Tanya Van Court, CEO of Goalsetter: Revolutionizing Financial Literacy for the Next Generation

“I launched Goalsetter with the hope of changing these kids who were senders and spenders of money into savers and investors and financially knowledgeable and capable by the time they left their parents’ houses.”

– Tanya Van Court

I was thrilled to discover that there’s a company out there in the EdTech sphere making financial literacy fun for our future generations! Tune in to this week’s episode of the On Work and Revolution podcast as I sit down to chat with Tanya Van Court, the visionary CEO of Goalsetter, who shares her incredible journey from corporate executive to tech entrepreneur. 

The three main themes that emerged in this conversation include:
  

  1. Tanya’s Career Journey: We trace Tanya’s career path from her experiences in top-tier media companies to her transition into the world of edtech. Tanya shares how her personal financial loss in the dot-com bubble and the realization of the lack of financial education sparked her to build Goalsetter.
      
  2. The Mission and Impact of Goalsetter: Choosing to change the world is no small feat. With the mission of revolutionizing financial education for children, Tanya unveils how the platform’s unique features, such as gamification and education empowers the next generation with crucial money management skills.
      
  3. Challenges in Fundraising as a Woman of Color: Tanya openly shares the difficulties she faced in securing funding for Goalsetter due to the systemic biases and limited venture capital opportunities for women and people of color. She highlights her determination to overcome these challenges by finding investors who genuinely believed in her mission.

    Give this conversation a listen, and don’t hesitate to Contact Us if you have any
    questions, comments, or feedback. 

    About our guest, Tanya Van Court:

    Tanya Van Court is the Founder and CEO of Goalsetter. Prior to launching Goalsetter, Van Court ran preschool and parenting digital products at Nickelodeon, where she led NickJr.com and Noggin.com, along with Nickelodeon’s parenting initiatives. Van Court was also responsible for launching major consumer products in large media companies, including Optimum Voice at Cablevision and ESPN3 at ESPN. Van Court was inspired to launch Goalsetter by her daughter, Gabrielle, who said that for her 9th birthday, she hoped to receive enough money to start an investment account and buy a new bike. Instead, she received a “Make Your Own Gum” kit, two weaving looms, a butterfly conservatory (with already-dead butterflies), and a rainbow loom to sit alongside the one she already had. Van Court has two degrees in Industrial Engineering from Stanford, and three degrees in parenting from her kids Gabrielle, Hendrix, and Maxwell.

    Helpful Links:

    Follow Tanya on LinkedIn

    Open for Full Episode Transcript

    [00:00:00] Debbie Goodman: Welcome to On Work and Revolution, where we talk about what’s shaking up in the world of work and edtech. I’m your host, Debbie Goodman. I’m CEO of Jack Hammer Global, a global group of executive search and leadership coaching companies. I’m also an advisor to Venture backed Edtech founders. And for those of you in edtech who are hiring, we’ve launched a fractional leaders offering. I’ll put the link in the show notes. My main mission with all of my work is to help companies and leaders to create amazing workplaces where people and ideas flourish. And so today I am really super, super excited to have Tanya van Court as my guest on the pod. I should actually say my esteemed guest, because I’ll shortly list Tanya and her company’s awards and accolades over the last few years, but first here’s a little bit of context.

    Tanya is founder and CEO of Goalsetter, which is a financial literacy platform. It’s made just for kids and families. In 2021, Goalsetter became one of the most lauded fintech apps in the industry, featured three times in the Apple app store. That’s like a really big deal received fintech breakthrough awards, best personal finance app in 2022, recognized in fast companies, brands that matter.

