Over the last couple months I’ve interviewed a growing number of top bloggers and writers to get their input on personal finance issues (e.g., the founders of Budgets Are Sexy, The Broke And Beautiful Life, Frugal Rules,Debt Roundup, and Modest Money). Today, I have another terrific interview!
Jason Vitug is the founder of Phroogal.com. He worked in the financial services industry for nearly a decade before he founded Phroogal. His website features a host of personal finance tools and a specialized search engine for financial knowledge. On top of starting this resource, he also maintains a popular blog, too. Jason’s definitely one of the top personal finance writers on the Internet. Thanks, Jason!
What inspired you to begin Phroogal?
I worked in financial services industry for close to a decade — most recently as an executive for a credit union in Silicon Valley. It was the years working in banking and exposure to the technology startup world in the Silicon Valley that converged to bring life to Phroogal.
At the credit union, I was responsible for raising awareness to the benefits of credit union membership and I strongly felt financial education would be a key differentiation. I traveled around the country and championed workplace financial literacy at various Fortune 500 companies.
Afterwards, I decided to take a break and clear my mind. I chose to travel. I ended up backpacking around the world for 12 months. I explored 20 countries in 12 months in 2012. It was in my sixth country on top of this 8th century temple: I thought, “I’m living my dream. Why was I the only one here?”
Eventually, as I continued to travel, I wrote down ideas. The epiphany I had on top of the temple began to make sense. It wasn’t about the amount of money one had — it was how one used money to live life rich. It boiled down to education. The more you know about personal finance the better financial decisions are made to support one’s dream. Then, I set out to change that and build Phroogal.
How did people (friends, family, etc.) react when you first started?
My family and close friends were very supportive. They’ve seen me achieve many of my goals; such as, finishing my MBA, becoming an executive before the age of 30, and backpacking around the world.
They were excited that I wanted to finally do something on my own that had significant potential to help millions of people including them. Additionally, my old coworkers were very supportive. They cheered me on when I announced what I was doing.
What was your experience with design, code, web work prior to starting your site?
I’ve dabbled in websites before, but had limited knowledge of HTML. However, in my professional career I was part of many projects that involved application development. My job at the credit union exposed me to design elements, more HTML programming, general user experience, and interface design. Marketing and business development fell under my supervision and it was important for me to understand the full capabilities of program languages and design to get the most optimal results on marketing campaigns. I taught myself and participated in as many free webinars. At first to learn the lingo; eventually, to know what was possible.
What advice would you give to those thinking about starting their own site?
It takes a lot of time and preparation to get it right. But, getting it right doesn’t matter if you don’t start.
Have a vision. It’s also important to develop the mission and set the goals of your website. Understand the problem you are trying to fix and the solution you’re offering. Then, start thinking about how you’re going to execute on that solution and what features or tools are needed. How you go about realizing your vision will change so be open to different opportunities. You’ll discover what your target market actually wants and a better way to deliver it.
Work hard and then work harder. It’s not a “set it and forget it” or “if you build it they will come.” It’s not going to be easy, but it can be as rewarding as you want it to be.
How do you make money from your site?
Currently, we aren’t making money from the website. I have a long term vision I am working towards. I had the opportunity to monetize the website because of the traffic we have but it began to take us off our mission.
My mission is to solve financial incapability and illiteracy. I don’t want to make a quick buck and take me off course. For now, the focus is to grow the knowledge base and users.
What do you think you’ve learned from your readers and fans?
Our community really loves reading personal stories around money. I started out blogging by answering questions without much personal anecdotes. I thought quick, short answers would suffice but people remember stories and they can take the most important pieces and incorporate into their personal situations.
How can somebody in lower incomes best overcome financial hurdles and prosper?
Having less income has more challenges but increasing that income doesn’t change financial situations. It only grows accordingly. When I was traveling around the country I would meet production employees making less than $40,000 a year who owned their home, had savings and no debt. On the other side, I would meet senior level folks who made $250,000 a year but was in debt for $600,000. So, who is wealthy?
The best piece of advice is become more knowledgeable about money today. Don’t wait till the “when I have more money” moment. Good financial habits lead to better decisions and better opportunities.
Who are your financial role models?
I grew up listening to Suze Orman. I liked her in your face and dramatic flair for money. As I grew older, I started listening to everyday people I would meet at my retail banking job. Everyone had some sort of financial situation or advice that I learned from and carry on till this day.
I’ve kind of learned hard lessons and took in whatever people shared with me. When it comes to investing, I look up to Warren Buffet’s philosophy by investing in things I understand. With philanthropy, I look up to Bill Gates in his mission on education and giving back.
What personal finance sites do you read?
I read a bunch of personal finance blogs. I think about 20 that I actively read and at times comment. On occasion I’ll read Daily Finance, Reuters or USNews. But, I’ve found my twitter feed to be a great source of discovering what’s trending today and what my connections are buzzing about.
What else would you care to share with the readers of Frugaling?
I want to leave off with saying how important it is to seek knowledge. Knowledge never gets old. It evolves. It’s really important to make sure your constantly seeking information that can better your situation. The first step in becoming more knowledgeable is by asking questions. They don’t even have to be the right questions to begin with but the more you do the more you begin to understand.