In a recent Hiscox survey, about a quarter of the entrepreneurs polled said that the desire to pursue a personal passion was an important factor in their decision to start a business. Tina Hay, founder and CEO of Napkin Finance, certainly counts passion among the motivations for launching her business, but there is a lot more to her story.
Napkin Finance is a visual learning company that simplifies complex topics by using images, infographics, videos, data visualization, and more to provide a better way to learn and understand complex topics. Hay describes the platform as “a new way for anyone, at any life stage, to use and understand money.”
Hay’s inspiration for Napkin Finance arose from her struggles as an MBA student at Harvard University. Coming from a liberal arts background, she found it difficult to keep pace with the former bankers and consultants in her finance classes. “I am a visual thinker, as are many other people,” Hay explains. “Visual thinking is a classic concept. It describes a person who tends to think in images and visual patterns.”
A passion project
Hay has always sketched images to help herself break down complex topics, especially those dealing with money and finance. “I started sketching different topics on napkins as a personal tool and passion project, but I saw that the napkins seemed to resonate with quite a few people,” she recalls. “What started with one napkin has grown into hundreds of illustrations, helping millions of people make better decisions about their finances.”
Hay’s diverse background includes working in tech, finance, and film. Always pursuing her dream of entrepreneurship, she has founded and led several startups. “Starting Napkin Finance was not planned, but more of an evolution of another company I had started,” Hay says. That business offered an alternative to conventional bank accounts that was cheaper, rewarding, and more accessible. It aimed not only to facilitate transactions and payments, but to build a lifestyle around it.
“We quickly realized that our content was the most unique and popular aspect of the platform, so we pivoted to focus the company around financial education,” she says. “It was not the original plan, but we could not have asked for a better direction for the business.”
Over the past six years, Hay has expanded Napkin Finance’s reach to more than 80 million households across the globe. It works with some of the world’s largest financial institutions-;including JP Morgan Chase, UBS, AARP, and US Bank-;to create content to help their clients. It has published a best-selling financial education book (Napkin Finance: Build Your Wealth in 30 Seconds or Less) that a New York Times reviewer called “the best personal finance primer I have read in years.”
Napkin Finance is also a mission-based company, empowering people to make better financial decisions. It works with schools and nonprofits to promote financial literacy for people who normally would not have access to the resources needed to achieve it.
Hay has faced challenges and obstacles in growing Napkin Finance into what it is today. A big one has been finding the right people. “We are a mix of financial experts and creatives, and it is a challenge to find people who can do both very well,” she says.
Keeping things on track
Staying mission-focused was another. “There are many ways we can go with the platform, and that can distract from the long-term vision,” she says. “Saying no to opportunities is sometimes the hardest thing to do, but having a clear strategy and path for the business has been key to keeping it on track.”
Of course, managing risk is also important. Hiring great people and making sure Napkin Finance has a great product that people love and will keep coming back for are key parts of Hay’s risk management strategy. So is having all the right legal and financial documents, including business insurance, in place. In fact, “Business Insurance” even has its own napkin among the company’s entrepreneurship content.
“In today’s environment, where digital solutions like Hiscox make getting the right business insurance so easy, there is simply no excuse to overlook this important step,” Hay says. “With so many resources and tools available to entrepreneurs, there has never been a better time to launch a business. But keep in mind that it takes commitment and sacrifice to navigate a business through the ups and downs. It is all worth it, but it is not for the faint of heart!”