    In 2022 and again recently in apple’s top 24 apps of 2024 And this is not all Tanya herself has been recognized as the pioneer and game changer that she is Okay, I’m going to do the list Tanya. 2021 Ebony Power 100 and Forbes Next 1000, 2022 Entrepreneur Magazine Top 100 Women of Influence and Inc Magazine’s Top 100 Female Founders. In 2023, American Bankers Top 25 Women in fintech and 2024, the crowning glory, a guest on On Work and Revolution podcast. Tanya has a fascinating career and life story and so today we’re going to hear more about this extraordinary career journey and how she transitioned from being a corporate executive in some of the world’s most influential media networks to startup life in fintech slash edtech and recently, raising a series A round. Welcome Tanya.

    [00:02:25] Tanya Van Court: Debbie, thank you. Can you come and introduce me to my kids? I mean, maybe, maybe they’ll appreciate me more with your kind of information.

    [00:02:33] Debbie Goodman: We, we can do a quid pro quo on that, I agree. All right. So take us to the part of your journey where you have two Stanford degrees in engineering. You’ve just got a job, received a lot of stock options worth like a million dollars, which you did not fully understand at the time. And then the dot com bubble burst. Why was this so significant other than of course, the losing of a ton of money? 

    [00:03:00] Tanya Van Court: Yep. Well, Debbie first. Thank you for having me here. I’m so excited to talk with everyone of your listeners today. You know, the reason that moment was so significant for me is because I had come out of one of the best institutions, educational institutions in the country. I had a couple of the hardest degrees that anyone could, you know that anyone could receive from, from that institution. I had taken classes in the business school and yet I knew nothing at all about personal finance. And so, it was a real aha moment for me of, it doesn’t matter how well educated you are. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. If no one ever teaches you the core concepts of personal finance and financial education, you too can be broke.

    [00:03:46] Debbie Goodman: Yep.

    [00:03:47] Tanya Van Court: And that realization made me understand that, you know, although I felt very alone at the time, I knew that I probably was not alone and there were plenty of other people out there who were just too ashamed to raise their hands and say, No one ever taught me this stuff and I don’t know it and I need help.

    [00:04:06] Debbie Goodman: Well, I think that, you know, the dot com bubble bursting way back is kind of similar to what we’re seeing right now in markets, in venture backed markets, even in the publicly traded listed sector where people who came on board companies with the big promise of a ton of equity. Maybe didn’t fully understand how much of a risk they might have been taking or did understand the risk, but didn’t really understand what that equity was worth. I know certainly some people who left equity in the companies without taking any off the table and those share prices, real or phantom, have just plummeted and are, are worthless in some cases, which is just devastating for people who’ve given their life’s work over the last maybe decade or longer to certain organizations. So I can you know, that’s we’re unfortunately having some of that I’m hearing in the market and it’s never too late to learn about all the different types of financial instruments, but even just the basics around financial planning. But let’s take let’s go back to your career journey because you then went on to climb your way up the corporate ladder as a digital content executive for some of the world’s most influential cable television networks, Nickelodeon, ESPN, Discovery. So you got a job, you got back on your feet. Why then the decision to leave corporate and establish Goalsetter in 2016?

    [00:05:31] Tanya Van Court: Well, you know, Debbie, when I lost all of that money in the dot com bust, that was avoidable, quite frankly, right? I wasn’t highly leveraged. So I wasn’t one of these people who had over leveraged myself. I literally just did not diversify my holdings. I didn’t know about diversification. I didn’t know about asset allocation. And so the second aha moment for me was that I couldn’t turn back the hands of time. All I could do was make sure the same kind of thing never happened to my own kids. And I didn’t have kids when I was in Silicon Valley, but after that I moved to New York. I had my daughter Gabrielle. I started teaching her everything I could about money from the time that she was very young. And so when she was eight about to turn nine, she said, mommy, for my ninth birthday, I really only want two things. And I said, what’s that? And she said, enough money to save for an investment account and a bike. And I thought, yay, I did it. I gave myself a little pat on the back, but then I also said, if I could get every kid to say that by the ripe old age of eight, then I could change the world. And I knew that I had all of this wealth of tools in my tool kit, right? I had led education, gamification, entertainment, digital products for some of the best media brands in the world, as you said, and I knew that if I brought all of that into the financial services space, I could make learning about finance fun and engaging for everyone who had previously felt like it was not for them or previously felt like it was over their heads or not engaging. I knew that I could change that story for them. And so that’s why I decided to leave those big brands because of that little girl who truly showed me that If I left those big brands and went and started something that focused on kids like her, I could make a big difference. And that’s all I ever wanted, Right? I never wanted to be a fintech entrepreneur. I didn’t even know what a fintech entrepreneur was. What I wanted was to change the world. So, you know, I launched Goalsetter. I launched Goalsetter with the hope of changing these kids who were senders and spenders of money into savers and investors and financially knowledgeable and capable by the time they left their parents’ houses.

