Interviews, New Economy
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Tara: How do world-class entrepreneurs make the decisions they make and achieve the things they achieve? This is Profit. Power. Pursuit., a CreativeLive podcast, and I’m your host, Tara Gentile. On this podcast, we explore what it takes to live a sustainable, creative life by uncovering the strategic and tactical components of how creative people make money, take control of their businesses, and pursue what’s most important to them.
My guest today is Nilofer Merchant. She’s been called the Jane Bond of Innovation because of her ability to guide companies through impossible odds. She’s also launched more than 100 products, netting more than $18 billion in sales. On top of that, she’s written two books, The New How and 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era, which I recommend to all of my clients as can’t miss reading for the new economy.
Nilofer and I talked in depth about her concept on Onlyness, the spot in the world only you are standing in. We also talked about how networks are the best way in which work is done today, and how she’s working to enable each and every person to be empowered in this world. Listen closely for the way Nilofer approaches having conversations with fear.
Nilofer Merchant, welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit. Thank you so much for joining me.
Nilofer: I’m so glad to be here.
Tara: Awesome. So I’d like to start by talking about the phrase that you coined in your book, The New How, Air Sandwich. You had corporations with varied levels of team members in mind when you wrote about that, but I have really noticed this problem affecting very small creative or idea-driven businesses as well. I think we talked about that on Twitter maybe a few months back. Can you talk about what an Air Sandwich is, and what kind of problems it can cause in a business?
Nilofer: Sure. So let me first define it. So Air Sandwich is when there’s a gap between the high level direction, usually set by one person, and the execution, which is usually set by someone else, and in traditional organizations, there’s usually a bigger gap between those things, and so I started calling that an Air Sandwich, because just like a good sandwich, all the stuff that really matters, like a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich, all the stuff that really matters in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the peanut butter and the jelly. And so if you’re missing the things in the middle, which in an organizational context is, you know, understanding, shared understanding, understanding the debates, understanding the tradeoffs, the set of things that helps make an idea turn into reality is missing, that’s when you have an Air Sandwich.
Tara: Great, so I think with micro-businesses, largely, you know, they’re creating the vision, and they’re doing the execution, but they’re having a really hard time connecting those two things. What can we learn from sort of the corporate model and, you know, what you’ve developed in terms of helping corporations get through this Air Sandwich problem that we can apply to connecting our visions with our day-to-day execution?
Nilofer: Sure. So let me just bring it down to … down to real Earth. So back when I was a small business owner myself, because remember, I started Rubicon Consulting and grew it to a $4 million business over the course of 11 years, so … And when it first started, it was me in my pajamas with my computer on my lap, so I have some sense of what that moment looks like, and I will say the one thing that has always closed that Air Sandwich is to get really clear on the high level, where are you trying to go, the horizon, as I like to call it, and then figure out a way to be explicit with yourself about what are the different ways you could do it.
So I would, for example, do a map of five years out, and start to paint a picture, but then I would say, okay, for this year, what would be one measurable outcome that could be done within this year, and then I would sit down and break that down and say okay, so then, what would we need to do at work, at home, in fitness category, just every part of my life for that one thing to become real. It included who I would hire or what kind of regimen I would put myself on so I had really high energy or all the different aspects, and I would type this up. Tara, if I could send you the one-pagers, I had a one-pager for every year for ten years.
Nilofer: And I saved them all in a box, in fact, and the reason I did, I saved them, is because somebody said, you know, sometimes, we forget to track how much progress we’ve made, because we always have a new horizon and we’re always, if we’re lucky, right, we get to keep building on what we’ve already done, and so then we move onto the next goal and stuff, and so I started saving these in a box, and what was fun to do over time is to go back and go oh, I may not have gotten every specific thing on the original, you know, like three years ago kind of list done, but it was very clear what the direction was, very clear of what the specific tactics might be, and then as you were playing out the year, some other opportunities would come up. But I would actually, then, every day, so just to kind of bring this down to practical purposes, every single day, I carried around that little sheet of paper that was for the year, and I sat there for the month, so if it was the start of November, I would have sat down for the month and said, okay, here’s the kinds of things I’m going to do in November that will tie to the big picture goal for the year, and then every single day, for every single day of a week day, I would write down what would be the three things I would do that day that would get me towards the goals for the month, that would get me towards the goals for the year, and those are all the practical things I did as an entrepreneur to help close that gap between the big idea and the reality becoming, you know, real in the marketplace.
Tara: I think this interview is going to be a must listen for my clients, because that’s very similar to the structure that I put them through, and I love the way that you just described that, so thank you. I want to kind of shift gears a little bit and talk of another term that you coined, which was from your second book, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era, and that’s Onlyness. Can you tell us more about what Onlyness is?
Nilofer: Sure. So Onlyness is that spot in the world only you’re standing in. It’s a function of your history and experiences, visions and hopes, and I use those four words very specifically. I’m saying it’s everything that might have happened to you, even if it sucked. It’s everything where you’re from, and sort of what has shaped you up to this moment, but it also has to include your aspirations and dreams for where you want to go. So it’s both the moment, it’s the creative space that you’re living in that is both the past and what has made you, and the future and what is pulling you into the future. And I use the term Onlyness, I was trying to struggle, I was struggling, excuse me, with the word when I was first creating it, because I was looking at words like talent, or uniqueness, and let me explain why I didn’t use those words. So I didn’t use terms like uniqueness that were relative terms. So when I was the only woman in a boardroom, for example, people used to say I was quote/unquote unique, and I wanted to turn back to them with the most sarcastic tone in my voice, and say, you know, 52% of the population is a woman, so that doesn’t make me very unique, you know?
The other part of my business, I want to say something like I’ve shipped over 100 products, generating $18 billion in revenue, so my commentary around, like a market move, is probably more linked to that then the fact that I’m a woman, right? And yet, people would say that was quote/unquote unique, so I was trying to find a non-relative word. So something true to you, and I was also trying to claim back that thing that a lot of has been in our lives, especially if you’re weird or wild, and most of us who are solopreneurs or freelancers are weird or wild in some way or another, that’s what makes us not want to fit into corporate structure. We have often been the quote/unquote only person, in some setting, that’s totally the weirdo at the table, and I was trying to take that weirdo element and make it the positive strength that it is.
Tara: Let’s talk about that weirdo bit a little bit more, because I think, you know, you’ve also written about Onlyness as turning a negative into a positive, and I know I found this to be true in my own brand and in my own business as well, is that, you know, like I can turn something like, you know, I get a little too intellectual, a little too nerdy into something, and I can actually make that the positive focus of my brand. Are there things that you personally were told that were negative about your personality or the way you worked that you’ve discovered that are really assets in disguise?
Nilofer: Oh, gosh, I don’t even know which one to choose, but I’ll choose one I have written about. It’s by someone who’s actually a fellow thinker, someone that I really regarded, and someone who’s exceptionally good in the marketing space, and so when I turned to him, it was because I was trying to name my now second book, because as you know, Tara, I’m working on my third, but when I was trying to name it, I knew, because of my experience with my first book, that naming might not be my thing, because I’m not a marketer, and I am purely a strategist, and so you know, usually, I help other people do this kind of thing, and so I turned to him and he said, I’ll never forget it, because I turned to him and I said, “You know, I really need advice about how to even just think about the process of naming it.” So I had probably three-quarters of it written, blah, blah, blah.
And he said, “You know, as a brown woman,” this is how he started the sentence, and I’ll never forget the whole sentence, so I’m going to say it and then I’m going to come back to what the implications are, so, “As a brown woman, your chances of being seen in the world are next to nothing, because if you are really edgy to an audience, you won’t fit in to what they expect of you, and therefore, they won’t listen. If you’re not edgy, you’ll never stand out. So…” And then he’s staring at the ceiling for a little bit, kind of like mulling that one over for a second, “So you’ll never be seen in the world.”
