It’s Female Founder Friday, and I’m delighted to spotlight Tanya Van Court. Tanya is the woman entrepreneur behind Goalsetter. Goalsetter is a goal-based savings and gifting platform built just for kids, and powered by those who love them. Goalsetter lets parents auto-save towards their kid’s goals, lets kids earn money in support of their own dreams, and lets family and friends get in on the action by giving kids they love GoalCards – real money towards real dreams – instead of traditional gift cards. Ultimately, Goalsetter teaches kids healthy financial habits, and instills in them the notion that good things really do come to those who save.
So, if you’re curious why a Stanford Double-Engineer and Nickelodeon executive made the leap to become female founder, what the benefits of business acclerators are, or want to learn more about becoming a mompreneur, don’t miss Tanya’s answers and advice below!
What inspired you to create your company?
My daughter Gabrielle told me that for her 9th birthday, she only wanted two things: enough money to start an investment account and a bike. I knew that instead, she would likely receive $400 worth of “stuff” that she didn’t want, need or use: a sew-your-own purse kit, a make-your-own-gum kit, and lots of well-intentioned gifts that ultimately went to waste. When I talked to other moms, and then conducted a survey of 500 moms across the country, 2 out of 3 said that they wished there were a better way to celebrate birthdays and holidays because their kids had too much stuff. I instinctively knew that helping kids to save for goals – big and small, short-term and long-term, was a far better way of celebrating them and supporting them, but also a better way of teaching them healthy financial habits that would last a lifetime.
What was your biggest obstacle and failure in going from idea to business?
As a former Nickelodeon executive, I know well how critical it is to surround yourself with people who have expertise that is different than – and complementary to – yours. Since I am not a coder, I knew early on that I needed software developers to complement my efforts.
My biggest obstacle was not finding and hiring that technical expertise as a core part of my team at the outset. Instead, I built my first platform overseas, and the time differences made it impossible to communicate efficiently or effectively. While the hourly rate that I was paying was half what I would have paid in the United States, development ultimately cost me twice as much and took me twice as long. Having a technical team in-house has completely changed the game in terms of the velocity with which we can develop and iterate our platform, and ensure it’s meeting the needs of customers.
Tell us about your incubator experience.
We were in an Accelerator in 2017, called ERA. It is the oldest seed-stage accelerator in NYC, and was a game-changer for me and the trajectory of my company. Starting a business is a little like learning to be a physician – there are troves of information you need to learn, but also significant amounts of practical experience that you need to acquire in order to become proficient. The team at ERA have seen companies succeed – and fail – so they know what those harbingers of success look like, and they know how to provide you the the knowledge, resources, and insights to shorten your learning curve and make it a wee bit less painful.
We are currently part of the Morgan Stanley Multicultural Accelerator Program, and it’s a completely different, yet equally gratifying, experience. Morgan Stanley offers a wealth of resources to its companies through the accelerator process, including capital, content and connections. Having high-level mentorship from one of the most prestigious financial services companies in the world is like finding gold at the end of a rainbow. While I innovate, they are helping me with the inroads and connections to help our innovation penetrate larger markets.
We are adding more and more parents and kids to our platform every day, and that gives us the special opportunity to talk to our users and find out what they want more of. We already have an awesome mobile site, where Goalsetter enables kids to save for goals, parents to auto-save towards their kids’ goals, and family members and friends to use birthdays and holidays to give gifts of money towards goals that matter. We also have an allowance feature that enables kids to earn money towards their own goals. Soon, we will also launch an app that we think kids and parents will both love.
What is a life or business hack that you recommend to help other female founders?
As women, we often find it difficult to ask for help. We spend our lives helping others, so when we become founders and are most in need of receiving help, we are reticent about asking. So my first business hack may seem surprisingly simple, but it’s the most important thing you can do as a woman founder: Ask for help. The hack that goes hand in hand with it is: Always end conversations asking what you can do for the other person. Even (and especially) if the conversation was replete with asks on your end, just asking “What can I do for you?” goes a long way.
If you had a theme song what would it be?
“Survivor,” by Destiny’s Child. I lost my mother by the age of 6, and lost a child when I was 36. I have seen how tough life can be, yet I’ve also seen that pain can be the birthplace of purpose. I believe that the only way to see the beautiful, amazing sunrises that life offers is to make it through the dark nights – because we all experience those times, and it is definitely true that the dark always precedes the dawn.
Please share your best piece of advice for aspiring female founders.
Don’t expect life or entrepreneurship to be fair – they’re not. But there are amazing people who will absolutely help you along your journey. Find them, and then give as much as you receive to make this start-up universe better for all of us.