The Story Exchange, Catherine Azmoodeh, Social Security AdvisorsYour Name: Catherine Azmoodeh

Business Name: Social Security Advisors, a service advising people on Social Security

Type of Business: Financial Services and Technology

Business Location: New York, New York, United States

Twitter @Social_Security

Reason for starting
My co-founder and I created Social Security Advisors to make the process of Social Security planning and benefits maximization straightforward and easy. My parents were nearing retirement age and, like most Americans, thought that they would simply apply for Social Security benefits at 62 or 66. When their local Social Security office told them that they could not provide advice on the optimal strategy for how to file, when to file, etc, they threw up their hands and asked me to figure it out because of my background in financial services and government. What I thought would be a quick and easy analysis proved to be extremely complex. The Social Security Administration is the largest government agency in the world and is governed by over 2,728 confusing rules. Through our Maximum Social Security Strategy we have helped simplify the process for so many Americans so they can maximize their Social Security.

How do you define success?
Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it. We live in the United States of Amnesia, where instant gratification and romanticized stories of instant successes make everything look so easy. As Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter said, “Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.” Real success requires real sacrifice. Like climbing a mountain, each of us starts off on a different path, with different strengths and weaknesses and different equipment, a lot of which we inherited but have the power to change. Some of us climb the mountain circuitously and some of us climb linearly. No one path is the “correct” path and the more interesting one is often the road less traveled. Own who you are, where you came from, and the path that you chose, and make it different from anyone else’s. That is success; it is internal, not external!

Biggest Success
I can’t say that one success is bigger or better than another since they are all so different. For many entrepreneurs, success is very numbers-driven: customers acquired, capital raised, time to IPO, etc. While we as a company very much care about these metrics, my own successes in life have always been quiet and personal in nature. Knowing that my work helps so many Americans get the retirement income that they earned and deserve so that they can live out the rest of their lives with greater comfort is extremely rewarding. Through our community programs, we donate our services to those who can’t afford them but rely heavily on Social Security to survive. I’m no messiah, but if my work means that some of our clients stay out of bankruptcy, keep their homes, or put food on the table by maximizing their Social Security, I consider that a great success.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
I have always had to do more with less, perhaps because I value my independence and didn’t start out with some of the benefits and privileges afforded others. My father was an entrepreneur and whether he was doing well or struggling to meet payroll, we were raised as if we had little money. We had to stick to a tight budget, work constantly, whether in school or in his office, and we had to make a way for ourselves. (I like to say that I’m ready for retirement because I have been working since I was 5!) The best way to get around challenges and obstacles is to tackle them head-on. In my case, I’ve always had to work that much harder. I like to say that “The only way out is through.” A lot of people are in denial about things like their finances, their habits, or their health, and pretending that issues don’t exist or will go away if ignored only makes matters worse.

Who is your most important role model?
I am forever in the debt of some of our country’s most talented leaders, entrepreneurs, and scholars. Josephine Esther Mentzer Lauder (Estee Lauder) is still perhaps the most powerful female entrepreneur in the world, even posthumously, and I have tried to study every aspect of her impressionable life. In my own family, my grandmother was the perseverance behind the business that she and my grandfather started during the Depression. It was her heart and soul that drove it to such success.