And the implications of that, of course, are huge. First of all, sometimes, you know, we’ve all been told that some part of our life, I can repeat so many stories I’ve been told in my career of you know, that’s not going to work, because of who you are. And I’ll tell you the ironic moment is not only did I get myself up off the ground, not only did that book become one of Harvard’s bestsellers, not only did it get me named one of the top thinkers in management, the number one person to shape the future of management, but the day I got announced as a speaker for TED, the very first note I got in my inbox, very first note, was, “Congratulations,” from that person. And I said, and I was such a little snot about how I did it, because I really wanted to circle back with this guy, ‘cuz I said, “Hey, so I thought you said I’d never be seen in the world?”
And he goes, “Did that bother you?”
I go, “Yeah, so don’t ever do that again, and let me explain to you, you know, that it cost me several months of my life, thank God it didn’t cost me more, but those of us who turn to each other for help are being incredibly vulnerable and soft right in that moment, and because I trusted you, I was especially vulnerable and soft, and you took that moment to point out something, by the way, that might be your truth, but it’s not my truth.” And that’s probably the one lesson I would want any of us to take away is no one else can define your truth for you. You have to define it for yourself.
Tara: So true. What do you do personally when you are faced with that kind of “feedback”, for lack of a better word, that, like you said, can put you on your back for two months? What do you do to get yourself motivated again and plugging forward with your goals?
Nilofer: I think the term you were looking for was “bullshit.” That’s not feedback. That’s bullshit. So …
Nilofer: And I’m being specific because somebody else’s limiting definition of you can never have enough space for you to be creative. Never have enough space for you to actually go do the work you need to do. So any time you ever feel yourself shrinking in front of someone or because of something someone said, run away from that person. You get to decide for yourself where power lies, and the power of the narrative is one of the biggest powers we have, the story we allow ourselves to hear about our self. I’m not saying lie to yourself, because you know, there’s moments where I do sit there and think gosh, am I limiting myself by being too edgy or whatever, right? But you get to determine that, not someone else.
So the first thing is like really to get that message out there. None of us can allow ourselves to become smaller because of someone else. If we do, we’re doing it to ourselves. It’s not them. It’s us.
Then the other thing I do is, the reason I actually snapped out of it, to be quite honest, was because I was telling the story to a friend who happens to be very strong in the feminism space and very strong in the tech space, and I happen to be sharing it, because I’d just finished mentoring some other young women, and I said, “I hope that the experience I’m having doesn’t get repeated onto this next generation.” So I was relaying the story more in the context of why I was spending all this time with this other generation.
And she said, “You know, if that … ” because the way I’d repeated the story was not by saying the bullshit part, and so she said, you know, “Just in case no one’s told you, that story is complete bullshit, and let me tell you why it’s complete bullshit.” And she really told me what I’m trying to hopefully pass on in this conversation, which is you get to define it, it does not define you, whatever it is.
Tara: The need to see that kind of detachment from bullshit is so important, and I think so many people get attached because of just exactly what you said, you know, we’re vulnerable in those moments of asking for help from people, and so we kind of … we attach ourselves to whatever they say about us, and I just really appreciate, you know, you kind of demonstrating that detachment.
Nilofer: Yeah, and I think that the key in the lesson is who do you surround yourself by? So you know, whatever you call it, posse or squad or friends or professional colleagues that you appreciate learning from or mentors or sponsors, because we all have different names for roles people play in our lives, but to be able to pick up the phone with people, and to be able to relay a story like that, and for someone else to be able to say that’s bullshit, right? And so we have to really, the one thing I wish I had done early in my career, and Tara, I’m 47 years old and I feel like I’m just learning this lesson, is to be very intentional about who is in your inner circle, and how to tell your inner circle that they’re the inner circle, and so that way, when you need that place to be soft and vulnerable, there is a group of people who you can count on, you know, to be there for you, and I wish I had just really understood how much you need that as a creative person in your life.
Tara: Yeah, I’m really glad that you brought up this question of people, how have you gone about finding who’s going to be in your inner circle and kind of developing those relationships with the people that you need to have supporting you, the people that you want to have supporting you?
Nilofer: Well, I think the thing is, so I’ll tell you what I used to do in the past, and then to show you the contrast, sometimes, it’s helpful to do the what not to do story, like don’t dress like this. This is the emotional equivalent of what not to do that my friend does on the telephone show. So the what not to do, what I used to do is I used to say, you know, I should be gathering critics in my life who can help me get better at an idea, they’re the ones who are going to poke all the holes in it, etc. etc. And so I largely had people who were extremely smart, but not necessarily very kind and not necessarily very compassionate, and I just was a punching bag, so if I … which made me good at certain things. Like I’m extremely resilient, and I think because I value the push and pull of idea development with other people, that part was really served, but what I forgot I also needed or didn’t acknowledge enough is how much you also need the place to be soft, and one of my friends who’s become a friend is Nancy Duarte, and I’ll repeat what she said to me.
We had known each other for something like ten or fifteen years. Brilliant, brilliant entrepreneur. As a woman entrepreneur, there aren’t that many of us, we both knew each other in Silicon Valley, we both published our first books with O’Reilly, so you know, we had a number of connections, and at one point, she turned to me, she goes, you used to be a lot less soft, and now you’re soft and it gives us such a different relationship. And I realized that I had made a twist in my own life of who was my inner circle, had I established that with them, and then I could give myself permission to be soft, and then for me, then, it’s making a list of what those people are, and just a few years ago, I was telling my husband, you know, if I had to make that list now, what would it be, and we just sat, and happened to be lying in bed, and so we just sat there and made this list up. It’s going to be someone who I can be, you know, the rock star speaker who just did a 5500-person audience a few weeks ago. Also the person who just won, I’m now one of the top 50 ranked management people in the world, blah, blah, blah, right? Like they’ll totally get that, but they’ll also get that I’m a complete neurotic person stressing about whether or not even one person will buy my book. Right? So those two can both be true in the same body and the same person, and that colleague, that friend, that close inner circle will be the person who totally gets that both of those are both true at the same time.
Tara: I’d love to go a little bit further in that direction, because I think this is, probably especially for the women in our audience, definitely for me, so maybe this is more of a personal question, that contrast between ambitious and resilient and almost like hard-nosed in the face of failure or criticism juxtaposed with being soft, being vulnerable. That’s a really difficult balance to strike, and you know, we … I think we’ve been taught so much that … that the hard side of you is what needs to show up when you’re speaking, in the boardroom, when you’re on a client call, when you’re on a sales call, whatever it might be, and I know for me personally, it can be really hard to tap into that softer side. What do you … what did you do to try and make that softer side of you more accessible in the moments when that was going to serve you best?
Nilofer: Truthfully, I think it’s that I’m cool with it. I’m cool with the fact that I’m flawed. I’m cool with the fact that I’m going to make mistakes. I’m cool with the fact that I am neurotic at times. I’m cool with the fact that I am scared at times. Like I think I have finally forgiven myself for being a human being. Do you know what I mean by that?
Nilofer: And if I’m okay with me, then I’m going to trust my instinct when I’m in a conversation that if I’m going to connect with you on something, I’m going to go and be real about this one thing in this particular way, or I’m going to tell you a story in a particular way, and I’m going to trust that that’s all … that’s all part of the plan, and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll recover from that, too.
I’ll tell you something that, so the intellectual argument for what I just said, so that you’re okay with yourself? I’ll tell you the intellectual argument of it, because I just learned it recently. I was talking with Carol Dweck, this is probably now two or three years ago, and it’s on my blog, so if you Google my name and Carol Dweck, you’ll probably find it, but Carol who wrote Mindset, and I were sitting in her office at Stanford University, she’s in the Psych department overlooking the Squad, the Quad area of, you know, Stanford University, and so I had said, “Okay, so I get everything you’ve written.” Like we had had this nice, long conversation. I said, “Well, what’s the conversation you’re having with yourself when you want to be a growth person versus a fixed mindset person? What’s the internal conversation you’re having with yourself?”
And she said, “Oh, no one’s ever asked me this question.” And she says, she looks at the ceiling, and she says, “You know the conversation you’re having with yourself is, ‘Regardless of what happens, I trust that I will figure it out from there.'”
