Financial literacy does not have to be presented as a foreign concept, at least that’s what this founder believes.
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Neon Money Club Founder and CEO Luke Bailey entered the banking industry in his late teenage years and had an 18-year reign in the sector. He then recognized there was hardly anyone around him who looked like him. Yet, he understood how important it was for representation to exist in this space in order for the culture to continue to progress.
However, to do so Bailey had to dial it back at his bank job. The leap of faith led him and Jackie Liao to create Neon Money Club in 2021 to present the concept of ownership to the community as the “new flex.”
“I knew what it was like growing up to have nothing. So, the way we did it in my hood — I’m from Philly originally — you sort of project your worth based on what you wore. I look good. I feel good. So, that’s why we coined the phrase ‘ownership is the new drip’ because our whole thing is what if you could show off your financial health profile? What if you could show off your investments? What if you could show off your financial wellness the same way you would show off a sneaker or show off a new piece of clothing,” Bailey told AfroTech in an exclusive interview.
Now, there is no “what if” as the Neon Money Club is providing certainty for an area that often has an intimidation factor within the community.
The digital invite-only money club rejects traditional verbiage to embrace concepts that people are already familiar with, in hopes of building a safe space for users as they explore investment arenas in streetwear and sneakers, among others.
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“What if we could give our 20-year-old selves a safe space to go and not just learn the keys to the game and investing, but to actually do it right and to actually know the value of the things that they already know the value of,” Bailey explained. “You could look in my closet right now and you can check out all my sneakers. You can check out all my drip. I got electronics around here. I’m sitting here looking at an iPhone, I’m talking to you on an Apple computer. I own those things, but I don’t own the company. So, how can I own a piece of that company that I already know is valuable and is already a part of my everyday life.”
He continued: “We just figured out a way to do that and build. We didn’t want to build another financial app or another investing app. There are enough of those. We wanted to build a digital place for people to feel safe and somewhere where they’re not talking to you like a bank in the 1920s. Everything out there right now — they’re using the same concepts, the same terms, the same things that basically scare people away. We didn’t want to do that.”
As sneakerheads and streetwear enthusiasts, Bailey and Liao transferred their shared passion into Neon Money Club. They believe users should feel empowered to invest their dollars anywhere without feeling as if they need to climb a huge wall of information to get started.
Instead, the information is curated in the form of investment playlists and each playlist has several stocks based on a particular theme. For example, one playlist was titled ‘S.W.A.G’ — “Start with Assets You Got” — and it holds stocks for companies like Nike, Supreme, Gap, and Ralph Lauren, among others.
“Our whole thing was we didn’t want to build something where it’s like our parents used to tell us like, ‘Hey, don’t buy that thing that you want. Save your money instead.’ That never works, right? We wanted to say, ‘Look, if you buy Nike, which we all do, you should own Nike,” Bailey said. “When you get into Neon Money Club, you get to actually do that.”
He continued: “What we do is we show you that you sort of already knows this stuff, it’s just, no one’s talking to you in your language. We didn’t want people to have to learn a 1920s language. We spent our time in banking. So, we can translate that to our language.”
Bailey recognizes the platform is already living out its purpose, which is to ensure the community can be in a better position in the financial market. When users were asked to choose between Nike shoes or stocks, Bailey was surprised by the feedback. Nearly 90 percent of users revealed they would opt for the stocks instead of new kicks.
“We were surprised, cause me, I was like ‘Oh, I’ll get the shoes,’ and then folks were able to tell us why. What we understood is, when you put it to people in a way that they already get, you understand that people do have a tilt toward growing themselves financially. They just don’t have the tool to do it. So, we want people to be able to express themselves financially, and we want them to be able to do it in a safe place. That’s what we’re here for,” Bailey said.
The shift in users’ mindsets is just a reminder of why creating a fintech platform led by a Black voice is pivotal. Its promise was previously recognized by investors and the company successfully raised $4 million in funding. Yet, the process was not easy.
“There’s nothing I’ve ever done in my life in America — as a Black male — that wasn’t hard. There was nothing I’ve ever done that didn’t have headwinds in front of me. So, I knew it would be hard as hell and nearly impossible. You know the stats,” Bailey said.
He added: “I’m from Philly. I grew up with nothing, Jackie, my co-founder, he’s from Oakland. He grew up with nothing. We come from single-parent households. We pulled ourselves up. So, we knew going out there would be difficult. We talked to over 100 venture capitalists.”
What’s more, after accomplishing the feat, Bailey believes he’s “the only Black tech founder in NYC to have raised that much in a seed round pre-product and pre-launch.”