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Tina Hay: Napkin Finance, Working with Obama & Evolving

Our guest comes from a diverse background encompassing film, technology and finance.

She is the Founder and CEO of Napkin Finance, a multimedia platform where readers can learn everything about money in 30 seconds or less.

Her name is Tina Hay.

In this show, we're going to talk a little bit about Napkin Finance. We're going to also talk about what it was like to partner with Michelle Obama in the Better Make Room initiative. We're going to talk about pivoting and evolving and how that is key in business if you want to succeed, not just in business but in life as well.

We're going to cover a little about persistence. We're talking finance, entrepreneurship and life skills. As an added bonus, we're even going to get into WealthFit round at the very end, so be sure to pay close attention.

With that said, let's get to it!

Dustin
Tina, you're a student in class trying to wrap your head around numbers, heavy concepts coupled with industry jargon that unfortunately you don't know because unlike many of your classmates who came from the banking world, you didn't. This isn't any school, it's Harvard Business School. Whatever picture we had in mind about your class that you're in, I say multiply it by 100. To survive in this environment, it dawns on you to take what you're hearing complex finance topics and attempt to simplify it all by drawing it on a napkin. I’ve got to ask you, is this the start of Napkin Finance right there in that class?
Tina
Yes. The inspiration was my challenge, sitting there as a student with former bankers and consultants and have never taken a Finance course. I have a liberal arts education. I was doing film and technology. For me, as for most people, I'm a visual learner. I've always used sketches, graphics and illustrations to understand different concepts. Visual learning is a very classic concept. Freud, Mozart, DaVinci, all used it to solve their problems. Over 60% of people are visual learners. What I use for myself and the inspiration was in that classroom. It was understanding the basics of money and finance. That translated into one napkin that started off the business, which was compound interest and now has grown into thousands of pieces of assets and visual learning, which has resonated with so many people. The classroom was my inspiration. It's been an interesting journey since then and I feel very lucky to have had that experience.
Dustin
I've noticed in your career, in your path, you've been very entrepreneurial from the start. Did you sell those napkins or those drawings to other classmates struggling to keep up?
Tina
No, not at all. I didn't even think they would become. The idea was never to make this a business. To be honest, even when I started this business, Napkin Finance, it started more as a payments platform. Napkin Finance was a piece of it. The education was always important for me personally, but also there aren't enough tools and resources out there for most people who don't learn finance from their parents or in school. The thought behind Napkin Finance was it would be a fun educational tool for people to have, but it took over. I never planned for napkins to be so interesting and such a great outlet for simplifying complex topics. Interestingly, we're a digital business, but we print out physical napkins as well because people love to still have touch and hold and feel something.
Dustin
That's weird. I didn't know about the business and all the research. You print out napkins and what do you do, sell those online? Are those used as giveaways? How do you use that in your business?
Tina
We don't sell them. We give them away. Oftentimes, we're giving them away as a presale incentive for our new book. We've used them sometimes with some of our partners. We did one partnership with a large bank where they used thousands of them at a conference. We're having more fun with them right now but plan to do something more interesting with them down the line.
Dustin
Despite this world that we live in where everything is digital, you're kicking it old school as I like to say, and you're printing it. You're creating that experience for people. I believe that to be an incredibly wise move, smart move and helps the business.
Tina
It's so fascinating because you would think now everyone wants everything online, but there's something very special about having something to hold onto. The napkins are fun. The graphics are fun. It's a nice thing to have. We love them. People enjoy when they get to see them. It's something fun for us to be able to expand on over the next year or so.
Dustin
I want to take a step back before diving into the book and Napkin Finance. Before that first napkin that you penned in class or that doodle that you made, you were out raising Seed Financing from Angel investors, helping take City Tripping, a company you co-founded from inception to 30 people in two different offices within eighteen months. Tina, what do you take away from that time in your life? Starting what appears to be your first business raising money, what are some key takeaways?
