Vicki Zhou and Herbert Moore are the founders and co-CEOs of WiseBanyan, the world’s first free financial advisor.
After working together at two other financial services companies, Herbert and Vicki took a step back to look at the world of investing not from the perspective of those who had already accumulated wealth, but from the perspective of first-time investors. This led to the founding of WiseBanyan, which targets younger individuals who are looking to save and invest for the first time.
“We want to help people start with just a dollar,” says Zhou. “What results from what we do is really that we help people save and invest for their dreams.”
Whether those dreams are about a new home, a nicer car, rainy day funds, vacations, kids, or retirement, WiseBanyan is committed to helping everyday people lay a firm financial foundation through an easy-to-use investment tool that does most of the work for them.
How They Funded Their Start
Moore: Early on we had a group of friends and family who gave us a small chunk of money. Then we added on to that in a larger round with some venture capital firms. The way we found that money was simply going to events and having people listen to our story.
One thing we did really well was we bootstrapped up until we actually launched. That way, when we approach venture capitalists and they ask, “How is this going to work?”, we can answer, “Hundreds of people have already signed up and are investing over a million dollars through us.” It’s something where it shows people there’s a real demand.
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Zhou: I know a lot of companies create an MVP, but that can quickly turn into creating a product for venture capitalists instead of for the customers. Since we bootstrapped and funded it ourselves, we dove into, “Let’s build it, let’s get people really excited just using it.” Then we were able to think about how we could get capital in order to expand what we were already doing.
Zhou: What’s been most challenging has also been the most fun, and that’s adding more people to the team. As we add more team members, each person we add brings so much new value.
But as you build a team, you shift your focus a lot more towards aligning everybody’s vision, and making sure that we’re set up in such a way that lets everyone’s strengths really shine through. We want everyone’s best ideas to come to the top and result in the greatest possible product for our clients.
Making the Smart Move
Moore: You have to decide whether you’re going to be a marketing-based company or a product-based company. It’s always seductive to think, “I’ll just do marketing with an inferior product right now and then as soon as I get more clients, more funding, then I will switch back to product.”
That’s a trap that a lot of companies fall into.
In the first year we sat down and decided that we were a product-based company and the best product is our best marketing tool. We have over 50,000 trades every single month, and over 2,000 deposits on average every single day, so we really need all that infrastructure to be able to support that product. If you bring people in, it’s an inferior product, an inferior experience, they’re not going to be happy you spent a ton of money on marketing.
Enjoying the Rewards
Zhou: I look at our team every day and I feel pretty lucky to be able to work with all the people that we do. Some of the people here are some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with.
Even in our 22 person team we have multiple people who have founded their own companies, even sold their own companies, and that’s pretty incredible to be able to work with people like that.
The Future of WiseBanyan
Moore: The beauty of collaborating with our clients as they’re starting out is we are able to build an amazing relationship with each of them as they progress toward their goals. Our clients are saving and investing toward a range of achievements—anything from a much-deserved vacation to putting their kids through college—and they continue to ask for more and more guidance. As WiseBanyan continues to grow, we’re focusing on providing thoughtful, personalized guidance at every turn.
Advice for Entrepreneurs
Moore: Choose something meaningful. Starting a business is tough enough already—if you don’t believe in what you are doing, or it is not important in a larger sense than just profit, it will be exponentially more difficult. If you truly believe in what you are doing, if you are making a positive difference and your product makes people’s lives better, you will have all the more energy to push it forward.