Jun 28, 2023

NGPF Podcast: Joe Mahavuthivanij, Founder of Go Boldly, on Education and Technology

Joseph Mahavuthivanij, a FinTech entrepreneur, shares his thoughts about the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in personal finance education. Learn more about his new venture, Go Boldly, which brings gamification, AI, and financial literacy together.

Ren Makino: Hi, this is Ren from Next Gen Personal Finance. And you're listening to the NGPF podcast today on the show Yanely is joined by Joe Mahavuthivanij who has launched a brand new app for financial literacy trivia called Go Boldly. Joe shares about his early life with entrepreneurial parents and how he was taught to aspire to become a doctor or a lawyer, but ultimately chose to become an entrepreneur themselves. He discusses the advice you would give to teens who feel like they might not be interested in what they're learning in school and how educators can emphasize financial education. Joe is passionate about personal finance technology. And for that reason, he created a game-based financial education app that is currently in beta mode but he hopes to continue to develop it so students can use it to learn more about money. Enjoy.

[00:00:41] Early Money Lessons

Yanely Espinal: All right. We have a special guest tonight who's gonna be talking about entrepreneurship and their journey to creating a startup and all of these things. So Joe, before we talk about the work that you're doing now, tell us a little bit about your upbringing, any early money memories or money lessons that you can recall. 

Joseph Mahavuthivanij: Yeah, for sure. So I'm originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. And went to school in San Diego and sort of back to the Bay Area for tech and startups and all the reasons people moved there. But , I grew up in a family of Asian immigrant entrepreneurs and primarily like small business entrepreneurs. So, restaurants and we had a video store. My parents had to do everything they could to make ends meet. And eventually, they found some success in the video store and started investing in real estate in the market and caught some of that wave and were able to achieve their American dream. Being entrepreneurs themselves they sort of didn't want me to become an entrepreneur. They always kind of said that we worked hard so you don't have to. Which was less about like not working hard but more about that I could go to school and learn how to do that sort of thing. And so I've always kind of taken that with me. 

Yanely Espinal: It's so interesting that they discouraged you from being an entrepreneur, even though that's how they became successful. So was that the immediate pathway for you after graduation? Did you just decide, I'm gonna just go do my own thing? Or were there certain jobs that you worked before becoming an entrepreneur? 

Joseph Mahavuthivanij: I mean, growing up in like small business, restaurant industry that my parents were in ,that was sort of, naturally, like the thing I knew and started to pursue. In retrospect, really bad idea. I studied psychology at UCSD in San Diego and knew that I wasn't going to -- if you're studying something like that to really put it into use, you have to practice and do lots and lots of school. It is the wrong crowd to bring this up, but I'm not very good at school. it wasn't really for me. So at first I thought like, maybe I'll stay in the family business and open a restaurant and do all that. But, I think like during college, my roommate and I at the time, he was really into technology and so we were kind of dabbling in different projects and that was sort of my first introduction to startups.

Startups weren't even really a thing back then, and I don't even think we considered it a startup at the time, but we were building like this social network , for the UC system. And launched one month before, Facebook at the time. But you're not watching a movie called The Social Network about my roommate and I, so we didn't do as well. And we weren't the only one at the time. For some reason these things all happen at the same time. And lots of people try to pursue the same ideas. That experience segued into joining a startup and then seeing the ins and outs, realizing like I could actually start my own and then raise capital and grow and do all the stuff. So yeah, that's kinda led to today. 

[00:03:27] Raising Capital 

Yanely Espinal: I just find now that so many more students are aware of this concept that you could start your own company and raise money and I imagine it's because of Shark Tank. Like I think that this generation kind of grew up like watching a whole show, it's not even just like this Gen Z thing,. So give us the insider experience, what it's like, actually starting your company and having to raise money to grow a successful business and successful company. 

