Courtney Cardin, Co-Founder of Aura
Courtney Cardin is the co-founder of Aura — an inclusive financial wellness and investment platform leveraging behavioral psychology, rewards-based learning, and industry-standard investment practices to help underserved individuals build healthy financial habits and put their money to work.
Courtney works at the intersection of politics, policy, finance design, and implementing inclusive economic development initiatives. She has over a decade of experience building coalitions and strategic partnerships with civic organizations, community leaders, influencers, and companies, and advising entrepreneurs and impact investors to promote sustainable brands, policies, and companies.
A trained attorney with a focus on antitrust and congressional investigations, Courtney previously represented Fortune 500 clients, served as Senior Counsel for the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and an attorney for Secretary Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I would say that I was first exposed to the world of entrepreneurship through my parents. My dad ran a large Jewish philanthropic organization for 25 years and was employee number one.
My parents divorced when I was seven. Two years later, my mom opened a steakhouse, and I learned about the service industry and entrepreneurship working for her as a hostess. Looking back, I have no idea how she managed running one of the best restaurants in town as a single mom. After high school, I went to Emory undergrad, and later to Georgetown for law school — I wanted to become a public interest lawyer. Instead, I joined a corporate law firm in DC — two and a half years later, I left the firm to work for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and then on Capitol Hill as an attorney for the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees.
In 2018, my boss lost her re-election and my marriage to my college sweetheart, wealth advisor husband was officially over. I decided to move to Australia and to take control of my financial future. I joined Small Giants in Australia and fell in love with working with early stage entrepreneurs. That’s where I got the idea for creating a Duolingo for financial literacy — I thought if we could harness the resources of the private market to solve large policy issues like financial inclusion, we could change the world for the better.
I spent two and a half years struggling with my sense of loss for the life that I thought I had orchestrated so carefully. Through my own journey to financial freedom, I learned to battle a scarcity mindset, reconcile my money journey, and learn to take control of my own finances while living in a foreign country. At first it was daunting, but in the end, the sense of accomplishment and pride I felt when I finally took control of my finances was incredibly rewarding. I wanted to share this gift, the journey to financial freedom with millions of women just like me. Fortunately, a friend recommended joining On Deck — a program where founders go to find their next thing. I applied and soon after joined to pursue the idea full time. That’s also where I met my co-founder Kelsey Willock. She was working on creating more access points for women to get invested. We quickly realized that the problem we were trying to solve was emotional and behavioral, not one of access or education. We decided to combine forces and build Aura — the app we wished we had at the beginning of our financial journeys.
Could you tell us what you’re building at Visible Hands?
Aura helps people find their own investment aura and build healthy financial habits. Our money personality quiz helps people think about their relationship with money and offers guidance for improving that relationship. There are some scary statistics out there: 187 Million — 2 out of 3 — Americans are financially unwell, 1 out of 3 are financially anxious, and financial problems are the second leading cause of divorce behind infidelity. We want to take financial anxiety out of the equation by demystifying financial jargon, breaking the taboo on talking about money, and helping people get started in investing. We are working to reduce financial anxiety by giving users the space and security to design and finance the best life they can imagine.
What has your experience been like in the VH Fellowship program so far?
The fellowship has been an incredibly inspiring experience. I grew up in Tulsa, so when we gathered there for orientation — I had a lot of mixed emotions. When I grew up, I took it for granted that everyone knew about Black Wall Street and the Greenwood Massacre. I had the privilege of learning about real Oklahoma history from my dad’s good friend, Dr. Hannibal Johnson, the man who wrote the book, Black Wall Street. Being back in Tulsa with the Visible Hands cohort as the city attempts to reconcile its sordid past and rebrand as a place of opportunity, was confusing, special, and completely unexpected. That sentiment has continued throughout the fellowship and my work at Aura because entrepreneurship is deep, emotional, and complex.
What would you say is your favorite aspect of the program so far?
