Entrepreneur Spotlight: Charisse Conanan (Booth ’10), Smarteys

Charisse Conanan had the seed of an idea for a startup when she got to business school, but it was at Chicago Booth that she was able to grow it into a real business. She busied herself finding a partner, building a business plan, testing out the idea, participating in competitions, and getting the school community to support her idea for Smarteys, an online platform that helps people in their 20’s and 30’s manage their money better.

She talks to MBAsocial about why she went from big-bank financial services to helping people manage their money and debt, and why she thinks business school is great for entrepreneurs.

Smarteys Co-Founder, Charisse Conanan

What is Smarteys?

Smarteys is revolutionizing the way 20- and 30-year-olds manage their money. The site provides personal and automated advice through web-based solutions on what to do with cash you do have, and how to create cash that you want to have. Basically it provides tools for cash management to help a specific demographic.

We launched first version of site in late February. The product is in private beta, with a full launch planned for late August.

How did you come up with the idea?

I was working JP Morgan Asset Management for six years, and in my fourth year, I approached the head of the business and said, “We spend a lot of time, and get paid a lot of money to manage portfolios of large institutions, but meanwhile my colleagues and I are having trouble managing our own money.”

So I started a series called “MyFi” and invited employees once every other month to attend a seminar on a specific topic – for example, estate planning, insurance, how to invest in a 401k. It had me thinking that it’s great that we’ve gotten all this interest, but I knew people were attending seminars, and then going back to their desks to go to work. It was difficult for them to translate what they had heard into action and change.

At same time, had just completed my CFA designation – and many of my friends asked me what they should do with their money; they figured since I worked for a bank, I’d know! All of this made me realize that there was a need for a solution for young people my age, who were college-educated who want to do smart things with their money. I wanted to find a solution to that broader issue.

Did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur when you started business school?

When I was thinking about this business, I didn’t have the courage or tools to launch a business from my corporate gig. I thought to myself, ‘I am going to go to business school to fill in the gaps to be an entrepreneur.’ My whole background was in the financial services sector, and I didn’t have any experience in marketing, operations, general management, or leadership skills.

So when I got to bschool I thought I’d go into venture capital for a few years, and then launch my own business from there. But when I arrived, I met a ton of entrepreneurs and decided to go for it.

[Continue to next page for Charisse's best advice for entrepreneurs]

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About Jenn Yee

Jenn Yee is an alumna of Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. She wrote an advice column for the school newspaper, *The Merger*, and called it, "Yee Olde Advice Column," because she has an extremely pun-nable last name.