Alexa von Tobel, CEO and Founder of Learnvest, said raising money for her startup back in 2009 was one of the most gruesome experiences ever . She told Marie Claire Editor in Chief Joanna Coles, at a Women in Business event last night hosted by the magazine, that it took her six months but she raised $1.1 million in seed funding from executives at Goldman Sachs. With that money she was able to launch LearnVest.
Alexa told the female audience at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse last night that those first six months, after she dropped out of Harvard Business School, were incredibly hard. “I literally started with just a business plan. No venture partners, just me,” she said. She said there weren’t good angel funds at that point but you can’t get venture funding before you get seed funding. She described those first six months as non-stop meetings followed by her coming home typing up new proposals, crying and eating cookies. “A lot of people say if you knew what it takes to be an entrepreneur you wouldn’t do it, which is probably true,” she said.
We have written about the challenges facing female entrepreneurs when it comes to raising capital for their company. And keep in mind Alex was doing this circa 2009 right around Bernie Madoff and post-collapse of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. The U.S. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor says that women start ventures with eight times less funding than their male counterparts. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, data shows that while about 41% of private companies in the U.S. are owned by women, only 3-5% of them get venture capital.
But Alexa obviously figured out the formula as today, the company has raised just under $25 million to date, making Alexa—the Chief Executive Officer and Manager of the company—one of the most successful women of her generation, according to GoGirlFinance.
Alexa obviously figured out how to sell her product and get investors on board but she also had a really strong and important business model to offer. “We learn about everything else before we learn about money,” said Alexa. She told GoGirlFinance recently, “I found that even though I was working as a trader in the finance industry, I still didn’t know how to manage my own money. I had to try to figure out what to do with my signing bonus, for example. And I didn’t understand how my taxes worked on my salary. Going through the pieces, I kept on asking myself, “What is all of this?” Even simple things like opening a credit card were difficult to think through, and I couldn’t find any trusted resources to turn to for advice.” And then Learnvest was born.
It obviously has been hard work to build this company, but Alexa has done an amazing job. At the event, Joanna Coles said she can’t way to hand over all her financial information to Alexa to help her get organized. “Because then we can get on with the serious business of buying shoes and bags!” said Coles.
Photo: Matt Carasella Photography