The founder series explores the minds of business owners and their journey to make a difference in their industry. We interview these business founders to understand the life lessons that mold them into who they are today. We also learn more about their company, their products or services, how they are different from their competitors, and the problems that they are trying to solve for their customers. The information that these business owners provide to us helps inform other entrepreneurs who are looking to make an impact in the business world. We all can take these lessons and apply them to our entrepreneurial journey. We want to thank every business owner who volunteered their time to participate in these interviews and share their knowledge with the community.
Great to meet you. Thank you for doing the interview. We want to know more about your journey, early struggles, success, and some wisdom that we can pass on to others who are interested in walking your footsteps toward becoming an entrepreneur. We know that being an entrepreneur is not all glory and fame, but there are hard times too. We believe that others who are interested in being a business owner can gain insight from other business founders like yourself. Again, we want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule. Let’s get this interview started!
Let us start off with some basic questions to learn more about who you are as a person.
Can you tell everyone your name, please?
Hello, my name is Genti Cici.
Where did you go to school?
I went to the University of Baltimore in Baltimore, MD, for both my undergrad as well as my MBA.
Can you give an example of an early lesson in life that helped shaped who you are today?
I was born in Eastern Europe, Albania, under one of the harshest communist regimes of the eastern bloc, as it was known. When I was 11 or 12 years old, I was at a bread line (not uncommon during those times of scarce resources being distributed by the government) where after reaching the counter and purchased the bread, I was stuck and couldn’t get out, due to layers and layers of people pushing behind me, pressing hard in my stomach towards the counter and not being able to breathe correctly. I thought for a minute and then instinct kicked in, and I pushed up and climbed atop the counter. The person behind the counter yelled at me, but I pointed to the crowd with a look that it’s now too late and I had no other choice.
That moment taught me that rules are in place for a reason and mainly to ‘maintain order,’ but you have to think ‘on top of the counter’ (outside-the-box is so overused now) if you want to innovate or survive. You have to keep an open mind and react quickly, and in entrepreneurship, it’s even more relevant. If you have to solve a problem, either current or old one, you have to come up from a different angle, different approach and sometimes people may think you’re crazy. It taught me that if you don’t challenge the current solutions, current set-ups, etc., you won’t get far from the saying ‘that’s the way it’s always done’ and in that manner you can’t compete with huge established businesses who will eat your lunch if you’re just ‘slightly different’. You have to be ‘totally different,’ or you won’t survive. You can tone it down as the business grows and matures.
We all have entrepreneurs who we look up to in our industry. These business leaders help influence, shape, and drive our ambition to succeed. These entrepreneurs could be someone that we have worked with on a project or could be someone that we look up too from a distance. For example, Bill Gates is a big inspiration to me not only because of his work in Microsoft but his outstanding contributions to society.
Who would you consider to be a significant influence on you professionally and can you explain why?
For me, it is Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group, for his creative and outside-the-box thinking, adventure-seeking spirit while also solving big & real societal problems. His unique approach to business while also giving back to the community, doing humanitarian work, promoting beneficial change and sharing his wealth and knowledge with all, is also a significant influence and motivator for me.
Thank you for providing background on who you are as a person. I always find it fascinating to learn who a person is and their early life lessons. Let us move forward with the interview and discuss what you are doing now and how you are making a difference in your industry.
What is the name of your company?
Where is your company located?
Our company is in Maryland, but we provide services that are not constrained by geographical limits. We can and do advise clients from all over the country using the conveniences of the Internet such as Skype, email, text, etc., but we also meet with clients in-person, if local to Maryland.
What services or products does your organization provide?
Financial Planning and Fiduciary investment advice for all, not just the top 1% who currently get real advice, the rest of people get sold financial products and their interests are secondary to the financial company that sells them. Our company provides fiduciary advice at an affordable price, always puts clients’ interest first and we sell no products nor accept any third party commissions to affect our judgment.
What problem is your business trying to solve?
Financial preparedness of US is one of the worst of developed nations, we rank 14th in the world in financial literacy, while simultaneously have some of the most diverse and advanced financial markets and products. People make financial decisions all the time without the slightest of education or real knowledge. I see it as the equivalent of driving without a driving license, expertise or any testing of such skill. Would you be on the road if you knew people were driving without a license nor being tested for their abilities?
Well, that’s what happens in the financial lives of most people, they operate financial products without any real knowledge, side effects or how the product/service works or costs in the first place. No wonder many have tons of debt, save almost nothing, are unprepared for retirement and have financial stress. Sure, many can say that they don’t have much to save or invest after all their lifestyle expenses are taken out, and we agree with that in some cases, but I typically find that for most individuals and families a sound financial plan gives them a path to reduce unnecessary expenses, manage and reduce their debts while allowing them to invest slowly and periodically taking advantage of compounding effects of time.
