S2E14: The New Community of Investing
S2E14: The New Community of Investing
This past year has been a crazy one, and that’s especially true in the stock market. In the midst of all the weird trends going on in the market, the rise of investing apps has changed the game for new investors. In this episode, we have Willa Tellekson-Flash, Community Operations Lead at Public.com, who joins us to discuss the future of investing, and the new community of investing at Public.
Hello, happy money people! It's Your World, Your Money. We just happened to be in it. We are here and ready to continue with our new investors mini-series and get you in on this conversation around investing apps. We'll be talking a little bit about the types of investing, apps in the market, what they have done, and what makes our featured app today so unique.
Yeah, that is so exciting. Mary. And today we are so excited to have a special guest from Public.com, Willa Tellekson-Flash to join us in the conversation. A little bit about Public: launched in September 2019, Public is the investing social network and is taking a community-based approach to the stock market, building a social media platform within a stock brokerage. As opposed to some of the other trading apps out there. The platform is focused on long-term ownership in companies rather than short-term speculation. Public recently reached 1 million members, which includes an incredibly diverse community and the vast majority of their members are first-time investors. It's a really cool company with a truly unique product and full disclosure, I'm a member myself and love it. So Mary, tell us a little bit more about Willa. Who's joining us today.
Oh, I'd love to, thank you. So Willa Tellekson-Flash, which yes, I'm smart, and just realized that the initials for that are WTF, which is amazing. Thank you. Is public.com's Community Operations Lead, where she engages with its diverse community of investors. Public makes investing inclusive. It really does. Educational, also that. And most importantly fun, seriously, that can happen. And on public.com. It actually does. They do this by adding a social layer to the stock market. Previously Willa worked on the CX team at Lola and held editorial roles at hear magazine, which is Away, and Well+Good.
Thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here.
Yay. We're so excited to have you.
And seriously Willa. I can't think of anyone better to help us close out this mini-series we're having on investment and everything that you may need to know as a new investor or somebody relatively new to the space. And so I'd love to ask what should our listeners know about Public? What differentiates Public from some of the other competitors out there? Give us the elevator pitch.
That's a good question. And you did such a nice job introducing us at the beginning. So Public, if you think about an investing app and you think about a social network and you put the two together, that's what Public is. So in the same place that you can invest in the companies that you believe in, you can also be having conversations with a community of individuals who, who are there to learn with and alongside you, you get to really immerse yourself in conversations while you are doing it and learn by doing, rather than going down in Investopedia or Google rabbit hole, and then going back to your brokerage. So we like to think it's the only place you need to be when you're investing.
So for some of our listeners that haven't been on the app, like, what does it look like? Is it kind of like doing a Facebook post when you purchase a stock or, tell us a little bit like what it's like for somebody?
Yeah, it looks a little bit like your Twitter feed, but with more information about investing there. So if you invest in Apple or Nike or Lululemon or any of these companies, you can create a post about it and add a caption on your commentary. And there are other ways, to post to - you can share a stock chart or you can create a poll and ask people what they're thinking about something, you can share a news story. So when you're scrolling down the feed, you're seeing all these conversations about everything going on in the market and in the business world and what people are excited about and reading about and thinking, and in the same way that you can on another social network, you can comment and ask questions and send chats to these people and get to know who these investors in your community are.
Yeah. So the social network aspect of this is just fascinating to me. I'm really curious. Well, if you could tell us about how did the idea originate? Did somebody just look at Facebook one day and be like, man, I wish I was getting more investment advice from a platform like this, or how did that marriage come about?
I think when you think about the stock market, it's been pretty unapproachable. It's not something that you've felt like you can have conversations with your friends at dinner about. And I think for a lot of people, the stock market and investing feels like something that they have to know a lot about in order to do it. And so Public was founded with the mission to make investing more accessible, more educational, more inclusive, and fun, as Mary said, too. And I think creating a space where people can have conversations and conversations that they're interested in having and can feel personally invested in, makes investing something that more people feel empowered and feel confident in doing.
So as a follow-up to that, have you seen any evidence or like stories come up about how users are using the platform to really learn more about investing? Is it a place to share the stories about what they're doing or is it really a place to learn?
Yeah, that's a great question. So I've been at Public for just over a year now. So I feel like with some of our earlier members, I've really gotten to see them on these investing journeys, so to speak, and people use the social features differently. Some are sharing news and research or what they're interested in, but people are also defining terms for people. Dollar-cost averaging, for example, is a strategy that some of our investors use and they would post something DCA, which is the abbreviation for dollar-cost averaging, and be like, what is that? And they'd take the time to explain it and have a conversation. And so there's a lot of conversations around what people's strategies are, what terms people want to know, what concepts people want to know more about, and learning about those things through dialogue is just so much more interesting than reading a definition of it.