    [00:07:56] Debbie Goodman: Wow, that’s a big mission. And I wish that I would have started earlier with providing insights and education to my kids. Your daughter and my daughter should have paired up because mine only when she was nine, wanted to go and take all her gifts and donate them, she wanted to take them to give them away. But maybe if they paired up, they could have been a good team. So let’s talk more about the mission of Goalsetter because I think that, you know, many organizations talk about the impact that they want to make, but primarily, even those social impact ones. There’s profit is the center and the be all of, of those organizations. With Goalsetter, it really feels like big picture mission has been baked in. So let’s dig into that a little. Tell me more.

    [00:08:46] Tanya Van Court: Absolutely. Listen, Debbie, let’s be clear. As a woman in the tech space. We don’t get that much funding, right? Less than 2 percent of venture capital funding goes to women and for women of colour, it’s even less. And so what does that mean to me? It means that I have a unique opportunity to sit in a chair where I can bring a different lens, a different perspective, and quite frankly, a different product. Plenty of parents out there have teen and tween debit cards, right? Those teen and tween debit card companies have quite frankly, been a long been around. for as long as Goalsetter has been around. We were launched in 2016. Companies like Greenlight were launched in 2016 as well. So, you know, those companies have been around for as long as we have. The difference between our companies is Greenlight has raised $550 million.

    Goalsetter has raised $30 million. And so again, you know, we get less funding, but what does that mean to me? What that means to me is, I still have $30 million with which to make a difference. And so, we have launched tools that are not like just putting a debit card into your kids hands. We are revolutionizing what’s happening with this next generation of kids. Our debit card is an example has a rule called learn before you burn. When a parent activates that rule, their kid’s debit card will freeze on Sunday morning if they haven’t taken their financial literacy quiz for the week yet. And the minute they take the quiz, the card unfreezes again. And so as a mom, I know exactly what it’s going to take for my kids to do what I want them to do on a weekly basis. And I know that one of the things that it’s going to take is they don’t get access to the things they love most. They don’t get access to a phone or a debit card or Wi Fi, right? We know our kids prioritize. And what that means is from a behavioural economics perspective, we are generating kids who are financially powerhouses.

    I mean, you should see these kids, Debbie. It’s so impressive young one young lady, Saday, NBC News asked her, what do you love best about Goalsetter? She had hundreds of dollars saved on her Goalsetter account. She didn’t even talk about the money. She didn’t talk about spending. What Saday said was, the thing that I love best about Goalsetter is that it teaches me things about money I never knew I was supposed to know. I thought money was all about saving some and spending some, but now I know it’s about frugality and compound interest and the rule of 72. And Saday was 13 years old.

    [00:11:26] Debbie Goodman: Wow. Okay. So if every 13 year old in America, in the world could understand compound interest. Wow.

    [00:11:34] Tanya Van Court: Right? Absolutely. And so, you know, when you talk about our mission and impact being first, there are a lot of things that I could be doing. I was an executive. I could be an executive at other tech companies and making far more money than I am here. But the truth of the matter is, and it might sound crazy coming from a founder of a company that has debit cards, I don’t want any kid in America to have a debit card unless it’s Goalsetter. Because what are we teaching these kids? We’re teaching them how to send and spend money easily. We’re teaching them the wrong habits, particularly in an environment, an economic environment where we know how critical it is for kids to learn saving and investing early because the same social structures like pension plans, they’re not going to be there for these kids anymore. These kids have to know by the time they get their first paycheck, they have to understand compound interest. They have to understand investing. They have to understand that they need to participate in their 401k. Otherwise, they will be at a huge disadvantage in terms of their own financial life.