Tina
I was very lucky I had a great partner. He was in New York. I was in Los Angeles. We were able to raise funding from a family foundation and from friends and family. It was before the internet 2.0 and had some exciting traction. We're doing some fun things in a space that I'm passionate about, which is content lifestyle. We grew a brand, which was City Tripping and it was called the Younger Hipper City Search at the time into publications as well. We had the number one book for adventure and lifestyle in a couple of cities. That was an amazing experience for me as my first real startup to be able to grow it and to sell it along the way. It was a fun experience for me. I had a great time working on it. I learned a lot. I still carry with me the lessons that came out of that experience.
Dustin
We have a lot of entrepreneurs in our audience and people that want to follow in the footsteps. Maybe they're in Corporate America and they want to start a business. One of the ways to do so is going out and raise money. I'm curious if you have any advice for those, maybe to do something similar.
Tina
One of the most important lessons I've learned about raising money, about starting a business has been the persistence of not giving up. I hate to say that because I believe there are ideas out there that should be businesses. They may be great lifestyle businesses, but to have an idea that scales are very hard to find. Also, a large part of that is execution. Every concept that I've thought of and I've seen my colleagues or my classmates grow, it's been about persistence and being flexible enough to let it have a life on its own, but also going after it with everything. That's one of the things that I carry with me now. There are a lot of great ideas or a lot of amazing operators. There are a lot of amazing entrepreneurs, but there are fewer people who can take an idea, grow it, scale it, find a team, build it or build a team around it, find money and see it through its growth and its ups and downs. Take it whether it's an exit or continue to grow the business. That skill is hard and I struggle with it all the time.
Dustin
I can echo that. We struggle with that duality. That's life. That's the game. You exited that business and you went into what looks like the corporate world, but quickly got back to what looks like your passion in founding companies and doing things. Along that journey, what was the thing that brought you back to the napkin and getting behind Napkin Finance?
Tina
I come from a real estate family. I thought I would go back into real estate but also finance because that's what my background was at that time. I realize very quickly that my passion was starting a business and was more entrepreneurship in technology. I quickly went back into the tech world with another startup that was before Napkin Finance, which was an outsource HR business, which was a great business to run. Again, another more of a lifestyle type of business. Also, I was itching to start something that I was super passionate about and that's how Napkin Finance was founded. It was something that I wanted to do for a long time. Education is key for me. Bringing that world together, creativity with the financial world is something that is very unique. I brought in a different perspective than traditional financial service firms can bring in. It's been fun to see it grow and start off as an idea that's evolved and grown into something amazing and helping a lot of people, which is powerful.
Dustin
Tina, you said it started off as a payment platform. What I gathered from that was the pivot into Napkin Finance unless it still exists. The question would be, how did you know when to make that pivot? A lot of businesses start one way and end up in a completely different thing.
Tina
The big thing was I was listening to other people. I was listening to people, our customers. I was listening to partners. I was listening to feedback. It was one of the hardest decisions for me. We're going through a similar thing right now where we're evolving every year and expanding. We're now in 80 million households. Being able to tune into what people want is such a struggle and challenging because again if you had told me I'm going to be in the content business, I would tell you you're crazy. I had done it once before. It's very hard to do. It's an incredibly difficult business model in some ways, but it's also an exciting area of content that we're working in. What was key was people were telling me what they wanted and we were listening, the team was listening.
Dustin
Napkins being one of that or not even napkins. It's this idea that you're taking complex information for most everyday Americans and people around the world and you're simplifying it so that they can understand it. That was what came out of listening to the feedback.
Tina
People were loving the napkins. We'd have people who would request partnerships and request content. We were looking at our analytics and that was something that was resonating. To this day, I still get emails all the time from people, our readers, who tell us what they want and what they're looking for. Oftentimes, we're so busy servicing our existing partners or working on projects that I have to take a step back often and see what is it that's working, where is the demand, where is it people are asking for? That has been integral in everything for the company and how we've grown, how we've evolved, how we continue to have a vision for where we're headed.
Dustin
I'm going to name drop a little bit here. Michelle Obama, UBS, Chase, Harvard Business School, Cornell, many others, you have some incredible partnerships. I'm curious what led you into partnerships?
