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Sheri Atwood, co-founder of Ittavi, is the 3rd Place Winner in the 2013 StartupNation Leading Moms in Business Competition, along with her co-founder Lorena Chiu. Ittavi is a software company that seeks to end child support conflict by providing parents an expense management and bill payment application for child support. The company is committed to donating a portion of profits to make children’s lives better.
Globally there are over 298 million parents who are exchanging over $990 billion dollars every year in child support. However, there is not a standard process or system to enable parents to manage this emotional and conflict-ridden process. In fact, the entire process is complex, time-consuming and stressful. Ittavi seeks to eliminate child support conflict and enable collaboration between parents with an easy-to-use online application. Parents can now spend less time managing child support and more time focused on raising happy, healthy children.
Sheri is a successful marketing and product executive with Fortune 500 and entrepreneurial company experiences. She was named a “Top 40 Under 40 Executive in Silicon Valley, 2009”. In her career she’s driven approximately $6 billion in revenue for a variety of technology companies, across 17,000 employees and 40,000 channel partners.
StartupNation had the pleasure of interviewing Sheri and gleaning her insights into building a business. Read the interview below and see all that you can learn about the true entrepreneurial spirit from this inspiring entrepreneur:
What was the catalyst for starting Ittavi?
Atwood: My parents divorced when I was 5 years old and they defined what it means to have a “dysfunctional divorce’. It seemed, as a young child, the only thing that mattered to either one of them was money, or lack thereof and this caused a lot of fighting and a lot of conflict. Many years later, when I faced a divorce of my own, I swore I would do everything in my power to make it as amicable as possible. Our divorce was so amicable, I did the entire thing myself.
Yet I found, whether it’s a horrible divorce or an amicable one, when it comes to communicating about money with an ex, things can get complex, complicated and conflict-ridden very quickly. I was a Vice President at Symantec and juggling the responsibility of being a single parent and tried to manage the process of sharing expenses with my ex-husband. Between tracking expenses, calculating who owed what to whom and managing getting bills paid, the entire process was very overwhelming. I looked high and low for a solution and to my surprise there was no standard process or system to enable parents to manage this emotional and conflict ridden process directly between each other. I was looking for a solution that would save me time and money and help to eliminate the conflict regarding child support so I could focus on raising a happy & healthy child.
How did friends and family react when you told them you were going to start the business?
Atwood: I must say everyone was very supportive. I had this idea 9 years ago when I was going through my divorce yet I reminded myself I was probably the least likely person to start a company. I was a single mother building a software company without a spouse or parents to catch me if I fail. After several unfortunate events in corporate America and a health scare with my daughter, I knew I wanted to spend my time and energy on something that I could be passionate about and would make a difference in the world. If I can make the life of even one child just a little bit better because their parents aren’t arguing over money, then all the hard work will be well worth it.
Why do you think there was no child support management software on the market prior to Ittavi?
Atwood: When the term “child support” is heard many people think about the people who do not pay child support or believe that child support is simply a once a month payment. Other solutions on the market focus on communication, visitation and custody issues, yet child support and money tend to be the number one area of conflict between parents. In order to offer a solution, there must be a deep understanding of a complex and many times confusing process, while offering a level of security to ensure payments and data are safe. I have also found that many people involved in consumer startups tend to be much younger, so they have yet to experience the problems that child support causes.
Outside of child support payments, what are the various elements involved in child support requiring management?
Atwood: Since child support is not just a single monthly payment but also a broad collection of shared expenses, parents must continually manage, communicate and negotiate over child related expenses. Expenses may include any child related expenses such as medical, day care, education or any extra-curricular activities. Parents can also track alimony, family support and even personal expenses. The historical data can be used for income taxes, health care spending, dependent care, child support modifications and many more.
Do you have plans for additional products beyond Child Support Manager?
Atwood: Yes. We have already begun the development of a mobile application in keeping with the current trend in technology. Parents will be able to access our child support management tool no matter where they are. In addition, we are looking at offering other solutions to address the unique needs of single, divorced, separated and blended families.
What have been the main challenges you've needed to overcome to get the business off the ground?
Atwood: As with any advance in technology, funding is an ongoing challenge. We have self-funded and only recently began active fundraising efforts. Although nothing is ever guaranteed I wanted to feel confident that we could provide an innovative solution to a modern dilemma that will forever change the face of child support management before bringing in outside investors. This patent-pending technology is currently in public beta and we have received tremendous positive feedback, further providing the proof we needed before asking others to invest in our vision. We are confident investors will recognize that Ittavi Child Support Manager is the most timely and comprehensive solution to date.
What does your 3rd Place ranking in StartupNation's 2013 Leading Moms in Business Competition mean for you and Ittavi?
Atwood: It’s an acknowledgment that our product is both timely and urgently needed in response to the changes that the modern day family has undergone. It validates that leaving a lucrative position as an executive to start a grass-roots company focused on relieving the conflict and stress that inevitably arise from managing finances post-divorce was the right decision. And it says that even a single mother can take a risk and be recognized for the hard work of starting a company.
What does the future hold in store for Ittavi? What will the business look like 5 years from now?
Atwood: Ittavi envisions being the platform of choice for modern family finances as well as building a community and partnerships that directly address the unique challenges that single, divorced, separated and blended families face.