Michael Broughton is the co-founder and CEO of Altro, a no-cost credit building platform that’s democratizing finance by using recurring monthly expenses, including rent and subscriptions like Netflix or Spotify, to build one’s credit. Altro also offers a financial literacy library of more than 350 audio clips, covering topics such as cryptocurrencies, investing and more. While attending USC, Michael was denied a $10k loan needed to cover the remainder of his tuition due to family finances and a lack of credit history. This frustrating catch-22 inspired Michael to create Altro.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Michael Broughton: Many view entrepreneurship as building businesses with an end goal of becoming rich. However, I view entrepreneurship as a means of applying your life experience, knowledge and creativity in a business setting to impact a group of people. This has certainly been my experience with Altro. My goal has always been to positively impact those who have been neglected by our financial system.
Tell us about your first experience with entrepreneurship.
MB: I feel that people have entrepreneurial moments all the time. But the first time I purposely and knowingly pursued entrepreneurship was in college, after learning what entrepreneurship even was. I was a part of an entrepreneurship class where the goal was to build “something”. I spent the entire year shipping new products, trying new things, and being rejected consistently. From crypto to phone accessories, I was truly learning and becoming passionate about building.
What is your company’s origin story? What is the biggest reason you started your business? What did those early days look like and teach you?
MB: I started Altro after being denied a $10k student loan needed to cover the remainder of my tuition, as I had no credit score, little credit history and little means to build credit history as a student. Putting an end to this catch-22 is at the core of our mission.
The early days were defining moments of Altro and have proved critical to our success. My co-founder, Ayush Jain, and I participated in the Y Combinator – the disruptive startup accelerator responsible for propelling Airbnb, Doordash, Coinbase and more. We were also entirely based out of our Hacker House, which served as our office and allowed us to bond as a team.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
MB: I wish I knew how scary success could be, and I say this as someone with new responsibilities. Where Altro is now, we have a responsibility to help improve our users’ lives, to our team members whose rent and expenses are dependent on a successful payroll and our investors who believed in a dream before it was real. So many people are dependent on us waking up and getting the job done.
The only thing I would have done differently was start sooner!
What does “success” look like for you? We’d love to hear your biggest, boldest dream? What do you think will help you achieve it?
MB: Success is simply changing the status quo, the Zero-to-One, of being able to build a better life. No matter who you are, or where you are from, you should be able to build, improve and grow on your own accord. We aim to empower people to do this and build a world of accessible opportunities.
What is your superpower as an entrepreneur? What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
MB: I’ve been told that my superpower is empathy – simply connecting with others and caring about their story, what drives them and why they are where they are. Being able to connect and mutually inspire each other is a trait that I believe is key in building a successful workplace and business. My best and worst moments were both when I raised our first 250K from Marcy (Jay-Z, Jay Brown and Larry Marcus’ Investment Firm). This was the most exciting day of my life, having people excited and eager to support me in my dream to change the world. This day was also the moment I committed to something greater than myself, which was scary at the same time. Since that day, I have devoted every day to making Altro a reality.
What are your personal driving principles, your top values?
MB: I have always valued honesty and transparency. These principles have been important to my personal development and have allowed me to thrive as an entrepreneur. At the end of the day, we owe it to each other to be honest.
I’m also a proponent of inclusion and accessibility. Government and business practices have and continue to prevent underserved communities from chasing what we know as the ‘American Dream,’ essentially leaving these communities in a constant game of catch-up. I hope to inspire the next generation of founders and entrepreneurs to recognize these disparities and work to correct them.
How have your personal principles and values shaped your company’s values and principles? Give us some examples.
MB: My cherished values of honesty and transparency, in addition to inclusion and accessibility, have been the driving values of Altro. This is why we’re using Altro to provide folks with the ability to build credit using their own accord. We’re also completely free-to-use and remain committed to doing so. This means no hidden fees, now or ever.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners?
MB: It’s great! Being surrounded by people who are equally motivated to change the world is inspiring. We all believe in a similar future and work together to make it a reality.
Do you have a mentor? Tell us about what makes them valuable to you and your business?
