The Financial Planner: Alexa von Tobel On Mobile Tech Startups

The Ivy League dropout shares the lessons she learned as she built LearnVest’s first mobile app.

The Financial Planner: Alexa von Tobel On Mobile Tech Startups
[Image: Flickr user Gregory Bodnar]

When the recession hit in 2008, mobile millennial Alexa von Tobel dropped out of Harvard to found LearnVest, “a company that aims to reset the rules of financial planning.” Her business’ goal: to supply affordable, accessible financial guidance to people who are too busy for or cannot afford an expensive meeting with a traditional financial planner.


Along the way, von Tobel has learned many lessons about what it takes to run a successful tech startup, including the importance of productivity, and how to maintain company culture as a business grows. But her latest lessons as a young entrepreneur center around making her tech start up mobile.

In October of 2012, LearnVest launched its first mobile app. Von Tobel reports that since it was released, the LearnVest iPhone app has been downloaded over 150,000 times and boasts an average visit rate of 4.2 times per day, per user.

Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal

“It’s literally Apple Genius bar meets personal finance,” says von Tobel. Outside inspiration can fuel innovation. Von Tobel kept her favorite services and apps in mind while building the LearnVest’s mobile platform, which is as fun, clean, and aesthetically appealing as popular women’s magazines like Glamour.

Content, Content, Content


As the leaders of digital agency Firstborn point out, brands need to be able to provide high-quality, frequent, compelling, low-cost content to their audiences. Millennials like von Tobel were raised in a mobile environment where products that survive offer regular content–and more. So when LearnVest developed their mobile app they ensured that, like their website, it provides users with personal finance tools as well as round-the-clock expert financial advice that can be accessed with the click of a button or a quick phone call.

Your Business Should Live In Your Customer’s Pocket

“Faster, smaller, and closer to your body,” is von Tobel’s mantra–a motto that has defined her approach to making financial advice as consumable as possible. Mobile technology is allowing LearnVest to take that concept to a new level with its app: “ultimately, it’s in your pocket.”

As both Life Hacker and Investor Junkie point out, what differentiates LearnVest from its major competitors, especially its rival, is its content and focus on financial education.

“Ultimately, I get out of bed in the morning because I think that we can improve America’s lives from the inside out by giving people financial plans,” says the young CEO. The Federal Reserve Board reported that in 2012, consumers were using increasingly relying on mobile devices for banking, payments, budgeting, and shopping. Going mobile has brought LearnVest closer to accomplishing its mission of being a one-stop-shop for everything that the average person needs in their financial life.

As a part of the Mobilizing series, we will be hosting Twitter chats (next one to be held next Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 7:30 pm EST), networking in our Facebook group and continuing the conversation at live salon events in New York City. Join in the conversation! And, if you know a woman who is mobilizing we would like to hear from you. Tell us about her here.

About the author

Cecelia Bittner is a journalist, gardener, and graduate of NYU's Studio 20 program. She produced Fast Company's "Mobilizing" series, which aims to build a network of millennial women who are using mobile to innovate in their fields.