A Crash Course in Growth: Interview with Moneycrashers.com Owner Andrew Schrage
Launching a personal finance website at the height of a recession is a sensible idea, but launching a personal finance website when you’re only 21 may raise a few eyebrows. But thanks to his expanding thought leadership and his growing team, Money Crashers Personal Finance founder and co-owner Andrew Schrage is successfully helping a community of money-minded individuals save their pennies.
Founded in 2008, Moneycrashers.com—now based in Piscataway, NJ—was originally started by Schrage as a hobby while he was working at an investment fund in Chicago at the age of 21. Schrage and co-owner Gyutae Park initially began the website as a resource for people looking to get out of debt. “We both realized we wanted to do something entrepreneurial, something that hopefully adds value for people, gives back, especially in a pretty tough economy,” says Schrage. “We thought a personal finance and financial education website could be a great fit.” In the last four years the business has grown both in terms of new hires and in terms of the content it produces.
A Flexible Staff
After four years in business, the company now has a total of 30 employees—but only four work out of their New Jersey headquarters, which they moved to in 2009. “Gyutae and myself are both from the East Coast, and we felt that Piscataway (which also happens to be his hometown) was the right fit to build a business and had a business-friendly environment, which includes the proximity to NYC without the high costs normally associated with New York,” says Schrage. The rest of the employees are spread throughout the country, from New York and New Jersey down to Georgia and across to Nevada and California. Having remote employees, says Schrage, “has helped us avoid having to pay for an expensive office space, and it also has allowed us to attract talent that prefers the convenience of working from home.”
And many of these remote employees work flexible hours. “We allow them to work at night if they want to take their kids to school in the morning,” says Schrage. “Whether it’s vacation, family issues, or health matters, we try to be pretty flexible.” Schrage considers flexible hours a positive experience, as it leads to happier employees and allows them to grow their creativity. However, he says, “it can occasionally be difficult to get in touch with them, and missing that face-to-face personal interaction can sometimes be a negative.”
Evolving Content is Key
In just a few years, the company has grown to 30 employees, including fulltime editors and full-time and freelance contributors who create the website’s content, and that has meant that Schrage has been able to expand considerably what Moneycrashers.com offers its readers. “We now have 3 full-time editors and probably 15 to 20 contributors. We definitely have expanded to allow us to not only provide more posts, but a wider variety of posts by having different experts and contributors with different backgrounds,” he says. Instead of just advice on how to get out of debt, the site now offers reviews on credit cards and money-saving resources, as well as articles that vary from “3 Reasons to Invest In an Unmanaged Exchange-Traded Fund” to “23 Cheap Wedding Reception Food & Drink Menu Ideas.” The website receives approximately 750,000 unique visitors per month, a 30 percent growth from last year. Since the content on the website is free, their business model is based on advertising, and Schrage says the company’s revenue has grown over the last few years.
The company has also had to rethink their use of social media, which, Schrage admits, is one area where he underestimated the importance. Although he signed the company up for Facebook and Twitter accounts fairly early, the accounts languished for about half a year.
Schrage says the company’s social media presence has helped to build a community. “It’s mostly to continue growing and deepening our relationship with our readers, and provide them another way to interact with us outside of the website,” he says. The company now has a head of social media, who has the task of improving engagement. Some ideas that Money Crashers has implemented include questions of the day, contests with giveaways, and Friday Twitter chats. A recent Twitter chat, using the hash tag #mcchat, focused on money and relationships. Prizes for participating and retweeting can include Amazon giftcards or books.
To Be Successful in Media, Stay in the Media
In order to help promote his company, Schrage is often interviewed and quoted as a financial expert everywhere from Forbes to CBS News. Entrepreneurs at the helm of growing businesses, he says, should do all they can to establish themselves as a thought leader in their industry. “Try your best to keep in mind what you can do to illustrate your credibility. Don’t be shy about talking directly with people, or on your website or whatever it might be, because that’s likely going to help you more than hurt you,” he says. “As you’re trying to build relationships or get exposure, try not to underestimate yourself because that will come across as you’re chatting with people or as you’re pitching your product. I’d say anything you can do to show your credibility is great.”