Kelly Peeler, 29, has had a knack for building and growing a business that started long before her Ivy League days.
As an 11-year-old growing up in New Jersey, Peeler would dumpster dive for old furniture and refurbish the pieces with an antique look, then sell them for up to $3,000.
“I have always loved selling things,” she told Business Insider.
Peeler is now founder and CEO of New York-based startup NextGenVest, which helps students navigate the complicated financial aid process. She looks back on her prior business endeavors — she also founded an Iraqi student-run incubator called Business Across Borders — to pinpoint her biggest advice on growing a business.
“Be completely obsessed with your user and be empathetic,” Peeler said. “Once I become hooked on a problem, I become obsessed with it,” she continued. “I want to learn everything there is to know about it … and become number one in the world at solving that problem.”
In 2010, Peeler graduated from Harvard University and began working in JPMorgan’s financial institutions group — a division within its investment bank. She worked with private equity clients interested in indirectly shorting the student-loan market. That work illuminated, in Peeler’s estimation, what she described as “the next financial crisis.” She quit her job at JPM and threw herself into helping young people navigate the student-loan system.
As she grew the company she realized that she couldn’t do it all. “Delegate your weaknesses,” Peeler said. “Early on I would try and do too much,” she continued. Surrounding herself with a competent team, including the more than 200 “money mentors” who advise students, was essential in creating the business.
Today, NextGenVest serves tens of thousands of people, according to Peeler. The company targets the “Snapchat Generation,” providing free assistance to students filling out financial-aid forms, or advising on accepting packages at schools that make the most financial sense. Much of this work is done over text message and late at night, when NextGenVest says most young people are looking for help.
Again, Peeler points to her passion for the work as what the drives the company forward. She says she’s always thinking of her users — the college students who feel “so lonely that they don’t know where to turn.”
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