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Maia Monell: “Do something everyday that scares you”

I’m really fascinated by our society’s wealth gaps and how asset poverty is a root cause of discrimination, injustice and inequity in our country (at least). Supporting small businesses, fair lending opportunities and community funding are what we as a ‘neobank’ are focused on. Let’s see where we can disrupt! As a part of our series […]

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I’m really fascinated by our society’s wealth gaps and how asset poverty is a root cause of discrimination, injustice and inequity in our country (at least). Supporting small businesses, fair lending opportunities and community funding are what we as a ‘neobank’ are focused on. Let’s see where we can disrupt!


As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maia Monell.

Co-founder and CMO Maia Monell has experience in growth marketing and brand strategy for developing software firms as well as in global women’s development. Prior to Nav.it, Maia worked with sports technology brand Bridge Athletic and holds an M.S. in Marketing Strategy & Innovation from Cass Business School. Maia’s background in developing programs for professional female athlete campaigns and Brand Ambassadors gives her the unique experience to develop Nav.it’s authentic voice and brand promise.

At Nav.it, Maia is dedicated to building a new kind of relationship with consumers; one centered on friendship and trust, making Nav.it the most relatable and versatile money management app. You’ll most likely find her talking with Navigators or doing weird things with attribution tables and KPIs.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Settle in — it’s a long story. It was about a year and a half ago. I had just boarded a flight from San Francisco to my new home in Sun Valley after an exhausting work trip. I was head of marketing for a fitness tech company specializing in professional sports. During my Masters, I wrote a thesis on how fitness influencers had changed our society’s depiction (and therefore, objectification) of women and beauty. So, after graduating, I wanted to dive into the world of elite sports to try to see if we could change the fitness culture — more specifically, get people to realize human performance was far more than how you look in a bikini. Fast forward some years later, back to my flight to Sun Valley…

As I settled into my aisle seat (I’m 6’ ft tall, window is a cruel form of torture), I put up my black Nike hoodie, pushed play on whatever podcast I was obsessively listening to at the time, and started to reflect on the last few days. I recalled the past client visits and work-related events where I felt like I could take on the world. As I sunk into the seat, I began to ask myself “why didn’t I feel that way now?” “What had changed?” “What’s my next move?”. As I began to dive into that uncertainty, realizing I likely needed to talk this through with a professional of some sort, a bubbly brunette taps me on the shoulder to indicate she was assigned to my row’s window seat. Once we buckle in, she does what I seldom dare to, she starts talking to me.

A few of the standard woman-in-a-mans-world later and I discover my seatmate, Amy, is an executive coach well-known in the Bay Area. Needless to say, I found my “someone to talk this out with.” A week later we had our first session. Two weeks later, I decide I need to find a new job. I discovered why I no longer felt ignited by my work- I was no longer in what I like to call “thesis mode.” We had built the product, diversified the offering across verticals, were on target for profitability and empowered a solid team. More importantly, I realized my societal obsession with objectification was causal of a much larger systemic issue. Really, socio-economic disparity and a failed educational system was what was perpetuating the problem.

So, I began my search into a world I personally loved and professionally knew little about- financial services. I knew my startup cultural fit was no match for big banking or stuffy funding firms, so naturally, I turned to fintech (financial technology) to find my place. It felt natural. Finances and fitness share a lot of common ground. They’re both industries run by men and they both had the opportunity to change people’s lives.

I was quickly inundated by brands promising account aggregation, early payday financing, and deposits. Yet, none of them were focused on the customer’s primary need- a better way to bank. I circled back to Amy, who of course had the answer. She connected me with an equally bubbly and brilliant brunette, Erin Papworth, a fintech founder focused on changing the narrative around money to be more inclusive, positive, and practical. The rest is history.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

At Nav.it, we believe we need a different money narrative. For generations, we’ve felt financial conversations were too taboo to be discussed in even the most familiar of settings: the classroom, the dining room, even the bedroom. As a result, we’re left lacking confidence in necessary, pivotal financial decisions ultimately lead us down a path of financial anxiety and chronic stress. Moreover, the financial industry has largely failed to include those looking for equal opportunity and access to these resources. When we launched our marketing team had to fight advertisers who wanted to position our ads to a pre-identified demographic for financial technology- white men, ages 35–50.

