Start networking now. Try to put yourself out there and start meeting people, whether it’s in person or online. Although with COVID, networking online might be your best option. LinkedIn is your friend. Try to get warm introductions to potential investors now and build that relationship. Be sure to stay in touch on a consistent basis so that when it’s time, you can reach out to them and they’ll already know your story. Trust me, when the time comes for you to start raising money, you will be grateful that you’ve started building these relationships.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Love, CMO and Co-Founder of Tanoshi, where the mission is to provide an equitable digital education for all kids around the world. Tanoshi is bridging the digital divide by providing affordable computers for kids with pre-loaded, curated content. Lisa is passionate about giving all kids a fair chance to succeed.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My mom taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 50 years. She taught in South Central where many of her students were performing below grade level. Growing up, I watched my mom persevere through systemic challenges to make sure her students wouldn’t fall further behind.
She used her own time and money to develop educational materials that would resonate with her students. She created educational songs, jingles, and rhymes to help her students remember basic concepts. My mom wanted to make sure all students had a fair chance to succeed.
Sadly, the same inequities within the education system exist today, just on another level. It’s called the digital divide.
My dad was an engineer and worked for IBM during my childhood. I grew up seeing the benefits of technology and more specifically, the advantages of a computer.
Over the years, my parent’s passion for education and technology not only opened my eyes to the issues surrounding our education system, but also how I can do my part to help solve these issues through technology.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
The most interesting as well as most exciting event that’s happened to me is definitely my appearance on Shark Tank earlier this year. As you can imagine, a handshake deal from Daymond John has been life changing. It’s opened up many doors. I’ve had numerous interviews, TV and radio appearances, and as a result the Tanoshi brand has gained enormous traction due to national awareness.
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?
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
As a startup, you’re constantly faced with challenging times — from supplier issues, to growing your team, to raising the funds needed to keep going. The first two years were extremely difficult from a financial standpoint — for both the company and personally. All money that came in was put right back into the company. That meant, my three other colleagues and I who were working full time did not take a salary. At times, we barely had enough money to order more computers, especially for the Christmas holiday season. It wasn’t until the last minute when literally, a miracle happened, and we were able to get the funds needed to place an order with our factory so that we would have computers to sell during the holidays.
I never considered giving up because Tanoshi has always been a strong, solid team. We lean on each other for support and reassurance. When someone is doubtful or simply has a bad day, someone from the team is there to pick that person up.
My drive came from my early years. I attended Immaculate Heart Middle and High School, an all-girls, private school in Los Angeles where academically it was very competitive. Every morning when my brother and I woke up for school, my mother had us repeat the words, “I can do all things…I can do all things…I can do all things.” When I went to school that day, I was already in a positive mindset where I believed I really could do all things and that helped me push through any difficult classes. Fast forward to today, since that positive mindset has been instilled in me for decades, no matter the situation — I know that I must keep pushing forward.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
No doubt, I would not have made it this far without my mother. She’s been there for me through the ups and downs, no matter what. She’s supported me on all levels — mentally, spiritually, and financially. She’s an advocate of entrepreneurship and when things get tough, she has always encouraged me to keep going. I’m so fortunate and blessed to have a mother that always has my back.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I came across a quote from Erica Williams Simon. She stated, “The best career advice I can give: Don’t ever attach yourself to a person, a place, a company, an organization or a project. Attach yourself to a mission, a calling, a purpose ONLY. That’s how you keep your power and your peace. It’s worked pretty well for me thus far.”
This advice is 100% on point. I’ve worked for numerous companies and startups, both for profit and non-profit. I’ve managed products and brands with revenue totaling $75M. The most rewarding and fulfilling times in my life have been working for mission-driven companies, such as Tanoshi. At the end of the day, I know that all of my hard work, time, and energy is helping to improve the life of at least one person out there in the world. It’s kind of funny how it works — when you focus on helping others, your life becomes better because you naturally start feeling better about yourself. What a wonderful feeling that is!
