Tim Yu is the CEO of Pluto Money. He’s a recent UCLA grad (‘15) with a B.S. in Cognitive Science (specialization in computing, near-minor in Entrepreneurship). While there, he was an inaugural UCLA VC Fund fellow, a William F. Sharpe Fellow, and an active leader in the startup and hackathon community. He has previously worked in product and program management at Expedia and leading Brain-Computer Interface startup NeuroSky.
Susie Kim is the Chief Creative Officer of Pluto Money. She’s a recent UCLA grad (‘15) with a B.A. in Art History and a Certificate in Marketing Analytics. She was the first UCLA VC Fund marketing associate, and has worked in design and branding for several Silicon Beach startups. She previously founded Cera & Coffee Lab, a coffee roastery & ceramics studio franchise in Korea that generated over $1M in revenue.
City where you’re from:
Tim – Cupertino, CA;
Susie – Seoul, South Korea
Tim – Playing violin, mixing music, attending concerts, hardcore sports fan, hiking new trails, scenic road trips, exploring cuisines, craft beer and places; sampling food at Trader Joe’s
Susie – Living in new cities, going to museums/concerts/operas/musicals, taking spontaneous trips, motorcycle riding, searching for new favorite jazz, winery hikes, criticizing decent coffee
Tim – “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” – Stephen Covey
Susie – “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.” – Oscar Wilde
Hey Tim and Susie! What are you working on? How did you come up with this idea?
Pluto Money: We’re founders of Pluto, the personal finance app for the Snapchat generation. Pluto is currently available on an invite-only, first-come first-served basis.
Susie and I both struggled to manage our money while at UCLA. I recklessly spent most of my internship earnings from Expedia during my junior year summer, because I had no clue how to save. Susie gave up on her dream arts and language program in London & Florence, because she didn’t feel financially secure or confident.
We tried nearly every solution out there, and none worked for us. Traditional budgeting and tracking tools like Mint didn’t drive action, didn’t motivate us, required too much effort, and were filled with financial jargon. Automated saving tools like Digit didn’t educate us on our finances and behavior, and didn’t drive behavior change. We realized that current solutions weren’t designed for our generation’s lifestyle and mindset about money. So we founded Pluto.
With Pluto, there’s no more stressful micro-budgeting and wasted time staring at graphs and numbers. Our iOS app helps you reach your saving goals and improve your money habits in small, attainable increments. You can easily save for the goals you care about by completing simple challenges recommended based on your finances and spending habits. Imagine spending $50 less than your average on eating out this week, and automatically setting aside that $50 towards your favorite music festival. It’s that simple.
How is your company different?
Pluto Money: Pluto’s unique goal-challenge system drives both tangible results and long-term behavior change, while our direct competitors focus on just the former. Our approach is designed based on famed psychologist Dr. BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model and Tiny Habits method, and on how you naturally think about your money. It’s personal finance without information overload and abstract terms.
The data generated from our action-based approach also gives us deeper insights into your behavioral intents and financial decisions, allowing us to provide more meaningful and relevant recommendations for you down the road.
Finally, we’re initially targeting college students. Over 70% of them are financially stressed. It’s also a myth that they don’t have money. As of 2016, they spend $207B annually on discretionary items! A lot of them just don’t know how to manage their money. We aim to become the go-to personal finance brand for college students and beyond.
What’s your dream with your company?
Pluto Money: We want to empower our generation to make their dreams happen and achieve their desired lifestyle — by making personal finance more doable, engaging and approachable. We want to create positive relationships between people and their money, and help millions of Americans to feel confident about the financial decisions they make. Ultimately, we believe financial literacy and management skills should be easily attainable by anyone!
How do you creatively advertise?
Pluto Money: We build and leverage relationships with college student organizations that care about our mission to improve financial literacy and management skills. For example, we presented Pluto at UCLA’s first ever financial fitness bootcamp hosted by the UCLA Financial Wellness Program. We also create and share engaging content on Facebook that empathize with our audience’s financial struggles and desires.
What were your biggest failure and biggest success? What did you learn from them?
Pluto Money: Our biggest failure to date was not inviting enough people to our Alpha test. We kept it small, because we had learned enough from early data to know that we had to completely re-design Pluto from the ground up and make it more scalable. We didn’t want to risk “wasting” users. Looking back, we should’ve invited more people from our wait list, as there’s no such thing as “wasting” users! We could have uncovered more insights with statistical significance, gained more early evangelists and committed testers, and grown our momentum. Losing early users doesn’t matter in the long run, especially if there’s a huge market. You can still re-acquire them as you make improvements to your product.
Our biggest success has been launching a completely re-designed and more scalable Pluto into the App Store. Special shout out to our crazy talented co-founder & CTO Dante Monaldo, who’s somehow working full-time on Pluto while still a CS/EE/Math student at Seattle University! We had to stop being hesitant and make some tough decisions with the product to move forward, and accept that it would take time to roll out all the features we wanted. This was a culmination of all the user interviews we conducted, usage data we collected, countless design sprints, late night coding, and hard lessons learned about needing to embrace speed and imperfection.
Give the readers the best entrepreneurship advice you have.
Pluto Money: Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Always remember that what you think is the right approach might not be the best solution to the problem you’re solving, and what you think is the right assumption might be completely wrong. Being wrong doesn’t mean you’ve failed. As long as you acknowledge it and adjust, being wrong can turn into an invaluable learning experience.
Teach us something about how to change behavior.
Pluto Money: Changing behavior, especially old habits, is really hard. The most effective way to change behavior is when high motivation, high ability and well-timed triggers simultaneously converge. An example of high motivation could be a strong desire to seek pleasure or avoid pain. One way to achieve high ability (ease of the new behavior) could be minimizing the physical and mental effort required. Finally, a trigger must occur at the exact moment when enough motivation and ability is present to activate the new behavior. This could be anything from a phone alarm to a push notification to an existing routine. However, turning that new behavior into a new long-lasting habit is a whole another story… To learn more, we highly recommend you to read Dr. BJ Fogg’s paper on his behavior model theory and Nir Eyal’s book “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products”.
What should an entrepreneur focus on?
Pluto Money: Maximizing your output with the limited resources available. How can you generate the best results without mentally, physically, financially and temporally burning out? There’s no easy answer to that. You just have to keep experimenting and stay strong!
What are some of the best books you’ve ever read?
Some of Tim’s favorites:
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King
- The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
- The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil
Some of Susie’s favorites:
- The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
- What Kind of Creatures Are We? by Noam Chomsky
- Le Papillon des étoiles by Bernard Werber
Where do you see yourself and your product in a couple years?
Pluto Money: Our vision for Pluto is an end-to-end platform that understands your goals and the financial context around them, recommends you simple steps to reach those goals, and makes those steps stupid easy for you to act on. As we scale, we’ll leverage artificial intelligence, predictive analytics and contextual data to preemptively stop you from making bad financial decisions and proactively guide you to make good financial decisions. For example, we might recognize you’re walking next to your favorite Starbucks right before work, and challenge you to instead save the cost of that venti towards your trip to Europe instead! In a couple years, we hope to have improved the financial lives of millions – especially college students and young professionals — across America.
Sign up for pluto here!
Also published on Medium.