Castleigh Johnson (MBA ‘08)
Program: FT MBA
Founder and CEO of My Home Pathway, an app which supports home ownership
Castleigh shares what led him to launch My Home Pathway, which aims to help improve financial health so Black households can get a mortgage; the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur; what he values most about his Stern education; and where he hopes to go for his next vacation.
What were you planning to do after you graduated with your MBA and what led you to the fintech space?
I wanted to get into Investment Banking entering NYU Stern. I did my summer internship at JP Morgan and also received an investment banking Fellowship as well. It was the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis and the signs of some of the issues we ended up going through started showing up. I ended up at the NY Federal Reserve Bank as a Bank Regulator and had the chance to work on some fascinating projects and truly get to understand how banking and capital works.
I went on to work at some of the largest banks, consulting, and insurance companies in the country in the risk space and eventually decided to transition to the startup space to address some of the structural inefficiencies and inequities I and others had been seeing. Fintech provides innovative solutions to existing problems that can be solved at scale and allows smaller players like ourselves to address these issues and scale our solutions to benefit both consumer and financial institutions.
Prior to My Home Pathway, you had another company called Trifigo that targeted improving credit scores and financial decision-making. What made you decide to start My Home Pathway? What were you trying to solve for?
The mission of Trifigo was to help millennial and minority consumers better understand personal finance and put them in a place to get access to capital in whatever way helped you build a better financial future. As we built that platform, we still saw significant challenges in those segments for the main source of wealth for most Americans; homeownership. The majority of American’s wealth is their home equity, but minority and younger millennial access to home ownership continues to be disproportionately impacted by credit scores and underwriting barriers.
In 1968, Black homeownership was 43% when discriminatory lending practices called ‘Redlining’ were finally outlawed with the dream of making access to mortgages more equitable; but in 2019 the Black home ownership rate was 41%. Not only was there no progress, but the black community was actually worse off. Millennial homeownership rates mirror those we just mentioned, making it harder for them to start building wealth as well. We decided to transition our company to addressing this issue. My Home Pathway still provides the guidance to help consumers improve their financial profiles and behaviors but with the goal of gaining access to the largest asset most of us will own–home equity.
The entrepreneurial journey is challenging, full of highs and lows. What has the experience been like for you?
The experience has been one of the most rewarding; even when things are not going how you would like them to, it provides an opportunity to stretch myself and rely on the good support structure and smart teammates and advisors we have to continue to deliver value to our users and partners. One of the most critical lessons I have learned is to align values with your partners as quickly as possible. We are focused on outcomes and making financial services work for everyone. There are many organizations that do not share that simple goal and therefore we cannot partner with those teams. The quicker you can get to that assessment, the better it is for you and your team to continue to achieve your goals.
What drew you to Stern to do your MBA?
When I started my MBA in 2006, Stern had one of the best Finance programs in the country, and it was in the city that is the center of finance. I knew some current Stern MBAs and alumni who spoke highly of the school and program, as well as the great alumni connections. All the top companies I was interested in, recruited from Stern. I also met some great people when I visited Stern, from the Admissions team to the student activities groups.
What were some of your most valuable experiences that you gained while at Stern that helped you prepare for your career and your entrepreneurial ventures?
I think the community at Stern and the rigor of the program helped prepare me for the startup life. I also unwittingly took a few entrepreneurial courses without thinking I would eventually start my entrepreneurial journey when I did, but I liked the professor and the material was pretty fascinating. Getting a very broad set of courses in Marketing, Strategy, Finance and others are exactly what is needed to start something from the ground up and constantly having to learn and execute to make progress is also part of the DNA Stern helps to provide.
You’re working with another Stern alum, Andy Amendola (MBA ‘08), to help drive visibility for My Home Pathway. Can you tell us how the Stern network has been a resource and support for you?
Andy was one of the first people I met even before we started classes and developed a strong relationship, as well as others in our class and other alumni throughout the Stern community. When I started My Home Pathway, as a friend I had reached out and shared what I was building and asked if he was interested in helping us reach our intended users and he jumped on board. There have been other Stern Alumni that have introduced us internally to their companies and support our mission. The Stern community supports one another as well as causes such as “Financial Inclusion.”
How have you stayed connected to Stern over the years?
I have stayed active with the Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship to champion the cause of providing additional support for Black founders. We have also done workshops for both Stern graduating students and alumni through the NYU Black Alumni Network MLK Weekend programming. I continue to promote Stern in both my personal and professional endeavors.
Where would you like to go for your next vacation?
I would love to do a few countries in Africa; Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and maybe Seychelles as well.
How do you spend your free time? Do you have hobbies or other interests?
I spend a lot of time reading and keeping up to date with the latest in Tech and Finance. I spend as much of my free time as possible with my family; I have a young son and wife who have had to put up with my crazy schedule, so whenever I can find time to spend with them it absorbs what free time I have.
Castleigh Johnson (MBA ‘08) Shares What Led Him to Launch My Home Pathway
Monday, August 2, 2021