    So, look, down with debit cards for me. Up with making sure that our kids are learning financial education and doing it by any means necessary.

    [00:12:44] Debbie Goodman: Okay. So I want to take a couple of steps back because you kind of glossed over this pretty amazing thing that just happened, which was your series A funding and you kind of also minimized it a little in comparison with perhaps another company that had raised more, but I think it was more illustrative to show the massive disparity that is an example of the difference and really the size of the VC pie that is going to minorities that goes to women, that goes to people of colour. And so I just want to ask you a little more about the fundraising process because I’ve spoken to a number of founders recently who’ve told their tales of woe and glory at times. Each one is slightly different, so I’d love to hear yours.

    [00:13:28] Tanya Van Court: So tales of woe and glory. I think that is an apt description. It feels like for any Game of Thrones fans out there, right, tales of fire and ice. So yes, there are tales of woe and glory. So, my fundraising started you know, 2016, where I decided I was going to leave my big corporate gigs and go and start Goalsetter. And what I heard from venture capitalists at the time was kids’ finance is not a thing. It’s never going to be a thing. It is not a VC backable category. Tanya go home, you’re wasting your time. And yet when I talked to all of the women in my life and I said, look, this is what we are building. We’re building a savings account, an investment account, a debit card with financial education actually attached to it, right? When I said that to the women in my life, everyone said, please, please, please and thank you. And so, I knew that there was a market there, but I also knew that the venture capitalists weren’t talking to the same women who were in my focus group, right? And then I looked up one day, Debbie, and it was probably 2017 at this juncture. And these same VCs who told me that kids finance was not a thing were funding these kid debit card companies and funding them in droves. In many instances, they didn’t have a product and we had a product. And they still got funded. And so I scratched my head and said, I don’t get it. I went back and said, I don’t get it. Why are you funding them? And you’re not funding us and we have a better product. And then I heard, well, Tanya, sorry, I guess you were right. Kids finance is a VC backable category, but now you have well-funded competitors. No one will ever fund you now. And that just made me angry.

    [00:15:12] Debbie Goodman: Ah, right.

    [00:15:14] Tanya Van Court: And committed to not quitting and not giving up and proving them wrong. And quite frankly, it also made me double down on what was different about our product. And what’s different about our product is, it’s education first, and it’s always been education first, right? We know the kinds of outcomes we are generating for kids. And so, it made me double down on that as a differentiating factor and say, you know, the people who find us will see this. And they will know that the impact that we’re going to have on their kids’ lives is so much greater than just sticking a debit card into their hands. So, I doubled down and from a fundraising perspective, I figured that I just had to find my people, meaning I had to find the people who were as Passionate and tenacious about this as I was. And so I did. And so, you know, that’s when I went and found people who invested in Goalsetter like Kevin Durant, the NBA superstar and Robert F. Smith, the chairman of this, the equity and Chris Paul, the other NBA superstar and actors like Bernie Anderson. I mean, I found people who said, we see you and we see that what you’re doing is so critical for the marketplace and we want to support this. And then after they invested, by the way, I went and found corporations that became strategic partners, corporations like Fiserv, which backs more than 40 percent of banks and financial institutions in the country, and PNC Bank and Webster Bank. These are the kinds of corporations that said, again, we see you and we see that what you’re doing is different and deserves support and needs to exist in the world.