Tina
It's interesting because it’s funny enough to this day we don't have a business development or sales team. We started off with partnerships because they were exciting. Some of the ones that were presented to us early on working with Michelle Obama and her Better Make Room initiative while she was at the White House, working with JP Morgan Chase, UBS. That list has expanded now to include numerous financial service firms. Also, what's interesting for us is we have a lot of opportunities to help companies, nonprofits, organizations and universities.
Those come to us quite often and we are so excited about them because it enables us to be more creative with our content. We can be very flexible and do interesting branding and graphics to complement their existing platforms. Also, we are helping people with our philanthropic arm. The company has a certain amount of resources. This is from day one. We've dedicated resources, time and funds to help nonprofits and other organizations by providing tools and content for organizations like Better Make Room.
For example, a new one is the US Olympic Committee helping athletes with their unique tax considerations and finances. Most of them are contractors. That has its unique needs when it comes time to think about them. We've been very lucky. Partnerships have given us the ability to scale very quickly. It has given us additional distribution. We also love learning from our partners. We learn a lot from them, from what people are looking for, where the demand is, where we can be most helpful. It's been such an incredible journey to again be able to partner up and collaborate with some of the best brand names around.
Dustin
I can imagine if people could ask questions, if they could come through, this was the question they would ask, especially a lot of the entrepreneurs on this show. You have some incredible partners. I'm curious as to what advice you might have in terms of getting your foot in the door with these people or any sponsor. What is a way to cut through the noise and cut through the clutter so that people have the opportunity to even pitch or present a partnership deal?
Tina
It's very unique, depending on what the product or the brand is. I feel like one of the things that we do well is we always provide some useful service or content. In partnerships, it's what you bring to the table. First of all, as a team, we go above and beyond to make sure that what we're providing is impactful and helpful. That's number one. Number two, we always offer to do proofs of concepts to test out the content, to make sure that it is helpful. We're very transparent with our metrics, with how we measure our engagement. We want our partners to be able to have an experience where they're able to have the same excitement from their readers or the same engagement and additional loyalty, everything that they would want from working with us.
One of the things that we offer to answer your question is that we have a product that they want. Number two, we have a team that is very flexible and fast and can service our partners to the best of our ability. The third one is we're always looking ahead and seeing where we can step in and make suggestions where we can be helpful. It's not easy to reach a lot of the top brands that may not have existing initiatives that are relevant to every partnership. The key thing is also not to waste your time knocking on everyone's door when there isn't someone that's going to be championing your brand and you. We've been lucky. We've had a great product-market fit. We've had great content that is useful and impactful and also cheerleaders within these companies that have taken us much farther than us running after them myself.
Dustin
I am curious, Tina, about the story of the first deal, the first check, the first contract. In your particular case, who was the first, if you can share, and how did you land them?
Tina
Our first real partnership was UBS. We were very lucky to work with them. It's an amazing brand. It's a global brand with an amazing aesthetic. We have been able to collaborate with them and create remarkable, interesting products and assets that educate their clients and readers. That was the first real big partnership we had. Michelle Obama's Better Make Room was another one, which was exciting for us because a big initiative for her and for the president at the time were educating and empowering college students to take advantage of resources to pay for college. That's a big thing. FAFSA and all of these federal funds that were more complicated, they are responsible for making FAFSA much easier and much more seamless over the last few years. That's been exciting. Educating students on opportunities to seize ways to pay for school and plan to find loans and funding for their education. That was an exciting partnership and fun to work.
Dustin
The big thing that I hear is put that product together. Your product, what you offer, taking complex ideas, simplifying and making them visual was your calling card to get a lot of these folks because this subject area and many others are sometimes hard to communicate. You've simplified and that got people knocking on your door in order to do these sponsorships. Is that a good summation there?
Tina
Yeah. What we do well is that simplified process and we bring together the financial experts in the creative together. That's what we do well. We bring together two different processes, two different ways of thinking. Being able to distill important complex facts into a small space and have a napkin is an art. We've worked with hundreds of writers and illustrators. Not every writer, even the best writers can't necessarily simplify topics the way some others can. It's a process and we've found a great team. We work well together. That makes our product shine in our final product.