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Not all families can afford a home computer. At the onset of COVID, 16 million K-12 students throughout the U.S. were without a computer or Internet access. 800 million students worldwide. As a result, the digital divide is widening between the haves and have nots. At Tanoshi, it is our mission to make sure all kids, no matter their socio-economic background, have a reliable computer to complete their homework. We are leveling the playing the field.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The inequities within our education system have existed for decades — even centuries. At Tanoshi, it’s always been our belief that every child should have a computer. Computers are not just for affluent families. We started the company 4 years ago, before COVID was ever imagined. However, due to COVID, the homework gap and digital divide have become exposed, where it is apparent more than ever the need for a computer.
We were on a call with Daymond John, explaining to him that there are two problems to solve. One is that not all kids have computers. The second is that not all kids have Internet access. With Tanoshi, we are solving both problems at the same time because you do not need Internet access with the Tanoshi computer. Kids can work both online and offline, which is one of the main advantages. Daymond immediately said, “You are ahead of your times.” When he made that statement, it immediately occurred to me that we are different from so many companies because we’ve been proactive in solving a challenging problem. As a result, in the midst of a pandemic, we are now in a unique and favorable position during a very difficult time.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are very excited about launching our next generation product this Fall, the Tanoshi Scholar. The Scholar will have more age-appropriate, educational content pre-loaded which parents have been requesting, all at an affordable price. The content pre-loaded will not require the Internet, which will allow kids that might not have Internet access to still learn.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
There’s a lot of opportunity regarding women in tech. It’s no secret that a lack of both gender and racial diversity within the tech industry exists. This problem has been ongoing for decades. White and Asian men dominate the industry. There’s a never-ending cycle and comfort level where white and Asian men only hire their own race and gender, which is where the change needs to begin. Once more women can at least get in the door of these tech companies, then this will result in hiring and retaining more women in these companies.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
The first challenge is simply hiring more women at tech companies. The next challenge is making sure they are promoted within that company. There are many reasons why women are overlooked for the higher executive, C-level positions — from not being able to make the time commitment because they are typically the ones who have to take care of the kids, to not having the confidence level to make sure their voices are heard during meetings, to not being buddy-buddy with the right colleagues within their company. Whatever the case may be, I think it’s very important and I would highly recommend having a support group for women to turn to, either within or outside the company.
At a former company, where I faced racial discrimination, access to a support group would’ve been extremely beneficial. Even though I received one-on-one outside counseling, there’s a certain healing process you encounter when you are able to voice your frustrations and anger to those that are going through a similar situation. With women, there’s this emotional connection. You feel connected and that you are not alone. You are comforted and reassured that it’s not your fault and that you will get through it. When you constantly keep getting passed over for a promotion, a support group might be the thing that’ll help you to keep pushing.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
I’ve always said and firmly believe that those companies who truly know their customers will rise to the top. If you are a tech leader, you should know the demographic information of your customer, the pain points, the questions they have, what makes the customer excited, how they feel about certain situations, and where they hang out. Companies that can answer these questions (and more), and take actions based on their findings are the companies that will excel.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Make sure you hire people who truly believe in your mission. You can always hire someone that can sell a product or service and perform their everyday duties. You want someone that can authentically connect with your customers — a salesperson where the customer’s story will in some way resonate with that person. Once that happens, typically that salesperson will go the extra mile to make sure their customer’s needs are taken care of. And then at that point, both the salesperson and the customer are happy which is a win-win for the company.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
In order to find the right customers, you need to be where your customers are spending time — ideally both physically and online but with COVID, online might be the only option. Make sure you know your audience. For example, at Tanoshi we target moms with kids between the ages of 6–12. Where do these mom’s hangout? We know they are on Facebook and Instagram. As a marketer, you want to be on Facebook and Instagram — engaging with these moms, answering their questions, making sure you are listening to what they’re saying, and being attentive. Think of the relationship with your customer as a non-physical marriage with your spouse where you are making sure their needs are being met. The best way to do that is to consistently have an open dialog with them. Once they open up to you, they’ll start telling you exactly what they want from you, which is golden. It’s up to you to act accordingly.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
We’ve all heard it over and over again and it’s so true — communication is key. If you have a product or service and the general public is your target audience, then you will have to communicate with them. They will ask you questions. They will have issues with your product. This is all part of being in business and running a company.