Nilofer: And I think that’s the thing is you have to be okay with you, and then everything else, like, you know, because you’re going to make mistakes and you’re gonna sometimes, one way when you sit there, and later you’re like, oh, maybe I should have acted another way, or whatever, right? Like it’s all good, and it will all work itself out in the long range.
Tara: Nice. So let’s shift gears a little bit, and I want to talk about some of the concepts from Eleven Rules, because I love that book. It is one of my favorite books, and it is required reading for pretty much everyone who works with me. Either they gain it through osmosis, or they actually sit down and read it, but one of your rules for creating value in the social era is that collaboration is greater than control, and I think that many of our listeners, myself included, would self-describe as control freaks. What are some ways that entrepreneurs can give up control even in tiny little organizations?
Nilofer: So you know, like let’s do ideas, since all of us are in this knowledge economy, creative economy, whatever you call it. We’re in the business of making ideas. So let’s use ideas as the thing we’re going to talk about for a second, and then I’ll use you and I as an example for a minute.
So I published a thing called Onlyness in the 2012 book. I am now working on a book that will be published by Viking/Penguin sometime in 2016, probably the latter half, that’ll be about Onlyness entirely. It’s thirty or so stories of people living out their Onlyness, first in how they see it in themselves, then as they find their fellow, like people, and then as they galvanize action making something a reality. I notice that you tweet on it, have coached on it, etc. right? And I’m not threatened by that in any way. I could be, right? I could be like most people, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, control.” But actually, the way I think about it is, “I wonder if she’s really good at coaching on it, because if this book and this idea takes off the way it looks like it might, she might really be an interesting person to partner with. Or would she be the person to right the tools book, right? So the way I start to think is less about can I control the idea, but what’s the end game? And the end game is I want to enable each and every single person to be as powerful as they can be in the world, even and especially if they’ve been told by society that they do not have a seat at the table.
So I’m looking for especially women, people of color, and young people who are told, “Gosh, your idea doesn’t count because you don’t know enough,” or uneducated people, or blah, blah, blah, right? And I’m figuring out how to get that 50% of the population back into the economy. That’s my goal, and I am sure that this idea is part of that, and then I’m just going okay, so who else wants to play? Who else wants to play? Who can extend this idea? Where are they going to take it? What other ideas are they going to build on it? Blah, blah, blah. And then an idea gets a chance to not just be something I hold tightly like in the fist of my hand as if it’s my own, but I get to hold it open, like an open hand, you get to pick it up, you get to mold it into something you’re doing, you get to take it to another group of people that will come and take it from your hand, and to me, that’s a more powerful and bigger idea than something I control.
Tara: What I also really like about what you just described is that it’s not necessarily about finding, like giving up control within an organization, but giving up control, sort of throughout the network, because what I see with my clients, and you know, other microbusiness owners, is that they are kind of isolating themselves out of a need for control, and the people who are really, really getting ahead are the ones that are finding new and interesting ways to partner up with people, like you mentioned, and this concept of collaborating with people, giving up control over your own ideas so that you can find those partnerships seems to me like a great move forward for a lot of business owners who are looking to grow in a different way.
Nilofer: Well, networks are the way in which work gets done today, absolutely, so we can state an absolute truth, and so then a question, so the piece of advice I give to people who are working within companies who want to live out their Onlyness, I ask them to speak up more within an organization, because their ability to speak up and own and idea and champion something, even if it’s the weirdest and wildest thing anyone in that room has ever heard is going to turn out to be an opportunity. Promise. It’ll improve the team performance at least by 30%, and it may also, even if you suck, even if the idea sucks, right? That research has been out there, and then when you’re outside the organization, when you’re on your own, it’s to figure out what networks do you want to belong to and with, who do you want to know, how do you want to build on their ideas, how do you want their ideas to influence yours, and networks are going be the way in which we’re going to extend each other’s work. So I think about it as which guild, if I was back in the 17th Century, and an artist, which guild would I belong to? Well, networks are just the more common way of us thinking about it. Hubs.
Tara: I love that. So another role that you mentioned in the book is that consumers become co-creators in the social era. What do you see as missed opportunities for entrepreneurs when it comes to really empowering their consumers to become co-creators?
Nilofer: I think most of us try too hard to try to lock everything down, and you might remember this Tara, but I’m not sure your audience would know that for my second book, I actually blogged the book, five big sections of it, at Harvard. Harvard had never done a multi-part series before. They have since I created it with them, but we had a big idea. we thought it wasn’t worth waiting until it was perfect. We thought it would be really fun to see if we could see what people said and what questions they had and all that stuff. So I literally wrote parts one and two, we had kind of a sketch for all five parts. I wrote parts one and two, pretty much locked it down, then we went to press with one. Then I waited to see what did I hear. I had proofed two. We went to bed with two. I waited to see what did I hear with three. And so on. And it was this, you know, it’s almost like what’s that game, I have it in my head where it’s like that jump rope game where there’s two …
Tara: Double Dutch?
Nilofer: Double Dutch, that was the word, and you’re jumping. You’re jumping in and out of the rhythm of the game, the person who’s holding the ropes, that’s one part of it. There’s the ropes themselves, and there’s the people who are interplaying with the ropes. We’ve got to think about it much more in that interactive way. So the question is, you could be the rope holder, you could be the person jumping in, you want to think about who could you be doing a dance with? And the reason the Double Dutch thing came to mind is just because it is playful.
Tara: I love that. You’ve also written that our goal is to learn our way into the future. What should we be paying attention to to learn what we need to create the future that we really want?
Nilofer: I’ve give you my best tip for how I’ve learned this. So for eleven years, I ran a consulting business, and before this, I used to think my job was to know a lot, and in a consulting business, obviously, they hired me because I was competent, and you know, had a lot of information and all that stuff, but I learned my job was really to figure out how to engage other learning, so that once I left the building, that team would carry it over the finish line, because my success was not a PowerPoint Slide, because that was Mackenzie. My success was an outcome in the market place, and I wasn’t the only one who’s going to do that, right? So I needed a bunch of other people to see the idea and believe in it and all that stuff, and so what I learned to do to go into meetings was not to say here’s the four things I would say or try to communicate. I actually really sat there and crafted what would be the questions I would want to know more about, and I would right in the corner of any meeting notes what those questions were, and I think the smarter I’ve gotten in life, it’s by sitting there thinking more about what do I need to know before I go into a conversation with someone? What am I curious about with them? What do I … what could they tech me? And the more I get better at asking questions, the more I become essentially proficient at learning, because what it helps you to do is to identify what you don’t know, and the minute you’ve done that, you’ve toggled your whole brain over to reception mode.
Tara: That’s a really great strategy for people, I think. That brings me to sort of something that we’ve been sort of circling around in this conversation, which is imposter complex or the inner critic, you know, whether it’s getting vulnerable with your relationship-building, or whether it’s finding the softer side of who you are, or whether it’s asking questions instead of going in with a solid plan or a solid I know this and you will listen. How have you combatted that inner critic voice or that imposter complex over the years?
