Angel Rich grew up in a family that sells life insurance, and she was always asking herself why so many people had such trouble managing their money. She knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur from a young age, and dedicated herself to improving financial literacy. She was a senior in college at Hampton University leading a team in a stock market case competition when she came up with the idea for a game to teach people to make better financial decisions. The idea helped her win the competition, and it became the basis for her start-up, WealthyLife.
Rich went on to compete in and win a Prudential case competition with an idea to sell life insurance to Generation Y. That success led to her earning a position at Prudential as a global market researcher. She spent three years there learning the ins and outs of the market and vetting her business idea. She left her job last year to pursue her passion.
“WealthyLife teaches people through fantasy games how to manage their money better. We walk players from birth to retirement through 20 stages of life and track their decisions along the way. At the end of the game we examine their behavior and assess their net worth, based on their financial decisions.
“Our customers would be schools, families, governments, financial institutions — we haven’t met a potential customer who hasn’t wanted our product. It’s always been, ‘How soon can you get it to us?’ We really do feel as though we’ve discovered a market need here that is virtually untapped in a sense.
“There might be other financial services companies out there dabbling in education technology, but thus far we are the only ones doing gamification education technology with the curriculum product and data analytics that we provide. Data analytics are a huge part of our software. It’s not just about the games. We are systematically modifying behavior, and that’s why we track the decisions consumers make. We actually have back-end algorithms built into each module to simulate the function of a real financial product.
“We are building an entire suite of games that cover a full spectrum of financial topics and life skills that might influence finances — things like how to plan for college, career readiness and how to run a small business — anything that might impact a person’s future fiscal responsibility.
“Our first game is called Credit Stacker. It simulates a credit report and the different blocks you move around in the game correlate to premium payments and overall debt you have to pay, correlated to your credit score. We’re planning to launch our beta version in June.
“We are now housed at the University of Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, and we are part of Microsoft BizSpark, IBM PartnerWorld, the Emerging Technologies Center in Baltimore and the Kauffman Foundation FastTrac TechVenture program under the D.C. government. We’re really about to make a lot of headway. We have approximately 20 team members, with 15 people working full-time. I founded the company last year at Startup Weekend Next under serial entrepreneur Bob Dorf in Stamford, Conn., and spent the year researching. We started building the product in February.
“Our biggest challenge right now is funding. We tried raising money early on, but found that we needed a prototype. So we bootstrapped and now have an alpha prototype that we are testing. We have a lot of customers and investors who are interested. We have a niche product to fill a real need for schools that often have financial literacy budgets, but no product to use. We have four pilot tests lined up. We just need to deliver the product.”
Elana Fine, managing director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business
“Don’t get hung up ‘finishing’ your product. Your product is never finished. You’re always iterating. Don’t worry about it being perfect or looking perfect. Just get something out there to give customers a chance to test and give you feedback.
“Learn quickly if your product is what your customers are expecting. Focus on putting out the most minimally viable product that your early customers would be willing to take. This is the ‘lean start-up’ methodology: Getting feedback on a constant basis is critical to continue to iterate improvements. The loop is build, measure, learn.
“As CEO, figure out if you’re wearing too many hats. You have a large team, but make sure you have enough tech people on your team to do the work getting your product ready. Use the resources around you. You are housed at a university incubator, so consider using students and others around you. Think about how you might be able to bring people in on a project-basis, or for small amounts of equity, especially if you have customers lined up.”
“My co-founders, Courtney Keen and Shyaam Sundhar, and I have aimed to be creative at how we use our resources. All of our full-time employees hold varying degrees in game design, namely from the Art Institute of Washington. We have established a talent agreement with them to supply employees for experience, stipends and stock shares. At MTECH, we leverage their facilities, advisers and two education technology professors. We also have an agreement with law firm Fish & Richardson to assist with our intellectual property needs. A lot of our software is provided via our relationships with Microsoft and start-up rewards I’ve accumulated. Most importantly, we have now been vetted by most of the non-diluted funding available in D.C and Maryland, and we’re expecting to hear good news in the near future.
“We are completely focused on the build, measure, learn loop — working around the clock to test our alpha product. We have had significant feedback, leading to five design pivots. We feel we are close to the end result.”