Genevieve Ryan Bellaire
Founder and CEO
Edtech, Consumer SaaS
In April 2021, the first-of-its-kind platform to simplify adulthood, Realworld, announced its $3.4M Seed round with investors including The Helm, Fitz Gate Ventures, Bezos Expeditions (Jeff Bezos’ personal investment firm), AmplifyHer Ventures, and Human Ventures, among others.
We are thrilled to back founder Genevieve Ryan Bellaire’s big vision with Realworld: simplifying adulthood. The free platform does this by providing comprehensive resources around major life topics not covered in school—everything from doing your taxes and getting a credit card to filling out employer paperwork—complete with guidance, tooling, and a marketplace of curated service providers.
In a recent interview with Genevieve, we spoke to her about what inspired her to start Realworld, how she plans to close the knowledge gap, and what the future of adulting looks like.
Genevieve, can you share a bit about your experience as a lawyer prior to founding Realworld, and how it has prepared you for this journey?
I went straight into graduate school to get my JD/MBA, which was an amazing experience, but it also meant that I spent an additional four years of school before actually entering the “real world”. My first job was at an investment bank and that was the moment where I realized despite all of that education, I had never learned a lot of these real-world things—all of a sudden I had to figure out my own health insurance, figure out my finances, understand 401k paperwork, all of these life things that you never learn in school. I ran into all sorts of challenges and there wasn’t really a great solution to solve it.
While at law school, I learned how to distill a lot of information into bite-sized learnings and apply those to future cases—to future situations. It’s taking a ton of chaos and creating order to it. So when I actually started building Realworld, I became a subject matter expert in a lot of these different spaces, taking a ton of information and distilling it into step-by-step playbooks. That training from law school was uniquely helpful in terms of building this type of business, even though it wasn’t a typical way to enter the startup world.
Why did you decide to start Realworld? What is the problem that you’re looking to solve?
People are thrown into the real world with very little pomp and circumstance and not really one place where you can navigate different day-to-day life questions across finances, healthcare, taxes, etc. and also larger life moments that you’ve never experienced before. It’s a frustrating experience where people don’t even know what they don’t know when they go through one of these different life stages, and also, they can’t necessarily find the right information that’s trusted, that’s personalized to them, and that’s up-to-date in terms of tools and resources. What we’re trying to do is be that single point of entry for adulthood where people can onboard themselves after school into life in the real world, set up the accounts they need to set up, understand the forms they need to fill out, and navigate those different questions day-to-day.
I had experienced the problem myself when I was starting my own career in the working world and there was just such a knowledge gap—I spoke to pretty much anybody who was at this life-stage or who had been a couple of years out of school, and everyone said, “I wish I had that when I was younger”. That’s the one key phrase we hear over and over is, I wish I had that when I was younger. It was a blank canvas. There was no other company trying to do this. So I decided to build it because a) it’s a problem worth solving (spending the time and energy to prepare people for life, so to speak) and b) it’s a massive market opportunity. If you break it down, we’re building the trusted platform and hub for many different spokes of life, whether that’s helping you set up different financial accounts or helping you understand health insurance. There’s such a disaggregated market right now of those different products and services that makes it very challenging, particularly for Gen Z, to figure out how those different service providers play into their life. If we can provide the connective tissue between the next generation of consumers and the next generation of products and services across categories and help them actually make informed decisions around life, that’s just a really exciting place to be.
Was it always this way? Were our parents and grandparents better set up for adulthood, and if yes, is this a unique problem to Millennials and Gen Z?
Yeah, such a great question. This is not a unique problem, but it’s something that has been exacerbated over the last 20 years due to a couple of different trends within the market. Nearly 30 years ago there were home economics classes, classes in high school that taught you how to balance a checkbook, how to manage a home. There was at least initial training around how to do a lot of these basic financial principles. People were also getting married a lot earlier and so life moments—you get married, buy a house, start to get adulthood going—happened in your early 20s. Now, people get married later so there’s this gap between when you graduate and start working to when that first real pillar of adulthood hits. There’s this no man’s land that people are operating in now where a lot of those decisions get delayed, and that knowledge also in tandem gets delayed.
Also, Millennials and Gen Z have some major factors contributing to their ability to build wealth. Things like the student debt crisis, the changing nature of jobs. Instead of working at Siemens for 40 years and having the same health insurance and having retirement savings taken care of for you, people switch jobs every 18 months now. The friction around choosing a health insurance plan, moving to a new place, all of these life things compound.
Then the last thing, which is a good thing: there’s a whole set of first-generation college students emerging whose parents didn’t go to college, maybe never had access to a 401k or to health insurance—all of these different sorts of things. For them, entering adulthood is doubly challenging; they have to figure it out without someone at home who has done it before. It’s a whole democratization of information that we’re trying to provide there.
Big picture then: when Realworld enables an entire generation to successfully set up their adult lives, what does that look like for the future of America?
If we solve this, what does this look like? That’s what keeps us going: we can truly raise the standard of living across the country—and across the world—in terms of people actually understanding the systems in which they operate. Whether that’s financial literacy and setting yourself up for success with investing, saving, and retirement or whether it’s just people understanding how health insurance works or figuring out how to be able to choose the right plans for them and take preventative action around their own care—even things like getting an annual physical and annual dentist appointments, it raises the playing field for the whole country. If we can help people start working towards homeownership or these different things that have been really challenging over the last couple of decades, there’s no limit to what society as a whole can do. We’re trying to provide the frameworks and the structure to help people empower themselves to optimize their lives as adults.
