Profile: Susie Kim, UCLA Alumna and Co-Founder of Pluto Money

Let’s be real, college can be stressful. Balancing classes, clubs, internships and part-time jobs can be extremely difficult and as a student, there’s only so much that one can handle. For me personally, the last thing I want to deal with on top of everything else is finance. Yet, managing money is definitely one of the biggest struggles of my life. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to interview UCLA alumna Susie Kim, one of the founders of Pluto Money. Pluto Money is essentially a mobile financial wellness app aimed to help college students.

Her Campus: What is Pluto? And what inspired the creation of this app?

Susie Kim: Pluto is a free iOS app that's revolutionizing financial wellness for college students. I struggled with finances my whole life, which had led me to attend 7 colleges and sometimes work 3-5 part-time jobs at once while in school. But my breaking point was when I decided to drop out of my dream program in London & Florence to study Arts & Italian (I was an Art History & Italian major at UCLA) last minute — not because I didn't have enough money but because I was unsure whether I'd be able to graduate without getting into a huge student debt. My now co-founder was studying Cognitive Science at UCLA at the same time and dealing with his own saving struggles, and after having learned that none of the existing apps or especially banks were built for college students, we decided to build something of our own, for our own generation.

HC: What makes Pluto appealing to college students specifically? And what do you seek to accomplish through your business?

SK: College students juggle a lot — from a heavy load of academics and fear of finding a job to social life and self-development. Adding money management to that is stressful, and it doesn't help that most colleges don't provide basic financial literacy education to prepare students before they go out to the "real world". Having lived through all that fear and stress, we understands the mindset, needs, and lifestyle of students.

We first guide you to set short-term, relevant financial goals, broken down by #bucketlist (e.g. Get tickets to Coachella 2019), #wishlist (e.g. Buy a new laptop), and #adulting (e.g. Pay off student loan). Then we analyze your spending, auto-categorize them (e.g. Food & Drinks - Fast Food, or Education), and recommend challenges based on your finances (e.g. Spend Less on Uber this week) to reach your goals faster. Along the way, we send real-time notifications on your progress, and provide contextual insights where you can compare your spendings anonymously to similar peers based on age, gender, income, college campus, and even dating status.

We aim to become the most predictive, goal-driven mobile bank for Generation Z, one that grows with college students and provide step-by-step guidance into your finances as your lifestyle and goals change.

HC: You co-founded Pluto during your senior year at UCLA! How were you able to balance creating your own start-up with your academic studies? 

SK: Those who know me have seen me juggle 27 units of classes and 2-3 student orgs while running a cafe franchise overseas. I'm a deeply cause-driven person so finding time & energy for passion projects has never really been an issue. I've always gotten advice that I should focus on one or very few priorities or else I wouldn't be able to nail down anything; and while that might have been true, I believe I wouldn't have become the person I am had I not dipped my toes in every water that interested me—all of which experiences have magically added up and became invaluable to being a startup founder.

While balancing may not have been an issue, starting my first tech-startup as a none-technical person (read: I was the epitome of North Campus student) was definitely a huge challenge. Thankfully, UCLA has a great start-up ecosystem packed with resources that supports student entrepreneurs. I was a part of Sigma Eta Pi entrepreneurship fraternity (where I met my co-founder), 3 Day Startup UCLA (where we got our first product draft down in 3 days), LA Hacks team (where we got to interview hundreds of college students to validate the problem), Bruin Entrepreneurs Ventures accelerator, UCLA VC Fund (where I was the first generation student associate and later became a portfolio company member), and most importantly, Startup UCLA Accelerator. Having a startup idea is one thing but running a company is another, and UCLA is one of the best places to get started as a student entrepreneur!

HC: Being a UCLA alumna, what was your fondest memory of being an undergrad here?

SK: Getting flyered on Bruin Walk...... JK! It would have to be my time at Sigma Eta Pi. I joined the frat when I had no knowledge about startups, met the most diverse group of students that are passionate about solving problems and making an impact, learned a ton about different majors and career options that lead to the startup world, and look where I ended up!

HC: What activities were you involved in on campus? What year did you graduate?

SK: I transferred into UCLA my Junior year, and got quickly involved in GLA (Global Leaders Association), Italian Club, Dante Club, American Marketing Association at UCLA, Sigma Eta Pi fraternity, Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, LA Hacks, UCLA VC Fund, and TAMID at UCLA. I graduated in 2015.  

HC: You’ve traveled 40 countries and lived on 3 continents. How has your multicultural background shaped you to become who you are?

SK: I was born in South Korea, lived in Saudi Arabia as a child, left my family when I was 12 and moved to an island in Canada to study, and have been out here ever since. I went through a lot of culture shocks, language barriers, and uncertainties without much support. I also passed through interests in the fields of Medicine, Hotel Management, Environmental Activism, Early Childhood Education, Political Science, Art Curatorship, Event Coordination, Marketing, and Small Business Management, before creating a FinTech startup as a founder and product / experience designer. All of these experiences, while at times burdensome and challenging, taught me to be resilient, be quick on my feet and adapt to whatever environment I'm thrown in, solve problems in my own ways with my own hands, to understand and resonate with different cultures, stories, and perspectives — and most importantly, to never be afraid to start something new as long as it speaks to my heart.

HC: What does female empowerment mean to you? And why is it important that women have equal opportunities to obtain leadership positions? 

SK: Women, by nature, are sensitive, detail-oriented, gentle, deferential, and dependent. Do these sound negative? Maybe. Society has deemed these traits as "weaknesses", which has prevented females from achieving the tremendous potential we possess. Because we are sensitive, we are compassionate and nurturing. Because we are detail-oriented, we are precise and meticulous. Because we are gentle, we don't resort to aggression and violence to combat opposing views and seek solutions in peace. Because we are deferential, we raise other people and each other higher. Because we are dependent, we aren't afraid to seek mentorship when needed and are team-oriented, which as a result gets the whole group farther. Because we are, by nature, built to be mothers, we can care and multitask and still Get. Things. Done.

I’m not saying that women would make the best leaders in ALL teams, ALL companies, ALL industries, in EVERY settings. But there are tremendous number of environments where women would more effectively achieve results and lead teams. So isn't it just ridiculous that men named John outnumber all women in top jobs in most American industries

The time for equality has already passed, because women have historically been lowered, misplaced, and missed opportunities we deserve. Now is the time for equity, where society has to recognize all that we can offer and take us further. And great start for that is for women to take other women higher and further. 

HC: Any advice for students that are hoping to start their own business during college? 

SK: You might have a mind-blowing, game-changing idea — I believe you do! But remember that the final answer is never in your head. It's somewhere outside, in behavior patterns, lifestyles, and problems of your potential users. So get out of your comfort zone in front of your desk and start talking to them. Record their answers, validate the problem—and try to remain unbiased and open-minded—, and really prove your point first before jumping into production! And along the way, don't forget to ask for help. People are a lot nicer and willing to lend a helping hand than you might expect ;) For entrepreneurship resources at UCLA, refer to my answer on #3. If you have any other questions on startups or are trying to get into the fields of Product / Experience / Brand Design, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] / www.linkedin.com/in/susiemielekim !  

Thank you so much for speaking with us Susie ~ Follow Pluto Money on Instagram