Dustin
I want to get into the book, Napkin Finance: Build Your Wealth in 30 Seconds or Less. That's a big promise there in the second half of the actual title. How is the book fulfilling that?
Tina
The book, we'd had so much fun with it and the response we've already had were people who have read it have enjoyed it. The great thing about the book is it's almost an expansion of the brand and that we continue to have the visual napkins combined with some content, fun facts, quotes and one-liners. It's 60 chapters or so about everything from the basics of money and finance like budgeting, credit savings to more complex topics like cryptocurrency and game theory. We do this again in a very visual format and the book has been a lot of fun for us to put together, but it came together. It’s a wonderful read. We've had a great response so far. We're excited to get it out and get it into people's hands.
Dustin
Tina, who would you say the book is for?
Tina
Our readers, our audience and our following are all ages. We're in the process of doing a show with NBC Learn for kids, which are kids from K-12. We also work with ARP and they're invested in a new platform, which is a little bit of an older audience. What's been fascinating is there is no age window when it comes to financial literacy. Our core audience are Millennials and young adults. We connect with older women who've never had a financial education course or never have taken their finances into their own hands. We also deal with younger kids. A lot of parents introduce our content for their children. It's been fun to see that it has resonated and connects with many different kinds of age groups.
Dustin
When you design a piece of content, is it universal? Meaning what you're going to put in front of kids, is that the same thing that a member of the ARP sees or is it niched down? You're going to simplify things and put different things. How do you take the content there?
Tina
It's very interesting because we discussed this with quite a few of our partners. A lot of topics in finance are evergreen. If you're talking about savings, budgeting, credit, building credit or interest, those topics are pretty standard. Even within a brand, it's possible to change it around and change the messaging, the voice, the look and feel to make it very specific for a certain demographic or age group or audience. We work with our partners and making sure that's the case. If you see our content on one platform, on UBS, for example, it's very different than on ARP. You may not even recognize it except for the powered by napkin finance, but it's very different depending on what the context is, where it's placed but also the branding and the guidelines.
Dustin
I'd like to know what do you hope people walk away with when they pick up a copy of the book?
Tina
I know my team, we'd love for people to learn something but also be entertained at the same time. Our motto is, “Entertainment, engagement and empowerment.” The book does all of that. It's a fun read. It's very visual so it's not very academic and will bore people the same way if they cracked open a finance book. It's something that I find that people would want to buy for themselves and would want to read versus a traditional financial education book or pamphlet.
Dustin
One of your partners, I noticed on the site, is Banorte, which is Mexico's largest pension fund. I also noticed that you have a Spanish content director, Oriana. The reason I bring this up is I've often heard people say that this market is an emerging one. Have you found this to be the case?
Tina
It's fascinating for us. We love working with Banorte. The content we create for them is both in English and Spanish. We have the entire Napkin Finance platform in Spanish. If you go to our website, most of the content you can click over to Spanish. We have a team that is responsible for that. It's been a very interesting process for us. It is a very interesting and growing population in the United States where people are looking for content in Spanish but also empowering them with finances. One of the most interesting things we've discovered is that whenever we look at our site analytics, our top ten is always clicked on our Spanish content.
We don't do any promotion or marketing around it. There's a big need for more high quality, fun, engaging content that is in Spanish and is directed towards the English and Spanish speaking audiences in the United States and abroad. Mexico is one of our big partners, but we have also worked with partners in Spain. Even our book is being translated into Korean and Japanese. The beauty of Napkin Finance and the visuals is that it's easy to translate. You can digest it in so many different languages, which has been fun for us.
Dustin
I'm interested in the conversation that goes on with the creatives. I was hoping you could shed a little light here in terms of taking ideas and getting them onto that napkin. Are there intense conversations about what goes on and what doesn't? How do you arrive on that final message?
Tina
We have a whole process where we'd take the raw content and we come together as a team, the creative part of the company and also our writers. We work together. It's a very interactive process. Also, we involve our partners so we have a whole process that we've put together that makes that very seamless. It’s something that is collaborative in a way where we're highlighting what's important for the audience, also for accuracy and also making sure we pass compliance. Even though a napkin looks very simple, there are a lot of factors we take into consideration before it comes out. For example, for some of our banking partners, we can't show an arrow that points up because that's promissory or a pile of cash. Each compliance division has its own concerns and regulations. Whenever we do come together, we make sure that accuracy and integrity to the brand and the content and all of the legal issues are a high priority for us.
