Follow the Money

Follow the Money

With Personalized Advice, SEC Registration, and an iPhone App, LearnVest Leaves Mint in the Dust

Financial planning with the ease of the Google doc.

Alexa von Tobel is fond of analogies. Blame her time at Harvard, as both an undergrad and in the university’s MBA program–before she won a business plan competition and took a leave of absence to launch LearnVest, a personalized financial tool for those who can’t spare the $2,000 to $3,000 to sit down with a financial planner. (“61 percent of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck,” she noted from the company’s sunny new Soho office. For the former Morgan Stanley trader–and head of biz dev for–statistics tend to roll off the tongue.)

In the past, Ms. von Tobel–the first in a growing line of local HBS female founders–has called LearnVest, “Weight Watchers meets personal finance.” In a recent TEDxTalk, she longs for a “Biggest Loser” for household budgets. But in demoing LearnVest’s revamped new platform and iPhone app last week–financed by a $19 million Series B led by Accel Partners last July–she opted for something more ambitious, describing it as “LegalZoom meets personal finance,” for its ability to take hard-to-parse documents and make them accessible to the masses. Read More

Follow the Money

On Covestor, Copycat Traders Auto-Buy as Mirror Trading Takes Off

Mr. Sykes. (

The camera opens on a young man leaning on a balcony overlooking Central Park. His brow is furrowed; from the side he resembles Matt Damon. The voiceover comes in, underscored by a cello: “My name is Tim Sykes, and I teach people to trade stocks. I am a self-made multimillionaire and I am the No. 1 ranked trader out of 60,000 on Covestor.”

If you were a discerning customer searching for stock advice, you might pause here. What the hell is Covestor?

The site, run out of London and New York, has been around since 2007, and allows “self-directed” investors to broadcast their trades online.

Covestor requires users—small-time, independent professionals as well as guys at home in their bathrobes watching E*TRADE on two monitors—to connect their online brokerage accounts or submit audited records. Every trade, bad or good, is posted online. In other words, it’s oversharing for traders.

A few years ago, Covestor pivoted to emphasize an even weirder business: mirror trading. In addition to merely watching Mr. Sykes make his millions from his Columbus Circle apartment, one can share the wealth by automatically mirroring his moves. Just as television made celebrities out of Jim Cramer and other prognosticators with good cadence, Covestor hopes to make stars out of any old schmucks who prove they can beat the Street. Read More

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Someone Made A Groupon Just For Rich Kids

Screen shot 2012-04-19 at 4.42.25 PM

It is a truth universally acknowledged that those least in need of a leg up are most likely to receive it. Into that aphorism rolls Merchant Exchange, a new “luxury rewards network” based in New York targeting a subset cofounder Michael Tolkin likes to call “wealthy millenials.”

By Mr. Tolkin’s definition, that means New Yorkers 25-t0-35 who spend between $$30,000 and $40,000 annually, which we imagine refers to disposable income.

“They have money to spend and want to be discerning,” Mr. Tolkin tells Business Insider. “They’re educated and busy; they’re not coupon-clipping.” Presumably they’re also not whipping out their coupon shears because it’s 2012, but who are we to quibble with a noble benefactor of today’s youth-ish.

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What LearnVest Is Doing With That Big $19 M. Round

LearnVest's Alexa von Tobel.

“Wtf will they do with $19 million,”  a source asked Betabeat back in June when LearnVest announced its $12 million raise out of a $19 million round led by Accel Partners. “For a newsletter that says ‘don’t take cabs every day! Use a 401k!'”

Well, now we know a little more about what LearnVest, the personal finance and lifestyle site for women, has been spending its millions on: “a comprehensive study, which explored women’s financial attitudes, behaviors and needs.” Did you know six in 10 women feel stressed about their finances?

Fortunately, the startup had some bucks left over after commissioning that study to launch a few features. Read More

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Stop Neglecting the Enterprise: New Meetup Encourages Hackers to Get Excited About B2B

B2B: The final frontier. (Wikimedia)

Social media startups only seem to get more trendy, and that’s sucking innovation away from other spaces–enterprise, for example. “As you know, most tech accelerators and organizations are almost entirely focused consumer-facing startups (e.g., 90-95 percent of startups at Y Combinator, TechStars, most hackathons, etc.),” the organizers of the new Enterprise Tech Innovation meetup wrote in an email. “However, recently, there’s been a trend to develop enterprise-focused accelerators which I believe have a hope of bringing the kind of innovation large corporations seek.”

Isn’t it funny how the fame and glory of social media has inspired entrepreneurs to build hordes of consumer-facing startups warring for user attention in a web-wide popularity contest, when a B2B service could make its founders rich by signing on just a few major clients? Read More