Do finances keep you up at night? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. A Bankrate survey cites that 56% of Americans admit to losing sleep over at least one money worry. A third of the respondents say it is everyday expenses and making ends meet. Paired with the fact that 40% of Americans lack even $400 in their savings account for an emergency, no wonder the stress causes many sleepless nights.
Diana Morris is on a mission to let Americans get some z’s. Her company My Financial Zen is helping people make smart financial decisions so they can rest easy. Just like a Fitbit tracks fitness, My Financial Zen is taking the same approach to finances as part of an overall wellness strategy. By capturing data for coaching, the company is delivering financial enlightenment one subscriber at a time.
What is My Financial Zen and why did you start the business?
My Financial Zen is a financial wellness platform focused on capturing data, aligning it with personal goals, and delivering relevant coaching. It combines behavior science with sound financial principles to create personal awareness around the cause and effect of micro-decisions made each day.
The platform is designed primarily with the young professional in mind. I recently launched My Financial Zen Wellness Program which provides financial wellness benefits to small employers to retain and attract talent. I’m also offering one-on-one financial coaching and wellness workshops, which I’m positioning to businesses as an additional part of their wellness package.
My Financial Zen was borne out of my own frustrations of counseling thousands of people over the years in personal finance. Financial institutions make it complicated and challenging for people to know exactly how they are doing, what impact their habits have on their finances, and what they should be doing differently.
What life experiences led you to where you are today?
In my early years, my parents were church-builders and then became missionaries in Brazil. My childhood was filled with a life of serving others. My undergrad studies were in sociology and history, where I learned about social change movements and research methodologies. I struggled for many years after college working whatever job I could. I finally broke into personal insurance, which was the beginning of a 20-plus-year journey in financial services. I soaked everything up and learned all I could to share insights, tips, and know-how with clients and friends. Today I remain on a quest to change the world in a positive way.
How has technology played a role in your business?
I was inspired early on by Jeff Hawkins, founder and creator of the Palm Pilot. He is one of the pioneers in artificial intelligence, neuroscience, and mobile technology. My Financial Zen’s parent company, Ladybug Collaborative Inc., uses next generation technology to deliver real-time personal finance insight. Artificial intelligence and machine learning allow for faster decision making, as well as better predictions based on habits and routines of the user.
Technology so easily integrates into our daily lives. I’m excited about expanding into wearables and virtual assistants to truly provide in-the-moment financial feedback loops for better outcomes. Fitness tracking was followed by nutrition and health tracking. Now the time has come for real-time financial tracking.
Where do you see My Financial Zen in one year? In five years?
Over the next three months, I will continue validating my proprietary Financial Health Assessment. This tool is at the heart of uncovering areas of personal financial risk and determining the best plan for ongoing financial coaching.
I will hire and train at least two financial coaches in the next six months to continue building out My Financial Zen Wellness Program for small businesses and providing one-on-one coaching.
Our go-to-market strategy has a goal of reaching 1,000 active users within 90 days of launching the beta app and 9,000 users by the end of the first 12 months.
I’m continuing to seek $250,000 in funding to build out the mobile version that will provide real-time feedback and financial coaching to users. Think of it as the Fitbit of finance. I’ll pursue series A funding in year two. If all goes according to plan, My Financial Zen will exceed $10 million in revenue by the end of year three. This will provide the investment capital for acquiring other fintech solutions that complement My Financial Zen.
What is the most important challenge you’ve had to overcome with My Financial Zen and how are you doing it?
Financial technology has focused primarily on replacing many brick-and-mortar solutions rather than truly innovating personal finance. Funding is invested mostly in enterprise solutions or technology that can be sold directly to banks, insurance, and investment companies. That does not solve the problem of empowering or equipping the individual consumer with the expertise and know-how to develop healthy financial habits. Selling a customer-focused financial solution to venture capital firms is an uphill battle.
