Arta Team Spotlight
Q&A with Jennifer Allen—Head of People at Arta
Arta Team Spotlight
October 21, 2022
Jennifer Allen’s goals at Arta are professional and personal. Previously, at venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, and start-up Airtable, Jennifer is currently the Head of People at Arta. An incredible advocate for working parents and special needs children, Jennifer also champions Arta’ most important asset - its team. (Pro Tip: Jennifer finds K-dramas to be an effective way to decompress. And if a respected People expert says it, it must be true.)
You seem to have a sixth sense for knowing what your team needs to do their best work. How did you develop that instinct and skill?
I’ve seen start-up culture from all angles. I worked at Sequoia Capital for seven years, where I got to meet incredible founders and watch their journey from seed to IPO. It was my introduction to start-ups and Silicon Valley tech. After so many years I gained enough courage to join a start-up and experience that work culture from the inside.
Next, I went to work for Howie Liu, founder of Airtable, as employee #115. I was the 14th hire on the people team and wore many hats - workplace, employee experience, learning and development, and onboarding, among other things. Initially, we onboarded 20 people per month, but soon it was 20 per week! I learned a lot in a short period.
People comment about the fast pace of start-up culture, but you don’t “get it” until you live it. That’s when all the clichés start to make sense. “You’re flying the airplane while you are building it.” It’s true! After a couple of years, I was again ready for a new challenge.
That’s when you first met the Arta co-founders. What were you looking for in this new challenge, and why did Arta pique your interest?
Solving complex problems in the financial space is impactful for many people, and it’s something that has become increasingly important to me in these last few years.
Many start-ups have this story, “I needed this solved, so I built it myself.” Well, that’s how I feel too. I tease the eng team all the time saying, “I need this technology for my family mission, so I’m depending on you all to build it!”
My youngest son Lucas was diagnosed with a rare condition called Creatine Transporter Deficiency when he was two years old. Creatine is essential for building healthy brain and muscle tissue, and it was not being transported to Lucas’ brain cells. Creatine deficiency results in developmental delays both cognitively and physically.
The condition is so rare that no one on Lucas’ medical team has seen a live case. There is currently no treatment available. Without a cure, he will need my and my husband’s support throughout our lifetimes, and he will need assisted living beyond that.
Our mission is to 1) help fund research to find a cure and 2) ensure the funds to cover Lucas’ life and well-being beyond our lifetimes. Our mission means independence for both sons, albeit on different levels.
All parents worry about their children, but there are additional, pressing concerns when your child has unique healthcare needs. For example, what kind of life will my child be able to live and where? How can I ensure my child's expenses are covered if he cannot work or care for himself independently? How do I make sure my oldest child doesn't have the financial responsibility of caring for his younger sibling so that he has more freedom in his own life?
These questions keep you up at night, to say the least. Creating a plan to cover expenses gave us a mission to focus on - and helped ease some anxiety too.
Right now, my priority is to help fund research for a cure. So every extra dollar goes to that. Anything additional goes to saving for Lucas’ long-term living expenses.
Smart, impactful personal financial planning feels urgent and critical. Yes, retirement and a comfortable lifestyle are important, But they are a second priority. Our mission currently drives our financial decisions.
We think ahead and invest money in ways Lucas can use it. For example, in the last few years, we’ve shifted from saving for college to saving for Lucas’ long-term life expenses. We originally started a 529 fund, but Lucas won’t be able to use it. So we had to pivot based on what made sense for his needs.
We often discuss how to best plan for an unpredictable future. What’s the “magic number” we need to reach, regardless of inflation, cost of living fluctuations, and unforeseen macroeconomic changes? How do we get there? How do we maximize every step? We also need to prepare for scenarios where government funding, social security, and other programs are unavailable or difficult to obtain. We want Lucas to be covered no matter what.
It’s a learning experience. We feel fortunate to have the tools and resources to navigate the process. We’ve had guidance that made a significant impact on our journey. We know not everyone has that, and we are grateful for it.
How did you first learn about personal finance? And later about financial planning with a focus on special needs?
I learned about personal finance through the companies I worked for and, by extension, from my family and the companies they worked for.
My cousin is a financial planner and has become the go-to resource for our extended family. I relied on him a lot when I started my career. I said, “please figure out how to invest my money.” I was lucky to have his expertise - I’ve learned so much from him since those early days.
When we got Lucas’ diagnosis, he suggested we re-evaluate the financial plan. On his recommendation, we met with a special needs trust attorney and redrew our trust to address the specific aspects of our son’s disability. We learned new financial concepts, like what triggers a special needs trust, a new piece of the financial puzzle we weren’t aware of. His advice was helpful. Without it, we would have kept our trust as it was.
What insight can you share with parents, specifically parents of children with special needs, as they navigate personal finance?
All parents, especially parents of children with special needs, wrestle with “what do I not know? What am I missing? Is there a resource I don't know about that can help me?”
Having a mission helps keep you on track and motivated. For example, in my early 20s, I was focused on covering my day-to-day living expenses. Now I’m focused on covering Lucas’ long term expenses. The latter may sound noble, but it’s simply what is essential in this circumstance.
Missions keep people invested in their journey. My husband and I may be excited about the next new investment opportunity as it comes up because it has the potential for good returns. But it’s the emotional piece, the possibility of helping us achieve the mission, that will motivate us to take the step to invest.
The mission is what guides us and will ensure we achieve our goals.
Check out this USA Today article to bring awareness to families searching for answers and understanding about creatine deficiencies.
Please visit the Association for Creatine Deficiencies at creatineinfo.org for more information regarding creatine deficiencies.