anything saved up,” says Russell. “He didn’t have anything invested. He didn’t have a 401k, term life insurance, or anything of that nature. We suffered for some years.”
Stripped of stability during the height of the financial crisis, Russell, a financial industry professional, wanted to dedicate his career to helping people avoid the tumultuous financial experience he had just gone through.
After several years of working with private equity clients, he knew he wanted to do something more mainstream. In 2019 he founded BetterWallet, a community that empowers people to cultivate wealthy habits. Russell quickly discovered how many people truly struggle to acknowledge their money challenges head-on.
“My DMs are crazy on Instagram,” he notes. “People really don’t want other folks to know what’s actually going on with their money.” After trying out a membership model, Russell now offers an instructional course for $329 in addition to free resources. BetterWallet currently averages over $10,000 per month in topline revenue.
Here’s how the finance entrepreneur plans to normalize the way we talk about personal finance – and grow a business along the way.
From Finance Pro to C.E.O.
Russell says that his father’s lack of legacy planning was unexpected, because his parents had taught him so much about money and the importance of saving while growing up.
“My mom and dad never really talked about their specific finances other than ‘here’s what you should do with your money,’” he says. “It really came down to you: you need to save your money, generate money, and put it in your own pocket.”
The entrepreneur acknowledges that healthy money dialogue with his parents – who adopted him out of the foster care system at age 13 – gave him an appreciation for side hustles and entrepreneurship from an early age.
“I would mow grass and shovel walks as a kid. I was the one knocking on neighbors’ doors at 6:00 in the morning and saying ‘Shovel your walk?’ And then trying to upsell them by putting salt on their sidewalk. So I kind of learned all that at a young age. After my dad passed away, we found out he didn’t have anything saved up. It was really surprising.”
Between financial instability in his family and recession headlines dominating the news throughout 2009, Russell, a college student at the time, felt compelled to master his money situation – and help others do the same.
“I didn’t learn how to invest until, you know, sometime in college, as I’m kind of hearing about what’s happening at Wall Street and everything,” he says. “I wanted to join a firm like Vanguard.” Russell graduated and spent several years working as an advisor in private equity and financial services.
Eventually, though, he knew he wanted to go bigger and impact more people – not just wealthy people – and bring his finance experience to a broader audience.
Why You Shouldn’t Believe Everything You See on Social Media
Personal finance guidance on social media isn’t always accurate, and sometimes can be downright misleading. 41% of young investors have turned to YouTube for financial advice, and 41% have turned to TikTok, compared to just 27% seeking out a financial advisor, according to a survey conducted last year by MagnifyMoney, a finance publication owned by LendingTree.
“I took the industry exams and passed them,” Russell says. “A lot of other people on Instagram and other social media are talking about their own experiences, but they don’t really have the paperwork to back it up. So that’s kind of how I’m different.”
The engagement-centric landscape of social media incentivizes clickbait, Russell says. From his perspective, investing should be boring, and what he’s seen from years of experience as an advisor is that online personalities who flaunt their wealth are often barely scraping by.
“People go and buy the really expensive BMWs. But then you ask them ‘Hey, so, what is your life, really?’, and you find out that they work two, maybe three different jobs, and are living paycheck to paycheck. They’re struggling to put food on the table. The folks who have the brand names and fancy things are often the ones struggling the most with money.”
How BetterWallet Makes Money
In addition to being active on social media channels like Instagram, Russell focuses on two resources to help his followers get their finances in shape: a free checklist and a paid online course. The free checklist includes a rubric that helps you rate your current financial health and walk away with specific action steps on what to do next.
“With finances in general, I think the hardest part is just taking that step,” he says. “It’s not the budgeting and investing and paying off debt. It’s actually taking that first step and saying to yourself, ‘Okay, I can do this’.”
BetterWallet’s newest offer, the Financially Bulletproof Investing Course, includes instructional video trainings, biweekly coaching sessions, and a private online community. Russell’s program accepts applications and opens the doors once a month for a 72-hour enrollment window; during this time, accepted applicants can enroll for $329, a 50% discount. Users also have the option to enroll outside of the enrollment window, but at full price ($659). The course launched in March and has had 75 customers so far.
When asked about the most surprising part of having a paid online community, Russell says his customers simply want to talk through their money challenges with financial experts in a safe space.
“People don’t want other folks to know [about their finances],” he says. “They’d much rather just go to an expert and ask a question about budgeting, paying off debt, or investing.”
The finance entrepreneur hopes his story of loss will inspire others to take action and recalibrate their money legacy now before it’s too late.
“I came from absolutely nothing and had to learn the hard way. I want to make it easier for people all across the country, all across the globe, because I feel like everyone struggles with finance at some point in their life.”
“If I can do it, you can as well.”