    And so that was the journey that allowed me to get our seed round done to get our series A round done. And then we just recently did a series A extension that was led by Edward Jones, which has a fantastic reputation for not only serving their customers and helping their customers to make healthier decisions in terms of building their own wealth, but also serving their communities. Edward Jones does so much in the community. And so for us, you know, Edward Jones was a great investor. So finding your people, that’s what I mean. MassMutual – MassMutual has the MassMutual impact fund, and they also are an extraordinary partner in communities and educating through school systems’ financial education. And so MassMutual was another one of those corporations where we saw the work that we were that they were doing. And we said, those are our kind of people and we’re their kind of people. And so, so that’s what I would say to, you know, most founders, you got to find your people. You got to find the people who are as passionate about what you’re doing as you are or who have as much to lose as you do if your product is not successful in the marketplace. Wow.

    [00:18:11] Debbie Goodman: Those are just landing like pearls of wisdom. And I think what founders sometimes don’t necessarily realize is that just because an investor is a so-called expert in the sector doesn’t mean they know everything and they don’t necessarily know your market the same way as you spoke to your focus group of women who would consider this to be an absolute no brainer for their families and kids. Perhaps those investors that you originally approached were not speaking to that market. Anyway, it’s a great tale of woe and glory indeed. And I want to just then talk about your distribution, your marketing strategy, because you mentioned that you’d done a pivot from direct to consumer and now more sort of, not B2B, B2E – B2 Education so to speak, we can look at that in a slightly different way to your standard B2B. Why and how, and how’s that working out?

    [00:19:08] Tanya Van Court: Well, you know, states across the nation are now requiring financial education.

    [00:19:13] Debbie Goodman: Aha. They are? Hallelujah.

    [00:19:18] Tanya Van Court: They are. But I have some bad news for you. That was the good news. I like to lead with the good news, Debbie. Now I’m going to go on to the bad news. The bad news is in many instances, they’re not providing funding to those school systems when they require the financial education. And so there’s a big mismatch, right? I’m going to require that you do something, but I’m not going to give you the funding to support you doing it. And so then what many of those school systems, what happens is, the principal calls up the social studies teacher and says, tag, you’re it. Financial education falls underneath the social studies department in our school system and so go figure out how to provide financial education curriculum to our high school students because they need one credit or two credits before they graduate. Well, guess what, Debbie? That social studies teacher often doesn’t have financial education themselves.

    [00:20:10] Debbie Goodman: For sure. Right.

    [00:20:13] Tanya Van Court: And so, you know, I really liken it to back when the first personal computers came about and there were only certain school systems that had access to, you know, the people at Apple or computer science graduates, and they were the ones who could teach their, their kids in their school systems about coding and computer science, but other school systems were completely left out of the equation while this major revolution was happening. Financial education, it will be the same thing. It will be the deciding factor between the haves and the have nots in the next 20 years. And so if we have some school systems that are not funded to get robust and good financial education, They’re going to get the same bad stuff that people have been providing schools for free for the past 20 years, and it’s ultimately not fair to students. And so when you hear us going, you know, B2E to educators and to educational institutions, why are we doing that? Because students deserve better, because students deserve the kind of financial education we’re providing, which is, you know, our videos have been created by ex Nickelodeon producers. They’ve been written by comedy writers hand in hand with financial educators and financial professionals. And so we have a team of people who work on this curriculum to make sure that it’s fun and engaging and meeting kids where they are, but still providing them with those aha moments of finance that are going to change their lives if they understand those key elements.

    And that’s why we pivoted. We saw that financial education was being required in school systems, that school systems and teachers and students deserve the best financial education out there, not a cobbled together approach and certainly not a, ‘hey, it’s free, but it’s not great’ approach. And we said, we are going to provide better.

    [00:22:12] Debbie Goodman: Okay, but who’s bankrolling this?

    [00:22:15] Tanya Van Court: Great question. So, as of April 1st, there is a new code within CRA Community Reinvestment Act within that initiative for local banks and community banks, that they can now use their CRA dollars to provide financial education specifically. And so who’s bankrolling it? Banks and, you know, community credit unions who have always been working with their local school systems, and it’s part of their DNA to provide financial education to their local school systems.