Why? Because this was the group most likely to convert as they were the most familiar with other mobile financial services. That’s why we exist- to insist that financial resources and literacy must be accessible, digestible and engaging for EVERYONE. Not just for that ‘pre-identified’ demographic. Despite the cost to convert. We don’t believe some of us will forever be strapped with crippling high-interest debt. We don’t believe lending is a six-letter word you should steer clear of. We don’t believe you should keep your money moves to yourself. We’re a mobile banking app that wants to celebrate your savings goals, help you pay off that nagging credit card debt, and remind you that so long as you’re mindful of your financial habits and willing to improve those which do you harm, you’ll get to where you want to go; one day at a time. Because we all deserve a life with less fear, less stress and more freedom to pursue the journey that’s uniquely our own.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

During the darker days of my last career, there were many times I felt out of place. I was, for a time, the only woman in the office and the only one in a management role. You begin to question your actions, your responses to challenges, your willingness to shrug off unprofessional behavior. In those times I learned who my mentors were. They were a select few women and men who dared me to disapprove, to speak up for myself and to slow down and appreciate how far I had come. Reflecting on this now, I’m lucky enough to have pursued mentors who are heads of creative industries, those who had shattered ceilings, defied the odds, and came out the other side ready to help myself and other young professionals thrive in the better world they had helped to create.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. “Be patient.” I’m not patient. I’m the opposite in fact. My father’s what my mother calls a “slow burn.” It’s served him well in both his professional and personal life. I realize now that patience is everything. It will help you outperform the markets, help you land the right job, help you find the perfect home, and show you, in time, what life’s worth living for.
  2. “Do something everyday that scares you.” To be honest, I became a tennis player because it was the least frightful sport I was also somewhat good at. I was the kid in school who was told by the teacher that “just OK was fine.” As a result, for years I was scared to take a risk, excel at something new, dare to be different. I now know that you need a small dose of fear to focus your attention because once you overcome the thing that makes you fearful, you’re that much more resilient, that much more willing to take on another challenge the next day.
  3. “Believe in yourself, even when it feels like no one else will.” Back to that kid in school. I wasn’t a conventional learner in the early years. Frankly, school bored me to death and I was much more interested in a game of backgammon or tennis. So, I had to learn early that you can’t let others define who you are, who you’ll become, or how equipped you are to get there. Those teachers’ “can’t do it” attitudes are still what get me out of bed in the mornings.

How are you going to shake things up next?

I’m really fascinated by our society’s wealth gaps and how asset poverty is a root cause of discrimination, injustice and inequity in our country (at least). Supporting small businesses, fair lending opportunities and community funding are what we as a ‘neobank’ are focused on. Let’s see where we can disrupt!

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I recently read Lead Out by Melissa Orr. I haven’t resonated that well with a “professional” read in quite some time. I air on the side of ‘tough’ too often to combat the many assumptions investors, peers, and colleagues might have about me. I’m too young, I’m too ‘feminine,’ blah, blah, blah. This book helped me realize I shouldn’t compromise my more natural behaviors to ‘fit in’ with my industry. Moreover, when my partner and I decided to explore the many ways behavioral science could inform financial improvement, we were told by what felt like a million male peers and colleagues to never use the word “emotions” to describe how people felt about their money. It’s too female, too messy, too true. Needless to say, I now love saying rather matter-of-factly that your emotions will profoundly impact your spending, savings and wealth generation.

In terms of daily impact, I have to recommend The Marketing Trends podcast. It’s really comforting to have direct access to a variety of marketing leaders to help ignite new ideas and consider new opportunities for our strategy and business.

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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Several weeks ago our content team asked me to write an article on the F.I.R.E. movement (financially independent, retired early) as it’s one that has, frankly, shaken up how our industry markets to the next generation of earners. It was the same week protests broke out following the tragic death of George Floyd. As I stared at a blank Google doc wondering what the hell I was going to say about the prospect of ‘retiring early’ during a pandemic and another dawn of civil unrest in our country, I found myself getting angry. I was angry that we were presenting a misguided approach to financial wellbeing that was rooted in extremism, deprivation, and elitism.

Instead, we need to build financial resilience through education, communication, and acceptance to empower this generation of doers that if they feel confident in navigating the financial system, they can live a life empowered by their financial roadmap, not tethered to it. So, I challenged our team to think differently about financial independence. Instead, we should implement programs, pursue opportunities, and start a movement that helps everyone in our society live F.R.E.E. (financially resilient, empowered early).

Can you please gve us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be bold. If you’re going to make an error, make it a doozy, and don’t be afraid to hit the ball.” — Billie Jean King. I’m a tennis player. And, admittedly, a pretty competitive spirit. I’m also used to being the underdog. It reminds me that we can’t be paralyzed by a fear of failure when, most of the time, failure’s in your head and when good things happen, they happen because you weren’t afraid to give it your all.

How can our readers follow you online?

Check out navitmoney.com, @letsnavit and @maiamonell

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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