Alexa von Tobel sold her first company, LearnVest, for more than $300 million. Now she's set her sights on making the startup world more inclusive by investing in all types of companies and founders. Here's how she did it, plus her best financial advice for parents.
When Alexa von Tobel founded LearnVest in 2008, her mission was to make financial planning for everybody.
At the time, the world of financial products seemed like a luxury only for people with a lot of money. "I thought to myself, 'Well, how on earth is that fair?'" von Tobel remembers. "It's when you really have no money that you need extra financial help so that you can make sure that you can earn and save and set up the appropriate habits."
She came up with the mission to help every American family establish a financial plan—and make it fun. That was no small feat, but von Tobel's matter-of-fact, practical approach to money and her experience as a certified financial planner made it possible. Eventually, she'd go on to be a best-selling author twice-over. And in 2015, she sold LearnVest to Northwestern Mutual for more than $300 million.
The deal happened to close within a week of von Tobel becoming a mom to her now 5-year-old daughter Toby. "It was truly wild," she says of the experience.
Her takeaway? "It took me about a year to process the whole experience, but at its core, it taught me how much we're capable of," she says. "Both events—having a baby and selling a business—feel like superhuman feats, so doing both at once was taxing on all fronts. The combined physical and emotional toll was overwhelming, but looking back, it made it all the more special." Since then, von Tobel and her husband, Cliff, have welcomed Cashel, 2, and Rosey, 1.
These days, von Tobel is furthering her work in the financial field with Inspired Capital. Launched in early 2019, it's a $200 million venture capital fund that invests in startups. "Having been on the receiving end [of investment] as the CEO and founder, I really want to go help and pay it forward to the entrepreneurs of tomorrow." So far, Inspired Capital has built and scaled more than 10 businesses like Chief, Finix, and Almanac. And with von Tobel as the managing partner, it's one of the largest VC funds in the country that's run by a female.
The firm invests in founders and companies of all types, but von Tobel believes times are changing—in a good way. "The world's evolving, and I think we should get to a point where we literally can see everybody at the top of businesses of all shapes and sizes and all backgrounds and all colors and all genders."
This belief informs von Tobel's perspective, as does her experience as a parent. "Seeing the world through their eyes is really special," she says. "The littlest things make my 5-year-old happy. You realize kids don't need the big things. They need the little things. They need your attention span. They need your presence. Kids make you a better leader."
Here, von Tobel shares her top financial advice for parents—honed over her years as a finance professional and entrepreneur.
Use the 50/30/20 Budgeting Method
"50 percent goes to your essentials (home, transportation to work, food, utilities), 20 percent goes to the future (saving for big goals), and 30 percent goes to the fun stuff (vacations, extracurriculars, exercise, etc.)," explains von Tobel. "Being disciplined about your spending will help your family stay on track."
Automate Your Spending
"Time is money, and I'm incredibly grateful for all of the tools that help me automate my household spending," says von Tobel. "I love to spend on experiences and travel, so I make sure to optimize every cent when it comes to boring basics. I approached this by finding the best, most cost-effective products that work for our house and then subscribing to recurring purchases, which often unlocks a 15-20 percent discount."
Model Healthy Money Habits
"For most of us, our feelings around money are tied to our upbringings, so I'm hyper-conscious of the lessons I teach my kids about both work and money," says von Tobel. That might sound like a lot of pressure, but modeling healthy financial habits doesn't have to be intimidating. In fact, it can be as simple as leading by example and letting your kids reap the rewards or your financial choices.
For instance, von Tobel learned this lesson from her mom. "My mom is an amazing budgeter and taught me the value of spending on experiences over things," she remembers. "She would never buy me the name-brand items I wanted, but she did save up so that my brothers and I could go on family vacations that meant so much more to us."
Show Your Kids You Love What You Do
This is key, no matter what type of work you do—and whether or not you get paid for it! "I am incredibly lucky to have a job that I love," von Tobel says. "Whenever I leave to go to work, I tell my kids, 'Mommy is so excited she gets to go to work. You know how you love puzzles? For me, work is like one big puzzle, and I can't wait to come home and tell you all about it.' I want to orient work as a positive and a place where you can spend time at the things you're great at."
Do What You Can To Make Money One Less Thing To Worry About
The majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Von Tobel is quick to point out that there's nothing to be ashamed of if this describes your financial situation, but it's one of the reasons she made financial literacy and planning her mission. "You have so much to worry about when you're a parent," she points out. "Financial stability is just one thing off the plate of your everyday worries when you're a parent."
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