Why I dropped out of Cornell to build a neobank for college students
Here’s the story of why I dropped out of one of the best schools in the world to start a neobank. Well, not quite a bank (yet). But we’ll get to that part later.
After high school, I started college at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. I didn’t declare a major, but I knew that I wanted to start my own business. I took classes in economics, politics and literature, and I even applied to enter the Ross School of Business. Unfortunately, I was rejected from Ross — despite having started my own businesses in high school, having a 4.0 GPA and doing multiple internships. So I decided to transfer to Cornell.
If you’ve heard of Cornell’s Hotel School, you probably know that it’s an incredibly tight knit community. The hotel school is one of the smallest schools at the university. Curriculum-wise it mainly focuses on real estate, finance, hospitality, and accounting. It’s also where my neobank journey would officially begin.
How did I go from studying at an ivy league school to dropping out to start a bank?
Let’s back up again. Freshman year at Michigan, I was shopping with a friend. I whipped out my debit card to pay for a pair of winter gloves, and to my surprise, my friend yelled at me for using a debit card. “If you can’t afford the gloves, why are you buying them?” I knew that my debit card had sufficient funds to make the purchase and I didn’t yet have a credit card of my own. My friend clearly had the wrong information. She had debit and credit cards mixed up, and thought she was being a good friend by telling me that using credit for that transaction would be inappropriate. But like so many people out there, she was wrong.
When I arrived at Cornell, I saw friends put hundreds of dollars worth of books and supplies on their debit cards, foregoing building credit and not earning a dime of cash back. When we’d go out to eat, friends would sneak and check their bank accounts when the bill came, making sure they had enough to cover their portion. Other friends used buy now, pay later services like AfterPay and Klarna for every purchase, no matter how minor. Friends who got monthly allowances from their parents would squander the whole thing in a few days, leaving themselves high and dry for the rest of the month. Sometimes, if we went out to dinner and one person paid, Venmo requests would go unpaid for weeks as friends waited to get money from campus jobs or from their parents.
A very close friend of mine racked up a few thousand dollars in debt on her credit card during fall semester, and didn’t realize she had to pay it back until her mom found out and yelled at her. Many friends lamented starting internships and full time jobs because it meant they’d have to learn how to build a budget from scratch. Across different friend groups, people who were otherwise brilliant sunk hundreds of dollars into meme stocks and TikTok crypto scams — when they would have been better off just paying their bills.
Ultimately, what I witnessed in college was a financial literacy desert, and it terrified me. Whether they came from the upper echelons of the upper class or had to work multiple jobs and take out loans to afford school, my peers knew little to nothing about personal finance.
I was lucky enough to learn a lot about saving and money early on from operating a string of businesses. I started my first company, an auction business, in elementary school, and spun up a web design service and e-commerce brand from middle school to high school. My parents taught my siblings and me about the importance of building and maintaining good credit early on, so we always knew the difference between debit cards and credit cards. But I was an exception to the rule on campus.
The massive difference between my experience and that of my friends was quite shocking to me, but what was even more shocking was the fact that none of us learned anything about money in school. It was as if schools and teachers were legally prohibited from teaching us about practical personal finance skills and habits, while being forced to teach us about things like calculus and physics (which, while interesting and terrific for building mental muscle, aren’t practicable for 99% of students). Less than 1 in 4 high schoolers learn anything about personal finance in school, even though more than 95% of students know that learning more about personal finance is critical to achieving their hopes and dreams.
It isn’t easy being Gen-Z
Gen-Zers have a lot going on. From economic uncertainty, to higher than ever living costs, rising tuition, and a sense of impending climate doom, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The fact that we have so much to worry about means there’s never been a better time to create new ways to alleviate worries. So when my co-founders approached me after making the decision to drop out of Harvard and Stanford, it was a no-brainer to say yes and wave farewell to Cornell.
That’s why I’m building Fizz. Fizz is creating a new kind of neobank, the kind that has financial literacy baked in and teaches you about money in a way that makes sense — instead of the traditional, “learn it the hard way” approach.
Our first product is a student debit card that builds credit (here’s how it works if you’re interested). We’re giving students the best of both worlds — a card that won’t let you spend more than you have, and that helps you establish and build your credit score from the ground up. We pair actionable financial literacy content in our app with cash back offers that help students save money around campus.
Unlike the credit card companies of the past, Fizz is here to help students, not hurt them, and it doesn’t charge fees or interest. Our mission is to be the financial ally for young adults, helping you build a positive relationship with money while you chase your dreams, build a life, and fight for what you believe in.
While I’m ecstatic that legislation making it law for personal finance to be part of the curriculum is finally catching up, the millions of us who’ve already graduated high school can’t rely on the classroom anymore when it comes to helping us get a handle on our financial futures. In the past, the weight has been placed on parents to pass down money skills to their children. But in reality, that expectation leaves behind too many students. Because of generational gaps in financial literacy education and negative experiences they may have had with the traditional financial system, many parents lack the knowledge to pass down in the first place.
We believe it’s the duty of companies like ours to provide students with a rich, fundamental understanding of how their money works. And we’re tackling this head on. Take a peek at the personal finance content we’re creating here.
Why I dropped out
When the pandemic hit, the massive cost of school and a suboptimal online experience combined with a bit of convincing from friends (some of whom became my co-founders), I dropped out of Cornell. My co-founders and I applied and were accepted into Y-Combinator, a kind of accelerated college for startup founders. That’s where we began writing the code that became Fizz. We obviously didn’t go into school thinking that we’d leave so abruptly to start Fizz, so I won’t try and say it was easy. I turned down my dream job in private equity, my co-founders and I left our closest friends on campus, and some of us lost scholarships that we can never renew because we’re no longer full time students. Starting Fizz might be a risk, but I think it’s one worth taking.
So far, my co-founders and I have recruited a world class team from some of the best companies in the world to join us in building towards our mission. We’ve raised funding from investors and founders behind household-name companies like Postmates, Duolingo, Handshake, Public.com, Airbnb and more. And we’re about to put Fizz cards in the hands of tens of thousands of students on our waitlist from more than 150 colleges and universities.
Fizz is a once in a lifetime chance to help millions of students build a positive relationship with money from day one. Fizz is a better kind of card company, so even if you don’t care or aren’t interested in personal finance, we won’t hold it against you. We don’t hide sneaky fees in the terms and conditions, and we allow you to autopay your bill daily so you’ll always know how much you’re spending. Fizz is and always will be designed with you in mind.
If you’d like to join the movement as we build the financial ally of a new generation, get in touch, or sign up here: joinfizz.com
**I have to (and should) note: Fizz is not a bank. We’re a financial technology company, and when we launch, will be the first and only financial services provider built for college students, by college students.**