Nathania (Tanya) Aritao is an entrepreneur, artist and social justice advocate.
She has over twelve years experience in innovation and entrepreneurship to serve vulnerable groups – including children at risk, families living with chronic/terminal illnesses, survivors of trafficking and trauma, and migrant workers.
Nathania’s London-based venture, TAYO International, is on a mission to provide financial education and management tools that are simple, rewarding and made for migrant workers, through an online community and mobile app. TAYO supports migrants as they break out of the cycles of debt, poverty or financial vulnerability. TAYO is an early stage, pre-seed start up, run by a very small, but growing team, based around the world. We are looking for grant and partnership opportunities to grow and scale.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I remember my mom telling me that I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. But it’s taken me a longer time to embrace the term entrepreneur as a word to describe myself.
In my story, perhaps it wasn’t that I *decided* to be an entrepreneur, but that I discovered that I *am* an entrepreneur. I’ve always gained energy from starting a new thing, developing ideas, solving problems, building things from scratch, and leading a team.
My background is very interdisciplinary, and I thrive when I can draw from different disciplines. I have a degree in fine art and dance, and have worked in the fields of art, fitness, operations management, education, leadership, performing arts, non-profit project management, design, systems thinking, coaching, entrepreneurship and more. I moved to the UK in 2018 for my Oxford MBA.
A thread that ties all these unique pieces of my work together, is that I love to facilitate learning and discovery for people of all backgrounds. TAYO has given me the opportunity to explore scalable solutions for helping others learn and discover – this time with a focus on financial wellbeing and financial freedom.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is about taking the tools, resources, skills that you have, and using these to build, transform, or discover interventions that respond to problems, in creative or unconventional ways. I believe part of entrepreneurship is being courageous about taking a new direction, trying again, blazing a trail, discovering an overlooked option, filling a gap, building a bridge that wasn’t there, or following your gut toward the unfamiliar.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
TAYO was started during my Oxford MBA year. It was a project that we explored as part of our Entrepreneurship course. I worked with teammates Celina, Eida, Kaitlyn and Mridula. At that time, we were already confident that there was a gap and a lack of services for our target demographic, but we knew we had a lot to learn about the real context of the problem we were addressing. I felt most challenged by our distance from the people we were hoping to help. Initially we were exploring working with migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, and at that time, we had very limited interactions with our potential customers.
Post-MBA, Mridula and I volunteered together with a London-based group for migrant domestic workers. When I started to get to know the workers as individuals, hear their stories, listen to their experiences – that’s when I felt that there was a unique opportunity to fill a gap through TAYO in London, and begin to take the idea paper and into real life.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
I am reluctant to say that I could rank a ‘top’ 3. There are also certain skills most needed for different stages and seasons. In my current season, the skills that have proven very helpful to have are: Flexibility. Steadfastness. Self-awareness.
Flexibility – to be able to respond with agility and creativity to the different challenges and opportunities you face as an entrepreneur; maintaining a willingness and ability to shift pace or direction accordingly when the situation calls for it.
Steadfastness – to stand firmly on your values, to keep a clear and anchored view of your vision and purpose, to not give up in the face of discouragement or failure.
Self-awareness – to be able to maintain a balance in your life, to be able to accept and learn from mistakes, and to design a way of working independently and with others, where there is room for both the individual and the team to thrive.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
The independence and the unknown!
I like the independence of being able to design how I work. I also love the discovery process – not knowing exactly how you’re going to get somewhere, but the joy of imagining what could be, building a way to get there, and keeping your eyes, ears and heart open along the way.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I am currently very inspired by the work of Debbie Millman. Earlier this year, my sister introduced me to Debbie’s podcast of over 15 years, “Design Matters by Debbie Millman.” I admire the way Debbie connects with people, her lifelong process of learning, and her career where she has explored many different aspects of her mind, talent, and creativity.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would love to ask Debbie about her creative process and approach to her work. Does she approach different work streams and projects differently? Is there a distinct process when she approaches teaching compared to when she approaches interviews, when she approaches brand design compared to when approaches storytelling? Over the course of her life, what aspects of her process have evolved, what aspects endured?
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
The most recent satisfying moments have been connecting in meaningful ways and building relationships with our customers, the migrant workers who take part in my pilot programs. It feels great to affirm that TAYO can and does fill a gap. I feel a surge of hope and energy when our participants leave our workshops feeling inspired, energised or accomplished, even more when they share their testimonies of small and big wins with taking control of their finances – whether that’s writing down a plan, clarifying their priorities, or making a confident investment.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
There are mistakes and lessons learned every day, and I believe in always showing up with an eager learner’s mindset. One recent mistake that I’m learning from, as we develop TAYO’s mobile app, is waiting too long before showing work for feedback – whether that’s to potential customers or teammates. We tend to want to get things just right before showing work to anyone else, but it’s so important to embed the process of experimentation and feedback into the way we work. There are many lost hours and opportunities from being too hesitant or slow to get feedback.
How have you funded your ideas?
Bootstrapping, friends and family, testing my ideas with small experiments that can be completed with limited resources, volunteers. With TAYO in particular, we are currently in the process of building our strategy for fundraising – ideally involving grants, partnerships, and later, investment.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
I am currently part of the Aspect Accelerator’s first cohort – not a grant or competition – but it has been very helpful so far to be part of a cohort of ventures and entrepreneurs with a social focus, and to have external accountability and support outside of my own team.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
In Oxford there is so much talent, expertise, curiosity. I love that Oxford convenes people and organizations from so many different disciplines and parts of the world- you can always find someone to talk to about any subject at all!
As an Oxford alum, I also really enjoyed being able to work from the university libraries. I loved the ambiance of focus, history, discipline and learning. Now that I’m based in London and with the ongoing pandemic, the libraries are not an option, but I look forward to being able to return in the future.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
There are always so many events happening in Oxford! If you’re not affiliated with the university, there are still events that are open to the public. Sometimes just a search of upcoming events on Eventbrite bring up a few gems. A few other places to look first – the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, the Oxford Foundry, and of course, Enterprising Oxford.
Any last words of advice?
“Strength is for service, not status…” Romans 15:1-2
Use your strength to serve others. Nurture a teachable spirit – no matter how much experience you already have. Always work with a mentor or a coach – if possible, both. Take time to celebrate – the big and small accomplishments, but also the mistakes and detours.
EnSpire Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help connect people to the entrepreneurship resources they need, and to promote entrepreneurship across Oxfordshire.
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