Founded by Sonya Williams, Brooke Anderson and Leighton Roberts, Sharesies is an online platform that aims to break down the barriers to investment, giving users access to investment opportunities – regardless of how much they’ve got to invest. Think of it as a portfolio in your pocket. We spoke to co-founder & CEO Brooke Anderson to find out more.
Idealog: So just what is Sharesies?
Brooke Anderson: The idea behind Sharesies is to democratise investing. With Sharesies, someone with $50 can have access to the same investment opportunities as someone with $50,000.
We’ve been going for essentially six months, but really hit the ground running as part of the Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator. We’ve been focused on understanding what customers want, understanding the opportunities out there and building a prototype. The beta will be launching very, very soon.
So what’s the need you’re looking to satisfy here? What kind of customer research have you done?
Before this accelerator course, we did about two months of ethnographic research which was us getting out there and speaking to as many Kiwis as possible, trying to understand what they think about investment and how accessible it is to them. Have they ever talked to an advisor? Do they have any investments? That sort of thing.
What we found was that the majority of New Zealanders don’t believe they have investments and if they do, they generally think that ‘investing equals homeownership’.
We also did an independent survey of 4,000 Kiwis and asked if something like Sharesies was available would they be interested and 99.5 percent said ‘yes’. New Zealanders want to be investing. They’re just priced out, jargoned out and left out of investing, so we need to create alternative ways that are accessible. That’s why Sharesies was formed.
Then we refined what we thought was a good idea, got accepted [by the accelerator] and went from there.
What happens in an accelerator like this?
The accelerator really gave us a start date. ‘Okay, we’re going full-time on this’. That was the first key benefit.
What’s really great about this accelerator though is that it’s got really strong corporate sponsorship and partners. That’s really important. We got access to great mentors who helped us form an advisory board. You’re connected with people who are really there to help shape Sharesies but also ready to really roll up their sleeves and get in and help you figure out the tax implications or the regulatory environment. It’s been awesome to have them there.
Also having demo day to present our pitch to investors and the general public. You’ve got to be in a position where your product is investable and you’ve got a clear proposition to get the general public excited.
What were your takeaways from the accelerator? What have you learned having gone through this?
This is the first time I’ve ever done capital raising and it’s been a really big learning curve. Understanding what position your business needs to be in to receive capital, where the best places are to receive capital, what investors want out of investment in a business like this and how we communicate with them to keep that interest. I spent a lot of time talking to people in the community and doing research. That was a whole new world and the programme really provides for that.
We actually started our capital raise a few weeks ago and closed it before demo day, which is, apparently the first time in Lightning Lab’s history that’s happened. And I think that’s just because we really made sure we were focused, understood how everything worked and got great advice to make sure we were on the right track.
— Elena Higgison (@ElenaHiggison) May 19, 2017
So what’s it like going out there asking investors for capital? Is it a case of being convinced of your value and just communicating that opportunity, or is there a cap-in-hand feeling around the whole thing?
We are so confident about Sharesies – and we’ve got great data to back us up – so I’ve found the whole experience really positive.
There’s this huge ecosystem of investors who are so passionate about helping early, early stage startups get off the ground and bring innovation to New Zealand. We’ve found it to be a really enriching process.
Being a woman I was quite nervous about it because I’d done a bit of research and read that if a man pitches and a woman pitches the man is 40 percent more likely to get the money even if it’s the same pitch. I was wondering if that was going to be an issue, but it wasn’t the case at all. If it’s a great idea and people believe in it then they’re really willing to explore investing.
So what’s the secret to getting a viable FinTech project off the ground in just three months?
The number one thing to do quickly – in FinTech especially – is to understand the regulatory environment you work in. My number one concern coming into this was the regulatory environment. Is it possible to get something off the ground quickly that actually encompasses the legal framework that we need to work within? Or is it going to be a longer process where we need to structure the company differently? That’s the number one thing. So get great advice and build great relationships.
What is that regulation like for FinTech in this country? Was that a headache to negotiate?
The regulations are there to protect customers and that’s 100 percent in line with what we want to do. I think because the FMA have their doors open to us and we have great lawyers who love helping startups, we’ve got that support we need to understand and get things done quickly, solving problems and making sure we can make this work.
Where to next?
Getting the product out. We’ve got over 2,500 people signed up and eagerly waiting on the beta. We’re in the final stages of testing that and hope to roll it out really soon.