Nilofer: Well, some of it is time in the sense that you do have credentials, you do have your experience, you do have things that you’ve done, and you have to realize no one gets to take that away from you, so you know, you can stop having that conversation. And then I also, I have to talk myself down off the ledge by having a conversation with fear. So instead of … I think most people have a relationship with fear, like they see it around the corner, and then they run like hell from their inner critic. I actually sit and have a physical conversation with my inner critic. Actually sit and like go, “Okay, now is the time we’re gonna chat.” I’m not kidding. I actually do this. I sound insane, don’t I? “Now is the time we’re gonna chat,” and I actually sit there and try to listen for what is the critic trying to tell me. Because the critic’s job is trying to serve, or fear, right? Fear’s job is to try to protect, and try to protect you from failure, to try to protect your ego from being crushed. Ideally, it would have protected me from that guy who told me what he did, you know, about the brown woman thing. This inner, and in that case, it was my, you know, external critic, right? But when we have an inner critic, it’s to try to protect us, and I think the question I have to have is what do you need me to do? Is there stuff I need to manage? Is there stuff I need to learn more about? Is there certain skill development I need to do? Well, then those are points of fact. Okay, let me go work on those things. But then the rest of the time, inner critic, you sit right here, I’ll be back next week, we can talk some more. But you can’t run my whole life, girlfriend, you know, because I’ve got other shit to do, and I have, like, I need to focus on those other things, and the thing is, the minute I sat, I actually had a bench in Los Gaz, which is where I last lived, I had a particular bench where I met fear and my inner critic, and I had like, you know, kind of a little ritual around it. I would go to the bench, I would have the conversation, then I would go away from the bench, and be like, “I’ll meet you here next week.” And I haven’t found that exact spot in Paris here, but I’m very clear when I’m having this conversation, because then, once you honor that commitment with yourself to actually listen to that critic, then it teaches you something. So you’ve got to listen for the part you need to learn to, and then you just need to figure out how to park it for a while, but you can’t ignore it, because the more you try to ignore it, the more it screams at you.
Tara: I love that personal ritual that you’ve developed. That’s awesome. So you mentioned Paris, and that’s kind of where I’d like to take the conversation next, as we start to wrap up. One of the missions of this podcast is to find out how creative, driven people are pursuing what’s really, really important to them, and I have a feeling that your move to France kind of falls into that category. So how did you make that decision to pick up your family from California and move them across the Atlantic?
Nilofer: Yeah, when our whole jobs and everything were in California, well, so we really started with the vision, you know, so going back to the horizon, and I am especially good at this in our family, you know, between the family dynamics especially, I’m especially good at it, and so my husband had come to me, my husband who’s an engineer/CTO time guy, he come to me and said, “Hey, you know, by the way, I’ve tracked everything we ever imagined when we first met, and we’ve accomplished all those things.”
And I was like, “Oh.”
And he does, by the way, like he remembers the first, you know, time we kissed and everything. Like, he’s that guy. So I said, “Oh, well, we better come up with some new dreams, and a couple days later over a glass of wine, I said, “Oh, we have a minute,” like, let’s do some crazy dreaming thing, and I said nothing’s off the table, name anything you could imagine us doing in your wildest dreams, and one of them was to live at least a year abroad, and that was, and then probably like four and a half years from that conversation, we moved to Paris, and it took a whole series of ridiculously small chess moves to get across the board and get to the other side, but the one thing I’ve learned from the vision process to reality is give yourself enough runway, because if you say next year, I’m going to move to, you know, it seems insane, because there’s so many things you’d have to almost do too much, too much hard turning, right, to navigate, but if you give yourself enough runway, then even the biggest boat can make a U-turn and go in a different direction, and so we just started that process, and slowly, but surely, we figured out how to step up. You know, so then we were looking at everything through the lens of that. Like if we’re going to live a year abroad, would we say yes to this three-year board commitment? Would we say yes to this particular new job? Would we … You know, and we were just trying to navigate those things until we figured out what the interlocking pieces were, and then we also reached out to the network and said hey, we’re …. you know, the private network, not the big one, and said, hey, we’re thinking about doing this, do you know anybody else who’s ever done it? And we went and found ten people in the course of a couple of years that had done it, and people who had failed at it, by the way, come, two months later, gone home, just different, different scenarios, and that also told us, okay, what do we want to do in relationship to that? So we made a commitment to ourselves, no matter how hard it was, we were going to gut it out, and we’re really glad we did. That we had their stories to draw on, because the first year was ridiculously hard, regardless of what the social media presence looked like, and the word divorce came up way more often than it should have in our household, but we got through it, because we had learned from the network what we needed to do. So I think those are probably the two lessons is you know, ask for help, but then give yourself enough time horizon to kind of navigate change.
Tara: Wow, to circle back to where we kind of started the conversation, did you have like a one-page plan like you described before for this move?
Nilofer: Yeah, we had a, so in that case, we actually had like a big picture, sort of like move abroad, and then we said in year one, we have to figure out what geography. Year two, we had to, so we actually did. We had a high level like what we’d have to figure out, and then the final year was mostly about oh my God, like it was all the logistics of, and I think Tara, you just went through a move, so you probably know what it’s like to have to put all your things into storage or go through all your things, but that was the least fun part of it. The earlier part of that, we’re going to go for our scouting trip, we’re gonna, you know, so just a whole series of things like that. So we did, we match it up by a four-year plan, and then lived against that.
Tara: Nice. So what kind of opportunities has living abroad opened up for you or for your family?
Nilofer: Well, I mean, personally, so I’ll talk about the personal side for a second then I’ll go to professional. So I think personally what’s been amazing is my son is 100% fluent in French and partway through German and learning Spanish and learning Latin and I just, because that was our driver was we wanted our son to have this global sense of the world. So that’s just been profound to watch, and then of course, he gets to make fun of my French. He actually, at times, covers my mouth, because he’s like, “That accents just terrible,” and he’s 12 now, right, so he’s embarrassed by me a little, or he’ll help me figure out how to exactly say the specific thing I want to say. So personally, on that level, we’ve grown as family, and I’m really starting to think about professionally where I would take the world. I see Silicon Valley so much different. So going back to the professional side now, so much different from the angle in which I’m sitting at now. I kind of had this sense how much Silicon Valley had gotten the case of Affluenza, when almost everything they’re building is a photo sharing app or a food delivery service app. I think they’ve lost perspective on what real world problems are and what they could be putting their energy to. So with the rare exception of Google or Twitter, I think a lot of Silicon Valley has become, you know, they’ve just been struck by Affluenza. They’re rich and fat and happy. And I wouldn’t have necessarily seen that if I wasn’t here living so far away and seeing what interesting problems startups are starting to do here, and I think they’re much more socially conscious startups, and so I’m … it changes your perspective, and then I think … I think you’ll have to ask me, I don’t know, two or three years from now, what did this mean for our professional growth path, because I don’t think that that’s … I can see little mingling elements of things that might happen, but you know, it’s early, early days on that.
Tara: Yeah. Awesome. So one final question, what are you pursuing next?
Nilofer: I am pursuing this idea of Onlyness, because I believe it’s a way for people who have traditionally been powerless in society to have a form of power and a seat at the table. I believe that will create more economic opportunity for themselves and their communities and our society as a whole, so I’m very excited about that, and I feel like I’m learning a lot in that work. Related to that, I’m a fellow with the Prosperity Institute, which is a think tank based out of Toronto, which is worrying about societal equality, so that we have a society that works for all, not just the 1%, and they’re essentially helping me pursue the idea of Onlyness, so one of the things we’re going to be doing in the next year you’ll hear about is research to scope the impact of Onlyness in terms of business performance, but also in terms of economic impact as a larger economy, macro-economics kind of view.
Tara: Fantastic. I’m looking forward to that. Well, Nilofer Merchant, thank you so much for joining me.
Nilofer: Thank you.
Tara: Find out more about Nilofer Merchant at NiloferMerchant.com, and pick up her books, The New How and Eleven Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era on Amazon. That’s it for this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. You can download other episodes of this podcast and subscribe in the iTunes store. If you enjoy what you hear, we appreciate your reviews and recommendations, because they help us reach as many emerging entrepreneurs as possible. Our theme song was written by Daniel Peterson, who also edited this episode. Our audio engineer was Jaime Blake. This episode was produced by Elizabeth Madariaga. You can catch up on older episodes in the iTunes store, where new episodes are added every week, and you can learn by going to CreativeLive.com.
Interviews, New Economy
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With an audience of over 1 million subscribers and the ear of major financial institutions, my next guest for Profit. Power. Pursuit., Amanda Steinberg, might seem to have it all. But her financial education company, DailyWorth, has continued to evolve and explore new opportunities, like the newly launched WorthFM.
WorthFM is a digital investing platform targeted to women. The face of financial management is changing. While women have long been the checkbook balancers and monthly budget keepers, men have continued to manage big picture financial decisions like investing, retirement planning, and asset management.
