Chances are, despite the amazing education kids are getting at college, upon graduation, they are not ready to navigate life in “the real world”. It is this exact issue that arose for CEO and Founder of Realworld, Genevieve Bellaire. When she headed into her first job out of college, the HR person told her to enroll in the insurance plan of her choice. With no rhyme or reason, she picked a plan that ended up costing her more money than she was expecting.
After leaving that job, she realized she had to figure out healthcare on her own and was once again at a loss as to how to navigate open enrollment and COBRA. Her mistakes and lack of knowledge cost her $12,000 out of pocket that could have been avoided had she understood the healthcare enrollment process.
After talking with friends and family, Genevieve realized she was not alone and tons of people had similar mistakes when it came to not only healthcare, but also taxes, budgeting, filling out W9’s and more. She decided that every young adult should have access to information on how to navigate these “realworld” tasks and investors agreed. Having just finished a round of fundraising for $3.4 Million, her new app is officially up and running and the next step in her mission is to become the go-to source for young adults entering the “real world”.
“From day one, our mission has always been the same – simplify adulthood,” says founder Genevieve Bellaire.
So what is Realworld? It’s a mobile app that helps simplify adulthood by providing comprehensive guidance, tools, and resources around major life topics not covered in school. Everything from doing your taxes, getting a credit card, budgeting to filling out employer paperwork – complete with guidance, tooling, and a marketplace of curated service providers. The free platform includes nearly 100 step-by-step “playbooks” to help you feel prepared for the foundations of adulthood.
Our Interview with Genevieve Bellaire: CEO and Founder of Realworld
Tell us about your professional journey. What made you decide to launch a mobile app?
I’m a lawyer by background and started my career in the financial services industry. After I graduated from college, I went directly to graduate school, which meant that I entered the ‘real world’ later than most of my peers. It wasn’t until I started working full-time that I realized that despite being blessed with amazing educational opportunities, I was actually underprepared for many decisions around my finances, health care, taxes, and living situation that I faced after graduation.
I began talking about the problem with colleagues, friends, and family and learned that I wasn’t alone in experiencing the pain points of ‘adulting.’ I decided to launch Realworld as the solution. Initially, it focused solely on education. We launched our mobile app in May to provide the singular place to let young adults learn and then take action on those learnings, all in the palm of their hands.
Why are you passionate about Realworld? And what should people know about the company?
I got obsessed with this problem space after experiencing it myself, and it’s that pay-it-forward element that really keeps me going. Knowing that this platform can save the next generation from all the pain I experienced when I was getting started motivates me and our team to move forward through all the ups and downs. We’re building the thing that everyone wishes they had when they were recent graduates!
What are the top 3 areas that you’ve seen users need the most help/guidance in?
Budgeting continues to be the most highly used playbook on our platform! Which makes total sense, as it’s tied to almost all of the other elements from renting an apartment, to retirement savings, to health insurance. Mental Health is usually second – Gen Z is really focused on mental health, and as our platform guides them through a transitional period they’re seeking resources to help navigate change from a wellness perspective as much as a financial one.
And then Credit Cards and Apartment Search are usually tied for third – they’re both common occurrences when you’re just getting started, and they can be more of the ‘fun’ side of adulting.
How do you build content for the app?
We build all of our content in-house. The process begins with extensive research – we peruse all of the existing online sources as well as speak to certified subject-matter experts to gain an understanding of all of the elements that the playbooks need to cover. We also talk to our existing members to learn what questions they have, what verticals would be helpful for us to cover, and how they want the information delivered.
Once we have the base-level understanding, we storyboard out all of the elements and begin to connect the dots. When the framework is built, we can polish all the copy with our brand voice and really get into the heads of our members to ensure we’re speaking their language.
How did your background as a lawyer help you in launching a mobile app?
While it may not seem like a natural path, the methodology of law is actually tightly related to the practice of building our educational playbooks. Realworld takes big topics (think filing taxes, choosing a health insurance plan, etc) and breaks them down succinctly into step-by-step flows. While the subject matter is different, the task is quite similar to breaking down legal precedent and learning to apply it to future casework in a digestible and accessible way.
Tell us about your mobile development. From initial concept to design to development, can you walk us through building the app?
We always knew there was a mobile component to our platform, just because of the cohort we serve. Gen-Z is truly mobile-first, so to reach them we need to be too. We initially launched in 2020 with a mobile-friendly web platform, it’s a much faster tech stack for iteration and launching new features (no waiting for app store approvals). From the launch of the web-app, we had gotten a press feature on POPSUGAR where the headline called out our ‘Adulting App’ – we ran a screenshot of the article as an ad on social media, and got tons of inquiries to our customer service channel asking where they could find the app, people were looking for it in the app store (and we’re anxious to know when we’d be launching on mobile).
Having that much interest in the app solidified that we needed to accelerate the timeline of building our native mobile experience, so we dug in. It took a few months of designing and adapting our content for the new mobile interface, but we launched the iOS app in May 2021.