MB: I would credit my parents and family as being my mentors. Although they do not assist in the day-to-day operations, my family has instilled in me the values requisite to my work with Altro. Coming from a military family of nine – the second oldest of seven kids – I have understood the importance of independence and financial responsibility since I was a child.
What role does mentorship play in your world (as a mentor or mentee)?
MB: As a mentee, mentorship is everything. Whether you’re a startup founder, teacher or teenager deciding on a career path, mentorship is important at every level. While knowledge of a space is clearly important, it can be hard to excel without the confidence, conversations and overall guidance that results from having a mentor. For me personally, mentorship has given me the confidence to walk in a room full of investors. It’s allowed me to thrive amid failure and reflect on success.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
MB: I do not have a routine actually! I tend to let my focus and time wander to the tasks that I believe are key in that moment. I am very spontaneous in my planning and schedule. Sometimes I wake up at 4am and other days I am going to sleep at 4am.
What are you reading or have read?
MB: I am currently reading The Fish That Ate the Whale by Rich Cohen. It’s a really interesting read around the banana tycoon led by Samuel Zemurray, who had a “rags to riches” story after landing in America.
Where do you go for inspiration?
MB: I tend to spend my time at viewpoints around the city I am in to find inspiration, balance and curiosity. I’m not sure why, but overlooking nature or a city has always been inspiring to me and is where I spend most of my time outside of work
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, or words of wisdom to get through the tough days?
MB: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe
Building and maintaining startups is hard, and I’ve found myself in situations where circumstances outside of my control have affected my goals. Even if these goals haven’t always panned out as I had envisioned, I can still take pride in knowing that applied myself and utilized every tool at my disposal.
What is a problem that keeps you up at night?
MB: I’m bothered by the lack of inclusion across financial institutions, which are rooted in systemic discrimination. Though federal legislation boasts a ban on discrimination in the financial sector, underserved communities continue to find themselves receiving higher interest rates or being disproportionately denied from loans. It’s time for governments and businesses to step up and work to eradicate the discrimination that continues to plague the finances of millions of Americans. I’m proud of myself and the Altro team for doing our part in working towards the greater good – ensuring all Americans have equal, unhindered access to the components of our financial systems.
How do you think about helping others through your work?
MB: Helping others has always been our mission with Altro. 63M Americans – roughly 1 in 5 – are unbanked or underbanked, meaning they have inadequate access to our financial systems, including credit. Without a proper credit score, individuals simply cannot rent or purchase homes and vehicles at reasonable down payments or interest rates. Using Altro, we’re giving users an easier way to prove creditworthiness, so they too can build wealth.
Have you raised outside capital so far?
MB: Yes – so far, we’ve raised $2.6M. We have been fundraising since 2020. Most of our capital has been raised through seed rounds with our Series A leading investor, Pendulum, including participation from Jay-Z and MVP, Citi and more. As a result of our participation in the Y Combinator, we raised an additional $500k.
Where do you meet investors?
MB: We connected with Marcy Venture Partners after a pitch competition! We had won first in the Propel event in NY which led to Marcy Venture Partners finding us and leading to us joining YC, raising more capital and getting to where we are today!
How has your network helped you raise capital?
MB: Network is everything: successful entrepreneurship is 75% networking, 25% work. My network has allowed me to connect with these investors and put me in the room with the right people.
What advice do you have for fellow (and aspiring) entrepreneurs building and leading teams?
MB: I think it’s important for aspiring entrepreneurs to believe in themselves, and surround themselves with a team that believes in their mission. Since grade school, family, teachers and mentors have always told us taught us the importance of self-esteem. As simple as that sounds, without a proper level of confidence and commitment, defeats seem worse and wins seem less meaningful.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as – as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
MB: At the end of the day, I want to be known as an entrepreneur that played his part in helping others. I started Altro to help individuals who have been caught in the same catch-22 as myself. However, this mission goes beyond the simple concept of this dilemma. Altro is about repairing the disastrous effects of discrimination and bringing inclusion, a largely unfound aspect, into the world of finance.
At Altro, we are not just enabling users to build their credit. We are working to change the world by democratizing finance and changing the process of credit building as we know it.
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