Geek of the Week: Tori Dunlap’s ‘First $100K’ turned into a movement to empower women financially

Tori Dunlap. (Jon Cárdenas Photo)

When Tori Dunlap was 9 years old, she started running her own business — a vending machine company, in which she learned the ins and outs of managing machines, candy and money. She rolled enough quarters over the ensuing years to contribute to her own college fund.

The financial discipline stuck with Dunlap, and by 25 she had saved her first $100,000, quit a corporate job in marketing and jumped full time into her own business called Her First $100K to fight inequality and help women achieve financial independence. It’s now a global, six-figure business and movement — and Dunlap is our latest Geek of the Week.

“Everyone can hit their first $100K, and they get to decide what that looks like,” Dunlap said. “Maybe it’s $100K saved like me, or maybe it’s $100K earned, debt paid off, invested, or something else. I’m the first to acknowledge that hitting my $100K was a combination of not just hard work and good strategies, but also privilege.”

Reaching financial independence was one of Dunlap’s biggest priorities in life, and she owes much of that drive to her parents, who made sure that she had a strong financial education. She saw her father on the phone with the cable company, negotiating the bill and witnessed her mother balancing the checkbook on the 13th and the 21st of the month. For some time she thought everyone knew how to save, invest, and negotiate.

(Photo courtesy of Tori Dunlap)

“It wasn’t until after college I realized most women are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to their money and career knowledge,” Dunlap said. “I watched female friends get paid less than their worth. I read stories online about women being denied career opportunities because they were seen as ‘less.’ I had sexist, negative comments said to me at work by male colleagues. So I knew that I had to fight back.”

Dunlap’s fight is not going unnoticed. She’s been called “the voice of financial confidence for women” by CNBC, and through online tutorials, public speaking, paid courses, website tools and more, she has helped more than 300,000 women negotiate salaries, pay off debt, build savings, invest, and start businesses. Her work has been featured on “Good Morning America,” The New York Times, People Magazine, Time Magazine, Forbes, and more.

Before becoming a full-time entrepreneur, Dunlap led organic marketing strategy for Fortune 500 companies, with clients like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Nike, the NFL, and the Academy Awards. In growing her own business over the last four years, she credits Instagram and PR with helping her connect with customers and spread her mission. But it’s all taken a surprising turn since she got on TikTok.

“I knew that you could see accelerated growth on the platform — it’s the only main social platform that currently has more people consuming content than creating it — and it fit well with my brand,” Dunlap said of the video-sharing app. She found her niche with a mix of content that is aspirational (talking about how she left her 9-5 job and built her business) and educational (how to pay off debt, invest, etc.)

 I’m here to stop the narrative that the reason women aren’t rich is because they buy too many lattes. I’m here to stop the shame and judgment.

After posting a few personal videos, she really started trying more with TikTok in mid-July. And then one video that went viral, attracting millions of views. Dunlap was getting 100 followers every 5 minutes, and two months later has a global following of almost 450,000. She is one of the largest financial educators on the platform and the trajectory of her business has been reshaped.

“In terms of followers, it took me three days to do on TikTok what it took me three years to do on Instagram,” she said. “But I was ready for it — I have an established, global business, credibility, and products to sell. As a former social media manager, it’s a reminder that consistency, credibility, and serving before selling are what grows your account — not paid ads or manufactured authenticity.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Tori Dunlap:

What do you do, and why do you do it? I’m here to stop the narrative that the reason women aren’t rich is because they buy too many lattes. I’m here to stop the shame and judgment. A financial education is a woman’s best form of protest. My mission: Get you the funds to build the life you want — and slay the patriarchy at the same time.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? We talk about the pay gap a lot — 77 cents to a man’s dollar; it’s even worse if you’re a woman of color. But what we’re not talking about is the investing gap. We know that the number one reason women don’t invest is fear — fear of doing it wrong.

Women either wait longer than men to invest, or do not invest at all. They are told investing is scary, or risky, or just not for them. And then, women live 7 years longer on average than men do. So we’re taking less money that grows at a slower rate, and then we’re expected to live longer on that money. On average, we need to save $1.25 for every $1 saved by men. How the hell does that make sense?

