Andrei Cherny ’97
Joe Sanberg ’01
Andrei Cherny ’97 and Joe Sanberg ’01 may not have crossed paths in the Yard, but Harvard still brought them together. The two became friends after meeting at a Harvard event in Washington, D.C. Fifteen years later, they’ve launched Aspiration, a new kind of investment firm that provides financial services at a fee their customers choose. They share how Harvard networks have shaped their lives and inspired them to expand opportunities for others.
Tell us about your journey to Harvard.
Andrei: Harvard was my first choice, but I didn’t think I was going to go. I grew up in an immigrant family, and we were on food stamps for much of the time. You can really map out my life from the days up to when I received that envelope in the mailbox to the days after. It was a watershed moment for the kinds of opportunities it opened up to me, the kind of people I got to know, and the amount of learning and growth that it offered me.
Joe: Harvard had always been a dream of mine. And getting a chance to live out all of the opportunities that have come as a Harvard undergraduate, it’s just a continuation of that dream in ways unimaginable to me at 17. My experience at Harvard infused in me a sense of possibility, of thinking big.
How did you become friends? You weren’t students at Harvard at the same time.
Joe: Andrei and I met in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1997. Andrei had just graduated from Harvard and was a speechwriter at the White House. I was an incoming freshman and interning at the Democratic National Committee. We connected at a Harvard in D.C. networking event, sponsored by the Institute of Politics, where Andrei was speaking.
Andrei: Harvard played a large role in our becoming friends. I think Joe and I coming together 15 years after we initially met, to start this business together, speaks not only to the depths of Harvard relationships, but to their durability as well.
Explain the idea behind Aspiration and its motto: “Do Well. Do Good.”
Joe: Andrei and I believe that if you can create a company that works for everyday Americans, not just a small few, you can do a lot of good for a lot of people. We launched Aspiration because we wanted to create a company that serves people like our families, our cousins, our aunts, our uncles—people who deserve great financial services, but who have been left behind for one reason or another.
Andrei: We have taken on one of the largest and most intractable challenges in America today, which is how to give financial opportunity to many. People of all ages are looking for companies that care about more than just short-term profits. We’re trying to bring that same kind of ethos to financial services, to be a financial firm with a conscience for people who certainly care about making money, but also about making a difference.
Did Harvard play a part in creating Aspiration?
Joe: It takes courage to disrupt the financial industry. At Harvard, you are exposed to such a broad perspective, and you leave with a willingness to challenge the conventional wisdom and a big view on what can be done.
Andrei: Harvard teaches us to be critical thinkers about the world in which we live. It isn’t surprising that our earliest enthusiasts were friends and former professors. They have provided crucial support in building Aspiration.
Why do you stay connected with Harvard? Do you come back for your Reunions?
Joe: Our closest friends are friends from Harvard College. And it’s a testament to how important these friendships are that we stay in touch even as our lives become busier. We make a point to attend our Reunions; I’m a co-chair for my class’s 15th Reunion.
Andrei: Those four years were such a formative time. I got to meet amazing people on all levels who are important to me today, and I’m so grateful. I’ve been to every Reunion, and I have my 20th coming up next year.
You’ve shared that you’re passionate about mentoring young people. What advice would you give to the Class of 2016?
Andrei: We want to deepen our ties to current Harvard College students to encourage more of them to pursue mission-driven careers.
Joe: We think the solutions that we believe in will only stick if there is the next generation of leaders behind us. We want to encourage young graduates to pursue solution-oriented career paths.
Our advice is don’t view your career as “going to go into business, politics, or the public sector.” You should think rather about the problems you observe in the world, which of those you believe are suited to your unique talents, and then consider the ways you can contribute. If you guide your career by the pursuit of solving problems, you’ll find you’re happier, you can work longer and harder, and you’re more effective.