Inside Even

Empathy doesn’t scale

But the Even Advisor team is taking a crack at it anyway.

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Four summers ago I was checking out at Key Foods, a cheap grocery store located near my old apartment in Queens, when I experienced my first financial public shaming.

Quite loudly, the store clerk informed me that my debit card had been declined. He offered no advice, no alternative, no solace. He stared at me impatiently while I fumbled for the words. None came. So I said “okay” and walked out of the store, leaving my groceries in a bag on the conveyer belt.

In that moment, frankly, it was hard to give a shit about much else.

For a couple of years, that feeling of impending financial doom was the norm for me. Working in hospitality through college, I’d become intimately acquainted with income volatility — the anxiety of inconsistent paychecks, the impossibly complex mental math I did to stay afloat, the unnerving frustration of walking into my bank to request an overdraft fee reversal. I became convinced that I was just really bad at money.

Then I landed my first salaried job at a growing startup in New York, and experienced a seismic shift in perspective. I wasn’t earning much more money than I had been at my restaurant job before it, but somehow, managing my finances required much less effort. For the first time since leaving my parents’ house, I could breathe. I could afford to do the things I wanted to do: I started saving, took myself on a 10-day vacation, paid my student loans on time every month.

This became a cause I care deeply about; I wanted to help others realize their potential, to feel the same freedom and confidence that I’ve been fortunate enough to feel. So just over a year ago, I joined Even as the very first Member Advisor. The sequence of events that led me here is a story for another time (and a quite funny one at that). What I’d like to share with you instead is a piece of the work I’ve done as an Advisor: How We Advise: the Even Advisors Style Guide.

Starting with my own happenstance experience and continuing through volumes of research, thousands of hours of member interactions, excellent mentors and our members’ willingness to share, the Even Advisors Style Guide is a culmination of what we’ve learned about how to best serve the people we’re building for — a work that aims to celebrate and cultivate empathy.

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The vision for our Style Guide was born in a moment of panic, mere weeks after I joined Even and made one of my most memorable mistakes. I had doubly overcharged a member a reasonably large sum; but because of restrictive bank schedules, an instant refund was impossible. In fact the refund would not process for several days.

Stomach in knots, I immediately fired off a slew of Slack messages to the founders, frantically asking what I should do. Later, I realized that I was really asking what they would do. This is an understandable visceral reaction. But at Even, we are impassioned proponents of autonomy—of stating our intent, rather than asking for permission.

This is not easy; often times it’s extremely uncomfortable, especially when the decision you’re faced with directly affects a member. The Style Guide is a means of empowering Advisors to map their decisions to the values and heuristics we’ve preserved there. So that when Advisor #25 makes their first big mistake, they know exactly how to fill in the blanks — not with a script, but with an applied understanding of our beliefs.

What’s next

This version of our Style Guide is Step One in our team-wide effort to do the impossible: to scale empathy. We’re distilling what we know and what works for our members now, and growing it piece by piece — so that Member #100,000 feels as important as Member #1. This effort is comprised of many other moving parts, some of which my fellow Advisors and I will explore in future posts. I’ll share a few of the major obstacles I’ve overcome while building our very first Style Guide and Advisor training program.

In the meantime, suggestions are always encouraged. Our Style Guide is entirely open-source, so feel free to use whatever bits and pieces make sense for you and your team. We’d love to hear how you’re tackling the task of scaling empathy at your company, so drop us a line.

If what you’ve read here and what we do resonates with you, come join us!

Special thanks to: Jane Leibrock, Quinten Farmer, Jon Schlossberg, Rachel Giuliani, the Advisor team, and the members of Even.