What was the most challenging or surprising aspect of building an app from your perspective?
Hiring has definitely been a challenge – before our seed raise, we were operating in a technical deficit. With the funding to grow our team, we’ve had to navigate the hyper-competitive talent market. Many people are re-evaluating what work looks like post-pandemic, so finding the right person for each role has been time-consuming. That said, building an amazing team is one of the most incredible parts of this journey and is critical to success. I’m really excited about each new member of Team Realworld, they’re already making such an impact!
Has the COVID-19 climate affected your company? And if so, how have you had to pivot during this time?
COVID-19 presented challenges for every company. We launched our new web app in April 2020, and while the launch did not look like we had initially planned, our resources were actually more critical than ever, as the Classes of 2020 and 2021 learned to navigate the evolving workplace ecosystem. We created an entirely new vertical of content around unemployment, furlough, and the impacts of COVID on student loans, leasing, and more.
The pandemic pushed us to reassess our distribution channels and monetization strategy, resulting in the decision to make our platform free! It became imperative that we allow all recent grads to access our resources during the pandemic, and we’re excited to continue to build new tools to ease the transition for every graduating class to come.
For other young entrepreneurs, what advice would you offer them about financing a startup?
I’d tell young entrepreneurs to build a network of other founders, funders, operators, and advocates who they can turn to for advice at every turn. There’s no way to know what to do at every stage of a company’s lifecycle, especially when it comes to fundraising, so it’s key to have a personal board of people who have been there before and who have either been successful at it or who have made mistakes they can protect you from making in your own business.
That also extends to choosing investors – I would advise thinking of investors like hiring, evaluate the skills that they have that will be valuable to you and your business goals. You want investors who contribute to your company in a meaningful way, not just a monetary one!
What’s your revenue model with Realworld? Are you doing partnerships with brands to be able to support a free app model?
Exactly! We previously worked with universities, licensing our platform and content for their distribution to students and alumni. As a result of COVID, we decided as a company that we wanted to provide equitable access to Realworld resources to all recent grads, regardless of where they went to college, and made our platform free.
We’re in the process of formalizing relationships with all of the best companies in each category on our platform (credit cards, renters insurance, etc) to add value and provide a more in-depth experience that aligns with our education-first platform, which will be our first effort towards monetization. Down the road, there are so many channels to grow revenue from personalized coaching to more premium features.
What does your day-to-day look like? And what do you love most about what you do?
I know every founder probably says this, but every day is truly different! From working on the product vision, to checking in on growth and sales, to connecting with new investors, talent, and other members of our network – every day presents a new challenge and an exciting opportunity. I try to block certain days for meetings and others for ‘deep work’ so I can focus for longer periods of time, but it’s the ever-changing nature of the job that I love most about it.
What does success mean to you?
To me, success is three-fold: 1. Building a company that has a meaningful impact on the next generation, 2. Building a company that people want to work at, and 3. Creating quality jobs for people. When building a mission-driven company it always comes back to impact – having an impact on our users and their experience is what drives me and my team, and that’s ultimately how we measure the success of Realworld.
How do you practice self-care?
It’s definitely about getting outside and away from my computer! As far as a routine goes, I tend to schedule time to exercise in the morning before heading to the office. Whether it’s a class or a run in Central Park, it’s what gets me up and moving and allows me to clear my head for the day. On the weekends I enjoy meeting up with family and friends to explore new neighborhoods in the city – there’s always something new popping up and it’s fun to take advantage of everything the city has to offer.
For more of a special occasion, I’ve also been loving the facials at HeyDay – they make it so easy to zen out and take time out of your day to feel pampered. Plus their membership ensures you build self-care into your month.
What single word or saying do you identify most with? Why?
‘Surprise and Delight’ – our goal is to create magic moments within our platform that continue to engage and entertain members while also adding educational value and connecting them to the best products across their adult lives. Using content and technology to bring information to life is the greatest challenge of any education-first product, but when it’s successful that’s really the secret sauce. We strive to inspire our community to be more informed, rather than just passing along the right information.
What’s next for you and Realworld?
For Realworld we’re focused on building a magical product while creating a new category. Our product roadmap is always evolving, but there are so many exciting things to share down the road. Next up is a re-design of the in-app experience, bringing our brand to the forefront!
Personally, I recently moved to a new apartment in NYC, and I’m excited to be back in the office (for the time being) with our new teammates. The collaborative energy has been so amazing as we build a company and culture taking on such an important mission.
Learn More About Genevieve Bellaire and Realworld at the links below.
Emily Sprinkle, also known as Emma Loggins, is a designer, marketer, blogger, and speaker. She is the Editor-In-Chief for Women's Business Daily where she pulls from her experience as the CEO and Director of Strategy for Excite Creative Studios, where she specializes in web development, UI/UX design, social media marketing, and overall strategy for her clients.
Emily has also written for CNN, Autotrader, The Guardian, and is also the Editor-In-Chief for the geek lifestyle site FanBolt.com