A Story About Fear, Shame, Expectations and Money: My Investment in The Financial Gym

Today, I can finally announce Brooklyn Bridge Ventures’ investment in The Financial Gym‘s $1.8mm seed round, which I led, alongside Alpine Meridian, Secocha Ventures and several high ranking execs from the finance world.

What’s the Financial Gym?

It’s a membership based space and service where you can work with a Certified Financial Trainer 1:1 to get financially healthy.  

What’s the Financial Gym?

This is the Financial Gym…

The Financial Gym is the culmination of founder Shannon McLay‘s desire to eliminate the “fear and shame” that comes with financial difficulty–something people are facing more than ever before.  Two-thirds of people in the US have no more than just a few hundred dollars in savingsSeven in ten college grads finish with an average of $40,000 in debt, adding up to a record high $1.4 trillion dollars in total–a 150% jump in the last decade.  And wages?  Wages have grown 0.2% annually since the 1970’s, lagging inflation.  Each new generation is forced to do more, with less, despite startlingly low levels of financial literacy–only a quarter of millennials can demonstrate a basic understanding of personal financial concepts.  People are graduating with sky high expectations of themselves and what they can do in the world, but no one ever bothered to teach them how to manage a shrinking checking account in a world of low pay, suffocating debt and high costs.  

Apps might work for the most disciplined and well off people–but the moment you have to make hard decisions about selling things to downsize, when you want to talk about a purchase, or when you need some extra accountability to stay on track you’ll fall right off of them.  Anyone who has ever had a personal trainer give you a 6AM wake up call or who has gotten grief for missing your regular Soul Cycle class knows you can’t cheat a human coach.  

Membership provides you planning meetings, follow ups, regular check-ins, as well as events at their beautiful new space in Flatiron (with more locations to come, obviously!).  There’s no downside to scheduling a free 15 minute warm-up call to learn more.  

What I also want to add into this story is a little bit about expectations.  I don’t think I’ve ever met a founder who has more expectations of themselves than Shannon.  Sure, we have a financial plan, but Shannon’s got a whisper number of her own that she’s managing to herself that I’m sure is an order of magnitude greater than the plan we set out.  Much of our interaction is around making sure not every move she makes at the Financial Gym is going to go right–even though she’s proving me wrong so far.  🙂  Her bio reads that she runs “the world’s greatest financial services company” and I honestly think it’s true–or it will be when the Gym is in every city across the country.  I don’t think there’s a single company in the finance space whose customers have the same kind of positive emotion towards a company as members of The Financial Gym.  

She also faced a ton of expectations during this fundraising.  Other investors wanted her to be anything other than what she was.  They told her to play down the brick and mortar in her pitch.  They said she should be an app.  They said she should be a bot.  

People have asked me how I’ve come to fund 20 female founders and counting, and I think I realized after meeting with Shannon what gets in the way–expectations.  I can think of countless deals that I got to a yes only after asking the question, “What do you really need to raise?” or “Are these numbers really as far as you think you can take this company?”  

I asked her if building physical spaces was really important to her and she said it was–so I asked why it was so played down in her deck.  When she said that it wasn’t what investors wanted to see I just told her she wasn’t pitching the right investors–that if she really wanted to build a brick and mortar company, she should just own that and find people who see her vision.  She fixed the deck to include her plan for multi-location, multi-city world domination with Financial Gyms everywhere and I responded with a term sheet.  

So I’ll end this story with a motto the Financial Gym uses with its clients:

“What are you working for?”

If you want to get funding, I think your best chance is if the answer isn’t “VCs”.