Having founded and become CEO of LearnVest, Alexa von Tobel is an inspirational example to ambitious women looking to surmount the insurmountable.
What inspired you to begin your own company?
I came up with the idea for LearnVest because when I graduated from college, I had all of these personal finance questions, and there wasn’t a financial planning resource that spoke to me. I set out to build what I — and so many others — needed. Something that was easy to understand, where I could get all my financial questions answered. I wanted to feel confident and in control of my money. I believed in my idea and knew it was big enough to help more people who felt like me.
What unique challenges did you face as a first-time entrepreneur?
I went to Harvard Business School for three months before dropping out at the height of the recession to start LearnVest. I was traveling cross-country constantly and running on little to no sleep to get the company off the ground. I had myself on an extreme schedule, which ultimately landed me sick in the hospital. It took my body physically breaking down to remind me that in order to stay on track with the business, I needed to stay healthy.
How did you overcome these challenges?
You can’t expect to manage others effectively until you can manage and take care of yourself. That means being healthy, physically and mentally. For me, that was really a combination of sleep, exercise, a healthy diet and making time for friends and family in addition to work. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t work hard. Starting a company is always a grind, but you need to find a healthy balance that works for you.
What advice would you give other women who are beginning their own company?
I’ve been really fortunate to have great mentors throughout my career and I try to mentor younger women as much as possible. The one thing I always tell my mentees, and the rule I live by, is to dream big, because no one else is going to dream for you. You have to be the one to work hard and aim high. Put your biggest aspiration first, then figure out a way to make it a reality.
How do you push yourself to take risks and continue growing at this point in your career?
I always say when everyone zigs, you zag. Dropping out of school at the height of the recession to start my business was risky, but it paid off and I started a company I am passionate about. Whenever I’m hitting a creative roadblock, I like to look outside myself and what I’m working on to outside inspiration. I’ll visit a company or talk to an entrepreneur in a totally different industry to get a fresh perspective. I learn something new and it keeps me motivated.