If you don’t have control over your finances, it’s hard to think about anything else. Growing up in a working-class neighborhood, Ulupreneur Tanya Menendez saw first-hand how financial stability fosters more choices and opportunities. Her mom and dad—a factory worker and secretary, respectively—immigrated from war-torn countries in Central America. But Tanya says they instilled in her their entrepreneurial spirit, encapsulated by the beliefs that one creates their own life and vision, that it takes courage to learn new things and continuously grow, and that sometimes one needs to take risks.
After graduating from UC San Diego with a sociology degree, she decided to embark on a career in finance and went to work for Goldman Sachs—at the height of the 2008 financial crisis. She learned that even with a good job, navigating personal finances was not easy. But the banking business wasn’t satisfying her entrepreneurial itch, so at age 22, she co-founded a leather goods company and quit her banking job. Their products were sold in several department stores, including Nordstrom. This experience inspired her to start her first tech business, Maker’s Row, an online platform for the factory sourcing of apparel. More than 200,000 companies began using the platform and they raised more than $2.5M in venture capital. Tanya was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 List in the retail category.
She returned to California with dreams of building a new type of money advisor – one that would make it easy for people to understand the steps it takes to build wealth in the United States, regardless of background and upbringing.
She saw a huge need for financial advice for middle-class Americans, first-generation college grads, and young professionals just getting started – what tied them together was that most graduate with some form of debt”
Tanya met her co-founder Pam Martinez at a Silicon Valley dinner group for Latinx in tech. They launched Snowball Wealth in 2019, which started as a platform centered around a student debt product. The pandemic changed all that; loans were paused and very few needed their service, so Tanya and Pam decided to pivot. In March 2022, Snowball became a community-first mobile app, moving people from debt to wealth through community money challenges (social competitions to save money) and a premium financial roadmap.
We caught up with Tanya just as they’re announcing they’re $1.6M raise!
Why Snowball? Why now?
Demographics are changing, inflation is at a post-millennium high and debt is increasing at a rapid rate, especially with “buy now, pay later” plans. The trend of women, underrepresented groups, and first-generation college grads becoming professionals is also rising rapidly. It’s raising demand for a new kind of financial advice, which needs to include planning for young professionals who carry debt. Often financial advisors don’t normally deal with high earners with debt. Creating the most affordable financial advisor for the debt-to-wealth journey is the vision for the platform.
What are your tips for fundraising?
Focus on the people who already believe in the trends that you’re seeing. I think that makes these conversations much easier.
Take time to understand the language and the norms of your industry, and the specific fundraising tactics that you need for your specific vertical.”
Because fundraising for B2C versus B2B can be completely different, and what you need to prepare for can be completely different. It’s important to take a bit of time before fundraising to talk to other founders to understand what’s changed in the industry, so that you can be best prepared in the conversations.
Pivots can be difficult, how did you handle it?
Pivoting is one of the hardest decisions that you can make as a founder, because you spent all this time, all the code, and all of this effort on this one product. It’s hard to make that call, especially if some customers like it but it’s not growing at the rate required for venture capital investors and for your own opportunity cost. Do what’s best for the overall company and the overall longevity of it. Also, you probably need to pivot sooner than you want to. In our case, if we had waited more months, we’d have run out of money. But we saw that we had to pivot with enough time prove out our new direction.
Do you have tips on getting your first customers?
I’ve built three businesses and my best advice is just start with the lowest-hanging fruit. Don’t worry about getting a million users overnight. Begin with what you believe is your best target and go after it. And once you convince that segment, find others like them. It can sometimes feel unnatural to ask for money in exchange for services or products, but the sooner you do, the sooner you’ll get the best feedback from those customers on what you need to change.
What are your dreams for Snowball Wealth?
My dream is creating a new class of investors from working-class and middle-class families who will be able to build financial stability for the next generation. And yes, to become one of the first Latina-founded billion-dollar businesses … that would be amazing!