Just five years after launching, online investment platform Sharesies has half a million New Zealand users with $2b invested. Simon Pound spoke with co-founder Brooke Roberts for returning podcast series Business is Boring.
For a long time investing felt inaccessible to a lot of New Zealanders – the sharemarket was seen as an exclusive space where you needed a big stack of cash just to get started. But when Sharesies launched its digital investment tool in 2016, it allowed people to start investing at whatever budget they had available. Suddenly, people had the option to dip their toes into investing with just dollars at a time.
Now the company is valued at half a billion dollars, and nearly 10% of the country uses it. And five years in, Sharesies is still just getting started. Co-founder and co-CEO Brooke Roberts has big plans for expanding their reach and taking on the much larger Australian market. She spoke to Business is Boring last week about the inspiration behind the business, what it’s taken to get Sharesies to where it is now and why financial independence is such a powerful opportunity.
After an extended summer break, the award-winning podcast series Business is Boring is back refreshed, rejuvenated and with a brand new partner in Spark Lab. Join Simon Pound every Tuesday as he talks to everyone from accidental entrepreneurs to industry leaders about their business journeys and what propelled them to where they are today.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Simon Pound: In 2017, you had 2,000 users. How did you grow the business to half a million in five years? What were the big steps that you took?
Brooke Roberts: When we started there was this real perception that you couldn’t invest if you didn’t have heaps of money, you had to know all the jargon to be an investor and you pretty much had to be wealthy to be an investor. I think that’s changed or has really started to change over the last five years.
When I Googled “investor” in 2017, the images I got were a lot of dudes, typically older and all looking the same, but that has changed in reality. We’ve got people from zero to 97-years-old and from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. I want to see that change when I image search investors in the future.
There are still a lot of opportunities that people are locked out of. We really want to give someone with $5 the same money opportunity as someone with $5m, and there’s still a lot more doors that we need to break down. There’s definitely a changing picture, but there’s so much more to do for underrepresented communities too. That’s something that we always focus on – making sure it’s a platform for everyone, no matter how much experience you have or your background. I’m looking forward to the next five years, really seeing a big change there and hopefully we’re playing a part.
When did you know it was working?
When we started to think, “oh yeah, there’s something working here” was when we started to see that organic growth. The people that just found us or were word-of-mouth referrals really started to take off – and that’s been a big chunk of our growth to this day.
I think that shows you’ve created something lovable that people are going to go and tell their friends or their community about. There’s something there if people are really proud of using Sharesies and are really proud about their portfolio and learning about investing and sharing that. I think that’s when we started to see that groundswell start to take off.
How did you break down the barriers and change the perception around share investing?
We really, really focused on making a product that was really, really lovable. We weren’t trying to just take what was in the industry and make that more available. It was about reshaping finances and money and investing.
We really listened to people. We wanted to create something that was as easy for them as online shopping and really clear and they knew what they were getting into and that they could invest however much they want to, when they wanted. They don’t have to worry about what price a share is. They can just go, “Hey, I want to invest $100 or $200 into these things.” And be able to do that, more or less.
We made sure we were building a business that was a force for good – we’re a B Corp – and that our business is more than the product you see.
To have nearly 10% of the country’s population on a platform is absolutely bananas considering it was such a new idea for New Zealand only five years ago. How does that feel as a relatively new business?
It definitely feels like we’re just starting, but there are some funny moments. When I meet someone and they’re like, “where do you work? What do you do?” I’m like, “Sharesies.” Then some of them go, “Oh, Sharesies. Oh, I love Sharesies. I’m on the app all the time. Oh, this is how I got into investing and before that I had no idea…”
It’s just really cool hearing these stories that come out. There’s still a lot of people that don’t know who Sharesies are. It’s not just me. It’s a team. The team should be really proud of everything they’ve done to date, but as they know, there’s just so much more to do in terms of creating financial empowerment for all. It does just feel like it’s still day one.
Do you have favourite stories of people, the normal people who didn’t have access to shares before, who’ve got involved?
One story that really warms my heart I remember hearing about from a woman who was in quite a toxic relationship. She was able to put some money away into her Sharesies and to get out of that relationship and get into a better position for her and her son and also be able to start building a portfolio and feeling that financial independence.
There’s just so many experiences that people can get from that financial empowerment and just learning about compounding returns and how investing works and just feeling like there’s hope and there’s a path forward for their future.
I saw that you’ve mentioned that your grandmother was a really important person in your life. Can you tell me a little bit about that and how her inspiration is part of the mix?
She lives in Manurewa, has lived there my whole life. She spends her whole day knitting for premature babies and gives it to the local hospital. Back when she could drive, she would go and do Meals on Wheels and I’d go around with her at times.
Then also she’d spend a lot of her weekends volunteering in the local op shops. She’s just constantly giving. You’d say you’re cold and she’d give you her jacket, even though she would freeze.
I think I learned a lot about your place in the community from her, and making sure that you’re really connected to what’s going on and supporting and creating change where needed.