Business Startups Venture

Meet Public.com, The Social Investing App That Will Smith and J.J. Watt Just Put Money In

Investing in the stock market can be intimidating for many. It can also be difficult for those who don’t have tons of extra cash to put into high-flying companies with high share prices. (Even these days, when we’ve seen some major turbulence in the markets.)

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One startup that’s out to make the whole investing process simpler and easier, Public.com, has just raised $15 million in Series B funding. Public.com is a self-described social investing app that aims to give people the ability to invest in companies using any amount of money — commission-free. With this round, New York-based Public.com has raised a total of nearly $24 million since its 2017 inception, according to Crunchbase.

Repeat backers Accel and Greycroft co-led the Series B funding. A slew of other investors participated, including Dreamers VC’s Will Smith and Japanese soccer star Keisuke Honda; NFL star J.J. Watt; Girlboss founder and CEO Sophia Amoruso; creator and entrepreneur Casey Neistat; Scott Belsky, founder of Behance and Adobe CPO; Blavity Founder and CEO Morgan DeBaun; and Shari Redstone’s Advancit Capital.

Democratizing the stock market

Part of Public.com’s goal is to make stock market investing more accessible to more people.

In a blog, Public.com’s Katie Perry wrote: “We believe a significant reason why many people do not invest is due to a lack of financial literacy, expensive financial products, and soaring share prices that can require people to invest $1,000 or more to purchase a single share of popular, high-performing stocks.”

Public.com offers a social feed designed to make it possible to follow friends and domain experts, see what they are investing in, exchange ideas and “ultimately improve financial literacy.”

It allows for real-time fractional investing in stocks and exchange-traded funds, so people can buy a fraction of a share if that’s all they can afford. The company claims to offer a friendly and intuitive user interface that organizes stocks and ETFs (exchange-traded funds) by “themes,” such as woman-owned companies or self-driving cars.

It also offers a 2.5 percent interest rate on cash balances up to $10,000, Securities Investor Protection Corp. insurance up to $500,000 on securities and $250,000 on cash as well as in-app chat support.

Public.com, which has 35 employees, launched last September after operating in beta for close to one year prior.

A more transparent community

I hopped on the phone with Leif Abraham and Jannick Malling, co-CEOs of Public.com to get a better understanding of what the company does.

Abraham said he believes building a more transparent community will open up access for more people to invest. The company plans to use its new capital in part to continue to grow its community and build out social features of the app.

“My dad personally was investing for a long time, but the weird thing is I was only personally invested about four years ago, around the time I turned 30,” he told Crunchbase News. “Now I wake up every morning wishing that I had started earlier.”

Part of his goal with Public.com is giving people an opportunity to start investing “earlier in their lives.” At the same time, he wants to help provide them with tools to actually learn more about what they’re doing.

By offering different themes and a social discovery mechanism for people, investors can gain exposure to and explore other industries.

Malling also emphasizes that Public.com aims to both socialize the stock market and break down economic barriers by increasing stock market investing accessibility.

“We think the biggest problem in this industry is that many people are intimidated by it,” he told Crunchbase News. “They don’t really know how to get into it. We do things like let people invest as little as $1 in a company like Amazon that’s trading for over $2,000 for one share. And Public.com lets them invest in the stock market from a sense of community.”

The pair emphasize that they are actual stockbrokers, and not just offering an app around investing.

“Investing traditionally has not felt inclusive for everyone,” Abraham said. “We want to change that.”

Investors weigh in

Greycroft co-founder and partner Ian Sigalow said he was intrigued by Public.com’s concept because historically, investing has been something one does “alone—in isolation with your numbers and your charts.”

“Public.com challenges this century-old model by bringing conversations about investing out into the open,” he said in a written statement. “By adding a social layer to the stock market, investing becomes a collaborative experience that makes it possible to strengthen your understanding alongside friends and experts.”

For Dreamers VC partner Vik Sasi, Public.com’s model fits in with his firm’s thesis of elevating companies that are tangibly addressing social problems. Public.com does that, he said, by opening up access to investment opportunities for “millions of Americans.”

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

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