Aura Finance

Kelsey Willock
Courtney Cardin
This article is part of a revealing series of founders who met co-founders through On Deck. Finding the right co-founder is exceptionally hard, especially if you don’t share a history through friends or prior work. You’ll walk away from this piece with an intimate look into the co-founder relationship of these talented founders, how they navigate co-founder issues, and what advice they’d give others seeking their missing piece. You can head here to learn more about On Deck.

When Courtney Cardin and Kelsey Willock met at On Deck, they quickly realized that they were solo founders approaching the same core problem from different angles: 72% of founders suffer from mental health issues and the heightened pressure of making decisions under increasingly challenging economic conditions. While personal mental health solutions exist, Courtney and Kelsey identified a dearth of support for financial well-being. So together, they are building Aura, which targets the root of many people’s overall anxiety: their relationship with money. 

Why are you two the right people to solve this particular problem?

Kelsey: We were both personally affected by what we’re solving. I graduated college with a ton of student debt and massive financial anxiety, and I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to work for Goldman Sachs were I was surrounded by people that taught me the power of investing, and I ended up investing to counteract my student loan interest rate and pay off my debt much more efficiently by learning how to make my dollar work smarter, not harder. I wanted to open up access points for people to start investing, especially women. But people don’t just need educational access points, they need emotional support. There’s massive value in that. 

Courtney: I was a corporate lawyer working for the Clinton campaign on Capitol Hill and I was married to a wealth advisor, so I was making decent money and I wasn’t really worried about finances. But a number of things happened that led to us separating and divorcing, and in that moment I thought: Oh, I really should have been paying better attention because now I’m thirty and having to manage my finances for the first time. So I left law and started working in investing, and even now that I know what I’m doing, there’s still a level of anxiety and tension around it, and a lot of that comes down to the way that I was raised. Many people feel that way, and there are concrete ways to help people feel better about their relationship with money. We’re trying to show people that you can have your cake and eat it too — you can invest so that you can quit your job and pursue your side hustle full time, or you can finance some sort of wedding or fertility treatment without having to liquidate your entire account. It’s already hard enough for millennials to feel like they’re adulting with inflation going up (and half of people moving in with their parents during the pandemic). We’re just trying to get back to this place where we can actually feel secure about the decisions that we’re making. 

You two are extremely mission aligned. What was your first impression of one another when you met?

Courtney: I entered On Deck while I was consulting for startups, but I had an idea for ‘Duolingo for financial literacy’ floating around in the back of my mind. I was a lawyer and I didn’t know how to get any of that started. Kelsey’s profile was one of the first ones I came across, and I was like: Oh, she’s working in finance, this person might actually know something about what I’m trying to do and might even have some ideas that can help me. I was immediately drawn to her. We ended up putting together weekly virtual happy hours in the middle of COVID (which also included Maggie Norris, the founder of Aidaly). During those hangs, I uncovered that Kelsey was actually working on the same issue from a different angle, so we thought: it’d be much more fun to do this together. And it has been much more fun.

Kelsey: One of the moments that stood out to me most was when we were navigating whether we should go all in together. It’s like dating; we had to see how we worked together, what our different working styles are. We both ended up saying yes and taking the leap together. But I really think of it as this dating period — it was really a fun time, because it’s hard to do this alone. I knew I didn’t want to be on the founder path without someone else that was taking it with me. 

How did you weigh having a co-founder versus getting started on your own?

Kelsey: When you work with someone, they’re not always going to have the same ideas, and they’re not always going to agree with you. Courtney and I are both strong-minded people and we have different ideas about things. But no matter what ideas we come up with, I think they’re always better together because we can combine our ideas or push each other’s ideas to make them better. Just having someone to be accountable to and who will challenge you has been enormously helpful. I don’t have all the right answers. When you’re operating on your own, there’s no one to tell you that, but when you have a partner, there is someone to be like: Hey, maybe that doesn’t make as much sense as you think. 

Courtney: As a money coach, I talk to people about regular relationships all the time, because money affects every relationship you have. Partnerships are hard in general. My mom used to say that in any relationship, both parties feel like they’re doing 75% of the work. And so having really good communication and talking about how you’re feeling and how your needs are or aren’t being met is super key. A co-founder relationship, where the odds are that you’re going to fail, is especially hard, but doing it alone is just so much more isolating and difficult. Kelsey and I are very in tune with each other and when one of us is having doubts we can support each other. Having someone to remind you to not just look at the losses. Having someone to celebrate the small wins with is the most valuable part of any partnership. 

What does the world look like if Aura is successful? 

Courtney: Our educational systems aren’t serving us. They are outdated and designed to create a worker economy, not to help humans be humans. We don’t teach people about financial strategies, we don’t teach people about nutrition, we don’t teach people about emotional intelligence. Aura is one part of that puzzle. If people can be more economically independent and financially secure, not only will they be able to design and finance truly meaningful lives for themselves, but they’ll be able to show up and participate in conversations about what inclusive economic systems look like, what educational programs should look like, so that the next generation is able to make better decisions and be more open-minded about all the things we need to do to heal this planet and the people within it. 

Kelsey: As we get more underrepresented investors in the system, we really think that we can not only elevate the system, but start to change it. The system isn’t perfect — but if you’re not a part of the system, the system will take advantage of you, and you won’t be able to change it. And that’s what’s happening now. People are severely under-invested demographically and they’re missing out on over $2 million in wealth creation over the course of their lives. If we can get more people educated on the system then maybe we can create a better buying economy — voting with your dollar — and we can create a compound effect as people increasingly align their investments with their values. 

Connect with Courtney and Kelsey, and get started with Aura. Aura uses values-based direct investing and science-backed behavioral change methods to build healthy habits and financial confidence for founders and individuals alike. They’ve reserved 25 spots for the On Deck community - sign up for a free consultation today.

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