Joseph Mahavuthivanij: So I, I should say, first of all, shout out to Mark Burnett. He is the producer of Shark Tank and is a genius. I think when it comes to being a tech founder and that kind of like venture capital, raising capital that way, it's nothing like Shark Tank. There is certain amount of like grilling and things like that, but you're not up against a panel typically. I think the first time I went out to try to raise capital, I, frankly, did it all wrong. Partially because I just didn't know better. And so it wasn't until I started working in venture capital that I understood like how decisions were made, why they were made , what needed to be done in order to even have that conversation in the first place. That made it way easier. Not just because like I sort of had developed that network by that time, but also just how to raise capital. There is a optimal way to do it. And whether it's like warm introductions or whether it is , designing your pitch a certain way, there's a more successful way of doing it just to optimize your opportunities there. Yeah. I think it was learned from the other side of the table primarily. 

[00:04:56] Founding Go Boldly

Yanely Espinal: I like that. And we're gonna talk about Go Boldly, which is your latest app where you're kind of bringing financial literacy to the masses. So tell us a little bit about how you ended up creating or deciding that you wanted to create a financial literacy platform. I know that it's not the first thing that you've built or have been working on in terms of the tech work that you do. So maybe giving us a bit of context about starting your startup and then how that led to you deciding what I think specifically financial literacy is gonna be the next initiative for us.

Joseph Mahavuthivanij: Yeah, so, I mean, I guess it's a just a progression of . All the way from my parents being entrepreneurs themselves. Asian parents can be like really cheap and not really invest in things that they don't find like super valuable. But one thing that they did invest in at the time was like education and also in like financial literacy because they were running a business. They had to know how to. You balance their books and, and save where they could. And so I learned about budgeting, saving, how to earn money, and things like that early. There weren't really tools back in the day to like foster and support this. I kind of learned by watching them make mistakes and making some of my own. 

So maybe taking a step back, I've been collecting these trading cards and comic books and things like that from when I was a kid specifically, this card game called Magic the Gathering for anybody who might be familiar. And like at the time, these cards were worth a couple of dollars, but I knew some cards were pennies and some cards were like $10 and stuff. Frankly, like realized, when I was doing my company, like I'd been investing since I was a kid, and so I was buying these like packs of cards and and opening them up and then being able to like trade them with other kids or with like a store. For cash or for other cards. Those are kind of like stocks. And so I realized like then I was like investing for a long time. Ended up building a company around it, raising capital. Exited that business like a year and a half ago, almost two years. And so, , I've been around investing for a really long time. 

I kind of realized that I was kind of tired of building software to make rich people richer. And because I had all this exposure to financial literacy, I was helping friends with their own personal finances and kind of budgeting and mapping out, like why, despite the fact that they made a ton of money that they were always broke. And so, decided to kind of bottle that knowledge and recently there's been a lot of really great resources and shows and even the internet providing this knowledge. And, I kind of felt like there might be a better way. And so I wanna create that better way. I kind of think of like financial literacy as like a language. And so, how was I learning languages? I was learning languages online through like Duolingo. And so we started to think about that process and how is Duolingo teaching languages and how can we kind of emulate that?

And so, ultimately, you started to kind of think about what that meant for Go Boldly, which we think of as like Duolingo meets Oregon Trail, but for financial literacy and set in space because I'm a huge Star Trek fan. There's sort of a storyline to it all. But yeah, I guess that's kinda a meandering way of getting there. But the short answer is that been doing a really long time, had a passion for it. Was kind of my personal love language, if you will. And something I enjoy helping friends with and wanted to expand that. 

[00:08:16] Using Gamification to Teach Personal Finance

Yanely Espinal: I'm totally gonna steal that from you, Joe, that financial literacy is my love language. Because it is a language, it's a foreign language for a lot of people. It really is. And I think that demystifying it and making it feel less foreign and making it feel accessible is so important. Now you've chosen to do that through a gamified approach. Tell us about choosing to use gamification.

Joseph Mahavuthivanij: So I think my first, I mean, outside of like the games that my parents would play with me, it's just like, okay, like you've got like $5, like what are you gonna spend it on and how are you gonna do it? And all this other stuff was , sort of that, that first exposure to actual gamified financial literacy or really investing probably like a Rich Dad, Poor Dad exposure. And so read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and started playing Cashflow if anybody's like familiar with that game. It's probably like 25 years old now. There's like a kind of a focus on, on investing and sort of thing. I think the way I was thinking about it is that there's lots of apps and things like that out there for learning how to invest. But the problem is that before you can learn to invest you, you need money to invest, for instance. And before you even are prepared to invest, I think like there's a fundamental shift in your thinking that needs to happen. 

