by R. Asmerom
In January of 2011, Adrissha Wimberly birthed her baby Smarteys, a paycheck management and personal finance product targeted to millennials. Considering her and her co-founder left lucrative jobs in the finance industry to break out on their own, Smarteys was a labor of love. For this latest installment in our Behind The Click series, profiling Black women in the technology field, we ask the co-founder and COO of this startup about taking the road less traveled.
Current Occupation: Co-founder and COO, Smarteys.com
Favorite website: www.cnn.com
Favorite read: Magazine – ELLE Decor; Book – Steve Jobs by by Walter Isaacson
Recent read: Pillars of the Earth; The Lean Startup
2012′s ultimate goal: Personal – run a 8 minute mile. Business – grow Smarteys to 17000 subscribers.
Quote that Inspires You: Walk the line between the known and the unknown and you will find that courage is not in the absence of fear but in the judgement that there is something more important than fear.
Twitter Handle: @adrissha; @smarteys
How did you decide to not return to go from a high-position of VP at Bear Sterns to founding a personal finance startup?
My decision was based on many things, but the three salient reasons were (1) I was more passionate about the future than I was about the past. Although I enjoyed my career immensely prior to business school, I had an unshakable feeling that my future career was about expressing a passion for helping young people. (2) I no longer wanted to move vertically but instead horizontally. In a corporate gig you move vertically, both higher in title and deeper in skill. In entrepreneurship you move horizontally, covering many different areas. And given the startup culture, where the weak shall parish, you somehow grow in skill across those many areas too. (3) I figured the world would never ben the same again. When I came to business school in the Fall of 2008, the world of investment banking-type finance had changed for the worse. Conversely, the world of entrepreneurship, particularly in Chicago with the rise of GroupOn and GrubHub, was changing for the better. There was just no better time to start; the stars may not have aligned like this again.
How did the idea for Smarteys come about?
We were leading a seminar for graduating college students at the local university and realized that seminars aren’t the most effective way of creating behavior modification for people. The issue is that money is personal so unless an example directly uses your financial situation, you are likely to discount the lesson being exemplified. As the students crowded around us after the seminar to ask their unique money questions and choices for life after school, it dawned on us that what graduating students needed was an easily accessible and simple way to load their financial profile – future income, bills, debt, savings – and see how that, plus other lifestyle choices like having a roommate, effects them. It was clear that these soon-to-be graduates had great educations but little understanding of the money choices they would need to make over the next few months and how it impacts their future.
There are many online financial planning tools being offered in today’s market? How did you seek to define your product? Was “standing out’ even a concern for you?
Product differentiation is important to us. To make sure that we don’t become another “me-too” financial company we devote a bunch of time to understanding our core market – people one year from or after graduation. Our focus on that critical time in a student’s life is what sets us apart. We seek to stand out by sticking to our core beliefs:
Great products are inspired by simple everyday things.
User experience is a technology’s life source.
Security and data privacy are foundational.
Financial software should educate and cause you to do something.
Simple is better.
Understanding should be instant, time is a luxury.
Customer service matters.
Did you start working on the company with your co-founder while you were both still working full-time or did you quit your jobs before building the foundation of the company?
We started working on the company while attending the full-time MBA program at Chicago Booth. So, I’d say it was like starting the company while “working.” Before school, my co-founder had the mission and sense of purpose for the company and we used time in business school to flush out the idea, raise money, and start branding the name.