Alexa von Tobel dropped out of Harvard Business School at age 25 to start LearnVest, a financial planning company. It was the best decision she ever made.
After raising more than $70 million dollars in capital, LearnVest was acquired by Northwestern Mutual for an undisclosed sum. It’s safe to say that Alexa is more than passionate about personal finance and entrepreneurship, and has the experience to boot.
If your goal this year is to finally launch that dream business or new venture you’ve been putting off for years, Alexa has some great advice for you:
Once you have an idea for a new business, how do you come up with a plan to actually launch?
Alexa: Start with an idea that you are deeply passionate about. It takes blood, sweat and tears to launch a company, so it’s critical to be 100% committed. Then, do your homework. I wrote a 75-page business plan before starting LearnVest. Few people actually read it, but it forced me to be exhaustive about my research and helped prepare me for taking the leap into entrepreneurship. As with all good plans, create concrete goals for yourself so you can track your progress and reevaluate along the way.
Once you have a plan in mind, how do you keep yourself accountable for sticking with that plan?
Alexa: Set measurable goals from day one. As an entrepreneur, it’s perfectly acceptable (if not desirable) for these goals to be huge reaches. You’re trying to create something extraordinary! But they also need to be within the realm of possibility, so you can make sure you’re staying on track.
"As the founder, it’s your job to actually be stronger when everything around you gets harder. Curveballs will definitely happen. When things don’t go as planned, accept it, come up with Plan B, and keep moving forward."
- Alexa von Tobel, CEO of LearnVest
I find that accountability is always made easier when you have someone there to hold you to it—be it a business partner, a mentor, or even a friend. Set regular check-ins with your chosen confidante, and come prepared to address how well you’re doing on your goals.
Your goals are set, and you’ve figured out how to keep yourself accountable. With so much else going on in life and work, how do you prioritize your new venture?
Alexa: There’s really nothing like the experience of starting a business. It can be all-consuming. I think that in order for it to be successful, it needs to be your top priority—especially in those early days. That said, you have to make time to take care of yourself. Find time for sleep, catching up with family and friends, travel, etc. Put yourself in a position to be as focused and successful during the hours that you are actively putting into your work.
Entrepreneurship is known to be a roller coaster ride. How do you stay motivated after you hit some unexpected turns or road blocks?
Alexa: Starting a business comes with countless highs and lows. As the founder, it’s your job to actually be stronger when everything around you gets harder. Curveballs will definitely happen. When things don’t go as planned, accept it, come up with Plan B, and keep moving forward. On the flipside, take the time to celebrate your wins and successes—those matter too and can go a long way in keeping you motivated through the valleys.
It takes a village, right? How can you leverage relationships and your network to help your business succeed?
Alexa: Mentors and advisors can be tremendously valuable. I recommend looking for people who have been there, done that. If you ever have the opportunity to meet with them, come prepared to ask smart questions and be diligent about following up. I also recommend looking for mentors from different generations. That will ensure that you have a wide range of experiences and perspectives to consider.
Let’s break it down. What are your top five tips for launching a new venture?
- When everyone zigs, zag. I started LearnVest in the heart of the Recession. It was a crazy move, but now is the time to be bold.
- Get skin in the game. Putting your own money into your business will make you that much more invested in your success.
- Be willing to adapt. Go into it with a clear game plan, but understand that flexibility is key.
- Be scrappy. Run your new venture like a startup and spend wisely.
- Know your user. Take the time to understand your customer. How do you make their lives better?
Any last words or pieces of advice for those aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
Alexa: One of my favorite pieces of advice is that you have to dream big because no one else is going to do it for you. Allow yourself to say “I want something bigger.” What’s the worst that could happen? Imagine that you’re 90 and looking back at your life. If you’ll regret not having taken the leap, just go for it. Be bold.
And with that, go get em’! This is the year to make your goals a reality. As they say, there is no time like the present! (And especially for entrepreneurs, there is no present like time.)
Starting A Business Sample Trello Board
Check out a template board based on Alexa's tips for venturing out into entrepreneurship.
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