First before you invest your first dollar, you need to get your mind right with your own personal finances. Which is why we've decided to kind of like focus on sort of those core pillars in, in Go boldly, which is how to get your mind right about money. And then after you kind of like start to learn how to think about money, you can start to like learn all the different ways that you can earn money and then ultimately how to save and budget money. So now we're getting to like foundational basics, how to borrow and leverage money because , debt can be good, it can be bad . Borrowing and loans and whatever, it doesn't have to be all like negative and bad. And so sort of the implications about that.

And then finally when you reach the top of the pyramid of needs, self-actualization kind of happens learning how to invest and manage your money. And so that's kinda what we are developing curriculum for. And sort of that mission is to provide that knowledge and resources to make like financial decisions for that long-term prosperity, regardless of your background or circumstances. And so we're building a lot of AI into the product now to make personalized learning possible for the first time. 

[00:10:40] Structure of the App

Yanely Espinal: That's really cool. Now, the way that Go Boldly, the app is set up. So if anybody who's. , curious and listening in, if you go and download the app, you can actually see the structure of it. So it's broken into units, much like a scope and sequence for the classroom would be broken down or like a roadmap for teaching where unit one is Consumer Skills. Unit two is Preparing for the Real World. Unit three is Budgeting. Then four is How to Earn Money, which you mentioned, then there's Checking and Savings, Taxes, Managing Debt, and then finally Investing Basics. So talk to us about the choices for these particular topics of these units and the order in which they are.

Joseph Mahavuthivanij: For for sure. I should caveat by saying that like the app is very much in beta and sort of incomplete. It is available in the app stores primarily for testing. But we would love to work with teachers everywhere to figure out exactly how we can make this more engaging, more useful and so forth in the classroom. So I'll put that out there. It is primarily out there for testing because it's the easiest way for us to reach our test.

So we chose those subjects primarily because we set out to build, a supplement to Next Gen Personal Finances own curriculum and wanting to make this a a useful supplement in the classroom for like that practice and repetition and that sort of thing. We are building a whole bunch of other features and tools into the product to have real life simulations of actually applying this knowledge. And so I would say like the short answer is that we chose these topics because they are sort of like a baseline standard that we're starting off with. I think like what Next Gen's doing by working to get this mandated in high school classrooms everywhere, it's important because that's sort of the foundation and then we can build on top of that foundation.

And so that's kind of like the way that we decided to approach it. But yeah, we're also introducing not just like those core things, but also things like common financial scams, for instance. That's like this next thing that we're building into the product, which is we've got sort of our hamburger character, if you will that's trying to expose the the learner to those things and how they work and, and so forth.

[00:12:43] Incorporating AI

Yanely Espinal: I love that. I think it's always important to kind of keep those key elements of like the basic core pieces of financial literacy, but the engagement piece is so important. Like all of these things just really help to elevate like the engagement for students because most of the time learning financial literacy feels really dry. So I think that's awesome to hear that you're already thinking about that and kind of working on that. 

Okay. So Joe, let's talk a little bit about AI, what role you see that playing or what role it's currently playing? I know that you're using some AI features in the app now and it's very obvious that you're really trying to use those elements to increase that engagement piece, which you talk about being really important. But I'm wondering what larger roles you see AI playing in your work, but also more generally in FinTech. 