With WorthFM, Amanda aims to help women achieve greater autonomy when it comes to their nest eggs.
Why? It’s a road Amanda has been down herself.
When she originally started DailyWorth, it was because she had a realization about just how much she didn’t know about money, its role in our lives, and how to protect herself for the future. Amanda changed her own money story (she always thought of herself as a spender, not a saver) and then set about learning everything she could about how to put her money to work for her.
Of course, there’s a lot to learn about money and financial management. Amanda suggests you start with a goal of clarity.
You can’t make good decisions or even apply what you learn until you have financial clarity about how much money is coming in and just how that money is going out.
This is an important episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. because, as business owners, we can put so much emphasis on earning more while ignoring the imperative to be good stewards of our wealth. Good financial habits should be a trait of all entrepreneurs, not just the frugal or the super wealthy.
Of course, I didn’t just talk to Amanda about managing money. I also talked to her about how she grew her business and how she manages it today.
Amanda spoke about her personal money story, the opportunities in the financial management market, why she’s chosen to partner on this new venture, the role of mentorship and teamwork in her success, and the unconventional financial advice book she’s writing.
Click here to listen to the interview on iTunes.
Click here to take the MoneyType quiz Amanda mentions in the episode.
Tara: Hey, everyone, welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit. I’m Tara Gentile, your host, and together with CreativeLive, we explore the unique strategies that creative entrepreneurs use to take control of their lives, profit from their passions, and pursue what’s truly important to them.
My guest today is Amanda Steinberg, founder and CEO of DailyWorth and WorthFM. DailyWorth is the leading financial media company for women, and Amanda is a pioneer on the topic of women and money, working to advance women’s financial confidence and wealth. Her new venture, WorthFM, is an investment platform that will launch in 2016. I spoke with Amanda about how traditional investment media is primarily geared to men, and how DailyWorth is helping empower women to take control of their big picture finances. We also discuss how to set your priorities for money, unconventional financial choices, and how mastering savings is the most important thing you can do.
Amanda Steinberg, welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit. Thanks so much for joining me.
Amanda: Thanks so much for being here, having me here.
Tara: Yeah, absolutely. So you are passionately pursuing financial education and empowerment for women. It’s kind of your bag. Why do you think women need different education about money than what already exists?
Amanda: You know, I started the company seven years ago because, you know, even though I was raised by a single mom and I was really taught from such a young age to be financially independent, I realized that when I turned 30, I’d gotten really good at earning money, but I had no idea what to do with money after it came in, and therefore was having a very difficult time saving and investing it. So it wasn’t necessarily that I thought women needed specific advice, it was that when I went out to all of the big resources on the internet, like Yahoo Finance and Market Watch and Money Magazine and stuff like that, they were all… I knew enough working in the digital space that how to look up the details of who reads them, and I noticed that it as like 90% men, and I just thought that that was really weird, you know? It was like why would financial advice be only appealing to or attracting men. And so it was less that I thought women needed special advice, as that I knew that women weren’t reading what was out there right now, so it just gave me a sense that women weren’t even getting this information, and it needed to be packaged differently.
Tara: Why do you think women weren’t reading what was available?
Amanda: Well, I think that when it comes to financial advice on the internet, you know, anything on the internet, in order to sustain itself, definitely when it’s a company, has to sell advertising, and so if you look at the financial advice you should follow, it’s actually really boring, and therefore, financial media, rather than publishing financial advice that is about, you know, prudence and increasing your earnings, and buying and holding investments for the long-term, you know, they kind of do the opposite. They talk a lot about tradings and markets and where kind of all the lines go up and down, and I know in particular, women, at least this day and age, aren’t really interested in being traders or being active investors. You know, we’re more interested in kind of the comprehensive life picture and how money fits into that and how to think about money. So I think that women … I think just the way financial advice had been delivered online before we came along just didn’t resonate with how women thought about money, which is much more in the context of their life, not about kind of what stocks do you buy and sell.
Tara: Mmm, I like this idea of the comprehensive life picture and using … and women kind of using that as their focal point for financial planning. Can you tell me about your comprehensive life picture? What is that you are wanting to create in your life that’s directing your financial decisions right now?
Amanda: Well, it’s funny you should ask, because at DailyWorth, we just launched something called, “What’s Your Money Type?” and you can go to either DailyWorth.com and click on the banner, or you can go to MoneyType.me is the URL, and when you answer this assessment, it tells you what motivates you about money, what your unique personality contributes to as far as your strengths with money, your fears about money. It’s just like a Myers-Briggs test, but we made our own with a psychologist, and you know, what that reveals is kind of how you frame money in your life, and for me, I actually got 100% score, which is ridiculous, on the Visionary Type, which is that everything about my financial life is about my passion for my work and my contribution in the world, and everything kind of stems from how do I use money to, you know, in my own mind, in simplistic terms, help people, but I guess in terms of money is … Money to me is an expression of how much impact I’m having in the world, and how I’m not only supporting myself and my family, but those far beyond us.
Tara: That was also the score that I got. Or I shouldn’t say the score, that was the type that I got. I don’t know what the score was, but I’m also a Visionary.
Tara: Yeah, and we’ve been friends for years, so yes, I think that there’s a reason for that, and it might be that we’re both Visionaries. So what questions were you asking that kind of led to your initial conception of daily worth? What is it that you wanted to find the answers to?
Amanda: You know, what I really wanted to find the answers to with DailyWorth was, you know, traditionally, at least in the United States, this is different outside of the United States. Women focus on kind of the day-to-day household budgeting and spending, and men tend to have been the ones to manage the investments, and the bigger picture, and that to me just didn’t seem fair. Because I thought, you know, it’s the long-term that really provides security, and if women aren’t engaged around building their own security, then they’re dependent on men, and so … But when I went out into the world, publishing DailyWorth to now more than a million women, I saw how many women with advanced degrees, doctors, lawyers, etc., still delegated, almost blindly, their long-term finances to either a spouse or a financial adviser, and I’ve just been fascinated with why and how do we change that.
Tara: So what kind of money lessons did you have to personally unlearn as you got older, as you got more savvy, as you better understood that vision that you are creating for your life, what did you have to change about what you learned about money originally?
Amanda: I think what I had to change what I learned about money was really two-fold. The first was the story I told myself about money until I started DailyWorth, and the story I told myself about money was that I’m a really good earner, but I’m not a saver. I would say to myself, “I’m not a saver, I’m just not good at it. I’m a spender.” I identified with the word, “being a spender,” but I worked under this false assumption that one day, my earning would magically outpace my spending, and poof, there, I would have savings, and you know, obviously, this is illogical once you realize how easy it is for your life cost to increase, but you know, we don’t always think through the thing … We’re not always aware of the stories that we tell ourselves that drive our lives, and so the really big thing I had to unlearn was calling myself a spender, and I really worked, even though it felt ridiculous at first, I decided to just call myself a saver, and you know, you can prove to yourself that you’re a saver simply by creating a pretty jar and putting the coins in it, and go, “See, I’m saving,” and then setting up a different emergency fund and transferring, you know, I transfer once a week, you know, 1/8th of my checking account or something like that, you know, a safe amount that I’m not going to feel into that emergency fund, and so it’s almost like I decided who I wanted to be instead, and then I trained myself in order to be able to prove that it was true.
Then the second thing that I really had to learn about money is that, you know, we call this at DailyWorth your four things, and I learned this from DailyWorth investor and board member, Michelle Smith, who’s a financial advisor. When she works with all of her clients, she asks, “What are the four things that are absolutely non-negotiable in your life?” And for some women, you know, that might be the house that you live in. It might be how much you spend on clothes. It might be travel. It might be the car that you drive. It’s four things that are, like, are … You just … You can’t give those up. And then for the rest of them, it’s how do we make lifestyle adjustments so that we reduce the amount that you’re spending on those, in a way that doesn’t really infringe upon your lifestyle, but also doesn’t mean you’re mindlessly spending in those categories. So I’m oftentimes thinking about what are my four things, and then what are my … And what are all the … How can I make adjustments everywhere else since I really don’t care about those items as much?