Visible Hands did an amazing job selecting the members of this fellowship — the cohort is exceptionally impressive, gracious, and talented. They’ve also managed to partner with experts and partners who have provided invaluable advice and support during office hours and workshops. Kelsey and I are committed to building an inclusive platform. I hear founders and investors complain about not being able to find diverse talent — Visible Hands is proving that there is a lot of untapped, overlooked potential that is hungry for a chance to get into the arena. I feel incredibly fortunate to be starting this journey with people who align with our values and who firmly believe in our mission. Initially, we were hesitant to join an accelerator, but ultimately, Visible Hands seemed like the right partner, and it has been an incredible experience ever since.
What are you looking forward to the most by the end of the fellowship?
It’s hard to say because we’ve come so far. When we were accepted into the fellowship, we were just an idea. We were pre-product and they believed in our vision. Now, we have this incredible MVP thanks to a stellar team of designers and engineers. We’ve brought on incredible angel investors with expertise across finance, psychology, engineering, and Web3 who are dedicated to this mission share our goal of building a more equitable economic system. As we come to the end of the fellowship, being able to come together with Visible Hands and be a part of their success story and help them be a part of ours, is an exciting time because we’re literally building together — our success is intertwined. That’s the great thing about being part of this first cohort.
Entrepreneurship is not easy. What is your motivation for doing this day in and day out?
I didn’t always know that I wanted to start my own company. I loved working with early stage founders because they’re so passionate about their companies and callings. I’m a policy nerd at heart and I believe in the power of technology. There are too many solvable problems that are exacerbating income inequality and destroying our planet. When I met Kelsey, I realized that together, we could build something that would actually make people happier, healthier and make the world a better place.
Where do you see yourself in 5–10 years?
Getting ready to go public via SPAC! Just kidding, SPACs are probably not going to be a thing in 5–10 years… Ultimately, we want to create a universal, accessible place where anyone can feel comfortable joining our community and engaging with their finances. We want to be a one-stop shop for all your financial wellness needs. You can bring your 401k, max out your Roth IRA, invest your HSA, take care of your emergency savings, open a 529 for the kids, and get your financial house in order. We also want to be a place where you can work to build a healthy relationship with your money by gaining the confidence not only to invest, but to have healthy conversations about finances and money and build better interpersonal relationships. The so-called mass resignation is reflective of many years of pre-pandemic changes in the workforce and a fundamental shift in the way businesses typically operate. An entire generation feels like it was sold a bill of goods about their future — that it was possible to do meaningful work and make a solid living doing what you love. Well, more and more people are realizing that maybe you can’t — and shouldn’t — find meaning in work. Instead, with a little bit of planning, you can eventually stop working hard for money and instead, can learn how to make your money work for you.
Over the next two decades, $68 Trillion dollars will change hands to a younger, more diverse generation of inheritees — 80% expect to look for new wealth management services. We are building a wealth engagement platform that teaches users how to leverage time and passive wealth building strategies in order to live their most meaningful life. Very few people have actually taken the time to answer the question — “what would a successful life look like for me?” Even fewer people actually take the time to imagine the cost of that life — but for those who do, the number is actually far lower, and far more attainable than they think. Aura asks users to create their own definition of success and then provides the necessary tools to get there.
10 years from now, Aura will be revolutionizing the way people engage with finance. We will continue expanding access points and amplifying diverse voices and will provide a platform for ongoing, inclusive conversations centered around sustainability, equity, and innovation.
We made a quiz to discover your money personality type, and according to my results, I am 50% activist and 50% thinker. No surprise there, and actually so is Kelsey. It’s kind of perfect when you think about it, we’re on a mission to bring financial wellness to the masses. We’re both passionate about solving this problem of the gender pay gap, widening inequality, and the broken economic systems. Our North Star has always been creating a place for more people to be comfortable engaging with the financial system, because more diverse representation in the system means that we can have more inclusive conversations about broken economic systems and what it would look like to promote stakeholder capitalism and build financial systems that truly work for all of us. That’s the reason we decided to partner with Visible Hands, because they fundamentally share our principles and commitment to building better systems that work for everyone.
Find out your money personality type here!