New Mission: Get Really, Really Big
Alexa von Tobel is really excited.
Her company, LearnVest, is now known as LearnVest Planning, and is announcing Friday it has a fresh infusion of $16.5 million in funding to scale its seven-step financial plan it's informally dubbed "Weight Watchers for your money." It is hiring certified financial planners to work directly with customers, has brought on four new formal advisors, and is debuting a new iPad app.
All of this accounts for just some of von Tobel's enthusiasm. What's most exciting for her, she says, is that this company she founded more than three years ago is growing up. It's not only physically expanding its Union Square office in New York City and opening a new office in Phoenix, but also it's making a less tangible move--in von Tobel's words--"from start-up-land to scaling-operations-land."
Von Tobel--who is a contributor to Inc.com--told me earlier this week that her last board meeting was about strategy for taking LearnVest into this new chapter; turning it from a scrappy start-up into a scaling business.
"We need to mentally decide we are moving from start-up land to scaling operations. We are a big organization that needs to think about how do we grow into a really big organization," she says. "I feel like we're just getting started. And that energy and excitement is really authentic."
LearnVest used to be something of a finance-for-women education and content platform, but its focus has shifted a lot over the past two years. Last summer, it began a Mint.com-like money-management platform. And now the company has completed the move to full-on financial planner.
"You don't build a company overnight, and now we are three-and-a-half years in. Now I'm at a place where I've fully perfected what our product is, who our audience is," von Tobel says.
It's unclear when the newly announced round of funding actually closed, and von Tobel wouldn't discuss particulars. But the round--which comes from the company's existing investors and American Express Ventures--adds to the company's previous three rounds of investment, which total $24.5 million. That's a lot. But in fairness, LearnVest's industry--financial planning in the United States--is a massive, $30 billion market, according to IBISWorld.
"We believe strongly in the mission of LearnVest Planning to provide accessible financial advice," Harshul Sanghi, a managing partner at American Express Ventures, said in a statement. "As we seek to expand our portfolio of products across American Express, we believe LearnVest Planning can be an important partner in helping us to bring customers more convenient, affordable and transparent ways to manage their money."
What can we read in-between the lines there? Von Tobel said we can expect more announcements in the near future, including a "big commercial relationship." Whether that means a LearnVest credit card is in the works, or a full acqusition is possible here, we're not sure. What do you think?
CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer
Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.