Going back a little bit to what you were saying about people marrying younger—were men given those adult life lessons because they were the default breadwinner? (While society decided women never had to learn these things?) Did that create a gender knowledge gap that Realworld is uniquely positioned to solve?
There’s definitely truth in that. For a very long time, men made a lot of financial decisions and that has left women without the same level of financial literacy as their husbands. Part of it is that they didn’t have the need to learn, but part of it is that the option wasn’t there for them to learn. But no matter what your gender, there’s a massive gap we’re trying to solve for underrepresented populations across the board who haven’t again had that training or the opportunities available to them to really understand these different topics. And not just understand them, but act upon them, for example, take the next step to learn about credit, then actually check your credit score and pay off your credit card bill on time.
Realworld certainly expedites your ability to function in society!
It’s funny because the fundamental product that we’re building is onboarding into adulthood and using applicable knowledge to reach the largest number of people. However, we see long-term the ability to have, say, if you’re moving to America from another country, a playbook for you to figure out, okay, how do I deal with credit here and how do I understand the health insurance systems, taxes, or immigration visas. The same thing applies to veteran populations who are transitioning from the military into civilian life. That’s a whole other bag of decisions. There’s a pretty big learning curve there.
Then, of course, things change as you get older. As these larger life moments of getting married, having your first child, moving to a new city, buying a house—these life things that you’ve probably never done before—we’re building tools and resources and essentially packages to be able to help you navigate those different questions.
It’s all part of the same ecosystem of navigating adulthood, but our vision is to be the sidekick to help you throughout that journey. We want to be able to provide additional support that’s much more bespoke around these moments where there might be even more decisions that need to happen or even more kind of consternation around it.
With each life moment, without Realworld, you have to become a subject matter expert very quickly. It’s such a waste of time trying to figure out how a mortgage works, or if a parent is sick figuring out caregiving insurance, or figuring out the tax consequences of inheritance.
It gets so messy. This is where my background in law and finance has been very helpful in thinking through playbooks for things like wills, trusts, estates, and purchasing real estate—a lot of it has legal and financial elements to it, so having the baseline understanding of how those systems work has been really helpful as a founder.
And as we grow, community is going to be a huge part of what we’re building for peer to peer expertise and even more meaningful and localized information in a way that could be particularly helpful.
You have some very impressive participants in your round, like Bezos Expeditions. Can you tell us what your fundraising process was like? Any learnings that you can share for other founders going out for their seed round?
The biggest learning I found was to be super organized because it is very much like running a sales process at the end of the day. You’re trying to match the company and investors and in order to do that, you have to have a lot of conversations to find the right people. Being organized, being very focused on what you’re looking for in investors so that you can make sure you’re going after the right people is really important. There were certain things that were important to us: people who really believed in the mission of the company and who ideally had founded their own companies previously, or had been part of an operating team. Also, people who were able to be super connectors to connect us to the next generation of products and services across categories so we could easily build out our marketplace. Through that lens, it was helpful to be super focused.
For the majority of founders, fundraising is challenging. It is a lot of time, it’s a lot of mental energy, being excited about what you’re building, telling the same story over and over again. So to the extent that you can keep your routine of staying healthy, getting sleep, exercising, making sure your team is doing well, all of the basics; it makes it a lot easier. And then finally, make sure you do reference checks for investors, whether it’s founders they’ve worked with or friends who know them—you’re trying to understand who these people are because they’re going to be on your cap for 10 years as you’re building your business. Be really thoughtful there.
Also, be open to feedback. Investors have so much experience in terms of seeing so many companies that they can often pattern match and actually provide really valuable feedback. Particularly in the early days of starting the fundraise, I got a lot of consistent feedback that was helpful in terms of how we told our story and how we thought about the prioritization of everything from features to go to market.
What is your plan for this round of funding? What will it be used for?
It’s almost entirely for the team; we’re tripling the size of our team with this round, hiring across every sort of leadership position within the company. We’ll also set aside a portion of the round for marketing because we’ve spent very little money to date on any kind of paid marketing. Our growth has almost entirely been through organic channels, so now, we’re starting to tell our story more, get Realworld out there in a bigger way.
In terms of milestones, the first milestone was launching a mobile app and transitioning Realworld to be a mobile-first product, which is done, so now it’s really relentless focus on making it the best possible product experience—going deeper on all the different subjects that we’ve built, create more tooling, launching community, and focusing on that core product experience.
Where do you see the future of Realworld? What is your five-year plan?
The way that we think about this company is it’s truly creating a new category. It’s not a two percent better product than something that’s already out there—we’re very much building into the unknown, which is exciting because we can define the adulthood industry.
Realworld will become the account you set up when you graduate from school and start working, and it will be this tool in your pocket that’s constantly keeping you on track in life and the real world. It’s one place where you learn how to open a Roth IRA, store secure documents, store your tax returns, have your TSA PreCheck number, have your insurance card, have reminders to pay rent every month, have reminders around getting dentist appointments, following up with bills you have to pay. But also, a place where just day-to-day if you have something that comes across your plate that’s an adulthood-related question (a form you need to fill out, something in the mail, figuring out a credit card issue), Realworld is the place you turn to. Essentially it’s one centralized place to navigate questions around marriage, wills, trusts, and estates, all of those different kinds of needs, all in one place.
Then finally, there’s a huge opportunity, again, from the community lens to build an amazing brand that is aspirational around adulthood as opposed to the “adulting sucks” type of mentality that pervades right now. It’s amazing to be independent, to be empowered to make your own decisions, to have your life together. That’s our North Star, helping people get to that moment where they feel like they have their life together. We can actually support them in not worrying about adulthood and instead, allow them to do whatever else that they want to spend their time doing.