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Tanya Van Court of Goalsetter.co: “Learn Before you Burn”

There are very few FinTech companies in the United States run by African-Americans. There are no other FinTech companies that focus exclusively on kids run by an African-American woman. In fact, the majority of FinTech companies in our country are run by white men, because — let’s face it — that’s who gets VC funding. As a part of our […]

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There are very few FinTech companies in the United States run by African-Americans. There are no other FinTech companies that focus exclusively on kids run by an African-American woman. In fact, the majority of FinTech companies in our country are run by white men, because — let’s face it — that’s who gets VC funding.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tanya Van Court.

Tanya Van Court is the Founder and CEO of Goalsetter.co, the best money app for kids and families. Prior to her role at Goalsetter, Van Court led digital products at Nickelodeon, where she led their digital preschool and parenting businesses, including NickJr.com and Noggin.com. Van Court has also served as Senior Vice President of Partner Marketing at Discovery Education, where she launched digital textbooks to schools across the country. Prior to Nickelodeon and Discovery, Van Court served as vice president of new media products for ESPN, where she led the launch of ESPN3.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I credit God. I never had a burning desire to be an entrepreneur. I had a successful career as an executive in Corporate America at amazing companies. But one day, my 8-year old daughter said, “Mommy for my 9th birthday, I really only want two things: enough money to save for an investment account, and a bike.” In that moment, I thought, “If I can get every kid to say that, I can change the world.” My second thought was, “Of course I can get every kid to say that. Who’s more equipped to get every kid excited about saving than I am?”

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

There are very few FinTech companies in the United States run by African-Americans. There are no other FinTech companies that focus exclusively on kids run by an African-American woman. In fact, the majority of FinTech companies in our country are run by white men, because — let’s face it — that’s who gets VC funding.

A Black woman running a fin tech company is almost unheard of in America. And yet, we bring things to kids and families that are unique because of who I am and who we are as a company. I worked at Nickelodeon for 6 years and Discovery Education for 3 years, so our platform has game-based financial literacy quizzes rooted in popular culture that kids love.

I also happen to be a mom, so our teen and tween debit card has a feature called, “Learn Before you Burn”, which automatically freezes a kid’s card on Sunday morning if they haven’t finished their financial literacy quiz for the week. The minute they take — and pass — the quiz, their card turns back on.

My daughter asked if I was really going to torment every kid in America the way I torment her. My response was that I’m going to love every kid in America the way I love her.

I grew up in East Oakland, California, in a working-class Black neighborhood. So, when you talk about closing the wealth gap in our country and galvanizing every African-American kid and family to save and learn financial literacy, I am both deeply committed and uniquely qualified to lead this movement.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I made was to name the first iteration of my business without testing the name. The name was “iSow”, because I wanted to teach kids to save — wanted to teach them that they reap what they sow. When potential users asked me if the name was ‘Sow’ like a pig, I knew that it was probably time to re-brand.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Carla Harris at Morgan Stanley has been an amazing mentor for me. Carla made me pitch my company to her, wrote in red all over my deck, and then re-pitched my company in her own words. It was 10,000 times better because of the extraordinary insight she brings. Simply having her help me to hone my pitch changed the trajectory of our business.

Robert F. Smith has been another key mentor. Robert believes deeply in financial freedom, which was a big reason that he paid off the Morehouse students’ loans and is an active voice in the realm of economic justice. Because he believes in what we’re doing, he provides me access to his network in ways that are game-changing for our business — he introduces me to CEO’s and celebrities, both of whom are critical to reaching the millions of kids we want to get in front of.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Barnes and Noble was a disruptor, and I think that most of us have enjoyed knowing that we can find a Barnes and Noble in any city we travel to, in many airports, and online. But I think many of us also lament the loss of a beloved bookstore in our local neighborhoods because of B&N. In my Bed Stuy neighborhood, we lost a local bookstore that was a staple of love, family, community, inspiration, and intellectualism. It was literally a gathering place for community members with kids of all ages, where we had Saturday morning story time and Sunday afternoon book club meetings. Not all disruption is good disruption, indeed. Disruption often has costs, and some of those costs are borne more by certain groups of people or certain communities. We have to be aware — and wary — of that as a society.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“What are you gonna do…Quit?” Every entrepreneur knows that this is a difficult journey. It’s even more difficult for women and people of color. I was complaining to one of my close friends about these inequities one day, and her response was “What are you gonna do…Quit?”. I realized that I wasn’t going to, and I wouldn’t let other people’s biases stop me from reaching my goal and impacting all of the kids who were counting on me to make this company work. So, I needed to figure out a different way to experience discouraging moments without feeling defeated. In that moment, I realized the difference between an obstacle and a barrier. Obstacles are things that you just climb around. They take a little more effort, but they will never be barriers to your dream.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Next, we are helping to dismantle structural inequities in the financial system by introducing a “Cred-Lit” score for the kids who take our financial literacy quizzes (instead of a Credit Score — get it!!?). It measures how financially literate a kid is, and our plan is to work with credit bureaus to get them to use this Cred-Lit score to give kids better interest rates, loan terms and other financial instruments when they turn 18. So, instead of Black and Brown people getting disadvantageous terms from financial institutions, Goalsetter can help to ensure that they get the best financial instruments available…because they are more financially literate than the average person.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I just recently read Trevor Noah’s book, “Born a Crime”, and it illuminates the equivalence between financial freedom and freedom. Keeping people financially oppressed is essentially the same as denying them basic human rights — the right to food, medicine, education, and a safe place to live. The wealth gap that is ever-widening in America is a cataclysm not just for Black Americans, but for all Americans, because America cannot be a free nation if it keeps entire swaths of its citizens financially indentured. And the economic and social impacts of that are consequences that will hurt all of us.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Think not that you will direct the course of love. For love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.” — Khalil Gibran.

If you love someone or something, your unbridled love directs your footsteps, even if it takes you through the deepest crevasses and over seemingly impossible mountain ranges. You keep going for love. I never thought that I’d be an entrepreneur. I would have never written that chapter into my life. But I love kids, and I knew that this role would enable me to impact kids’ lives in a far more profound way than any of my other jobs did. So, love for kids has directed my course. And anyone who falls in love will find their course directed too…no matter what their love may be.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

79% of teenagers don’t have savings accounts. 87% say they don’t know how to manage their money. Only 27% of 15-year olds know what inflation is and can do simple interest rate calculations. Not knowing financial language in America is like not knowing English in America. You can’t build wealth if you don’t speak the language.

We already launched a movement in honor of Juneteenth to get 1 Million Black kids saving. To bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, I want to move beyond that 1 Million and get every kid in America signed up for Goalsetter. That means every kid in America will learn to set goals, save, take our financial literacy quizzes, and spend smartly with our Mastercard debit card. I’ve also teamed up with Mastercard’s Start Path startup engagement program to bring these opportunities to more kids. And since kids who have savings accounts in their names are 6X more likely to go to college and 4X more likely to own stocks as young adults, we will change their futures.

How can our readers follow you online?

@tvancourt. @goalsetterco

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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