It’s easier to grow through partnership than on your own. Early on, I was not always comfortable reaching out to others working in financial literacy to collaborate and partner. It felt like I had to prove myself on my own before I could partner with others. However, I found building meaningful partnerships and relationships is a much faster way to reach a larger audience and to support and help other entrepreneurs at the same time. Competitors can be partners especially if you know your target audience and can find people who are complimentary and not overlapping.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eryn Schultz, founder of pHERsonal Finance Day (PFD), a provider of online courses for high-earning women. She is a graduate of Harvard Business School and Georgetown University. Before founding PFD, Eryn worked in management consulting, managed a retail store profit & loss statement, and ran the sales operations team of a venture-backed startup.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/6734a3f33d15a459399ea9b74fcfba45
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Houston, Texas and am a fourth-generation Texan. My family was part of a tight knit community where we swam swim team at the local pool and spent summers at the beach and lake with my 10 cousins who were all close in age. My grandfather was an entrepreneur, and my dad and uncle took over the business he started. My mom also had her own business as did her father, my uncle, etc. I didn’t dream about starting my own business as a kid, but I definitely had a lot of examples in front of me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” After graduating from Harvard Business School, I made the unconventional choice to work in operations for a Texas-based grocery chain, H-E-B. The job at H-E-B was learning and then running a 50M dollars profit and loss statement. From my five years in management consulting, I knew how to build an Excel model or a slide deck, but I did not have experience managing teams of 300-people or being responsible for an organization’s bottom line. At one point, I was tasked with turning around a bakery whose sales were lagging that of the rest of the store. Cakes weren’t ready in the display case when the store opened, we were running out of bread on Sundays, we had frequent staffing shortages in the evenings, etc. When I went to one of my mentors for help, he asked me “How do you eat an elephant?” When I said I did not know, he responded, “One bite at a time.” Building on this advice, I started by working on the root cause of most of our issues: inadequate staffing. We focused on hiring and training new team members. Then, we moved the schedule of some of the bakers and cake decorators to start earlier in the day so they had more time to prepare for store opening. Slowly, the bakery sales caught up to the rest of the store and started to grow. As I started my own business and was struggling with building a website, hosting my first event, etc., I carried with me the advice of starting small and building. I couldn’t do everything at once, but if I focused on the biggest issues and worked systemically, I got where I wanted to go.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I love “How will you measure your life” by Clayton Christensen. Professor Christensen was a Rhodes Scholar and a leading management thinker. He had the guts to tell his first employer Boston Consulting Group that not only would he not work on Sundays (it was the Lord’s day), but that he would also not work on Saturdays (it was the day for his family). When I teach my 10-week money course, I always start by asking the three questions Clay Christensen posed in his book “How Will You Measure Your Life?” First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail? I sincerely believe that money is a tool and not an ends in and of itself. We should use money to support where we want to go in life, and aim to always have enough money to walk away from a job that is taking us away from our family or pushing us in directions we feel morally uncomfortable.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Before the pandemic, I spent five years in management consulting, two years pursuing my MBA, two years working in retail store operations running my own profit & loss statement for about one year, and three years running analytics and sales operations for a venture-backed school food company. I bring all of that experience to my one-woman new venture.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Shortly before the pandemic, I held a workshop for the Women’s Student Association at Harvard Business School. The workshop was titled “Two things you can do in school to manage your money.” We had an overwhelming response. Over 100 women signed up within 24 hours of posting the event. As the pandemic spread and I got feedback from participants in the original workshop, I decided to launch an online class based off the in-person event. While I had originally anticipated growing through in-person events, I realized due to COVID there was a desire for a more comprehensive money curriculum that could be conducted virtually. I had 18 women sign up for my inaugural 10-week money class which I believe was driven in part by the pandemic. What better time to focus on your money than when much of the normal hustle and bustle of life is on pause?