Tara: Ooh, that is such a great exercise. Can you tell us what your four things are?
Amanda: You know, they’re actually in a state of flux right now. I’m teaching money clarity, which is the online class we teach every quarter, so you know, I can give you a sense of what they are.
Amanda: So one for me is travel. I need to be able to travel at least four times a year, which means, you know, my partner travels all over the world for his work, and I love to be able to go with him, so that is a non-negotiable. Another one is going out to dinner at least once a week. That is really important. The other one is paying extra for really, really, really good child care, because I travel a lot, and making sure that I am leaving my kids with someone who I know they love is worth so much to me. And then finally is the private school that I send my kids to. It’s … They both … You know, we’re all a little ADD in our family, and myself included, and traditional environments don’t always serve us, so I send my kids to an expensive school, but I know that if they were in a traditional school, that they would be as miserable as I was growing up not being able to pay attention.
Tara: Mm, I think one of the problems that we have with money is that our priorities for it can be so overwhelming, and I think, you know, reducing your priorities down to the four non-negotiables might be a little stressful, a little anxiety-inducing for people. Do you have any suggestions for how we can go about, or exercises to figure out what those four things should be?
Amanda: Yup. So I think it’s really important to remember that the goal here is clarity. It doesn’t mean your life is going to change overnight. Those are very … Just because you decide something doesn’t mean it needs to manifest in your life right away. The idea is that you give yourself the space to dream and to play with ideas without them suddenly thinking your life has to change overnight. So for example, when I got divorced four years ago, I was living in a really large house that we had bought that was so expensive, and I knew that I couldn’t afford that, and so because of our separation, I was able to move into a tiny apartment, because the size of the house that I live in actually doesn’t really matter to me at all, and I can be kind of … There’s always so much stuff around that it’s easier for me to clean smaller spaces anyway. So but like not everyone can like move out of their house. You know, if you suddenly decide your house is not important to you, it doesn’t mean you can just put it on the market, so have more fun playing with the ideas, and then understand that it may take a few years for you to unravel those things that aren’t as important to you.
Tara: Hmm. So that kind of brings up the topic of things that we think we’re supposed to do or things that we should do, things we should care about, things we should be spending money on, versus things that are actually important to us, and you and I have had conversations about that quite a bit over the years, because we’ve both made unconventional financial decisions. Can you talk a little bit about separating the shoulds and the supposed tos from the things that we actually want to be using our money for?
Amanda: Absolutely. And it’s interesting, that’s the whole idea why we build the Money Type platform. Again, that’s MoneyType.me, is because we have a sense, based on your results, those shoulds that are baked into your story already, and we’re going to be able to help you through that, give you actual financial advice that’s targeted to help you combat your fears directly. So for example, if you’re a producer, if you end up getting the producer type out of the money type, that means you’re someone who’s really organized and really planning oriented. That’s also someone who probably thinks they absolutely must keep a budget, and that that’s the only way to be successful with money. Now, the truth is, is that budgeting is really hard, and doesn’t work for all people. So what’s important there is that you don’t get so attached to the system that you forget that you’re not supposed to conform to the system, the system’s supposed to be there for you. So if budgeting doesn’t work for you, which everyone thinks that they’re supposed to be good at budgeting, that maybe you need more of a bucketing system. Which means maybe you simply need to know how much it is you can afford to spend on everything outside of your bills every month, and move that onto a debit card that’s a separate checking account, and that way, you’re just checking the balance of that debit card when you’re spending money, and then when you run out, you know that you’ve spent too much, and then you don’t have to worry so much about a budget, because you’re aware more of what your overall spending is and can adjust accordingly.
So you know, I think it’s … a lot of the … those shoulds are all very, very, very different for a lot of people. Some of it has to do with personality. Some has to do with what you’re taught. Some of it has to do with, you know, traumatic childhood experiences where you’re like, no matter what, for me, it was, you know, I needed to make sure I was financially independent no matter what. It’s more just remembering that the ultimate, at the end of the day, what’s most important is that you save money. That is the greatest protection against more, more debt. You know, it’s the greatest things you’ll have against paying down existing debt. It’s your greatest security in the world is not just making great pay check, but learning how to be … learning how to save small amounts when you can, so that you have a cushion there when you need it, and everything else, other than that, I believe is gravy. It’s really about mastering savings, first.
Tara: Nice. So I mentioned unconventional financial choices, just a second ago. Can you tell me what some of your unconventional financial choices have been?
Amanda: Oh my God, I don’t think I’ve ever made a conventional financial choice in my life, so I’m not sure I’m a great model in that on those specifics, but I think the greatest unconventional choice I’ve made is that, you know, I became a computer programmer at age 21, and by age 28, I was making $200,000 a year, and I had a very successful web agency that was growing, and I could have continued to turn that $200,000 a year into much more, but instead, I realized that there was so much I had to learn about money besides earning, and that I saw the potential of DailyWorth to be so enormous, that I shut down my web engineering company and I launched DailyWorth and raised capital for it and went down to $90,000 a year, which I know sounds like a lot of money to a lot of people, and it is a lot of money, but it was far less than I’d been making, and I stayed there for many years, and still probably earn far less than what my quote-unquote market value, but that’s because I believe in the value of DailyWorth, and I know that it’s going to pay off for me enormously in the long run, but it’s a huge risk to essentially take ten years of your highest earnings and invest yourself in a business which could fail. I mean, any business can go out of business, so that is a very unconventional thing that my mother really did not understand for a long time.
Tara: Oh, our mothers.
Amanda: I know.
Tara: Yeah, I think your unconventional money choices make you a fantastic role model, because it’s your unconventional choices paired with that aggressive attitude towards spending that I think most people think you can’t accomplish. You can’t both be a saver and make unusual choices, and I love that you’re proving everyone wrong on that.
Amanda: Thank you, and the other … The other unconventional one I actually want to mention is that my partner, Jordan, and I have been together for four years, and we have very consciously decided not to live together, not to get married, not to combine finances, and to really remain independent as people, but together in relationship, and everyone, including my mother again, is going, “When are you going to get married?” And it’s amazing how much it seems to make other people comfortable, more comfortable if we would just get married and move in together, but it’s not likely to happen for many, many years. So … if ever. So it’s very unconventional, but one that is no doubt in my mind, at this stage of my life, right for both of us, and he agrees.
Tara: Yeah. So you mentioned that you’ve grown DailyWorth to over a million subscribers, which I think is probably mind-boggling to many of our listeners out there. Can you talk about some of the …
Amanda: It’s mind-boggling to me. Yeah.
Tara: Yeah. Can you talk about some of the strategies that you used to grow DailyWorth to that type of platform?
Amanda: Sure. You know, it’s a few things. It’s, first, it’s finding a big hole, you know, I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life. It’s really hard to find things that people haven’t done before. I spent 10 years searching for an idea that I knew was enormous that no one had done that was actually valid, and it took me 10 years to figure it out, and they don’t happen every day. So first is it helps to, if you want to grow really, really big, it helps to be the only one doing what you’re doing while also solving a real need. That’s a big part of it.
The second was I was extremely focused on email, and I ignored almost everything else, including social, for many years. I know social media is all the buzz, but I find email to be a much more impactful way of communicating with a targeted audience, so I made everything about our website to be about signing up for our email, and that to really get the goods, you had to get the email, and that, the website itself even was secondary. It was really about concentrating on your inbox, because that’s where we spend most of our time.
So the third thing that I did is I found someone who had done it before. I made a lot of calls to people I didn’t know to find the best person in the business at growing an email subscriber list, and I came to Hillary Feder, who has been working for me now for seven years, and I didn’t know anything about how to grow an email subscriber list, or not much anyway, but she had already grown IdealBite.com to 500,000 subscribers when I contacted her, and then it was really just a matter of figuring out how to pay her until the business had revenue, and there’s a variety of ways that you can barter or equity or etc. So yeah, so that’s how I grew it to over a million subscribers.
