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Jon Stein on “How I Built This:” Reflecting On Our Story

Jon Stein joins NPR’s Guy Raz for an episode of “How I Built This” to look back at how Betterment started, what mistakes were made, and how they turned into learnings for the robo-advisor we are today.

Articles by Jon
By Jon Stein Founder, Betterment Published Nov. 27, 2018
Published Nov. 27, 2018
3 min read
  • Betterment was built to change the financial industry because of fundamental flaws Jon Stein saw early on in his career.

  • Jon and his co-founders didn’t get everything right; there were challenges, and these challenges made Betterment stronger in the long run.

  • Listen to the episode of “How I Built This” to get the full story on Betterment, and where we’re heading as the largest independent online financial advisor.

I share the story of building Betterment often these days—both with our growing team and also with those of you who are just getting to know us for the first time. With both our team at Betterment and the broader public, I try to help people remember the importance of what we’re building together. How distinct Betterment is compared to what’s come before in financial services—and how starkly different we are from the noisy alternatives emerging in the marketplace today.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with an expert in telling such stories: Guy Raz of NPR’s How I Built This. Raz invited me to have a conversation about Betterment and the story of how we grew into what we are today, and I have yet to have a more probing, thoughtful interview than this one.

Inside the Story of Betterment

In the episode, Raz explores our business and how it got started, but more importantly, he asks questions about what motivates Betterment’s growth—why we, as a Betterment team, keep getting up each morning to do the work that we do. “How I Built This” generally focuses on founders, on how individuals like myself learned to take risks, start something new, and create momentum for their work. But what I knew going in to the interview is that Betterment’s story is inherently about a team.

As you’ll hear in the episode, I couldn’t have started Betterment without having a team of co-founders. And our initial partnership quickly grew into an early team—including Eli Broverman, Sean Owen, Anthony Schrauth, Kiran Keshav, Ryan O’Sullivan, Adam Langsner, Edwin Chau, and more—without whom Betterment would never have launched. Then, as the business started to move forward, we made more pivotal hires, many of whom continue to lead us forward today: Ben Alden, Lucy Babbage, Alex Benke, Dan Egan, Christina Kane, Boris Khentov, Dustin Lucien, Mike Reust, and Joe Ziemer, to name a few. Many of these stars have emerged as industry leaders, and their work has gathered many more amazing, talented people to our cause.

Betterment is fortunate to have so many important team members who have been deeply invested in it—not because of money or fame, but because of the opportunity to create change in an industry that so deeply needs it.

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Everything We’ve Built Has a Story

Today, when you look at what Betterment offers—guidance for your financial goals, personalized portfolio recommendations, tax-smart technologies, and emerging cash management solutions—each element of our work is created and iterated on by a team at Betterment who could easily tell you their own “How I Built This” story.

Our own internal founder-thinkers made the undertaking of building all of our features possible. I look back at innovations that are now well-established parts of the Betterment experience, and again, I see team members still with us today who took risks and creative leaps to bring the idea from conception to production.

I’m extremely proud of our team—of how they all share my passion for building a better way to help manage your money—of how they push me in ways I couldn’t have anticipated when I started Betterment. Take a moment to listen in to my interview on “How I Built This,” and reach out with the questions that emerge for you about Betterment. We want to continue to share why we build the things we do, what value we hope they bring to our customers lives, and, importantly, how we came to build them in the first place.

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