    It’s often community credit unions. Sometimes it’s foundations. Nike has been a great partner of Goalsetter. So as an example, in Clayton County, Georgia, we not only provided those kids with a full high school curriculum, 18 weeks of curriculum, 90 hours of curriculum. We also provided them with the Goalsetter app, which has a savings account, an investment account, weekly financial education quizzes, and we provided those kids with $40 in Nike stock so that they are opening their app and they automatically get stock and become shareholders and know what it means to be a shareholder, not in a theoretical way, but in a very visceral and practical and meaningful way.

    [00:23:34] Debbie Goodman: Tanya, this all sounds so amazing and mostly the partnerships that you have developed over time. I’ve got a question around what came first. Did you need to create the product at the very beginning? Did you need to do that first and bootstrap that before you got the funding or what was the chicken and egg relationship there? Because it sounds now like, wow, you’ve just got all these partnerships with the best brands and the best financial institutions and the best schools and all the things and to a founder who’s going, how on earth do I get even out of the starting blocks? I’ve got this great idea, but I need money in order to even create a product. So lay out your roadmap?

    [00:24:14] Tanya Van Court: Yeah. You know, Debbie, the answer to that, and I’m happy to share what we did, but the answer to that, the truth of the matter is it depends on the environment. It depends on who you are. It depends on who you know. It depends on all of those things right now. Remember, I came into the financial services sector and the edtech space with a background from Nickelodeon Discovery Education and ESPN. No one was going to believe that I could set up a financial services product that integrated with banks and ran on the top of their core processing systems and a full curriculum that launched into school systems. No one would believe that I could ever do that. Given my background. So for me, Debbie, I had to do it first. I had to show them first. And I was really fortunate that when I had this idea and when we started to build our first iteration of the product and I went out to raise money, the first million dollars that I raised, 88 percent of that money came from women and people of colour. Those were the groups and the communities that said, we believe in you. We believe in your product vision. We believe in your commitment. And we need this in the communities that we care most about. We need it in our families. We need it in our schools, right? That’s that was the vote of confidence that we got from those early angel investors in Goalsetter. And that allowed us to develop our first MVP, our first minimally viable product. But our first MVP was on the banking side and then as we continued to move forward, I saw the desperate need for this curriculum that we were putting onto the banking side for it to be in classrooms. And so we went and developed that without a single customer and about, you know, 80 percent of the way through that process, we got our first customer, which was kind of unheard of, right?

    In most instances, school systems are like, let me see the product. Let me see the results. Let me see the case study. But, you know, the fact that we were creating something that was just so different in the market, right? We had a school system that raised their hand and said, we love what you’re doing, and we’re willing to put a vote of confidence behind you for the next school year. So you get it done. Hurry up and get it done this school year because we’re going to be able to be ready to use it in the next school year. And so a lot of it is relationships. Debbie and you know, having those relationships where people trust you and know that you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do. And that’s what we did. And we launched a product that now, by the way, we have gotten kids up to a 90 percent financial mastery level. Increase their financial aptitude by 47 percent points with Goalsetters classroom curriculum. That’s what we’ve been able to do because someone was willing to take a chance on us and give us a little bit of runway to develop our product and perfect our product. And then we rolled out our product and they did the case study, right? We had an independent case study done. These kids are so excited about the curriculum and the content that we’ve provided that the teachers are saying we don’t even have to redirect them, but we got that because someone took a chance on us.

    [00:27:29] Debbie Goodman: Someone takes a chance when they can see the vision and the commitment and the determination and the energy and the absolute drive for this big picture mission, and they don’t just take a chance on anyone. They took a chance on you and that incredible package that you’ve brought to the world.

    Tanya, this has been a most wonderful. Thank you for sharing all of that, your story, where Goalsetters heading, what it does in the world. I’m definitely going to get that app for my kids. So thank you so much. What a pleasure.

    [00:28:04] Tanya Van Court: Thank you for having me here. I appreciate it so much. Thank you. 

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