Dustin
Tina, there are so many things on your plate. You mentioned the NBC project that's out there. You've got a book coming out and you're working with big brands. What are you most excited about right now? What are you working on outside of the things that we've already discussed?
Tina
All of those are super exciting. A lot of the nonprofit, philanthropical work is exciting for us. We started a 501(c)(3) for Napkin Finance that has a few different areas of focus. One is women and girls, but another one is generally helping different organizations. It ranges. I was in meetings with an NGO that does disaster relief and was the first one in The Bahamas, in Puerto Rico. We're helping explain the process of emergency response and emergency preparedness. These are exciting things that we're able to contribute and help people with. The company is for-profit but for good company and part of our DNA is this helping and giving back and impacts. Right now, that's a popular thing, but we live it and breathe it.
That gets me more excited than anything else than any of our other partners. I love working with all of them, but to be able to do the things that we do is fun. The other is expanding the platform. We're not in finance, but we've done some work on the elections in 2016. We did a napkin on campaign finance because that's a complicated issue. We're doing more timely content like tariffs on Apple on how it became $1 trillion company. We did a napkin on Kylie Jenner on how she became one of the youngest self-made billionaires. All of these fascinating topics that you don't understand what is happening behind the scenes. That's been fun as well. The other part of it is expanding the platform and library and growing the business. There are so many people we are hoping to help empower, especially people who are starting out and who are not able to participate in investing, saving and don't even know where to begin.
Dustin
We most certainly can appreciate that. It sounds like you may cover topics in the future that might not necessarily be related to finance. Do you believe there's always some financial element at the core of any situation?
Tina
Yeah, it's called financial wellness. In the world of wellness, whether it's your health or your personal life, your family, work, everything is tied to financial wellbeing. Money is such an important aspect of all of that. We see it as people having a choice, of having a very vicious cycle of taking on debt early on. They’re suffering the consequences or the other path is starting early, being empowered, making better decisions and having a virtuous path, which we hope to support for all ages.
Dustin
Tina, I want to move us into WealthFit round, which is my fancy name of rapid-fire questions. What would you say your most worthwhile investment has been?
Tina
I'd say my most worthwhile investment has been in myself, continued learning and building my own personal knowledge and skills, which I continue to do every year.
Dustin
What's that investment you'd rather not talk about? Where's that misstep?
Tina
There are many of them. It’s not starting to invest earlier in my life.
Dustin
When you are not taking missteps and life is good, you want to treat yourself to something. You landed a big partner. Things are cooking and things are great. What's that guilty pleasure spend of yours? What's that splurge for you?
Tina
I would say it's most likely travel, which I love. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of time for it since I'm on the road quite a bit. Travel is like an amazing thing that I joke with people. Your whole experience traveling, it doesn't matter where you're going. It's also how you travel and who you're with. Travel when done right and with the right people is one of the biggest joys that I personally have.
Dustin
Would you say the place matters or it's more about how you travel and who you're with?
Tina
I'd say the place matters. My theory is 70% is who you're with and how you get there in your hotel and your experiences and the 30% is the actual destination. You can go to the same city with different people, have a bad hotel experience and have delayed flights. You'll have a very different experience. Part of the actual travel, the people and those types of experiences are important. The destination is important but not as important as how you get there.
Dustin
I have not heard that. I appreciate that. That is a good one. In the last few years, what have you become better at saying no to?
Tina
I was having this conversation, saying no is so difficult. What I've learned is that I've had to say no to exciting opportunities to be able to focus on other ones. I've said no to a lot of commitments that seem in the short-term to be exciting and rewarding but in the longer term, don't fall into the categories that I am focusing on in my life. There are a lot of things I say no to now and a lot of people and opportunities, businesses, collaborations. In the longer term, it's all about focusing on what's important.
