Andrei Cherny | From the White House to CEO of Disruptive Fintech Innovator Aspiration
Smart Business Revolution

Andrei Cherny is the Co-founder and CEO of Aspiration, a mission-driven company that offers financial solutions that put its customers, their conscience, and the planet first. He has spent nearly 20 years working to make the financial system more open and fair. His background includes working as an advisor to some of America’s top companies, Co-founder and President of a media startup, financial fraud prosecutor, historian, White House aide, and Navy Reserve Officer. He has provided strategic counsel to all kinds of companies from Mega America to Intel. He also launched and grew Democracy Journal, one of the most widely read idea journals in America. 

Andrei Cherny, the Co-founder and CEO of Aspiration, is John Corcoran’s guest in this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where he talks about his background in politics and founding a mission-driven fintech company. Andrei also explains how he builds his team and his online community of customers, and how the rise of retail investors has impacted his business.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Andrei Cherny’s background, his experience working at the White House, and how his involvement in politics influenced how he runs his business
  • How the idea for Aspiration came about and the people that guided Andrei
  • What Andrei does to ensure that his idea remains successful and profitable
  • How has Aspiration’s mission helped attract quality employees and create a good company culture?
  • The steps Aspiration takes to build an online community of customers
  • How the rise of retail investors has impacted Andrei’s business
  • The point Andrei realized he had a great business idea
  • The peers Andrei respects and those he acknowledges for his achievements
  • Where to learn more about Aspiration

Resources Mentioned:

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here. I am the host of this show, Smart Business Revolution Podcast. I’ve been doing it for about 10 years. And what’s so cool about it, and I say this every week, you get to talk to interesting CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs of all kinds of different companies. I recently had a conversation with the founder of Netflix, you know, individuals from YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, Open Table, so many more. But also sometimes from time to time get to reconnect with an old friend. And so that’s what we’re doing here today. I’ll explain in a moment.

I’m also the Co-founder Rise25, where we help to connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And before I mention today’s guest, first of all, a quick shout out to Lowell Weiss and Laura Capps, two old friends. Lowell was a mentor and a friend, Presidential speech or speechwriter at the Clinton White House, kind of took me under his wing, helped me go from interning in the speechwriting office where I met today’s guest, to getting a job as a writer. I’m forever grateful to him for that. He’s now president of Cascade Philanthropy Advisors. Laura Capps is now an elected official in her hometown of Santa Barbara following in the footsteps of her wonderful parents, Walter and Lois Capps. But she was my supervisor when I was a lowly intern at the White House. 

But today’s guest, his name is Andrei Cherny. He’s the CEO of Aspiration, and also the Co-founder. He spent nearly 20 years working to make the financial system more open and fair. He combines a background as an advisor to some of America’s top companies, and co-founder and president of a media startup and financial fraud prosecutor, historian, White House aide, and Navy Reserve Officer. There’s seriously not much he hasn’t done yet. He has provided strategic counsel to all kinds of companies from Mega America to Intel. He also launched and grew Democracy Journal, one of the most widely read idea journals in America. And, you know, we met about 25 years ago, God seems like

Andrei Cherny 2:30

Don’t say that.

John Corcoran 2:33

It makes it feel like a lot older than it actually was. But Andrei, it’s such a pleasure to reconnect with you again. And one of the things we have in common is that we both have kind of a shared interest, both in government public policy work and experience in that area, and later got into entrepreneurship. And so I think that’s really fascinating. It’s kind of like two very different types of personalities, typically, but were you the kind of kid who is like, running around on the weekends doing a lemonade stand? Or were you the kind of kid who was like lobbying the local city council to allow lemonade stands to operate in the city boundaries and require them to pay a fair wage, or are you doing both at the same time.

Andrei Cherny 3:13

I was the kid who couldn’t care less about the lemonade stand. You know, I was the kid who was, you know, in, in the library, reading books about history, and I was the kid who was volunteering on. on political campaigns I started. My first volunteer effort was with the exciting campaign of Michael Dukakis for President.

John Corcoran 3:41

That worked out well.

Andrei Cherny 3:42

Exactly. And was one of the people inspired by him, but. I was 12 years old and shut up in the local campaign office, not even the City Office, just a little satellite office in the abandoned bank, bank branch and walked in. They said, Oh, that’s great. You want to volunteer, but we’d like to help. I said, Well, I’d like to work on a foreign policy issues. And well, you know, that most of that happens in the national campaign headquarters, but we have something else you can help with. And they took me to the back closet and showed me the vacuum cleaner and said, Why don’t you start with it. So as I was the kid who was vacuuming the floor of campaign, campaign headquarters,

John Corcoran 4:27

so you obviously went down the political route. That was your first love, so to speak, and later in life, like me Got to entrepreneurship later. Talk to me a little bit about your experience. You were writing speeches at the White House and had a bunch of other experience beyond that in the political realm. But specifically your experience at the White House, how did that prepare you for Aspiration in some way?

Andrei Cherny 4:51

I look, I think all of the different experiences that one has over the course of a lifetime shape you in different ways, and certainly that was true for me as well. You rattle off some of the different things I’ve worked on over the years, and a lot of them don’t really seem like they necessarily fit together. But, you know, for me, entrepreneurship and what we’re doing at Aspiration is less of a, of a pivot or less of a change and more of another way for me personally, to bring to life and address some of the challenges that, that I care about some of the challenges that brought me to that campaign headquarters when I was 12 years old, or that I was working on the White House or that I worked on in other capacities around environmental justice around economic inclusion and financial opportunity for people. Those are things that I’ve really cared about from a very young age and have looked for and been able to find different ways to try to make an impact on them along the way.

John Corcoran 5:58

Yeah, yeah. You know, when we met, I was interning in the speech trading office. And what I admired about you is you weren’t that much older than me at the time. I can’t remember I think you were taking a pause from Harvard or you just graduate? graduated? Yeah. Okay. All right. And you want to want to when I started walking straight into a job as a speechwriter, of course. And so I was thinking, Man, this kid’s got it made. And, you know, one of the things I tell people, when people ask me about working at the White House, I say, one of the best things about it is just, I was so inspired by the smart people that I was around, you know, and who today, like yourself, are CEOs of companies, or they’re members of Congress, or they’re doing all kinds of interesting things. Was that the experience for you as well?

Andrei Cherny 6:41

Absolutely. Having that as a first job, obviously, incredibly lucky and fortunate on that, but it also very much shaped a lot of things about me and including, as I think about running a company, the level of expectations that somebody should have you remember being in that speechwriting office, and you have to get every word right. And yeah, you know, there’s always say that, yeah, the stakes are high One wrong word, sends markets tumbling, sends armies marching. Now, I think we’ve seen over the past few years that there’s some administration’s that have a different standard around that, but we will get into that on this side, this bar is a little lower bars, the bar was changed for a little bit, but yeah.