Every week, we shine a spotlight on a founder, designer, researcher or leader in product who is building something that will shape our future. We share these stories to lend our support, spark interesting conversations, and create visibility among a global community of those who are building the future.
Tanya Van Court is a founder, an executive and a product leader, who realized several years ago that she was not meant to blindly follow an ordained path through corporate America. Throughout her career, which included roles such as a Vice President at ESPN, Senior Vice President at Nickelodeon and SVP of marketing and education partnerships for Discovery Education, she has unleashed the power of fun, play and delight to teach the next generation of children key lessons about the world.
However, Tanya is driven by much more. Her mother passed away when she was six years old and she recounts, “While my mother died very early in my life and it was really sad and difficult, at the same time when I grew up, other kids were always worried about their parents catching them doing something. For me, I always knew that my mother was watching me. So I always tried to live a life that was one that would be honorable to her.”
Now, as a parent herself, she is watching three amazing children of her own learn key lessons about the world. She realized it was her passion to teach them, and the next generation of children about a driving force of our society: money. Tanya founded Goalsetter in 2016 because, “I felt like my life’s purpose was to do something that empowered kids across this country from every socioeconomic background to understand wealth, to grow wealth, and to build wealth for the next generation. And so I’m really proud of the fact that I did this thing that honestly would’ve been really scary to me ten years ago, and was really scary to me when I did it, truth be told. [However], I believe that I’m uniquely qualified to get all kids excited about saving money and using it for good and worthwhile purposes, as opposed to just spending, splurging and being consumed with consumerism.”
Alpha sat down with Tanya to explore how Goalsetter is changing the way families think about money, and how Tanya is building the future of generational wealth through delighting her users, both old and young. Below are excerpts and highlights from our conversation:
Alpha: We love how your identity, both professionally and personally, is truly focused on helping kids and families be empowered, be smart and be transparent when it comes to wealth. If you were to answer the broad question of why Goalsetter exists, what would your answer be?
Tanya: Goalsetter exists because consumerism has become one of the greatest problems in our culture, and there are huge swaths of our nation who are headed for a really dangerous financial precipice. And those swaths are not just the have-nots. They are the wealthy: 90% of wealthy families will lose their wealth by the third generation. They are African Americans: African Americans are projected to have a negative net worth by 2053. They are Latinos: Latinos are projected to have a negative net worth by 2073. They are adults: 40% of American adults can’t scrape together $400 for an emergency.
It doesn’t matter what component of our society we look at. Financial insecurity is the norm for millions of Americans, and if we don’t figure out ways of closing the wealth gap and teach kids about saving, investing and ownership instead of spending, consumerism and excess, we are going to have even more problems as a society. When people are unstable financially, they’re unstable in a lot of other ways too.
Alpha: I’m curious how your passion for financial sustainability and closing the wealth gaps in our society integrates with your passion for education and interactive learning. How do those two areas of expertise of yours play together in one space?
Tanya: My passion around closing gaps and my passion for engaging and educating kids and families is really one and the same. I was at Nickelodeon for almost six years, and I loved being at Nickelodeon because everything we did had an educational consultant involved. So when we developed a Dora matching game online, we hired a pre-school educational specialist to ensure the game was developed in such a way that a kid was going to learn. But not only did we have an educator involved in everything, we had really amazing game makers, great animators and people who were creative experts in making games that are exciting and fun to a kid. We really paired engagement with education in everything that we did.
At Nickelodeon we used to say our job here is to create products where the parent is inspired to turn on Nickelodeon. But once the channel is turned on, the kid has to be the one who says don’t change that channel, right? You have to appeal to both parent and kid in that way.
That’s the same thing that we do with Goalsetter. We have created a product that parents love because it’s absolutely what their kids need. Their kids need to know about delayed gratification. Their kids need values around saving. Their kids need to know how to eschew smaller things in favor of something larger and develop a savings muscle at 6 or 16 and that will carry them through when they’re 26 and 36 and 46.
But what kids need is to be excited when they’re playing a game. They need to be inspired, engaged and think it’s fun. We had one kid, his name is Dmitri, and his mom sent us a text that said Goalsetter has now made it into Dmitri’s prayers of thanks. So if you’re a financial literacy platform that kids are saying thank you prayers for, then you’ve done something right.
My goal at all times was for those kids who may not have had all the parental support by the time they get to kindergarten, the ones who are sitting at home with a tablet and tuned into nickjr.com on that tablet, I wanted for them to have the same exact level of knowledge as their counterparts when they started school. We actually created a whole pre-school curriculum around the content that we were developing at Nick Jr., and that pre-school curriculum was designed to ensure that kids were proficient in every academic area that pre-school educators said were important.
So now take that analogy to what we’re doing at Goalsetter: We did the exact same thing. We used jumpstart.org’s financial literacy curriculum defined for kindergarten through twelfth, and we mapped our quizzes and our game content to each of those grade levels. So whether you’re in kindergarten or twelfth grade, we have financial literacy content that speaks to you and is designed to close the financial knowledge gap, and do it in a way that’s fun and engaging.
Alpha: You mentioned a story a parent told you of their young daughter using Goalsetter, who now regularly uses the term “opportunity cost.” All these stories communicate how purely delightful the Goalsetter platform is. We’re curious, what are some of those other tips and tricks you found in creating this sort of profound delight, not only with your users (the kids), but with your buyers (the parents)?
Tanya: I think that the tips and tricks for us are to not think about money itself but think about all of the ways in which we as a society touch money. Because money in and of itself is just not that interesting, right? By the way, I’m a person with two degrees in industrial engineering who’s taken a bunch of business finance classes and I never thought it was that interesting.
