How Selena Cuffe Taught Herself The Power Steps Toward Financial Wealth

ESSENCE.COM Jan, 11, 2019

With proper planning over time, building wealth can be simpler than you think. Just ask Selena Cuffe.

The award-winning entrepreneur first learned the power of financial wealth by what not to do with her money while growing up. Raised in a single-parent household in Los Angeles after her father died just before her second birthday, Cuffe wasn’t readily exposed to effective financial planning but recalls being determined to manage her finances adequately by finding resources and asking the right questions.

“I had to teach myself [financial literacy], and I made it my life’s mission to learn,” the co-founder of Heritage Link Brands and Head Strategist for Silicon Valley tech startup, Oh My Green, tells ESSENCE.

During a high school trip abroad to Spain, she realized she didn’t have everything she needed financially, which further fueled her mission to become literate in all things money. “I was in another country by myself with classmates who had what they needed. That was an eyeopener.”

Upon graduation, Cuffe immersed herself in financial know-how through higher education. She entered a program called INROADS, where she worked and gained plenty of practical training for three consecutive summers for a bank in California. Then, in her final summer, she completed a program called Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), where she interned for an investment bank on Wall Street. Later, as a Stanford University and Harvard Business School graduate, she held down two full-time jobs before taking a leap of faith into entrepreneurship.

Since, she has not only transformed the wine industry with Heritage Link Brands, the largest global importer for Black South African produced wine, but she also secures the bag with the help of financial advisors.

Their value? “Helping you realize your dreams,” says Cuffe. “If you have goals like having kids one day and sending them to college with no debt, then a financial advisor can talk you through how you should plan and what you might want to invest in to get closer to achieving your goal.”

“I started [Heritage Link Brands] in 2005 while still having over $100,000 of student loan debt, so don’t wait to start ventures or invest in ventures until you’ve paid off all your bills,” she says. “It’s not the way that you’ll become wealthy.”

With a strong set of financial goals and calculated risks, Cuffe also learned to use debt to her advantage while building a multi-million dollar company. She believes it’s a monetary obstacle you can manage or even use in your favor. For instance, taking out a loan to get a property you want to invest in is a smart power move.

“Don’t use your own money to start your business,” she adds. “Use somebody else’s money who believes in you. There are lots of people that will do it. It takes Black business owners longer [to get funding] and it’s harder for us because we may not be familiar with angel investors and venture capital.”

A Gallup poll found that about two-thirds of prospective entrepreneurs say they don’t have enough personal savings to start a small business, so take advantage of alternative ways to raise money.

Another way to becoming wealthy lies in marrying your passion with smart investments and risk-taking in order to establish a “diverse set of revenue streams” and expand your financial portfolio. It’s this key money move that led Cuffe to venture into technology.

“To be really wealthy, invest where the innovation is, and if you can align technological investment with your passion then you are golden,” she says. “For instance, I have a passion for all people to be better about what we put in our bodies, so Oh My Green just raised $20 million to further the work that we’re doing in AI and machine learning to be able to customize what employees are eating in the workplace every day, along with mindfulness and yoga. It gives me a way to relate to my investment.”

In some respect, investing is like a close cousin of saving. The difference? Saving is setting aside money in safe accounts where it is unlikely to lose value. Investing involves taking on the risk that you could lose your money in exchange for the possibility that you will earn a return (more money) on the amount you invest.

However, Cuffe understands the two must go hand-in-hand. “No matter how hard you save, if you’re really going to acquire wealth, it’s really about game-changing. You can’t climb a ladder to be wealthy, you have to take calculated risks with investing as a way to level up and completely be in another realm financially.”

When you’re ready to level up your finances much like Cuffe, visit Northwestern Mutual to learn more.