Deacon Spotlight: Kelsey Willock

Kelsey Willock (BA 2015 in English & Business )

CEO & Co-Founder of Aura in San Francisco, CA

Headshot of Kelsey Willock, she has long brown hair and is wearing a pink sweater and smiling

Tell us about your current job role and employer. What are you currently working on?

I am the CEO and Co-Founder of Aura – a financial wellness and wealth management platform that helps people build a better relationship with their money. What’s novel is our hyper-personalized investment experience that reduces financial anxiety and improves users’ financial security. You can think of us as Noom for Finance. Like Bumble, we’re built with women in mind – our focus on community and social support enabled us to build a platform where anyone can begin their personal investment journey without judgment or fear.

What key personal and/or career experiences led you to where you are today?

I graduated college with about $200k in student debt and a lot of financial anxiety. When I got my job at Goldman my junior year, I told a colleague about my situation and they recommended I start investing to counteract my interest rates. As I learned to invest, I realized I could make my dollar work for me rather than have my wallet control me. After 5 years working for the firm, I decided to leave and build a company with my partner to build Aura – a platform I wish I had at the beginning of my investing journey.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you navigate that challenge?

The most challenging aspect is adapting to rapid change. As a startup founder, I am constantly shifting seats, learning new skills and overcoming challenges. While this is certainly one of the most challenging aspects, it is also the most enjoyable because no day is the same. I also lean on my partner and fellow founders fo navigate challenges to learn from them and their journeys.

What advice would you give to Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college (finances, health, values, work/life balance)?

Say yes to new experiences. When I first graduated school, I moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. I didn’t know a single person but it was one of the most eye opening experiences both personally and professionally of my life. I would also say, take your time. My first job out of school wasn’t my ideal role but I used the experience to build into the role I wanted and was excited about. I also made sure to explore what I enjoyed personally like traveling, skiing and hiking.

We know that relationships are important for any kind of development. How do you build and maintain your network?

I have always made relationship building a priority. When I moved from Salt Lake City to San Francisco, the opportunity came from the strong relationships I had built in the San Francisco office. I have had countless examples of relationship building leading to opportunity. One trick I use is, every time I meet a new person for networking purposes I would ask to be introduced to at least one more person through them to continue expanding my network. Soft introductions are always much more productive than cold outreaches. And finally, make sure to maintain relationships and add value mutually rather than always ask for help.

Tell us about your mentoring relationships. What impact have these relationships had on your career and life?

My mentors have gotten me so many opportunities and through good and bad times in my career. Like a good friend, they are there for you through your ups and downs. One of my most impactful mentors was my first boss in San Francisco. She guided me through my role, through numerous promotions and even helped me learn to protect work/life balance. Make sure to find a mentor that cares about both your personal and professional self!

What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are interested in working in your industry?

Working at a startup is about being a go getter. If you want to break into an early stage startup, reach out to founders or early team members to learn from them and build relationships. Often times, opportunity comes to those who are looking to be scrappy and add value whenever they can. I would also say, don’t worry about fitting all the skills required to get a position. Willingness to learn, being creative and adaptable is so much more powerful than checking every box.

What’s next for your career? What future goals or plans are you pursuing?

I am working on building and launching Aura over the next year. We’ve built the early product, raised venture capital, and grown a team. Now, we are focused on product market fit, growth and community building. Our ultimate goal is to have a successful launch and expansion of the company to help get more people invested and less stressed about the financial situations.

Story published in January 2022. For current updates about Kelsey, visit her LinkedIn page.