In the end, we’re trying to reduce overall financial stress, which is so predominant in our society, by providing a plan for their future and professional feedback and discipline, but that can only happen when the client is ready for it. We live in a consumer-based culture, and many people are not prepared for it, choosing to spend today vs. saving for tomorrow, but things are changing, and many are seeing the point, especially after noticing more and sadder stories of the financial unpreparedness of the baby boomer generation that will have a hard time retiring properly.
How is your business unique against your competitors?
First, we’re opening it up and democratizing the world of money for all, not just the ones who have millions. We’re focused on financial planning for Gen X & Y, starting with budgeting as key to discussing where the money is going a month over month, and use technology to supplement our advice. While we’re not alone in this, several other similar financial planners operate in this manner.
We believe to be the first one that built from scratch a consumer-facing financial planning software, where you answer a few questions about your finances, and you get a financial plan in less than 1 minute. While it’s not a full-fledged plan, it’s a great start and gives lots of info that covers at least 80–90% of a family’s overall financial planning.
We’re currently on its second iteration, and for a limited time, we have it available for Free, for all. If all goes well, we may even put it for Free forever, maybe with a donation option, to open it up to everyone. That’s something unique to us, and we know to be the only company to offer such a comprehensive and customized online financial plan for everyone. Of course, we provide and recommend more comprehensive, in-person or virtual financial planning and fiduciary investment advice with $0 asset minimums, as mentioned earlier, for everyone.
And to keep things really different, we’re the only Financial Planning company (that I know of) that started ‘atop an RV’, with a 15-month-long journey across all of US doing Free Financial Literacy seminars in colleges and universities, raising awareness on the problem of lack of financial education in this country and providing financial education and advice to students getting ready for real life.
How did the idea for your business come to fruition?
I was frustrated that many young people weren’t doing much regarding their financial planning and proper investing early in their lives. Many young people are not taking advantage of the time they have (at least 30–40 years if they start early) to set up a sound financial plan and follow it through. From my extensive research and work with them, their main reasoning is that they don’t have enough money to invest and even if they do they don’t know where or how to do it. They also don’t trust Wall Street, so, many people are doing nothing for their financial future. Time passes and when they want to start saving, like in their late 30s or even after, too much valuable time has passed, and they have to do a lot more to catch up.
My idea was to raise awareness that while many think they can’t invest or that Wall Street practices and products are not healthy for most investors, the truth is that many people will find it very beneficial to have a financial plan, to look over their budgets, debts, and assets and make a plan to invest wisely, especially if they start early in their life. I wanted to make it easy and very affordable to start, have an idea of how it works and then get real, fiduciary help that aligns your interests with that of an advisor.
My business is also very much focused on Financial Literacy and knowledge sharing as that is the essential step to understand how all the planning works, and it’s great for my clients to have a basic financial understanding and still work with a fiduciary advisor that looks for their best interests. As such, I created the simplified online financial planning software that anyone can quickly get a financial plan and then go further and discuss with a fiduciary advisor to go more in-depth and put the plan into action.
Where can people go on the web to learn more about your business?
Final question. We would like to thank you for the interview. We have one last question to ask you about imparting some wisdom to future entrepreneurs.
What three tips would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out on their journey?
1. As an entrepreneur, you typically start alone, just you and your idea. If you want to be heard, your thoughts have to be different, so come up with really unique creations, incremental change is not going to cut it and even if it does, someone with much more money, will copy it fast and make it their own.
2. Give, give, give. Help others with no other interest other than just helping. Connect people that may find each other helpful. Just do a lot for others, unconditionally and without any expectations, and stuff will come your way too. Find your ‘jump atop the counter’ moment.
3. StandUP for your beliefs and do something about it. My journey (literally) was an RV trip around the US to raise awareness about Financial Literacy. I was talking about financial knowledge being so weak in this country, but just talking doesn’t cut it. You have to follow through with actions as people will look for actions rather than just talk. So if you have strong beliefs about something, a new solution, a new way of doing things, just do something about it, be so different that they can’t ignore you, standup for what you believe as at the end nothing matters but how you feel about your place in the world and how you left this world after you.
Noone says at their deathbed, ‘I wish I made more money,’ but the #1 regret is not living a life true to yourself and not doing what you thought was right. Just do what’s right all the time, standup for your beliefs, keep great relationships with good friends and family, help others as much as you can, and don’t work so hard, enjoy life — and you’ll have no regrets at your deathbed.