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Inspiring Conversations with Sam Rowen of onomy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sam Rowen.

Hi Sam, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I was born and raised in NYC and graduated from the University of Michigan in 2013. I then started my career in the Peace Corps, where I served for two years in Cameroon. My time in Ambam, Cameroon was dedicated to youth education initiatives–I worked with the local government to build the first municipal library in the Southern region of the country, amongst other projects. Ultimately, the time I spent there was transformative for my life and my career and gave me a totally new perspective on my life priorities.

Upon completion of my Peace Corps service, I knew that I wanted to carve out a mission-driven career and start my own business–and that desire is what brought me to LA! I attended USC Marshall to get my MBA and then spent two years working in education technology before launching my own company, onomy, with Sam Abrahamson, a friend from business school.

onomy, in many ways, is a business driven by our passion for education and a desire to make an impact. The business originated from a personal problem that I (and many others) experienced making the transition into “real life” post college–I felt that I wasn’t prepared for the complex responsibilities of taxes, health insurance, building credit, and more… These are all things that we’re frankly expected to know when confronted with them for the first time, but they’re never prioritized in our education system. So my co-founder and I decided to team up and do something about it and launched the business in August 2020.

The company is built on the principle of access. Learning about “adulting”/personal finance is critical to living life and, unfortunately, there are structural inequalities inherent to access to this specific type of information. Some are lucky to be able to turn to family members in times of need or have access to internships from a young age where they’re exposed to personal finance topics. Others don’t have these same opportunities. That’s why we built onomy for everyone, for free. And our entertaining, short-form video content is designed to demystify all the difficult personal finance jargon that contributes to the stigma around these topics.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I wouldn’t say the road has been bumpy, but perhaps just a bit windy. There are two big life struggles that I’ve had that have really shaped me and my professional career.

The first was my struggle to make the post-college transition into adulthood, a struggle that left a huge mark on me and was core to our decision to start onomy. I spent so much time in school learning a great deal about subject areas that have shaped my way of thinking (and I’m grateful for that!) but precious little time being confronted with information that I really needed to know to live life as an adult. And while the social media sphere likes to joke about #adulting–the memes expressing dismay about why we learned to play the recorder, but not how to pay taxes, are funny–there are actually serious societal costs associated with lack of preparedness for adulthood and financial literacy. Poor credit habits and debt management, poor investments, costly health insurance choices, lack of saving for retirement…these things add up for millions of young Americans.

The other struggle was my return to the US post Peace Corps. It’s hard to describe the level of culture shock I felt moving to LA straight from a small, rural village in Cameroon. When I moved here, I didn’t know anyone and struggled to adapt to the loneliness, vastness of the city, and its fast pace of life. Over time, I’ve really grown to love it here and have made it my long-term home! I credit my fiancée (a SoCal native) for showing me around and giving me a glimpse into all the diversity, outdoor activities, great dining, etc. that helped ease my transition and made this place feel like home.

As you know, we’re big fans of onomy. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
At onomy, our goal is to empower millions of young adults with the critical knowledge needed for adulthood.

We’ve been there. That moment you realized you were sent out into the world without the knowledge you needed to be an adult.

Taxes, health insurance, investing, navigating the job market, leasing or buying a car… these are requirements for life that we all think about every single day. onomy is here to give you this knowledge and take the stress out of adulting.

We’re on a mission to democratize access to this information, make complex and intimidating topics fun and engaging, and give you the confidence to make big life decisions.

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
I don’t necessarily view myself as a “risk taker” per se, but I do think that deviating from traditional pathways in life is central to my story and my accomplishments to date.

My decision to join the Peace Corps post-college was something that caught many of my friends by surprise but was truly something I felt compelled to do so that I could give back and have a chance to meet people and explore an area of the world that I otherwise would never have been exposed to. And I’m so thankful that I took that path, as I know for a fact that spending a couple of years at a massive company post-college would never have provided me with the opportunity to introspect about the life I wanted to lead in the way that Peace Corps service did.

I feel the same way about my decision to leave my old job to start onomy. Since launching the business, my co-founder and I are routinely asked about the calculation of risk that was behind our decisions to jump into this as a full-time job. And I’ll admit that when first thinking of taking the leap, there was some trepidation. But after spending some time thinking about my priorities and talking to others who validated our central hypotheses that drive onomy’s mission, it began to feel like there was more personal and professional risk associated with NOT starting onomy. Ultimately, I began to see the real risk was the regret I would have to live with if I never tried to take a chance on myself and this business, as well as the missed opportunity to help people better navigate the same challenges I did.

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