“Male, pale, and stale” — that’s the financial services industry in a nutshell, according to Vivian Tu, better known online as Your Rich BFF. The former investment banker got her start trading equities at JPMorgan, and for much of her career in finance, she saw far too few faces that looked like hers. Not only that, the information itself seemed to be tailored to old, rich white men too.
Vivian is on a mission to change that. She posted her first TikTok on New Year’s Day, 2021. A little over a year later, she ditched her day job to focus full-time on her blossoming creator educator brand. Today she serves up digestible, accessible financial tips and explainers to some 5 million followers across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, a podcast, and a newsletter. Last year, Your Rich BFF earned $3 million in revenue — out of which she paid herself a salary of $300,000 — making her one of the top-earning creator educators out there. And for the last two years, she’s snagged a spot on Forbes’ Top Creators list.
She also has a new book on personal finance, Rich AF, out this month. “A lot of people — women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, people who grew up low-income — were never taught this stuff,” Vivian says. “But thinking like a rich person is a lot easier than we’ve been made to believe.”
Ahead, we talk to Vivian about her book, her path to full-time creator, and why avocado toast is not the reason you’re in debt.
How did you first start Your Rich BFF?
It was for my coworkers and friends. I started on Wall Street, but moved to media and tech. People at work were hounding me for advice on their investments, health insurance, 401(k)s — everything. So I just started putting my answers online to make things easier. It turns out a lot of people were interested in that information.
FinTok has become huge, particularly with Gen Z. When did you realize the size of your potential audience?
With my first video. In the first six or seven hours, it got around 70 views, which was cool. That evening, I was watching a movie with my boyfriend — he’s my fiancé now — and my phone just started getting so hot. It felt like it was going to explode, or melt the sofa. I opened TikTok and saw I had 8,000 new followers and the video had 50,000 views.
By the end of the week, I had 100,000 followers and the video had 2.5 million views. I didn’t know what to do next, but I felt like creating more content was a good idea. And I started to realize how many people had questions about money. Which was great, because people asked a thousand questions as a result of that first video, so I had a thousand more topics to talk about.
But you kept your day job at BuzzFeed for a while. When did you know it was time to transition to full-time creator?
I had been given really valuable advice, which was to use your day job to fund your passion. I did that for 15 months, until I couldn’t anymore. I wanted to expand the brand, and dive into other forms of media, like books and podcasts, and I knew I couldn’t do that on my own. I needed management and agency representation, and no one was going to take me on while I still had a full-time job.
I started putting money away around the eight-month mark. I wanted to save up $100,000 in order to feel confident walking away from my career. At the same time, I was a top performer at my company and I had a great relationship with my manager, so I knew if it didn’t work out, I’d be able to go back. But I didn’t want to look back on this moment when I was 60 and wonder what would have happened if I gave it a chance.
In April 2022, I left my job and have been working on Your Rich BFF full-time ever since.
Your brand first took off on TikTok, but now you’ve got over 2 million followers on Instagram and 600,000 on YouTube. How do you approach the different platforms?
My audiences on platforms other than TikTok seem to be stickier. On YouTube, you have someone’s attention for 10 to 15 minutes. You can build a much deeper connection than you can in 60 seconds. And text-based platforms, like Threads, hit a different reader altogether.
Pinterest lets you aggregate and categorize the topics you’re discussing, so if someone wants to deep dive on budgeting, and they’re not interested in investing yet, you can make a board that caters to that person. Snapchat helps me speak with the next generation.
Each platform provides something really unique. But the algorithms change all the time. I’ve definitely developed an extra wrinkle just trying to figure them out in real time. But at the core, I just need to keep creating great content — smart, funny, witty. The only difference is in how I present it: photos, vertical, horizontal, short-form video. I just need to pick whatever platforms I’m prioritizing at that moment.
Speaking of new formats, you wrote a book! Rich AF: The Winning Money Mindset That Will Change Your Life is out on December 26. Can you tell me about it?
I’m really hoping it will be the definitive money guide for a new generation. I want people to read it cover to cover and feel more financially competent, stable, and empowered to leverage money to live the best life they can. We talk about how to ask for more money at your job, why you probably shouldn’t lend your boyfriend money, how to budget without punishment — avocado toast is not the reason you’re in debt!
I want readers to feel worthy at every stage of their financial journey, and I try to help people adopt the abundance mindset. The URL to order the book is RichAF.me, because I wanted it to be a manifestation.
What was the process of putting a book together like?
I’m lucky. Before I even got a book deal, I had written out every single script I had ever filmed in a giant Word document. It’s like 250 pages. I was really able to reduce, reuse, and recycle a lot of that content. Then, I strung it together with stories and examples from real life.
Why did you have that Word doc? Was writing a book someday always part of the plan?
