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Step’s CJ MacDonald on building a bank for teens

  • CJ MacDonald cofounded gyft, which was acquired by First Data in 2014.
  • He's back with Step, a banking platform targeting teens with age-appropriate services and financial education.

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Step’s CJ MacDonald on building a bank for teens

There’s a flurry of activity around banking young people. Getting the balance between autonomy and parental oversight is critical for teens, and Step feels like it’s found the sweet spot. Joining me on the podcast is CJ MacDonald, founder and CEO of Step. CJ was the co-founder of gyft, a startup targeting the massive gift card market and was acquired by First Data. He’s come back to fintech with Step, a bank targeting teens and their parents.

We talk about what teens are looking for from a bank and the challenges around servicing them. We discuss the product, CJ’s philosophy around monetizing teens, and Step’s acquisition channels. 

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

The genesis story

I was born and raised in the Bay Area. And I’ve been in the early stage startup ecosystem all of my career. I have always loved to build things. And over the last almost 20 years, I’ve been fortunate to be part of four different companies that I joined very early on and help build and grow.

My last company was called gyft. We built a digital gift card platform that actually stemmed from my wedding. I got married and got a lot of gift cards for my wedding and was frustrated as a consumer with managing and handling plastic gift cards. I did not know that the gift card industry was over $100 billion in the US. And I got super interested in just disrupting and bringing technology and automation to a large, very traditional industry. We built gyft up over the course of several years, and ended up selling that to First Data Corporation back in 2014.



When I went to First Data, I was exposed and learned a lot and got more deeply involved with the payments ecosystem. And when I left, I started to think about what was next. That’s when Step was born.

Step’s building blocks

I took some time off and spent time with my family. I’ve got two young kids and I just liked the idea of building a next generation money and banking platform. It just became more and more clear that there was a massive opportunity and a wide gap with all the other products and services that were out there.

Our mission is to educate the next generation to be smarter with money. And it’s always bugged me that schools don’t teach kids about money. Families, rich or poor, don’t talk about money. You really have to have an understanding of the financial ecosystem just to get by in life. And so many Americans find themselves in a hole or in debt, that’s just very difficult to dig out of. Starting that financial journey on the right path and the right step, no pun intended, is something that we’re excited about.

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