Quilt co-founder Ashley Sumner faced a totally unexpected and massive tuition bill mid-way through college after her dad’s business took a hit in the recession. The skills she learned in rising to the challenge led her first to a matchmaking business, and later to create Quilt- a tech platform that connects female entrepreneurs online and in person.
In Ashley's money story you will learn:
It's definitely not the lesson I thought I was going to be learning during those formative years. I can say that I'm very grateful for my upbringing, my family worked very hard, were entrepreneurs and we had a very financially stable life. My father, who had financially supported me my entire life, while I was the middle way going through school at NYU, which is arguably one of the most expensive private schools in the country, went from being a multimillionaire and extremely wealthy man to basically losing everything.
What, just quickly, what had happened? Was he in an industry that changed?
Yeah, he's a land developer. He's an interest, he has a fascinating story, he kind of grew up with nothing, ran away from home, built up his entire career, learned this real estate trade and land development, moved west, one of the kind of first guys to go out and build land and I think during the financial crash while I was at school in 2008 everything changed and it really wasn't kind of prepared for it. He's actually since rebuilt himself up so his story is a fascinating one financially as well. But it was definitely-
So you went to college with basically the understanding that you were not focused on financing your own college, it was going to be paid for, but I take it there wasn't actual money in an account that was separated?
Yeah, exactly. He was going to pay for the entirety of it, that was a huge part of my decision actually to go and be a musical theater major, because everybody knows you don't really graduate diving into a six figure salary and yeah that was a huge shift that took place a couple of years in, right while I was gearing up to start auditioning.
So what was the talk like? What happened, did you just get a phone call one day that, "Honey, the money that was set aside for your college I need to use to rebuild my business." Or was it a gradual process, what was it like?
It was kind of an ongoing conversation, I mean I saw him struggle quite a bit and I've always been grateful for his capacity to show up and financially support me, throughout all of my dreams and very precocious childhood, lots of very big dreams to move to New York City from this small town. It was something that had been happening year over year and he really did try to continue to show up and support me and it was really more towards the end when I was graduating and trying to finalize my final year and where I was going to live and what I was going to start doing that we kind of came to an understanding that it was time. And I had this weird kind of desire to also ... I knew that it was time to learn, learn how to take care of myself, it was terrifying.
But I also knew that it was one of those things that I just trusted was going to really teach me some of the foundational things that I needed to know that I honestly beleive are the reason why I'm here today as a founder and I've been able to raise money and do some of the things that I'm so grateful to be able to do.
One of the things I love is the next part of the story which is rather than just getting a job, you started a business.
I did. Yeah, I am definitely scrappy and the daughter of entrepreneurs, I can say that. I figured out that I had a knack in sales but not just any sales, in the space of matchmaking, so I had started, I had a start up in the matchmaking space and ultimately went on to have my own with some partners. And yeah it was just a skill that I had, you needed very little to get started outside of an ability to meet with and connect with people and listen to their needs and provide that value and that's very much the beginning of my community development career which has led me to my passion and purpose in helping others connect.
Because like, and we're going to go back and talk more about Quilt, but it does make sense because you're matchmaking. Instead of romantic matchmaking you're actually matchmaking for different kinds of relationships. I do want to just touch on the fact that while you were doing this, first working for somebody but then very much an entrepreneurial venture, you still kept auditioning and I think that's really inspiring because it shows people that you don't have to give up one dream to fund the other dream.
You were able to do both.
Yeah, you know we're in the hyphen-hyphen-hyphen and I've been very proud of the multitude, I think, of starting off as soft skills and now hard skills that I've always had, an ability, I think, to architect. We can architect the way we want our lives to be and we don't need to kind of follow any traditional step by step or climbing a ladder and I'm grateful that my parents taught me that.
In Ashley’s money lesson you will learn:
I think so much of having debt which I was under the weight of until six months ago is the head trash that comes along with it. I think there's a lot of shame and judgment and guilt around having that and seeing that there and there really are a lot of, I don't need to bore you with all of the ways that are out there, the practical ways that you can kind of chip off and get above water and start to breathe again. But I think kind of the mental game that it can play on you if you don't learn how to let go and understand that it's just a day by day, month by month, year by year planning, that's kind of my tip which is don't make it worse by also being so hard on yourself.
I think a lot of us, not only judge other people, but judge ourselves too harshly.
Yeah, absolutely, I am my harshest critic. I was very ashamed to even share it with anyone, I kind of felt a little bit like an imposter or a fraud in having it. But every time I looked at it my refrain was like, "Those choices helped me get to where I am today and I'm so happy where I am today." So otherwise, who knows if I hadn't take that risk if it wouldn’t have led to now?
In Ashley's everyday money tip you will learn:
Yeah, you know I have to give our head of product kudos for this, who teaches me all of those like tech savvy things. But I recently moved and I've recently learned about the abandoned cart method, when you're buying certain things online, just like leave it in the cart, walk away, go have a bit, go for a workout and then you come back and there's a miraculous little discount code hanging out in your inbox. So I think I've saved about $500 in the past few days on all of the new items that are on it's way to my home.
Financial Grown Up tip number one:
Ashley talked about the shame of debt. The reality is that debt can be a way to accomplish goals, so if you have debt for a good reason, and I'm not talking about excessive shopping sprees and all that stereotypical stuff, but I'm talking about good stuff. In her case paying for a great college education, as Ashley says, get rid of the mental trash, do not be ashamed, if it's your thing to talk about it externally, to socialize it, to talk to people about it because for some people accountability can really motivate you to pay it off faster or to figure out the right plan for you. But it's also okay to be something that you don't talk about, it doesn't have to be everyone's business, not everything about your finances for sure needs to be public, it's okay to keep it private.
Financial Grown Up tip number two:
Be sensitive and aware of what is happening financially to your parents, as is appropriate, at the appropriate age, however you define it and also of course to other members of your family, your generation and other generations. Ashley was so gracious in speaking about her fathers experiences, wealth is not always consistent, we'd like it to be, we can do things in our control to create financial stability but sometimes well a recession hits, as happened. Or an investment just doesn't perform as you had hoped and has all the research and how all the research had implied it would work. Or a business is simply struggling, things go through cycles, life is messy as they say. If your parents or members of your family can help you, maybe it's grandparents, maybe it's aunts, uncles, siblings, whatever, say thank you. But for the times that they can't, be there for them in the way that makes sense for your family.
Check out Ashley's website -
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