Tara: Yeah, let’s talk more about that people piece of the equation, because I think this is another thing that you have done so magnificently in growing DailyWorth. You have brought in amazing heavy hitters in the world of finance, personal development for women, you know, I’m thinking about people like Barbara Stanny who are just huge in this field, how do you go about finding those people and building those relationships so that they’re as on board with your vision as you are?
Amanda: Yeah, you know, I think it comes from the fact that I have a really, really clear and big, big vision about how I want to shift things for women in general, and money is really just an element. It’s not even really about the money at the end of the day. It’s about women feeling ownership of their lives and being able to create their own security, and I guess I’ve been able to create these relationships in that I’ve … not perfected, but I think that they feel and see not only the strength and potency and uniqueness of my vision, but also as a computer programmer, my ability to execute, and I think it’s the combination of those two that people, that powerful people like Sheryl Sandberg and others who I’ve collaborated with on various things over the years are attracted to is that unique combination of a really potent vision along with a proven track record of being able to know how to scale something and really build it.
Tara: Yeah. You mentioned collaboration there. What are some of the different ways that you figure out how to use those relationships, or to partner with people, because I think a lot of people out there, you know, they’re capable of building relationships, they’re capable of sharing their vision, but then the question is always like what now? What do I do? What do I ask for? How do you figure out how you want to collaborate with someone? What the product of that is going to be?
Amanda: Well, I think it’s really … Here’s how I did it, and I did it … I don’t think I did it intentionally, but then when it happened, it was very clear what I had done. So the first thing is, and this is critical, find people in your peer group who are at your level, not people who are way ahead of you or even way behind you. So find people who, if you’re building a media platform and if you’re building an audience, who have an audience size that is similar to you but isn’t directly competitive to you. And the reason why I said media for … in this case, is because that’s what I was building, so I found a lot of other people with media properties, and so for example, you know, it’s seven years ago now that I became friends with you, and Gabriel Bernstein and Marie Forleo and Allie Brown, and a lot of … Well, Allie was already huge, but you know, Gabby Bernstein was just getting started, and Marie was … she was definitely ahead of me, but they felt kind of like, and then there were guys. Like Lewis Howes and Ramit Sethi who also had online communities that felt like my peer network, and then we kept it informal. I made sure that, I mean, I wasn’t doing this intentionally just because I wanted access to their lists, obviously. I wanted a peer group of we were all trying to do the same things and I knew we could help each other, so that then, when you know, the more … hopefully it becomes like an I scratch your back, you scratch mine, but you’re never going to do this contractually with these types of informal networks, but they have done enormous things to promote me, and I’ve done enormous things to promote them, and therefore, we’re all cross-pollinating to a certain extent across each other’s audiences, and that really helps us all go.
Tara: Yeah. Now you mention Ramit and Marie and Gabby and they have all chosen to build lifestyle businesses. When you started DailyWorth, you chose to grow it through outside investment and take on venture capital. What do you … what kind of doors did that open to you that might not have otherwise opened?
Amanda: You know, I don’t know if I was to do it over again if I would raise venture capital. I didn’t really understand what Marie and Ramit were doing at the time, and I thought, I had come out of the computer programming world, so all I saw was venture capital, and I knew that our audience was so big that we were a venture-worthy business, but I think that … I just think it changes what you’re doing, really, at the end of the day. Because when you raise venture capital, ultimately, those investors are looking for a major payout, so the amount of scale you have to produce and the amount of revenue you have to produce in the tens and twenty of millions is far more than any of they need to produce in order to live a great life relative to their business. So it has opened doors, you know, the fact that I’ve raised capital from Google chairman Eric Schmidt and some other big names means that when it comes to forming partnerships with TIME, Inc., you know, and Yahoo Finance and all of the big guys that I started out trying to be the opposite of that we now collaborate with is a lot easier when you’ve raised venture capital. It also, for me as now a single mom, it allowed me to pay myself a more, a healthier salary earlier and stress less, so that I didn’t … even though I was going to take longer and it was ultimately going to be much harder because of the expectations that come with it, it allowed me to do it right because I had money and I didn’t have to scramble and stress out all the time. I could really do things strategically and hire people. That … I could afford to hire people instead of having to do it all myself, which is huge.
Tara: Yeah, absolutely. All right. Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about your brand new project, which is WorthFM. Can you tell us what WorthFM is and why you’re getting started with it?
Amanda: Absolutely. So WorthFM is a new business that we just launched. WorthFM stands for Worth Financial Management, and it is an actual registered investment advisory, regulated by the SEC, where you will be able to open up an account with, you know, $100, and either open up a retirement account or a general investing account or a savings account, but the difference in what we’re trying to do is we’re stripping out all the jargon, we’re taking out all of the options that you might find if you go to a more complicated place, like Etrade or TD Ameritrade, and we’re making it as simple as we possibly can, but then what’s special about it is that when you log in, rather than just showing you your account balance, we’re actually going to show you things that can help you understand your investments, or help you understand your savings, or help you understand should you saving more into savings or should you be saving more into your investments, and those are all complex calculations that we all know how to do and financial advisers know how to do, but most individuals don’t know how to do. So we are launching an actual saving and investing platform to really fulfill on the mission of DailyWorth to empower women to build net worth and future security by building a tool, an actual investment service that is like nothing that is out there, because we know what’s out there is really not helping people. It’s really just confusing them further.
Tara: Yeah, well, let’s talk about that. What are some of the problems that people run into with traditional financial management or just trying to DIY it themselves? What are some of the problems that they run into and how is WorthFM going to address those thing?
Amanda: So the first problem that people run into is they don’t really know who to turn to? Do they call a financial adviser? Do they call Fidelity? Do they just stick with their 401k? And those … the answers to those questions are so individualized through unique circumstances that while someone may need a financial adviser at some point, it’s more important that they have a basic grasp of investing first, that they know what they’re hiring for, and they’re not just blindly delegating.
The second thing that is really important for everyone to know, which so many women don’t know is the difference between active and passive investing. When most people think about investing, they think about active investing, which is picking stocks or even having a financial adviser pick the mutual funds and securities and bonds that your money goes into in order to grow for the long-term. Active investing is what all of Yahoo Finance and Market Watch is about, and when you think about Wall Street and brokers, etc., they’re mostly talking about active investing. What everyone is doing in active investing is they’re trying to make the maximum amount of money they can on their money that they are investing. As a result of that, it requires a lot of human time, and therefore the expense that gets charged related to that human time, and to make things more complicated, there’s study after study that shows that if you look at an active investor versus an investor who’s just putting their money in an index, and I’ll explain what that means in a second, then there’s a 50% chance that they’re actually going to do more poorly than the market growth itself versus if they had just put their money in an index fund. So I am not a strong advocate of active investing, even though it’s what most people think of investing when they do it.
We, at WorthFM, are only offering at this time passive investing, which means that we create portfolios for you where you don’t have to choose what goes into them. You don’t even have to know what goes into them, but of course we’re going to take steps to teach you about it. Where it’s … where they’re widely, widely diversified ETFs. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know what that means. The only thing you need to know is that when the combination of the S&P and the Dow Jones goes up, so does your portfolio, and when the market goes down, so does your portfolio, and you kind of … if you’re looking at a 10 year or 20 year or 30-year horizon, there’s going to be some years that it goes down and there’s going to be some years that go up, but you can pretty get … the, the market’s never not gone up before, and it’s grown for the last 100 years at 10% per year. People think we’re in a slow growth time so it’s probably only going to grow 5% per year. On average, if you’re looking at least ten years out in terms of your long-term savings, but we’re going to charge you is somewhere between 1/2 a percent and a full percent difference in those fees, so … and you don’t even have to really worry about what it’s in, because you’re just tracking the market. So that’s the really big difference is we’re not focused on what you are buying. We’re handling all of that for you in a really, really simple safe way. What we’re focused on is motivating you to save and invest more money in a way that’s comfortable for you.
