Clever Girl Finance, started by Bola Sokunbi, is one of the largest personal finance platforms for women in the US (see numbers above). The focus is on empowering a community of women to pursue and achieve financial wellness so that they can live life on their own terms. Now more than ever, women are focused on prioritizing their financial independence, security and well-being. Clever Girl Finance offers online courses, books, a podcast and a blog. Clever Girl Finance has become a go-to-resource for women of color.
This is a big market segment that’s facing significant challenges, especially in the current economic climate and given current education costs in the US. Women hold nearly two-thirds of the nations $1.54 trillion in student debt, and black women finish their undergraduate education with more debt than other women. Furthermore, it’s well documented that women earn significantly less on average after they graduate, especially women of color. As a consequence, 57% of black female college graduates report financial difficulties while repaying student loans. As a result, women may put off saving for retirement, buying a home or starting a business. This is a big societal problem, and Clever Girl Finance is well positioned to help solve this problem.
1) Incredible Founder-Market Fit
Bola is a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI), finance expert, and best selling author on personal finance. Not only does she possess deep domain expertise, from the first time I met her in 2018, I was blown away by her passion for helping women change their money stories and achieve real financial success.
Bola is the brand. It doesn’t get much better than that in terms of founder-market fit. She lived it, she got certified, she wrote a best-selling book on the topic, and was featured on several national TV networks and built an audience of millions of people.
2) Strong Product-Market Fit
Numbers don’t lie. Especially in the current economic and societal climate, women are focused on their financial independence and security. This confirms that there’s a large group of women that benefit from the content from Clever Girl Finance. Furthermore, all types of content are growing rapidly albeit at different rates. All of this has been achieved with a small team and largely bootstrapped, which makes it even more impressive.
3) Product-Channel Fit
Clever Girl Finance has gotten several channels to work: more than 400k visits per month to the website come in through Google (SEO), through social media (~300k instagram followers), and partly by word of mouth. The podcast has been listened to over 2.1 million times and doubled its audience in the past year.
4) Model-Channel Fit
Clever Girl Finance has channel-fit for several channels that are either free or cheap. This enables CGF to have a low ARPU (see this blog for context). In fact, currently, almost all content they put out is available for free. Clever Girl Finance initially started by charging for its courses and it may do so again at some point, but it learned that it can provide exponentially more value to its community by making them free.
How does Clever Girl Finance make money then? Right now, the current traffic will enable them to remain cash flow positive and build out the team based on partnership and advertising revenue. Beyond that, there are obvious additional products to build out for this audience. The current top 3 ideas are:
1) Building out a job board that helps the Clever Girl Finance audience find jobs while helping companies to increase the diversity of their workforce.
2) Partnering with financial institutions to provide a product that makes sense for this audience.
3) Creating a product that helps with financial planning.
While the exact path forward is still being decided, it’s clear that there are several profitable areas for growth. Furthermore, this is an audience that’s generally underserved so the amount of competition is relatively limited.
5) Investor-Founder Fit
I got involved with Clever Girl Finance as a mentor during Techstars a few years ago given my experience starting and scaling an education company (DataCamp) and Clever Girl Finance’s education focus. Along the way, I started to get excited to invest as well, given the size of the market and the impact on society Clever Girl Finance can have.
Finally, I like to think through potential roadblocks for the company in the future. Besides the obvious execution risks every company faces, I think Clever Girl Finance is in a strong position given its defensible distribution channels.
The biggest challenge may be the speed/ability to raise capital in the future. A lot has been written about the lack of diversity in the investor community and how this is hurting women of color. While all these funds have done virtue-signaling posts on social media in the past weeks, I’ve been surprised that behind the scenes, they often don’t seem to do the work and research on markets they are less familiar with. It is especially surprising, given the strength of Clever Girl Finance’s founder and the market. That’s a missed opportunity for everyone.
Some sources I used to write this post are: