Founder Friday with Tim Sheehan

Every other Friday, we sit down with a founder in our space to hear their story. This week we caught up with Tim Sheehan, CEO of Greenlight.

Tim Sheehan is a quintessential tech entrepreneur. He quotes Steve Jobs, wants to have a significant impact and find creative solutions to everyday problems. It’s not surprising that he came up with the idea for having debit cards for kids when he borrowed cash from one of his children to give pocket money to the other. As part of our Founder Friday Series, Tim shares his story, challenges, and inspiration while building Greenlight.

What did you do before you started Greenlight?

I worked at a startup in Seattle called Starwave where we build, and a bunch of sports website. Walt Disney ended up acquiring Starwave. From there, I went to E-Trade to work for their product team. And then I collaborated with a small team to build Yahoo! Finance. Although I was in consumer product I have been interested in fintech since my first job at Fannie Mae.

What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?

I always wanted to have a big impact. If I worked in a big company, I always wanted to make a difference. It’s like what Steve Jobs said: “Put a ding in the universe.”  I felt I should leave the earth a bit better than I found it. So hopefully I can do that while I am here.

How did you come up with this idea?

I have four kids – two boys and two girls. While giving them pocket money, my wife and I did not have much cash in our wallets. So we would borrow from one child to give it to the other. Then there was this anxiousness about how they will spend it or what if it’s stolen or lost. I thought: there has to be a better way to do this. So I came up with this idea for having a debit card for kids with parental control. At that time, I was working in ATDC as an entrepreneur in residence. So got in touch with John, a former colleague at Yahoo! Finance. He moved down here from New York to get it started.

What has been your challenge while growing Greenlight?

It’s all about getting the message across to parents. We used Facebook and Google Adwords. Since our competitor is cash, we want to create awareness that this is something convenient and safe.

What happens once you download the app and signup?

After you download the app, we will ship the card. You can set up and link it to your existing accounts. Typically, parents would put their debit card in, and the money gets loaded from there. We are adding both parents on our system. Parents can set up automatic allowances, and pick the kinds of stores where their child can spend. For instance, if a parent sends $250 to their college-aged child for “books for this semester,” the funds will only work at the student bookstore, and not at the comic book store down the street. There is also an option to freeze the card at any time and view the spending history directly from our app.


How do you see the future of Greenlight?

We want to be a comprehensive tool for parents to make kids financially literate, teach them how to spend wisely, how to build credit and why that is important in the future.

How does Atlanta fit into the Greenlight story?

Atlanta has a strong ecosystem for innovation. With ATDC, TechSquare Labs and other incubators we have an excellent support system with investors and advisors. Also with Georgia Tech and Georgia State, we have access to some amazing resources and talent to build next generation companies.

What advice would give to a founder who is just starting out?

Every entrepreneur knows this. You never have to give up. It is tough for the first couple of years to survive it. Try to attract good co-founders and angel investors.  Angel investors are best people to turn to when you are starting something. They tend to be more understanding of early stage problems like building products.

Read more about Greenlight in Hypepotamus and Tech Crunch.

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