Pictured: Tanya Van Court, CEO and founder of Goalsetter
Kids with savings accounts in their name are six times more likely to go to college and four times more likely to own stocks as young adults. Having worked as a leader in preschool and parenting digital products at Nickelodeon, Tanya van Court knew a lot about products that are both fun and relevant for kids. Her platform, Goalsetter, lets families and kids redirect money they might have spent on useless stuff toward one of three big categories: saving for the future, sharing with others, and spending on stuff that truly matters to them. Van Court sat down with the Financial Health Network to share her company’s story.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I grew up the youngest of six kids to a single mom in Oakland, California. Although education was a core value in our home, we never learned anything about money. In my late twenties, I had a job in Silicon Valley and during the first tech bubble burst, I lost more than a million dollars in stock options. I vowed I would never let something similar happen to my own children. When my daughter was six, I taught her how to count money and when she was eight, I told her that if she saved $100, I’d match it and we’d open an investment account for her. She raised $30 and when her ninth birthday rolled around, she said she wanted two things: enough money to finish saving for an investment account and a bike. I realized that if I could get my own daughter excited about saving, I could get every kid in America excited about it too. Goalsetter combines my passion for fun, education, and relating to kids in an authentic way. The product has the potential to change outcomes for kids and families who use it. I absolutely believe helping more kids in America experience those outcomes is my life’s mission and work. And, as Ben and Jerry said, “If it’s not fun, why do it?”
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in starting your company?
Raising money is the biggest challenge most early-stage companies face, but as an African American woman, raising money has been even more challenging. The traditional funding networks of friends and family that people tell you to tap into for early funding are mostly non-existent for African American founders and communities. I had to tap into other potential sources of funding. For me, the most effective of these were African American and women-led angel networks. Pipeline Angels and Backstage Capital were indispensable in helping me launch the first generation of my product and get enough traction to take the company to the next level. Prior to receiving funding from the Financial Health Network, 80% of my investment was from black, brown, and female investors. I am beyond grateful and indebted to those networks for providing the fuel to minority- and women-led businesses who might otherwise never be able to launch without their support.
What’s one thing you wish you’d known when you started your company?
I wish I had known the value of having technology developed in-house. We now have an extraordinarily strong technical team, but it took a while to get there. When you’re integrating with other companies’ APIs, it’s important for someone on your team to understand all the technological details and nuances so that information isn’t lost in transition from one outsourced tech team to another. Now that we have our own technical team, the quality and speed of development is unprecedented.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever gotten?
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I don’t remember who told me this, but it is my motto for everything my team does. This goes hand in hand with the “fail fast” approach. If you’re too busy perfecting every idea and executional detail, you’ll never actually launch anything. Often, people spend too much time imagining what perfection might be and designing things according to that perfect vision, rather than launching something at 80% and getting input from customers for how to make it 20% better. Creating things that are “good enough” enables us to get great feedback from customers. We can modify features according to our users’ needs as opposed to our own inclinations.
What business advice would give others just starting out?
As the famous Melisandre of “Game of Thrones” says: ”The night is dark and full of terrors.” So, too, is entrepreneurship. As entrepreneurs, we have to remind ourselves daily of how far we’ve actually come, particularly on those days that feel like dark nights. I remember wishing that I were one of the Financial Health Network Financial Solutions Lab companies, and now I can actually google “Goalsetter” and find our company as one of the 2018 Financial Solutions Lab cohort companies on the Financial Health Network blog. In those moments, I can be grateful and excited about just how far we’ve come. This helps me face new challenges with tenacity and courage.