In this day and age, where everyone wants everything done immediately, it’s important that you get back to your customers as soon as possible. If you receive an email from a customer, be sure to respond to them within 24 hours — even if you do not have an answer. Simply acknowledge that you received their email and that you will get back to them with an answer within a certain time frame.
Once you are in contact with the customer, make sure they know that you understand their concern. Agree with them, even if you do not believe what they’re saying is completely accurate. Many times, customers just need to vent for a few minutes and then once they let it out, they feel much better. Let them know that you’re listening to them.
Finally, always end the conversation with a thank you and let them know that if they need anything else, do not hesitate to contact you personally. Be sure to give them your name. This gives them a personal connection where they feel they’re important. At this point, you probably de-escalated a situation that could’ve resulted in a negative review.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Limiting customer churn or attrition goes back to communication. Bottom line and I can’t stress enough — communication is key. Be upfront and honest with your customers. Be transparent. Do not try to hide something that’s very important to your customer, because they will find out, which will make the situation even worse. Make sure you spell everything out — the directions, features, specs, etc. as clearly as possible so that your customers are not misled in any way, which will result in either a return or an upset customer.
If you do encounter a customer with a negative experience, be sure to let them know that you will do everything possible to make the situation right. Sometimes this is all they need to hear. If for some reason you cannot fix the situation, but you handled the customer in a way where they feel as though you at least tried, they will respect you and they will respect your company. Most importantly, they might even write a good review or say something positive to their circle of friends.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Know your customer. This is absolutely key to your success. Start with defining your customer persona or avatar. Put a face and name to your target customer. In addition to the basic demographic information — what are the goals, values, challenges and pain points of that customer? Where do they go to get their information? Where do they spend their time and what do they do during their spare time? Start answering these questions. Use this information to start engaging with your customer. You’re now on your way to really knowing your customer, as well as having a higher success rate with your company.
- Your team is critical. Starting off, you will be spending more time with your team than with your immediate family. With that, it’s important you vet your potential colleagues as much as possible. Be sure you hold the same moral values as them. Be sure you know their short-term and long-term goals. From a professional standpoint, make sure you hire people that complement your skillsets. You know your weaknesses. Hire people that are strong where you are weak, so that there is balance.
- Start networking now. Try to put yourself out there and start meeting people, whether it’s in person or online. Although with COVID, networking online might be your best option. LinkedIn is your friend. Try to get warm introductions to potential investors now and build that relationship. Be sure to stay in touch on a consistent basis so that when it’s time, you can reach out to them and they’ll already know your story. Trust me, when the time comes for you to start raising money, you will be grateful that you’ve started building these relationships.
- Know your financials. Everything rides on the money. What are your sales? What are your costs? How much profit are you making? What are your margins? These are the basic questions you’ll be asked over and over again. If you are not a numbers/finance/accounting person, at the very least, have someone manage your books.This will save you a lot of headaches down the road. Making sure you have a good process in place and knowledge of your books will help you with the funding process down the road.
- Be sure to get a daily dose of “me time”. Every day I spend an hour either working out or doing something I enjoy. Why? Because it’s my “me time”. It’s the time when I escape, regroup and re-energize which is so important while running your own company. Often times, when I take short breaks during the day, I come back with fresh eyes and an open mind and can accomplish so much more than if I had worked 12 hours non-stop.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂
The movement would focus on making sure every child in the U.S. has a computer. We would begin in the U.S. but work our way globally. We started a GoFundMe page where friends, family, and neighbors can get involved. I would like to take this to the next level and get celebrities involved so that we can really build the momentum. It will be their chance to pay it forward.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Ohhh…I would love to have breakfast or lunch with…Michelle Obama. Why? Simple. Michelle exemplifies and exudes a woman who I truly admire and strive to become. She states, “Success isn’t about how much money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” I grew up with a mom who was a schoolteacher, taught the primary grades for 50 years, and had the goal to make sure every child succeeds. Growing up and being surrounded by people with this mindset, I know that I don’t have to be rich from a financial standpoint. That would not be fulfilling for me. My wealth comes from knowing that I’m doing everything in power to make sure every child has a fair chance to succeed. I would love to work with Michelle Obama to make this happen.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!