I was turned down by an accelerator in 2018 that said they don’t believe people would pay a monthly subscription for a mobile app. At the same time, the subscription-based meditation mobile app Headspace has exceeded 10 million downloads. Just last week Pete the Planner launched his Hey Money app offering on-demand financial advice for $19.99 per month.
So, I’m taking a page from innovators like Stepan Pachikov, founder of Evernote, who almost entirely bootstrapped his business. I’m launching tools to generate revenue and build followers as I continue seeking funding for app development.
Many women feel left out of financial planning and investing. How are you tackling this problem as a female entrepreneur with many female clients?
It is an interesting dynamic and varies by economic status, faith, and cultural heritage. In general, women have managed the daily household decisions. They know how to get the best deal, stretch a dollar, and barter. They plan for everyone else – business projects, budgets, vacations, holidays, gifts, etc. Somewhere along the way they lose sight of caring for their own needs and wants.
At the same time, financial institutions make it incredibly confusing, difficult, and intimidating for women to take the lead in dealing with financial professionals, negotiating, and learning the ropes. It’s one of the main reasons I’m building a financial wellness company that brings clarity to personal financial management. Discussing personal finance is taboo, just like sex and politics. It needs to be normalized in our everyday conversations and communities.
You made the transition from full-time employee to full-time entrepreneur late 2019. How did you make the leap and what have been the results?
I’ve been fiercely independent from an early age – organizing girl clubs, traveling alone, organizing fundraisers, and being self-employed. My life took a detour when I got married. It was a difficult chunk of my life. My focus was providing for our two kids, which gave me a reason and purpose for getting out of bed each morning. All those years prepared me for building my company. I started researching financial coaching and financial software more than 15 years ago. It ultimately was a matter of getting my personal affairs in order, which included my heart and mental well-being. I had survived as an entrepreneur before and knew I could do it again. Only this time I wanted to thrive, not merely survive.
I set a three-month financial runway for myself after crunching the numbers and considering the risk. Taking this time to focus fully on my business gave me new energy and ideas. There is no stress, anxiety, or fear. There is only determination to build a solid foundation to scale this empire. I have clear metrics to reach and daily plans to get there. My heart is full.
You are someone who turned a passion into a profession. What have been your keys to success?
Self-reflection is key. You must be clear about how your unique skills, experiences, and passion can solve a real need in your community, country or the world.
Your resolve must be strong; strong enough to withstand constant questioning, opposition, and self-doubt.
Community is key. You must have a group of people who challenge you, encourage you, and have your back. The Startup Ladies has been the absolute best incubator for my company. The professional connections, coaching, and friendships gained over the past four years has given me the courage to go big.
Picture: Diana Women and Hi Tech
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as an entrepreneur? What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Best piece of advice I’ve received: be teachable. That behavior has allowed me to listen and learn from some of the smartest tech and business leaders. Because of their questions, pushback, and insights, I’ve continued building my company and moving forward.
Advice for other entrepreneurs: believe in your value, follow your intuition, and seek out expertise. Be bold and confident. Pursue knowledge from a wide range of industries, leaders and mentors. You cannot build a successful company on your own.
What have been the most valuable resources in your entrepreneurial journey that other founders should know about?
Books and online courses have been my best friends, especially during the chunk of my life where I was focused on surviving. I kept learning as much as I could, from behavior science to financial acumen to business management and leadership. Here are a few of my recommendations:
Describe yourself in adjectives instead of nouns. How have these characteristics helped you and how have they been traits to improve upon as an entrepreneur?
Over the years I’ve continued to self-reflect and better understand how I show up as my best self. Three themes kept recurring. Being transparent allows for deeper connections and averts any potential hidden agendas. I’m clear on what I’m about and what I’m not about, which makes it easier for others to know if they want to collaborate or not. Reforming is a constant effort toward improving and increasing effectiveness. Our world is constantly evolving and changing. I want to continue reforming financial systems for the benefit of the consumer.
Having tenacity is my signature characteristic. I just don’t quit or give up.
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