What becomes interesting about money is what it can do for people: how it can inspire dreams, how people use it to fuel someone else’s dreams, how it powers movements, how it levels playing fields, how it seeds ideas, inventions, and innovation. And so we try to take all of those moments that are actually interesting about money and bring those moments to life.
That’s why Goalsetter makes giving money to someone an experience beyond a transactional cash transfer. When Grandma wants to support little Jamie’s dreams of going to robotics camp, we don’t just send a receipt that says “here, grandma sent you $25.” Instead, Goalsetter sends the money in a digital card. We let grandma upload a photo or a video or a GIF, and she can write a note. So from that point onward, you have a GoalCard from your grandma that comes with her hopes and dreams for your hopes and dreams. ‘I hope that you get to go to robotics camp and become the roboticist that you have always wanted to be.’ Grandma’s support of her granddaughter’s dreams is what makes money interesting.
-A man making a modest salary and being a penny-pincher throughout his life, but dying a multi-millionaire makes money interesting.
-Jay Z saying that he used to buy lots of V-12 engines but now regrets spending that money carelessly makes money interesting.
-A 12 year old who turns a $100 investment from her parents into a successful catering business makes money interesting.
Stories about how people make financial decisions that significantly impact their lives – either negatively or positively – make money interesting, and those are the stories we want to share with kids today so they can make informed, educated decisions tomorrow.
Alpha: Who do you think has been the biggest champion for your work in the last six months?
Tanya: I would say Carla Harris, vice chair at Morgan Stanley. She’s a visionary, a soothsayer, a person who sees the future and knows how to get there. She sees the potential impact of Goalsetter on all communities because she wears so many hats. She’s an executive for one of the largest investment firms in the world, and she sees all of those families who need their kids to learn about money and financial literacy and how to be financially independent. She is also a gospel singer and a person of faith and she connects to those of different backgrounds and sees the opportunity for Goalsetter to change their lives and change their outcomes.
She sees exactly where our platform can go and how it can completely transform the lives of people. Carla was also the first one to comment, “there’s a tremendous B2B opportunity in Goalsetter.” There are employers across the country who want to more deeply engage with their employee base, and Goalsetter is an amazing way for them to do so. We’re going to help kids to start their first savings account because that is a game changer for every kid out there. That first savings account is what turns them into becoming a saver and an investor by the time they’re young adults.
Carla has seen our ability to impact lives inside of the house, but also to transform the relationships employers have with employees.
Alpha: Something else I picked up on is the need for iteration on ideas that are so profoundly simple. I think that one thing that really grabs people’s attention about Goalsetter is it delivers on a very clear purpose: needing to help the next generation understand more about money. However, iteration is crucial to delivering on that purpose to your users. Is there a way that experimentation plays a role in how Goalsetter has evolved?
Tanya: Absolutely. A core value of the company is listening to our users. That is the place where the next set of ideas and iterations come from. 80% of the parent users on our platform said that they wanted to use Goalsetter to save for their own goals as well. We said, “Of course they would. Why wouldn’t they? Parents have dreams too. Parents have goals too. Parents have very practical needs that they’re saving for too.” Parents told us they wanted to save everything from an emergency fund, to a family vacation, to home improvements and to something nice for themselves.
Really listening to users is an important part of our strategy. By the way, the parents who were saving for their own kids also told us, “This is fantastic. I told my other family members about it and they want to sign up to save for my kids too. How can they do round-ups and auto save on behalf of my kids?” So we introduced a concept called Family Circle to let the whole family get in on the savings act.
That’s what we’re doing. We’re creating a culture of saving amongst families, a culture of gifting savings instead of gifting stuff, a culture of supporting dreams instead of supporting spending [and we’re creating this culture] out of what we’re hearing back from our users.
Alpha: What is something you think our future needs more of, and something our future needs less of?
Tanya: I think our future needs more minimalism and more thoughtfulness about how every single one of us spends our money and our time. They say that you can tell a lot about a person by how they spend their money and their time. I often think about what would my obituary say and if any of us would want our obituary to be a literal account of how we spent our money (i.e “Tanya spent 95% of her money buying clothes and shoes and cars and houses?”) Or, would we want it to say, “Tanya spent 50 percent of her money saving, investing and giving to other people and building generational wealth so that her kids can make different decisions about what they want to do with their lives.”
It is so hard because you see in certain communities kids who are immensely and eminently talented, but they can’t necessarily pursue their dreams because they’ve got to go out and find work as quickly as they can or feel like they have to get a job in an uninspiring field because that’s the path for them to be able to pay their bills. Maybe what they really have in them is a great social activist or a great artist. If we can influence young people to become wealth builders from a very young age, just imagine the kinds of amazing new innovations would we see throughout every community and child.
I think we need to be more thoughtful about how we all spend our money and our time so that we can spend it towards things that matter instead of just accumulating more things that don’t.
*Cue Standing Ovation*
At Alpha, we search for catalytic opportunities to support founders in their efforts to build the future. When asked how the community can support Tanya and Goalsetter, she responded with, “I actually don’t think about us building a company. I think about us as building a movement and all movements need comrades in arms. So whether it is a family, a non-profit, a school system or a large corporation that wants to use Goalsetter, we’re game for any and all of it. We truly want to reach as many kids and families as we can.”
You can find information on Tanya and Goalsetter at their website goalsetter.co, or on Facebook and Instagram at @goalsetterco. If you feel we can lend our support the work you’re doing, please reach out to Aaron Davis, Alpha’s Head of Community, at firstname.lastname@example.org.