Joseph Mahavuthivanij: Yeah, absolutely. So AI is changing the world as we speak. And so I'm sure most people's exposure to AI has probably been like ChatGPT which is for most cases like indistinguishable from magic. The way that we've been using ai I think a lot of people don't understand like what it's capable of even today. And so we've been using AI so far partially to develop curriculum and specialized curriculum more importantly. We've been using it for creating custom art and characters and also giving voices to those characters. And , soon you'll be able to actually have a conversation with those characters and ask all kinds of things. There's a lot of really cool stuff that we're able to do, including, like, , personalized counseling, tutoring, all kinds of stuff. We can enable personalized learning for the first time not just like for particular classroom or groups of people, but like for you based on your particular interests and and situation. So that's like the obvious one. Also intelligent tutoring. Tutoring is now going to be accessible to everybody. There's great educational implementations already with like Khan Academy and some even with Duolingo. Education is sort of like, I would say a beachhead use case for AI. In the classroom you could have things like automated grading and all of that done for you. And that could be not just in quantifiable things with like math and stuff, but also essays and qualitative things. It's pretty crazy. You can also predict how people are going to be able to perform in the classroom based on the individuals and what you're teaching them and how that individual learns even.

There's a bunch of admin things. There's all kinds of crazy stuff that, to be honest, like most of which we probably haven't even imagined yet. That is also true in FinTech as well. You can have personalized AI financial counselors that handle your own situation. And that's actually something that we very much believe as well and starting to build in is that like with financial planning that's something a professional might charge you like one or 2% on money that they manage . Well, that's a lot of money and typically only available to , a small subset of people. Partially because they're tight on bandwidth, but also you have to have a certain net worth and also other stuff where it makes sense. Like why can't everybody have that? Just because you don't have a certain net worth doesn't mean you don't need that counseling. Now we can build that. So there's a lot of really cool stuff we can do. 

[00:16:04] Hopes for the Growth of Financial Literacy Education

Yanely Espinal: I oftentimes think a lot about this idea of accessibility and inclusivity because I think that AI in financial literacy could lead to the potential to have such a broader reach and like a much larger audience and improving what you speak of is access, accessibility, and especially for underserved populations, solutions that can be like used on multiple devices, accessible in different languages. Learning that happens in different formats that caters to diverse learners with different learning preferences and helping underserved populations overcome certain traditional barriers to financial education. 

Joe, if you could be the czar of financial literacy for a day or for eternity, how would you envision maybe Go Boldly playing a role?

Joseph Mahavuthivanij: I mean, for one mandate. Like over a lot of other subjects that we learned, I think we could prioritize financial literacy over other things. I think everything is useful, I just think that this is going to be more impactful for a person's like real life than a lot of other things. When I was in college we kind of thought of this as the difference between like theory and sort of reality. We could theoretically like go through these cases or learn about this thing in a classroom, but like, how does it actually apply in real life? I always thought it was like insane that when you broke it down that I was spending, I don't know, like for that hour I was in class, like a hundred or $200 to be in that class for that hour. Had I known that maybe I would've gone more often. I think mandating is the most important thing. And also making sure that it's taught at home. And so I think like parents have a major role to play in this as well.

I think there's a power law factor in here as well. It's not like a linear like wealth gap that's happening. It's exponential. And so part of our mission is to start to like close that gap. And I think in a lot of ways, like time is of the essence we need to get this mandated as quickly as possible, otherwise the gap continues to grow. 

[00:18:01] Conclusion

Yanely Espinal: Joe, thank you so much for joining us and sharing about your passion for this work and everything that you're creating over at Go Boldly. You so much for joining us. 

Joseph Mahavuthivanij: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. 

Ren Makino: I hope you enjoy this episode with Yanely and Joe. I have a few final housekeeping items before we go. The show notes and full transcript can be found on ngpf.org/podcasts. You can also join these sessions live and asked to speak or questions by signing up for the NGPF speaker series sessions that occur on Thursdays at 4:00 PM. Pacific time. You can sign up to attend on ngpf.org/virtual-pd. Please be sure to subscribe to the NGPF podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Better yet, leave us a review. We love hearing from you and it will help us reach a broader audience on behalf of Yanely and Joe thank you so much for tuning in to this NGPF podcast.

About the Author

Ren Makino

Ren started interning at NGPF in 2014, and worked part-time through high school and college. With his knowledge growing alongside NGPF, he joined the team to work full-time after graduating from college in 2020. He is also the producer of the NGPF podcast. During his free time, he likes to try out coffees from different roasters across the world.

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