THE BLOG
08/11/2015 01:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

New App, Fam-ess, Teaches Kids Financial Responsibility

75% of American households live paycheck to paycheck and 25% have no savings at all. With our consumer debt hovering at $11.5 Trillion, it is clear that we need to teach kids how to manage their money long before become adults. That's why Michelle Salsberry founded Fam-ess (pronounced famous). Fam-ess came in 2nd place at the Women Startup Challenge live pitch competition that I partnered with Women Who Tech on.

Fam-ess is an acronym for Family First, Earn Always, Save Often and Spend Wisely. It's a platform focused on helping teach kids financial discipline and how to make better shopping decisions based on their willingness to work, while also informing the planning of products for kids.

My team and I talked to Michelle about Fam-ess. We wanted to learn more, so we asked her to dig deeper and tell us what Fam-ess' deal is...

Michelle said: We created a mobile app that helps kids decide if a wanted item is really worth the effort it will take to earn it, while collecting anonymous and aggregated data with the consent of the parent and protecting the individual and family privacy, in order to share trends with marketers and manufacturers about what kids want or don't want, and why. We do this to help fund the continuation of financial education programming through more apps, as well as in-school versions.

What sparked the idea to found Fam-ess?

As the mom of two, I found it difficult to go shopping with my kids (who are 8 and 5) without them asking, if not whining, to buy something. In talking with other parents, I found I was not alone, but when investigating the market, there was nothing that met my needs for helping kids earn, save and make smart buying decisions, while simultaneously encouraging money conversations at home in a language kids can understand.

We know it is important to help kids become more financially savvy before going off to college or getting their first job, to help them side step money land-mines as they grow. So we created a mobile app, Quest to Clean Up, that can be used at home and while shopping so kids can earn money and determine what items they want are really worth working for. You can also download it from the Apple Store. They can learn how to tell themselves yes or no when considering a purchase, which is laying the groundwork for a behavior that will need to last a lifetime. We want our kids to know the pros and cons of using credit cards, what compound interest is, and even what are, and why, we pay taxes, so we provide timely educational content for parents to share with their kids, in ways they can understand the complexities of money.

Has anyone shared really good stories for why they need this product? What is one of your favorites?

Lots! I've had a lot of adults, specifically, tell me they wish they had this product growing up, which would have saved them a lot of hard lessons about credit card debt and buying things that were not worth the effort.

One mom lamented that when she tells her kids that they don't have money for something, their reaction is typically, well just go get more out of that machine, or just put it on that card! They clearly don't understand where the money comes from and how hard it is to get it!

What kind of traction are you getting with your product? How do you plan to scale?

We are just now launching our free public Beta for iPhone in the App Store and GooglePlay for Android. We can't wait to get feedback from parents and kids on a national level. Families in our test groups have been clamoring for us to finish development! Kids we've tested with have been continuing to ask us when it is going to be ready because they are excited to have a way to earn and be empowered to make their own buying decisions that mom and dad can feel good about.

As far as scaling is concerned, we hope to roll out a version for teens/collegiate market for kids who are beginning to earn outside the home (we have had a lot of requests for an adult version as well)! We also are working with teachers and administrators to determine the best way to adapt the product for in the classroom.

What has been the biggest challenge in founding Fam-ess?

Early stage funding is very difficult. Particularly for a consumer app, so our investment has come from private investors and bootstrapping. The investment market wants to see proven traction and usage before making an investment, which is understandable, but also really difficult for concept stage companies. We finally just had to bite the bullet after a year of market research, design and prototyping, and say, "yeah, let's go for it." Now we will market "Quest to Clean Up" as much as we can to get people to try it out. We hope loads of folks love it as much as our early testers!

What's one of the most entertaining messages you've gotten at the Fam-ess office so far?

So far, Publisher's Clearing House or Mark Cuban hasn't knocked on our door yet, which would be pretty awesome to further our cause, but we do love the adults that nod their head in amazement and admit "Yep, this app could have really saved me from moving back into my folks basement in my 20's with $10,000 in credit card debt!"

What does a morning in the life of an Fam-ess founder look like?

Well, I am a mom, so typically I'm up at 6:45 checking emails, and the calendar for the day, or surfing media for great content for financial conversations for the app - before getting our two QTCU (Quest to Clean Up) guinea pigs out of bed to get started on their own to-do lists. Since we've launched our test product in our own house, our kids manage their mornings by checking off their to-dos (excited by the ones that are actually paid tasks, and glad to be done with the ones that they just have to do as a member of our little society without getting paid). They've been awesome motivators and a great feedback panel for what works for kids. Then I run them off to school/camps and get busy with meetings on development, crafting content with financial institution partners and looking for investment opportunities.

How can folks support you in your startup?
  • A number of ways! We love feedback on any ways we can improve and make the product better, so send us your thoughts!
  • As financial institutions or organizations interested in financial education, email us to partner in developing content or as a sponsor of the app.
  • As investors, we'd love to share more of our plans and how we will evolve with the right investment partners.
  • Media - help us promote the app and what we are doing! Interested in a press release or interview, we love talking about what we are working on!
Follow Fam-ess to keep up with what they're up to, and support 'em: Folks, do you think this would've been helpful for you as a kid? Or would it be useful for your own kids?