Dustin
Tina, you have confidence, which leads us to this next question. It does not appear to me that you have fear or self-doubt. I know that many people do have that and it stops them from achieving their goal. If you experience fear and self-doubt, what do you do to overcome that to get to where you want to go?
Tina
I have fear. As a solo founder of a company without a partner, I have a great team and we bounce ideas off each other. I do always think about how I could be a better leader and manager. I think always about how I could be doing more with the company as far as other opportunities that I'm not exploring possibly or thinking about or if we could be growing faster than we are. There's always this feeling of like, “Am I going down the right path?” There's no easy answer. We're in a space where there are so many different directions we can go. I'm always thinking about how to make decisions that put us in opportunities instead of taking us backward. That's been a challenge. It's a challenge for me every day.
Dustin
To get yourself in the right frame of mind, do you have any special routines or rituals that you do?
Tina
I do. I'm very big on making sure of a healthy mind and healthy body. I do meditate. I'm a big outdoors sports junkie and I do work out a lot. I'm out and about every day doing some activity or trying to move, which helps me think more clearly. I have some of my best ideas when I'm running, I'm doing yoga or some activities. The balance of working with things that satisfy and nourish my mind and body is what keeps me balanced.
Dustin
Looking back over your career, over your life, what would you say your biggest defining moment is? I'm talking about a single moment where you chose to take a different road and looking back, you now know you're in a different spot because you made that decision.
Tina
That decision would be going to business school, taking a break in my career and making a shift. I had a great business, an amazing business I was running and I had never thought I would go back because I'd always wanted to go back to school. The thought of moving to a different state, I live in Los Angeles. I went to school in Boston was a big shift for me, but it changed my trajectory. It changed my life, both personally and professionally, and continues to impact every decision I make and has helped me with every aspect of my life.
Dustin
Tina, that's not the easiest decision, especially if you're going to leave your own state all the way on the opposite side of the country here. I got to imagine your friends in the working world were saying why do that? How did you know or how do you essentially sell yourself like, “This is the right decision for me at that moment?”
Tina
I live in Los Angeles. I applied to UCLA locally. I thought I would do maybe like an executive program or something that would complement my professional life and not take away from it. I had a GMAT instructor who said to me, “Your grades are great and you should apply to the Ivy leagues.” I said, “There's no way I'm leaving town.” She's like, “You should apply.” I applied to Harvard to see if I'd get in. Even after I got in, I was like, “There's no reason for me to get up and go.” After thinking about it and talking to other people, it was a no brainer. I was very lucky to get in. I'm grateful to the school and have gained so much from it. I owe it to also to my GMAT instructor who convinced me.
Dustin
Do you experience overwhelm?
Tina
I do.
Dustin
How do you overcome it?
Tina
I always know that it'll pass. I try to like to let it go and let things sort out for themselves. I do get overwhelmed, but it's interesting. The more I say no and the more I focus on things that are important, the less overwhelming things are because I know that I made the decision to remove certain opportunities that aren't serving me in the short-term. I'm easier on myself now. I used to be much harder, but now I realized that being overwhelmed is not a bad thing. It's part of running a business. It'll pass and it's a roller coaster. There are weeks where I'm trying to come up for air. There are other weeks where I can spend more time being creative with my team. I go with the flow and let things take their course and believe that the best will happen for me regardless of what it is, whether it looks like it's not the best option in the short-term and the long-term, everything works out.
Dustin
Tina, it's been a real pleasure having you on the show, sharing wisdom from all spectrums here. For people that are interested in the book, for people that want to continue the conversation, check out Napkin Finance and everything else that you offer and create in the world. Where's the best place for people to do so?
Tina
We have on our website, NapkinFinance.com. There's a link to the book. It's available on Amazon or at independent stores around the country. Otherwise, we're on social media, @NapkinFinance on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We love hearing feedback or any thoughts on upcoming Napkins or topics that we haven't.
Dustin
I appreciate everything that you're doing, taking such a complex subject and making it more excepted and understandable to everyone is very similar and in line with our mission here at the Get WealthFit show. Thanks for everything that you're up to in the world. I want to encourage everyone to go check out Napkin Finance and pick up a copy of the book.
Tina
Thank you so much for having me.

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