Women often care to work on different problems than men, those which are more social and human.
Women solve challenges from a different perspective.
Women are better at creating generational wealth.
Women can build the work culture they want to have.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlie Javice.
Ms. Charlie Javice is CEO and Founder of Frank, the leading platform connecting students to financial aid at colleges they’ll love. Frank helps students apply for FAFSA® in under 7 minutes, match students with scholarships and get exclusive discounts on college courses.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I grew up in a household where I was told you should work toward something that you’re passionate about, and if you are successful, you not only do well financially, you can also do good in the world.
I’ve always been hugely grateful to my parents for instilling that lesson in me and for giving me the gift of education. Education has been the north star of my life, and I’ve always been acutely aware of how many people sacrifice so much to give their child that gift. I thought, if you can do that at a large scale, in a sustainable way, it would not only have a huge impact, it could be an excellent business opportunity.
That’s why I founded Frank, a digital platform to help make college more affordable through FAFSA guidance, a discounted class finder, and general financial literacy and advocacy for students. It’s been amazing to bring new technology into a system that has not seen anything new since it went online in the ’90s or early 2000s. We’re eliminating layers of bureaucracy, opportunities for mistakes, and hours of headache and heartache.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was in an Uber interviewing a potential employee on the way to catch a flight. The driver overheard some of my conversation and started to cry. I asked if he was ok. He explained that he had to drop out of community college because he was buried in payday loans to pay for it. He explained that his advisor said his Uber income would not qualify him for aid. Within ten minutes we were able to get him aid and renew his hope. You never know what conversations can be life-changing — always be an active listener.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Always be prepared. I attended my first conference when I was 16 years old. I walked up to a pretty famous CEO without recognizing him because of the company name on his name tag. I gave a short intro and pitched why we needed to work together. I also requested to speak with the CEO to which he replied, “that’s me.” I have never turned more colors of lobster red in my life. That experience taught me to be the most prepared in the room.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. 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’d love to give a shout out to Bobby Turner, one of my dear friends and now investor. He’s probably one of the most impactful people in my life so far. He does impact investing on the real-estate side out in LA and works with people like Andre Agassi on charter schools, Eva Longoria with multi-family homes, and Magic Johnson for urban funds bringing big retailers to underprivileged urban communities. He really helped me define my motto: “profit for purpose.” And purpose is the most important. You can’t have one without the other in your career.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Banker to the Poor by Mohammed Yunus. It gave me the “aha moment” that by empowering women you can lift up entire communities. The book made me switch from wanting to be an architect to create greener communities to building a financial services infrastructure to create more access and equity. One of the founding pillars of Frank is inclusivity. I think that’s reflected by the fact that more than 60% of our platform’s users are women who are now gaining financial access to education.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“If you’re not first you’re last” — Talladega Nights
You need to work twice as hard as a woman, and there’s no room to come in second.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
My company Frank is very much aligned with my theory of change. Education is a catalyst and as someone whose grandparents are Holocaust survivors, I was taught that education is the one thing you can take with you when you need to pick up and leave. It’s the number one thing to pay forward.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
- Time — many women attrite due to work/family balance challenges. Raising children and/or caring for elders will always be an issue unless you have unlimited means. Sheryl Sandberg and Merissa Meyers could build nurseries in their office or hire a team of nannies, but that’s a luxury most entrepreneurs starting out don’t have.
- Money — you need a minimum of two years of runway without getting paid if you’re thinking of starting a company. There is no shortcut. With funding disparities and lack of access to typical funding networks, it often takes longer to raise capital.
- Community — with fewer women funding and starting companies, it’s a vicious cycle. Women have less of a support system of friends going through the same experiences which is challenging.
Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
I actually don’t believe everyone should be a founder, so I don’t think people can be empowered to become one.
It requires an appetite for risk-tasking that is unnatural to most. I think the best thing we can do for women is to encourage them to learn the hard skills early on so they have the option to start their company when the time is right. Women still lag behind men in technical skills.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
- Women often care to work on different problems than men, those which are more social and human.
- Women solve challenges from a different perspective.
- Women are better at creating generational wealth.
- Women can build the work culture they want to have.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.
Inclusive investing — make it a priority to include women entrepreneurs in your pipeline when considering an investment. Empower female investors in investment committee meetings to take risk and not just present deals that check all boxes for fear of being turned down. Consensus by majority in an investment committee alone kills deals for those that still have an unconscious bias against investing in women.
Inclusive networking — do not segregate women for their own conferences or social clubs. We want to be invited to the top conferences and conversations; we don’t need an echo chamber of listening only to other women.
Inclusive hiring — more women need to manage P&Ls to create a pipeline of executives who feel confident in themselves. For entry level talent, we need more women hired early at startups. Giving people exposure to non-structured environments where they help “build from scratch” trains them well to start a company. Unfortunately, many founders today hire their bros and create barriers to entry.
Women need male mentors — we need to break down barriers, not create a sisterhood. Men have helped me the most in my career and I treasure those relationships.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If every student decided to not pay their tuition for one year, colleges would need to rethink how much they cost. Colleges would either go bankrupt or finally have to meet the demands of their students.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Thasunda Brown Duckett, the President and Chief Executive Officer of TIAA (and the former Chief Executive Officer of Chase Consumer Banking, part of JP Morgan). As only the second Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 firm, she’s a trailblazer and real inspiration. I especially admired her quote ‘I have so much gratitude for the shoulders I stand on.’
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn on @charliejavice for everything on Frank, future of work, college affordability, and student advocacy.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.