Alexa von Tobel, Founder and CEO of LearnVest, is a mother of two, a New York Times bestselling author and the financially fearless leader of a company of over 400 people. Oh, and she just may be the patron saint of work-life balance. Here we catch up with Alexa on what makes her feel #INCHARGE.
When I was an undergrad, I worked in The Happiness Lab—yes, The Happiness Lab was a thing—and one of the things that they did was interview people when they were ninety and ask them ‘What would you change? What do you regret?’ And what’s so amazing, people at the end of their life, when they look back, there’s very few things that they regret except for the risks that they didn’t take. They regret the things that they didn’t do, not the things that they did. So you don't regret kissing that boy or the fact that you went to that party or traveled. You regret the things you didn't do, which is really the risks that you didn’t take. So, for me, I have this ninety-year-old Alexa who sits on my shoulder and gives me the courage to see through all of the noise, see through all of the anxiety and just take the risks that I know I need to take.
Ninety-year-old Alexa is so fun!
She’s like, ‘Go for it, you’re not going to remember anything anyway!’
With LearnVest, you hope to simplify financial planning for the 99%. Is being in control of one’s finances something that’s particularly important for women?
Financial planning, financial empowerment is important for every single human that lives on this earth. It’s particularly important for women for a variety of historical reasons. Finances have always tended to be a male-dominated thing, and it’s just not how we live today in 2018.
Have you found in your research and your experience that men and women approach money differently? How so?
Unfortunately since financial literacy, financial planning is not taught in high school, college or graduate programs across the country, most people are undereducated. Most people lack the financial wherewithal to be able to feel empowered when it comes to their wallet. Women do have a specific issue which is on average, women live 6.2 years longer than men, which means, plain and simple, that women actually need to be more thoughtful about financial planning because they have to be able to pay for six more years of their life.
What or who inspires you most?
I truly find inspiration in everything, whether it’s the story of a Diane von Furstenberg or the people I meet in my everyday life. Some of the people I’m most inspired by are the people I work with and watching how much they care about our mission. I’m also inspired by my mom. She was a single parent raising three kids, working full-time as a pediatric nurse practitioner who still wants to work everyday because she feels like we have God-given talents and we should use them to make people’s lives better. So I seek inspiration from everywhere, but especially my mom.
Diane is a big believer in mantras and the power of words. Do you have any words that you live by?
Get up. Dress up. Show up. It’s that simple. Get up: Get up early. If you wake up early, the day’s already on your side. You’re already winning. Dress up: Dress the part. Whatever your day entails, put on some make-up, put on a dress, feel good, it gives you confidence all day. It changes how you feel. Show up. The show up piece is the most important. Show up with a good attitude. Show up with a winning attitude. Positivity is so underrated. I am a supreme optimist. I think life can be tackled, life is always on your side, go win, dream big. And I think having that positive attitude is truly a skill set that I hope every smart young woman out there has every day, because it really can change your life.
You founded LearnVest in your early twenties. What advice would you give to young women who know they want to make an impact, but might not have such a specific vision in mind?
I think my most important advice for people is really to have resilience. I built LearnVest. I sold LearnVest. In so many ways, it’s such a positive story, but if you get past the positivity underneath it all was an incredible amount of hard work and resilience. Tons of people told me ‘no.’ I once had an employee tell me ‘Alexa, you almost get punched in the face every day, and you get back up.’ But the truth is that having resilience and betting on yourself is the most important thing that anybody can do. Have resilience. When people knock you down, get right back up. Remember to seek out really good people around you, good advisors who will tell you the hard things that you need to fix, and listen to them. Don't keep getting back up and running into the same wall. You’ve ‘gotta run differently. But get back up and don’t let it break your spirit.
What sort of leader are you? How has your style evolved since you founded LearnVest?
I was not always a perfect leader. I made a lot of mistakes. But what I think is really important is that the leader I strive to be is willing to keep learning and most importantly, I like to surround myself with people that are better than me and smarter than me and then listen to them. And I’m very loyal. When someone bets on me, I bet on them and follow them back to the end of the earth to make sure that they have the best life they can.
I know you recently had your second child. Congratulations! And what advice would you give other working mothers?
I’ve been asked that question so many times and just like everyone else, I didn’t have the perfect answer. It’s messy. It’s hard. It’s all of those things. This morning was one of the most chaotic mornings I’ve had. But my best advice really is this: love your job. If you’re a working mom and you love your job, you will make it all work. It’s really hard to be a working mom if you’re really unhappy in your career or your job. The secret to work-life balance, because you’re going to love your kids, right, and hopefully you love your spouse and you love your family, but love your job. If you love your job, that’s the puzzle piece that makes the entire juggle worth it.
Did you always know the woman you wanted to be? And have you become that woman?
I’ve always known that I cared about helping other people and changing the world and using my God-given talents to do something that is not just about myself. And that has been the true north. And I’ve always known that I love being challenged and hard work and growing. And a lot of what I had hoped for has happened, but I don't know what the next thirty, forty, fifty years hold and I do know I am still in the process of becoming. The growth I still feel, the challenges I still feel and one of my key notes to myself is that every day I want to be a little bit nervous. If everyday I’m a little bit nervous it means I’m actually pushing myself out of my comfort zone and life really does happen out of your comfort zone.
And while we have you, what are your top three pieces of financial advice?
At LearnVest, we call these the Monopoly steps. You cannot pass go unless you do these three things:
1) No credit card debt.
2) Contribute to retirement as soon as possible as much as possible.
3) And you need to have an emergency savings account which we call a Freedom Fund. (If you’re young and single, it’s three months of living expenses.)