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
I initially became interested in personal finance when I was working in retail store operations. My employer offered a match but, I found that only 35–40% of eligible employees around me were participating in the 401K. As people at work heard that I had some financial know how, they started asking me how much to contribute to get the full match and what the difference between a Roth and traditional 401K was. As I talked about this experience at home with my peers, I realized that confusion about personal finance was not specific to my employer. Even MBAs were confused about what to do with their own money. That’s when I realized. You pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for an MBA, and emerge well equipped to manage a company’s finances. However, you are much less equipped to manage your own finances. That’s when I decided to start this business.
How are things going with this new initiative?
I will graduate my 100th course participant in December. All of my classes have been filled via referrals or word of mouth, and women have taken my class have opened high-yield savings accounts, made plans to pay off credit card debt, maxed out their IRAs or 401Ks for the first time, rebalanced their portfolios, and broken up with financial advisors that weren’t supporting them in achieving their financial goals. I’m so grateful to the women who have trusted me to take them on this journey. My next class is starting in January and for the first time, I’m offering two cohorts. One for MBA and one for non-MBA women.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I just got married earlier this year and my then-boyfriend, now husband has been supporting me every step of the way. Not only did he read and edit all of my initial blog posts on money, but he supported me spending every Sunday of the early-pandemic days building out and creating this course curriculum. He also encouraged me to quit my job and pursue this full time even though we were about to formally combine our finances. Thank you for empowering me to walk away from a meaningful and predictable salary, and bet on myself.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Friends from college and high school who I have lost touch with started following me on my social channels and then signed up for my classes. It’s very rewarding to have people come back into your life that you may not have spoken to for ten or more years. I’ve been able to help friends navigate pensions, increase their 401K savings rate to 10%, and figure out how to invest now that they’re earning a higher salary. The results and relationships make the uncertainty and stress of entrepreneurship all worth it.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Most businesses don’t go viral overnight or have a big launch. When you first start a business, it may enter the world with more of a ripple than a splash and that’s ok.
- Build a thick skin and work through rejection. A lot of being an entrepreneur is selling yourself. If you send ten emails to connections or friends asking them to spread the news of a new product launch or to sign up themselves and one responds that’s still a win. Sometimes it’s the follow up emails, which for me are often harder to write, that really seal the deal.
- Iterate, iterate, iterate. You aren’t going to get it all right the first time. Ask for feedback. Don’t take it personally.
- You’re going to make mistakes. In my first class, I forgot to start the recording. I then held a makeup class and the recording didn’t upload. I beat myself up about this mistake for a while but the course participants were very understanding, and they still referred their friends!
- It’s easier to grow through partnership than on your own. Early on, I was not always comfortable reaching out to others working in financial literacy to collaborate and partner. It felt like I had to prove myself on my own before I could partner with others. However, I found building meaningful partnerships and relationships is a much faster way to reach a larger audience and to support and help other entrepreneurs at the same time. Competitors can be partners especially if you know your target audience and can find people who are complimentary and not overlapping.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Less phone time at night and on the weekends. Focus on things you can control and not on what you cannot.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
That is a compliment that I aspire towards, but I’m not sure I have great influence yet. However, I believe that we can all fight for something bigger than ourselves, and these days, I feel most motivated to spur collective action on the climate. I’m from Houston where I’ve seen firsthand the impact of more frequent storms and flooding. My grandparents, aunts and uncles, and colleagues have all lost their homes due to flooding. However, the impact is greater in low-income communities and communities of color with less safety net. I wish the Federal government would put money behind the Ike Dike, a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project which would protect the Gulf coast and the homes of so many people I love.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to have lunch with Senator Elizabeth Warren. One of my passions is fighting for the little guy and making the world a more equitable place starting with 401K plans and financial products. I would love to talk to her about the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the history of the 401K, how we can make benefits like the 401K portable, and how to better support Americans in saving. Plus, I would also love to lobby her on behalf of the Ike Dike for Texas!
How can our readers follow you online?
Follow me on instagram @her.finance.day for financial tips and thoughts on the broader economy.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!