But I feel like I've had the privilege of watching people grow in confidence as they invest and investing for the first time, maybe several months ago, and feeling like, okay, don't really feel super confident, in this, but I know that I have an iPhone and a Mac book and I use these things all the time. So maybe I'll invest in Apple and then they hang around, they continue to participate in conversations. And three months later, they're sharing information from a company's earnings report. And they're sharing information about who the CEO is and through having people to have these conversations with, and having a space for this to be more conversational and more normalized, these things become something that they feel like they know about or can participate in a conversation about rather than feeling like it happens behind a gate somewhere else. What I'm hearing from me now is that it sounds almost like an equalizer.
It sounds like we're creating like a level playing field where literacy and education is just as accessible as a Twitter post or a Facebook post. So it sounds like it's becoming like a really level playing field. Is that the experience that you've had there as well?
Yeah. I think the way I look at our community is that its value is really helping people find their entry point to these conversations. You don't have to be a business expert or have a background in finance or economics in order to be an investor. You can be a runner and know that you are incredibly loyal to Lululemon. And then you have something to offer the conversation about why that company might be a valuable investment for you. And I think for a lot of people having a social space to have these conversations allows them to feel like they can participate too. And rather than feeling like it's an expert speaking down to normal human beings, we're all sitting around a table and we're all sharing our experience and what we know and how we interact with these things. And we all have something to learn from one another, whether it's someone who studied something or someone who uses a product or someone who's fascinated by the super-niche industry, there are so many different voices. I think that's what makes it so exciting to be surrounded by.
That sounds incredible.
So, Willa, this past year has been a weird one and that is definitely true in the stock market as well. To what extent do you feel like the rise of apps like Public or some of the others we often hear about have played a role in the way in which the market seems to be changing?
I think there's an increasing interest in being part of what's going on and people are reacting to news and reacting to companies going public and feeling like, Hey, wait a second. I have stakes in this too. And what we saw on Public and in our community was people were reacting to what was going on in the world around them. And that was influencing how they were investing. So everything from when the elections were happening in November, people were having conversations around if candidate A wins, what industries are going to do really well. If candidate B wins, what industries are going to do really well. Similarly when companies are going public. So Roadblocks, for example, was in the recent past few months, time is, time is blurring in 2021, but parents who have kids who use their gaming platform all the time showed up and said, hey, wait a second. I recognize this. I know what this is now that I'm a part of this community where I'm thinking about investing on a daily basis. This IPO means something to me in a different way than it did before. And I think what I'm seeing is people taking their knowledge of the world around them. And when investing is also part of their day-to-day life, they're merging the two, and that retail investing behavior is new for all of us. And I think we're sort of figuring out how does this affects the markets and how do we react to that? But that excitement to participate and react is, is what I'm so fascinated to watch.
Something that you mentioned that I think is so interesting and important to highlight and kind of dive into a little bit was when you said that the associating, what they do on the app with the day-to-day life, it's becoming integrated, it's becoming what they do every day and what they think about every day, so that it, it does become a part of the day to day life and through this community and the sharings that everybody's having and feeling inclusive in that conversation, it feels like something that's attainable. It doesn't feel like something that's, you know, far away on Wall Street and like completely separate from everybody else. And so a follow-up to what you were saying in that same vein of like making it so normal and part of our lives, what trends have you seen come up in this community, especially through like, knowing that all of these people are integrating it into everything and it's now a part of the everyday. So you're seeing trends as organic as they possibly could be.
Yeah. I think the two things that come to mind first are people investing in products that they use or companies that they use on a day-to-day basis. Because again, it feels accessible. It's like, I know this, I use this at work. I use this at school. I use this at home and also investing in ways that align with their values. So for some people that might be female leadership for some people that might be other minority leadership for some people that might be environmental values and taking those values that they feel strongly about personally and applying them to their portfolios, it makes them feel excited or proud of their investments. And I think that's really important when this is becoming part of people's daily lives, but we're not encouraging day trading. We're not a community that leans heavily into the trading side. And so people are thinking in their day-to-day life, what are things that I want to be invested in for the long term? And so looking at it through that lens of what's important to me, and then taking what's important to me and applying it to their portfolio and applying it to their investments, it makes the conversations more interesting because you're having conversations about things that really matter. You're not just looking at numbers or looking at statistics, you're thinking about who am I as a person and what matters to me. And then how does this show up in my portfolio?
Yeah. I mean, that, that might be a good answer to a specific question I wanted to ask you if you'll let me, which is, I'm really curious about how to interpret this whole GameStop situation, right? I mean, it seems like it was a situation where a community of retail investors. Sometimes you'll hear the specific communities mentioned like Wall Street bets and things on Reddit, but it seems like there was groups of online communities that banded together and really moved the market in some significant ways. Do you see public as being a tool that can allow communities like that to have a real market impact or is the long-term vision and the long-term kind of principles held by these investors kind of a different situation altogether?
