For many, one of the perennial favorites of new year’s resolutions is money matters. There’s plenty of advice that has been dished out about just what those money resolutions should be for this year, but as with so many big goals made around this time, most of us fail to take the small steps needed to get to the finish line. Then again, do these big goals often fail because we don’t have much of a realistic plan of attack to achieve them?
MoneyComb may have the plan you need to achieve a new year’s resolution. This FinTech startup based in Durham, North Carolina, aims to take your intentions and actually build you a customized plan that suits the individual. Since the team of three is incubated at The Startup Lab at Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight, the product is backed by behavioral research findings.
We had a chance to sit down with co-founder Cat de Montjoye about their product, just before they take their web platform into the app marketplace.
When did you first get the idea for MoneyComb? We first came up with the idea of MoneyComb after working for two asset management startups that focused on high-income clients. We felt that people who already are in a good financial situation received the best financial advice and were exposed to the best products. We wanted to leverage the power of technology to bring services and products for people who need it the most—those without significant investable assets. However, before anyone in that situation can be financially well, they typically need to get their spending under control. That is the goal of MoneyComb, to help people spend optimally so they can get on track financially while still doing what they love.
Why was this particular problem what you wanted to solve? The current personal finance marketplace borders on obsession with saving, investing and debt-reduction. All noble pursuits. But who can do any of those things if their spending is out of control? The key is not to work backward from a far-off retirement date, but to work forward, concentrating on the most actionable and relevant categories of day-to-day spending. What we are trying to solve is a very specific problem in personal finance, “the intention-action gap.” That is, we all know what we should be doing and education alone doesn’t lead to action. We want to guide people to action and at the same time make it easy, simplified and fun.
How is MoneyComb’s product different from a typical budgeting app? MoneyComb is different from other budgeting apps because besides tracking their spending, it coaches them to become better spenders through thoughtful features and insights. For instance, we concentrate on six categories of discretionary spending: Eating Out, Digital Services, Recharge (things like personal services and gym memberships), Entertainment, Travel and Shopping. Second, it analyzes users’ data and helps them set up a spending plan aligned to who they are as individuals in less than 10 min. Finally, MoneyComb helps them stay on track with easy to read metrics, indicators, ideas and tips of things they could do to save money without sacrificing their enjoyment.
How did the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University help your team in realizing your startup? The Startup Lab at Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight is an initiative to support health and finance startups in leveraging behavioral research through the application of existing findings from the field as well as original research to their ideas. We were part of the first cohort of companies at the Startup lab. They provided seed-funding and helped us fine tune our idea by exposing our team to principles of behavioral economics in Fintech. They also facilitated collaborative projects with the CAH lab members to answer startup specific product design questions. Finally, we had direct access to Dan Ariely, founder of the CAH, and one of the top behavioral economists in the world.
Let’s switch the conversation to the startup life itself. How’s it going? We launched in July 2016 through a mobile optimized version and have grown organically to over 2,000 users. We also were finalists of the NC IDEA Grant in the spring. We have also secured a partnership with a local $8B asset manager that services over 50 companies in the Triangle of NC to provide financial wellness seminars and use our tool to set up financial goals. The MoneyComb app will be released the first quarter of 2017 and we hope to continue this growth and get people started on the road to financial wellness.
What are some challenges in the startup process that you encountered? Engaging users and bringing them back to our product is something that requires as much effort and attention as building a great product. Building a good product isn’t enough. Engaging users in timely and relevant ways is crucial to the success of any start up.
Any advice you’d like to share with the readers that would be helpful? Building a startup is not easy. There will be lots of highs and lows. The key is to keep moving forward and don’t give up. As Dory says in “Finding Nemo”: Just keep swimming. Be diligent and open to ideas and opportunities.