Retirement is the most costly expense of your life. It’s more expensive than college, a house, or paying for your kids’ college. Investing your money in a tax-advantaged retirement account like a 401K or IRA is the only way the average woman will be able to stop working someday. The ONLY way. So this is your kick in the pants — if you keep telling yourself that investing is something you’ll get to eventually, it cannot wait.

And because of the power of compound interest, TIME matters more than the amount of money. If I never contribute another penny, I’ll have over $2.8 million in retirement — because I did a lot of the heavy lifting early. It’s all about how much time you have for it to grow.

Where do you find your inspiration? Meet Rose, an adorable 70-year-old woman who was ready to retire. Rose was a teacher, diligently saving for her retirement for over 30 years, putting away every hard-earned penny she could. Except for one problem: Rose had never actually INVESTED that money. Rose had deposited money into an account but had never chosen her investments. She didn’t know she needed to. Her money was in financial purgatory — earning no interest, sitting there for 30 years, and never growing one bit. Rose could no longer afford to retire because she did not have enough money to sustain herself. I cry every time I think about her. She is my fuel. Every day since I heard her story, my life has been in service of women’s financial education. I want to prevent women from having the same experience as Rose.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My Bluetooth headphones. They block out the world and get me in the zone.

Tori Dunlap teaches her signature “Back to Basics” workshop at Lean In Seattle. (Nadezda Zavitaeva Photo)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? Honestly, it’s just dozens of plants. I barely have room to work anymore with all my plants.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Done is better than perfect. You just need to launch! We’re often so caught up in making things meet a falsified definition of perfect that we never allow what we’re creating to see the light of day. I’m a big believer in getting your stuff out there, testing it, and then perfecting it over time.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Hermione Granger.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter. I love traveling but hate flying, so it’d be nice to not have to be on a plane for eight hours.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Do in-person retreats and events around money education, businesses, and confidence for women.

I once waited in line for … three hours for Junebaby’s fried chicken. It was 100% worth it.

Your role models: Liz Gilbert (impersonally) and Cindi Schoettler (personally). These women are the voices of my higher, more compassionate self. They’ve inspired me to own my wanting, be vulnerable and brave, and trust my gut. So much of their perspective has shaped me into the woman I am and am becoming.

Greatest game in history: “Survivor.” It’s still entertaining, over 30 seasons later. It evolved from “know how to make a fire and don’t die of starvation” to social gameplay. It’s the perfect social experiment — put hungry, quirky people on an island to compete for $1 million but also the people you betrayed decide if you should get the money in the end. Brilliant.

Best gadget ever: I bought a Roomba last month and I am absolutely in love with him (his name is Wall-E.) I’m sure the novelty will wear off at some point, but he acts both as a vacuum and a dog substitute.

First computer: I had a 17” HP in college (2012-2016) that my parents bought me. It was a BEAST. Their logic for the big screen was “we don’t want you to strain your eyes,” which was sweet, but I don’t think they realized how heavy that thing was. Lugging it from class to class just wasn’t an option.

Current phone: Just splurged a month or two ago, and got the iPhone 11 Plus. It was the best investment for me, as I make more video content. I basically bought a camera that makes calls.

Favorite app: Personal Capital. This was the tool that made all the difference in me hitting my $100,000-saved-by-25 goal. I could track my net worth in real time, and see all my financial accounts in one place (including my credit cards, loans, savings accounts, and investment accounts.)

Favorite cause: Planned Parenthood.

Most important technology of 2020: TikTok. I grew a following of over 400,000 and made $60,000 in just 6 weeks — as a former social media manager, I’ve never seen growth that intense. In terms of followers, it took me three days to do on TikTok what it took me three years to do on Instagram. Having gone viral multiple times before, I thought I was used to it, but this was next level — I was getting 100 followers every 30 seconds.

Most important technology of 2022: A coronavirus vaccine. I hope to God it happens sooner, but I’m being realistic here.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: A closed mouth doesn’t get fed. As John Mulaney so lovingly put it, “You want it? Go get it!” * throws money clip into the gutter *

Website: HerFirst100K

Twitter: @herfirst100K

LinkedIn: Tori Dunlap

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