Tara: Yeah, from the moment you told me about this new venture, I was incredibly excited about it, because to me, WorthFM is about empowerment even more than it is about financial returns, although I want those, too. But mostly, I want to feel empowered with my money, and even, you know, for someone like you, who’s really good at making money, you know, I often feel disempowered when it comes to what to actually do with it. I feel like I was missing some big piece of financial education, and it’s probably not a matter of feeling like that. I’m sure that I probably was. So how is WorthFM going to, or what is your mission with WorthFM to get people feeling that empower? What are you going to be providing people that’s going to leave them feeling more confident about their money?
Amanda: You know, I’ll start by just telling you a few stories. The first is about my friend, Steph, who was married for 17 years and opted out of her investment banking job for nine years after her kids were born and then learned that her husband was living a double life, and not only when he left did he … Was there that horrible shock, but he said he also couldn’t afford to pay child support. So not only had she not worked, but she was alone to raise boys. So that’s one example.
Another is, I won’t use names, but I think of some of my female friends who’ve gotten married and are really unhappy in their situation, but they powerless to change it, so they are … They fell just incredibly stuck in their lives. For me, it was I bought too big of a house ten years ago, and ended up spending tens of thousands of dollars on windows that drove me into debt and other things that, you know, I really didn’t see coming because I had no consciousness or awareness of savings and connection to money. So I think when it comes to our mission, you know, I’m using a lot of extreme examples, and this is very much for happily married people as much as not. It’s really around the sense that life is full of huge curve balls, and more often than not, it’s women who del- … it’s more women than men who have delegated those and end up in really hot water later in life, because they thought they weren’t interested in money, but then found out it’s really interesting. So I think the mission is really from a gender and socialization standpoint to finally bridge the gap between women and their confidence and their knowledge around money, and so we are … We’re actually measuring in our system what we understand to be both your knowledge and your confidence, because they’re different. And then taking steps within the way our platform works to increase your confidence by highlighting the things you’re doing really well, and the actions that you take, and your knowledge by literally feeding you in very tiny, tiny bite-sized polls and stuff, and videos, information about your very specific life situation and portfolio.
So we believe that if we can increase women’s confidence and knowledge about saving and investing that we can have an extraordinary impact on her life.
Tara: Yeah, that reminds me of what you said toward the beginning of the conversation about even just changing your identity personally from being a spender to being a saver, and it sounds like your mission really is to help change women’s identities around how they handle money as well, and to give them concrete tools to be able to do that.
Amanda: It’s true. I’m working to reprogram women into power money people, I think. It sounds a little freaky.
Tara: I love it though. I love it.
Amanda: Yeah, it’s … but at least I’m being clear about what my intentions are, right?
Tara: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, I mean, the name of the podcast is Profit. Power. Pursuit. So we’re not afraid of these things.
Tara: Yeah, so, uh, you’ve got a partner on this venture. Can you tell me about the partnership?
Amanda: Oh, my God. Can I tell you about my partner. So Michelle Smith is a financial advisor who has had 30 years on Wall Street managing money. She has a firm called Source Financial Advisers, where she has $600 million of other people’s money that she is responsible for safeguarding and managing with them, but what I love about her and the reason why we are introduced is it just so happens that 95% of her clients are affluent women. And I’ll explain why I differentiate them as affluent in a minute. So you know, when we talked, we realized that we had both been in this really specialized area of helping women with money, and we knew all the exact same things, but we were doing it from very, very different places, and the reason why I was looking for her was I as … as an entrepreneur, I don’t … I may seem powerful to a lot of people, but I don’t yet have the power to move the mountains I want to move, and so I knew I needed someone really powerful and established from the Wall Street culture to be an investor and partner from me in order to really take things to the next level and be taken seriously.
And then for her, she was only, because of the way financial advice and advisory and money management has worked for the last who knows, 50, 100 years, is that financial advisers in Wall Street, it’s true, they can only cater to the 1%, because that’s how all the pricing is structured, and if you try to work with folks who only have, say, $100,000 in their retirement account, then you find that because of the way prices work in Wall Street that you don’t actually make any money, and you can’t even afford to pick up the phone and call them, because it’s not … It just doesn’t work in the business. So she had been looking for me, because she was really … Felt frustrated that she was so bottlenecked into only being able to serve women with over a million dollars, and when I came to her, she was like, “Wow, you’re going to really help me help a lot more women out there.” And so it was like a perfect partnership.
Tara: Mm, I love that. Yay. So we know WorthFM is kind of what’s on the immediate horizon line for you, but I also know that you’re working on a book. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re trying to accomplish with the book?
Amanda: Oh, for sure. So the book will actually be published in January 2017. It’s called Roots and Wings, and I called it Roots and Wings because it’s … My mom always said to me … My mom was always really bizarre in that she never put any rules or restrictions on me. It was like, “Mom, aren’t you supposed to? Isn’t that like what moms do to kids?” And she said now, “I really just believe I need to give you roots and wings and that you’ll figure out the rest,” and in retrospect, I actually think she was right. It’s … Her idea was that I need to help you build roots, which is you know, security, knowing that you come from a stable place, and then wings, which is the confidence to do whatever you want, and when you give younger children that level of freedom, you know, we end up getting really bruised and knocked around in a lot of life circumstances, I’m sure. You know, I grew up in downtown Philly, and I’m sure there were, I got into situations, being a child of urban life that were not entirely appropriate for the age, but you know, it really turned me into a tough, strong, independent person, and I’m so grateful to that, so I’m taking that wisdom from her, and I’m turning it into a financial advice book specifically, but really digging deep into the core of where do we get our self-worth from? Why do women have this self-confidence gap? Where did that come from? Is it genetic? Is it social? I believe it’s mostly, if not all, social, and cultural, not genetic. And then you know, roots, in the case of this book, are how to build assets, which is should you have an investment account? Should you buy a house? Should you start a business? There’s so many ways you can build equity in your life, so what’s the cost-benefit analysis of doing one, two, three, or zero of any of them, and then wings is about income and cash flow and having enough money right now to live the life you want. And it’s everything from what are your four things to what’s a curveball account to should you separate your spending from your sustain to how do you much make as much money as humanly possible in a way that, you know, feels good to you.
So that’s the book. It’s going to be, you know, a real call to arms for women. I hope that … My favorite book right now is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. It’s actually a book on racism, but I think there’s a lot of interesting parallels between racism and what women have had to encounter over the last 100 years, as we used to be property and now we can finally own it, hallelujah. So I’m really … I keep reading his book over and over again. It’s a bestseller right now, and then also, just a really intelligent and entertaining financial advice book that doesn’t just tell you to budget, because that’s boring.
Tara: Amen to that. Everything I’ve heard about the book so far, I’m incredibly excited about, and I think that, you know, if people are enjoying some of the unconventional wisdom that you’ve shared so far in this interview, that they’re going to enjoy the book as well, and I’m sad that we have to wait a year for it.
Amanda: I know. Me, too. Trust me. It’s a … It’s a lot of work. We’re working as hard as we can.
Tara: I totally understand. Well, Amanda Steinberg, thank you so much for joining me today.
Amanda: It is my pleasure, and I hope everyone goes to WorthFM.com and signs up for our wait list so that you can hear about it when it’s ready.
Tara: Find Amanda Steinberg at DailyWorth.com and WorthFM.com. Take the free money type quiz to find out how you use money at MoneyType.me. On the next episode, we’ll sit down with Vanessa VanEdwards, an author, a behavioral investigator, and self-proclaimed recovering awkward person to talk about the profile she uses to better understand her team and her customers and the weirdest experiment she’s ever conducted.
That’s it for this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. You can download other episodes of this podcast and subscribe in the iTunes store. If you enjoy what you heard, we appreciate your reviews and recommendations, because they help us reach as many emerging entrepreneurs as possible. Our theme song was written by Daniel Peterson, who also edited this episode. Our audio engineer was Jaime Blake. This episode was produced by Elizabeth Madariaga. You can catch up on older episodes in the iTunes store, where new episodes are added every week, and you can learn more by going to CreativeLive.com.