Not at all. It was due to video length, which was 59 seconds when I started. Not 60 seconds — there was some kind of glitch and you’d lose the last second. I didn’t want to record a video and get three quarters of the way through before realizing it was too long, so I wrote it all down and cut all the extraneous words. I knew the exact word count for 59 seconds.
That’s great advice for new creators — warehouse that content. What do you wish you’d known as a creator when you were first starting out?
Start making creator friends! As much as your partner and your parents and your friends love you, they don’t get it. My fiancé was so supportive, but he didn’t understand why certain little things — negative comments, a video I didn’t love — would upset me so much. Now I have really great friends who do the same job I do, either in the same finance niche or in something completely different. They really get it, and it’s so nice to feel seen and heard.
A big part of your business is brand partnerships. Do you have any tips for creators who are looking to build out this revenue stream?
Yes, three. First, whatever you’re charging, it’s not enough. When I was handling my own deals, I was always worried that if I said a number that was too big, my potential brand partner would just walk away. That hardly ever happens. When a brand comes to you — and it’s not a mass email blast that you can clearly tell went to 10,000 creators — they probably already envision a campaign with you in mind. At least, you’re definitely on a short list. So definitely ask for what you’re worth.
How do you know what you’re worth?
That brings me to my second tip, which is where having creator friends comes in handy.
My creative bestie is in fashion and photography — nothing to do with finance. One time we were talking about brand deals, which we did all the time but never with concrete numbers. It was a “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” kind of moment. And it was so helpful for both of us. Not only did we get a better sense of what we could be charging, but we were also able to discuss ways we could negotiate, like if a brand couldn’t pay more, we could cut down items like usage or licensing.
What’s your third tip?
As soon as you’re starting to see some major momentum, make sure you’re surrounded by the right team.
I’ve been with the same management and agent team since I started, but when the brand was getting bigger and I had to onboard a publicist, accountant, and business manager, it took me a while to vet who I wanted to work with. But these are people who are going to be really in your business.
Since I hired my team, I’ve been able to quintuple what I was charging. They see so much more deal flow, and they might even have celebrity clients on their rosters. Sometimes those clients pass on an activation that’s a fit for me. My team really provides a lot of value in elevating my brand.
How can creators looking to expand their business go about vetting potential team members?
Understand historical averages and benchmarks to make sure you’re not overpaying. I’ve heard of managers charging young creators as much as 30 percent, and that’s a huge number. A full-service team, including agent, attorney, and manager takes about 25 percent.
Ask potential hires how they’re going to add value to your business. I’m happy to give away 25 percent if you can quintuple my rates.
How has your approach to monetizing content evolved since you started Your Rich BFF?
Before, it was just about social media. Now, I run a holistic business, which means multiple income streams. Social media and digital media are certainly the biggest, but now I also have a podcast called Net Worth and Chill, a newsletter, enRiched, and the book, out soon. My website has a ton of free digital resources, like budgeting sheets and calculators for paying down debt. And I’m moving into the lifestyle space. It’s important to understand how to save and invest money, but you also need to know how to spend it wisely so you feel good about your purchases.
You’ve spoken before about leaving Wall Street because of burnout, and you’ve spoken about creator burnout too. Where are you now with boundaries and burnout?
You know that phrase, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”? Well, I’ve found that when you do what you love, you have absolutely no boundaries and you’ll work harder than you ever have in your whole life. That kind of burnout also led me to quitting my day job and going full-time on Your Rich BFF.
I always loved my jobs and was well-compensated for my hard work. But, when I was working full-time and building Your Rich BFF, I was at a point where I hated everything. My fiancé really helped me out when he asked me whether maybe I didn’t hate my job or my brand, what I hated was doing both at once. I hated working seven days a week and not taking a break for a year and a half.
How are things going now?
It’s certainly something I’m still working on. I’m still someone who has a hard time closing my laptop –especially as it’s my name on the door. So I’ll work regular 9 to 5 hours, but then from 5 to 9, I’ll still be doing other things for the benefit of Your Rich BFF. Sometimes I have to tell myself to walk away because I know I’m not making smart, productive decisions anymore.
How do you get yourself to walk away from the laptop?
I schedule breaks — seeing friends, taking a Pilates class, going for a dip in the ocean. These are all things I have to schedule now. People would have you believe that being an entrepreneur is making your schedule, but it’s really making your own schedule and having to schedule free time.
As a creator, where would you like to be in the next few years?
I’d love to see Your Rich BFF continue to grow in all the ways it currently is. But I’m really excited about getting into the TV space, whether that’s my own money-focused talk show or hosting a reality show focused on money. I think people are increasingly comfortable talking about finance, and I think TV is the next big thing for me.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Image credit: Heidi Gutman