Van Tucker of LaunchTN: “Find your target”

“The greatest leaders aren’t gathering followers; they’re building other leaders.” Don’t be concerned about who is following; be concerned with those who you’ve chosen to build up. As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Van Tucker. As interim chief executive […]

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“The greatest leaders aren’t gathering followers; they’re building other leaders.” Don’t be concerned about who is following; be concerned with those who you’ve chosen to build up.


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

As interim chief executive officer of LaunchTN, Van Tucker supports the mission and vision of making Tennessee the best state in the nation for startups by empowering a network of resources across the state. Before joining LaunchTN in early 2020, Tucker served as founding CEO of the Nashville Fashion Alliance, a trade organization that raised international awareness of the industry’s $6B economic impact. Prior to that, Van was a cofounder of Avenue Bank as chief creative officer, responsible for award-winning brand development.


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 began my career in financial services as a bank teller and advanced to the role of senior vice president for Bank of America. I launched and led the company’s first national entertainment industry division, ultimately positioning and helping build Nashville into a world-class music center. I also served as co-founder of CT Management Consulting, senior vice president of Regions/Morgan Keegan, and as a consulting strategist and executive coach. Leading teams to develop innovative solutions to problems, working with others who are fueled by purpose, and the human connection to technology are my passions and that has led me to this role, empowering Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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

Tennessee is one of the few states that coordinates entrepreneurial resources on a state-wide basis, which makes the work we do at LaunchTN very disruptive. Our approach is to do this work in an efficient, informative way, which ultimately makes us easy to do business with. If you’re a startup or investor looking for a new place to land, LaunchTN can help you find the right place, with the right resources in Tennessee. With many initiatives, including vertical industry mentorship networks, we approach the process of navigating people to the right resources in a very focused way.

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?

It wasn’t funny at the time, but when I look back on it…

Very early in my career, I entered an essay contest with the American Bankers Association. I was young and ambitious and really excited about it. I wrote my essay on what was going on with the economy at the time — interest rates were as high as 21%. When I was finished, I knew this was the most amazing essay. I asked Dewey Daane, the national economist who I worked with if he would review my draft before I submitted it. I was so sure that he was going to have glowing remarks, love it and be encouraging.

Well, I went into his office and he ripped me up one side and down the other. He told me it was the worst paper he’d ever read and I’d need to go back and rewrite it entirely.

The lesson that I learned from that experience is that confidence is a good thing, but you should always go into a situation with humility, openness and a willingness to learn. In the end, after some hard work and Dr. Daane’s coaching, the final piece was published.

Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I have two great mentors. One is Bob Shell, who taught me the value of Socratic leadership — asking people questions to lead people to the answers, rather than providing answers in the first place, so that those you lead learn to think creatively. He was a wonderful mentor to me in many ways.

The other is my best friend Janet. She is my spiritual mentor in every sense of the word. She has an amazing compass; I value her insight on both personal and professional issues.

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?

I believe poor regulation is an example of ‘not so positive’ disruption. I’m a believer in a free market and I’m not a big fan of federal or industry regulation. I think, despite the best intentions, regulation has sometimes led to erroneous disruption. This includes the unintended consequences of legislation. For example, my husband is a singer/songwriter and publisher. Song copyrights are pretty stringently regulated by the federal government. However, the copyright law wasn’t prepared for digital delivery. When digital delivery came along, there was massive negative disruption and writers and musicians weren’t getting paid. Fortunately, the Music Modernization Act has alleviated some of these issues.

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

“The greatest leaders aren’t gathering followers; they’re building other leaders.” Don’t be concerned about who is following; be concerned with those who you’ve chosen to build up.

“When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.” Everyone has power, always. Whether you choose to act on it or not, or recognize it or not, you always have power.

“Seek to understand, not to judge.” As a society, we’ve forgotten that it’s perfectly acceptable to agree to disagree or to debate. It’s important for people to be able to not agree while still being civil and cordial to one another.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some strategies you use to generate good, quality leads?

In my banking career, I was a sales leader on the commercial side. There, I developed a framework I still use today: “FIERCE.”

Find your target.

Investigate your target.

Engage with your target. Ask questions, and don’t try to sell a product.

Relate your product/service/solution to their problem or the solution they’re seeking.

Close the business. If you’ve completed the first four steps, your customer will close the business for you because they’ve seen the value.

Enjoy your new relationship. This is probably the most important aspect. Maintain that relationship and leads/referrals will follow. Word of mouth is the least expensive marketing channel in the world. It’s the one we all want and the one we spend the least amount of time pursuing.

How are you going to shake things up next?

At LaunchTN, one of our biggest challenges is securing funding for underrepresented founders: Black, Brown, Rural, and Female entrepreneurs. There are plenty of statistics about the underfunding of those companies, and I want LaunchTN and Tennessee more broadly to be the place where we help solve that problem.

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 resonated with you?

I have so many. One of my favorites is a book a friend of mine gave me called “Afoot and Lighthearted.” It’s an inspirational journal for walking. There are five different sections. Depending on what your focus is, there’s the power of presence, a sense of place, wellbeing, devotion and specific attention. She gives the reader devotions and inspirational vignettes to think about on your walk. It’s amazing and dog-eared throughout. I’ve used it so much.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, but I’m always looking for new recommendations!

Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite is a Winston Churchill quote, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

I find that if I focus on the giving piece, I have a basket of riches at the end of the day that are simply immeasurable.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Looking back to my word of advice above on seeking to understand, I think that’s what I’d want to inspire a movement around. Not sure what that would look like beyond living it out myself and encouraging those around me to do the same. But, if more people practiced a posture of humility and understanding, not rushing to critique or be “right,” I think that would do a lot of good for us as a society.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me on LinkedIn or follow @615Van on Twitter. And of course, you can visit LaunchTN.org to see what we’re up to there!

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