Tanya Van Court is part of the growing number of Black women successfully launching startups in Silicon Valley and cities around the country. After realizing there was no known solution to her daughter’s birthday request to save for an investment account, she decided to put her professional experience to use and become the solution. Sow now allows young people to receive financial gifts for savings and fundraising efforts, in lieu of traditional material gifts. See how Van Court raised capital for her venture and her tips to being a successful CEO.
Name: Tanya Van Court
Title: CEO, Sow
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Hometown: Oakland, CA
Twitter: @tvancourt and @isowfor
The gig: I am the founder and CEO of Sow, iSow.com. Sow solves the universal problem of inefficient gift giving to young people. In lieu of receiving troves of “stuff” for their birthdays, holidays, and gift-giving moments, parents and kids can sow for important goals like saving and fundraising. I love to see young people getting excited about saving and their goals.
The journey: My daughter shared with me that all she wanted for her 9th birthday was money to start an investment account and a new bike. I knew that she would likely receive a slew of gifts similar to those she already received from friends and family. I realized that the traditional process of gift giving was broken and that I could do something to fix it. Prior to Sow, I served as senior vice president of partner marketing at Discovery Education and spent more than five years at Nickelodeon. I have two degrees in Engineering from Stanford and two degrees in Parenting from my children Gabrielle and Hendrix, preparing me for this task.
Her top startup tip: The most important thing that you can do before launching a new venture is to test out the idea. Talk to at least 30 people before you quit your job, invest a dime in the new venture, or begin spending meaningful time developing your “side hustle.” Those conversations will confirm and bolster your dreams, quash your plans, or force you to re-think your plans in healthy ways that can lead to a successful new enterprise.
Confessions of a Black woman raising capital: As an entrepreneur, one of the most critical things you have to do is raise money for your venture. Less than 1% of venture funding actually goes to Black women, and most of the funding sources are white men. This is the greatest challenge that I’ve faced thus far. I’ve leveraged my communities and networks that are intimately familiar with me and my successful career, and have raised substantial funding from Black, Brown and female investors.
Her lesson learned: The biggest mistake that I made was assuming that corporate and career success would automatically translate to entrepreneurial success. I learned early how difficult every stage of the entrepreneurial process is. I recovered by quickly finding mentors who could help me to navigate the entrepreneurial road.
Her work/life tip: Assign time limits to things that have the potential to unnecessarily consume time. As an example, my daughter and I challenge ourselves to a “15-minute grocery store shop.” It actually becomes a competition and a game for us to see if we can finish our grocery store run in 15 minutes flat.
Her best advice: If you believe in what you’re selling, you never have to sell it. Instead, you’re just providing people an opportunity to experience, invest, or purchase something that will benefit them.
Her tech fix: I can’t live without my phone, my Sonos, and my Chromecast. Since I cut off my cable as an entrepreneur, I need entertainment options.
Her beauty bag: I love Neutrogena Body Oil to make my skin soft after showers, and Bare Minerals lip gloss because it’s sexy and not sticky.
Her power style accessory: I have two pieces of jewelry that have my kids’ name on them – a set of rings and a necklace. Whenever I have them close to me, I feel empowered and unstoppable.
Her superpower: The tenacity that enables me to walk through walls, even those that may seem formidable and unyielding.
Her theme song: “I Ain’t No Joke” by Eric B. and Rakim. Yes, I’m old school.