We talk mission, product philosophy, marketing, arc of investing products & more
Sar : Public is the first app I have managed to grab Sar as my username in! It is definitely a milestone and I’m glad I hit it in an investing app! We tried finding a time to hang IRL when I moved to NYC earlier this year but then the pandemic happened. You sent me over some swag. Which got me to start paying more attention than I would probably would have to the product! You have been the head of marketing at Public for about a year now. I cringe when people in tech refer to everything as a community. It’s fare more rare than we pretend it is. It is one of those things you know when you see it. I think you have that going on at Public. What is your high level philosophy in how you want to build the brand?
Katie : I think you nailed it. Community is one of those buzzwords you see everywhere and so its definition gets more nebulous the more common it becomes. The best definition of “community” that I’ve seen is that a community is a group of people with common interests, values, and goals. At Public, we’re building an inclusive community of people who are interested in business and investing trends. They share similar attitudes about the way to have productive conversations in this capacity, and most importantly, they share the same goal of strengthening their financial literacy. You can read our community guidelines here.
Our mission is to change the culture of investing — and for us this means creating a positive environment for people of all backgrounds and walks of life to come together and share their experiences. When people can openly talk about these topics in a respectful environment, it automatically makes the stock market less scary, not to mention more accessible and educational. Because we’re out to change the culture, the way we go to market is often unexpected compared with our category. See things like Ticker Tees and the Ticker Time Machine.
Sar : This idea of how technology increases access is widely known and empirically proven. Most of the time the vectors for accessibility are costs and user experience. Now we are seeing a whole generation of companies like Public that think of conversations as a vector for accessibility too! Your thinking helped me clarify this a lot.
As the name suggests, you guys have made a ton of product decisions that take what’s very personal and make it more, well, public. Everything you guys do seems biased in favor of more transparency. Where do you think you guys draw a line in how much and how many aspects of stock investing should be public?
Katie : Historically, the stock market has been marked by exclusive “clubs” and smoke-filled rooms. For example, women weren’t even allowed on the NYSE floor until the 1940s — more than a century after it was founded. On Public, roughly 40 percent of our community is women. There is also a stereotypical culture of bragging about “YOLO trades” and sharing screenshots of speculative exploits. These aren’t behaviors you find in Public.
So, the transition you point out here isn’t just going from personal to public. It’s also about moving from a competitive environment to one that’s more collaborative. Our goal is to open up conversations to make the experience of investing more inclusive.
It’s also important to note that our members can dictate how “public” they want to be in the app, and we always allow people to make certain investments private. And when you share that you bought or sold something in the app, the dollar amounts aren’t shown in the feed.
Sar : I love that you put the philosophy behind the product in historical context! That being said, I do want to push back a little on what you said about moving from a competitive to collaborative environment. It feels counterintuitive to me. Wouldn’t making trades and portfolios public and introducing the idea of influencers to an investing app make people engage in undesirable behaviors more out of competition ? You see this on UGC networks like Twitter where many people seem to think the sole goal of the app is to up one each other!
Katie : When you share your investments on Public, the dollar amounts aren’t shown in the feed, and — more importantly — there’s an opportunity to share why you invested. In a way, this incentivizes positive behavior in the app: thoughtful commentary that oftentimes includes research or other points of evidence that back up why you believe in that company. The members that see a lot of engagement in the app are the ones who are starting productive conversations about investing, not flexing about a wild trade.
It’s also important to reiterate here that Public has a no-day trade policy and most (74%) of our members say they are longer-term investors. When you’re really thinking about where to put your money for a longer period of time (vs. making a quick trade), the conversation that flows from that is naturally a bit different than what you might find from someone who is flipping something quickly. What trends were you seeing? Was there a new product or partnership announced? In the context of investing, there’s a lot you can learn and discover from not just what other people, but how they think.
If you sell an investment in the app, we show the percentage gain, but again, no raw numbers. Selling also prompts the member to talk about why. Some members will note that they are selling a small slice to show their progress, while others will explain why they felt it was time to part with the stock. We also don’t have leaderboards or have features for copying other people’s trades, so if you follow someone on Public, it’s likely because you find their content to be interesting and educational. I personally love to seek out members whose backgrounds are different than my own: e.g. engineers, designers, healthcare professionals, etc.
Sar : You guys are extremely product obsessed and it really shows from your answer. I have given feedback to both cofounders separately and they have been wonderful. You guys ship not just the core product but also the side projects with a lot of taste. What can you tell us about differences between working in product driven and marketing driven cultures? Both have a history of success in various markets. Do you have a preference as a marketer?
Katie : I’ve worked at and with a lot of tech companies. I can honestly say that the team building Public is the best I’ve ever worked with. Sometimes as a marketer, you find yourself having to “lead” the product — finding creative ways to show momentum even when the product isn’t changing all that much. At Public, one of my biggest challenges is keeping up with our product team.
For example, just the other week, in the span of a few days, the team shipped an iOS14 widgetand a Chrome Extension that allows you to hover over tickers on Twitter to see a pop-up stock chart. These side projects were created in addition to all of the ongoing innovations happening in the core product all the time.
Before I took the job at Public I knew that I wanted to work for a product-led organization. Without a strong product, there is nothing. Marketing is about telling the story of your business and product, and without a mission you believe in and a strong product focus, the job of a marketer becomes 100x harder. I feel uncomfortable when someone gives me props on a new product launch, because the way I see it is that it’s a 4x100 race and marketing is the last function that gets the baton. By the time it’s handed off, we’re already way ahead.