I think what looks different to me on Public is that people are sharing a wide variety of different perspectives. So it's less of one person saying I'm interested in X, everyone go do that. And more of you coming to the table and saying, here's what I know about e-sports, and here's what I'm really interested in. And me on the other side of the table saying, well, I don't know a lot about e-sports, but I'm really curious to learn about this from you. And now I've gone and looked into that company. And here's what I have a question about. And here's what I'm not so sure about. And it's more of a dialogue than an influencer, but I think the piece of the GameStop fiasco, whatever you want to call it, that was really valuable is it made a lot of people interested in investing who weren't interested in investing before because it was something that they, it felt like a movement to some of them for better or for worse.
And then it was a topic of conversation with people, for whom investing was never a topic of conversation before. So I look at the benefit of everything that happened, with GameStop then as opening the door for a lot of people to want to learn more and want to figure out what they're part of this whole investing world is. But as far as social communities go, I think what we really value is dialogue and knowledge sharing and asking thoughtful questions, and being a thoughtful contributor. And that changes the way people are interpreting that information and acting on it.
So that whole situation like it started from value. And I love that. You mentioned that before. Cause I, I think that that's a trend we're going to see even more of is more young people, like you said, are excited and, and get into investing and get into it in community platforms where they can share and learn together. So I have a question that I'm actually really excited to ask you, but everybody listening is probably going to be like, you're excited to ask about fractional shares. I'm sorry, what? Welcome to our day-to-day. This is what gets us really excited people. So Public was one of the first platforms to offer users the option of trading fractional shares. First for anybody listening, please tell us what is that?
So that means that you can invest with a fraction. I'll get back around using a different language too, but you can invest in a company for a fraction of the total share price. So if you wanted to buy -
I want to buy Lululemon. Let's go do that.
Okay. So one share of Lululemon is hundreds of dollars. New. You may not have hundreds of dollars that you want to invest in Lululemon, but you have a dollar or you have $5 or you have $25. You can invest that money. And in your public account, you will have the equivalent fraction or slice or piece of that share to the amount that you invested in. So the thing that makes that exciting for people who may be like, why, why are you excited about what is wrong with these people?
The thing that makes that exciting is it makes it so much easier to learn by doing. In the same way that I talked earlier about how - for a lot of people, I think they feel like they need to have a certain amount of knowledge before they know what to invest in. They also feel like they need to have a certain amount of money before they know what to invest in. And so if you can take a dollar or $5 or $10 and invest in a company that, you know, and believe in rather than a penny stock, that is probably a lot more risky and you may not understand, then you can learn by watching your portfolio change over time. And I'll give you an example here. So my younger sister, she and I are very different and I love her very dearly.
So I work for a FinTech company. My younger sister is currently in Alaska working with wildlife. So very different worlds that we live in. And for her investing in, just money, in general, is something that felt intimidating, felt like something that she didn't know about and couldn't know about based on the types of work that she was doing. And it felt like this game reserved for old men on Wall Street. She's like that's not for me. I don't feel included in that. I don't see myself in that group. And we talked about how, okay, but money is still a tool for better, for worse money is something that affects all of us. And what are, what are your goals someday? She's like, well, I want, I want to open an animal sanctuary, like while you're probably going to need some money to buy some land to do that.
And so we talked about, okay, investing your investment portfolio, maybe down the line 10 years from now, 20 years from now that money could grow into something that you could use to buy a piece of land. And so why don't you take $50, invest in five to 10 companies that you know, and that you understand from your day-to-day life, and then just leave it there and see what happens. And so she went and she did that and she called me a couple months later and she was like, my $50 is $60 now. And this company, their stock has gone up and this other one has gone down a little bit, but the other ones have mostly gone up. So overall it's gone up and again, you know, past performance does not indicate future results, but it helped her understand how this worked and feel like it could include her without having to just watch from the sidelines until she felt ready to do that. And I think that's what fractional investing does for people is it says, I'm going to meet you where you are and still allow you to invest in the companies that you believe in. And the companies that share values with you and do this on your own terms rather than you having to do this on the terms of what a share price is.
Oh, I love that story. And I feel like your sister and I would be friends. This sounds great. I'm over here like I want to save all the oceans and plastic, stop it, but that sounds amazing. And I absolutely love what you mentioned there and how it just makes it more accessible. It makes it a lot more accessible for people. And I think that's a beautiful thing.
Makes it human. I think that's what really matters to me. And on the community side of this app is we're human beings. We can talk to each other like humans and we can take this thing that felt really intimidating and really unapproachable to people. And yes, we're having these conversations on an app, but we could have these same conversations sitting at dinner or having a drink or going for a walk and having coffee or something like that. It's, it's normalized because we're speaking to each other as though we'd speak to a friend or someone who we trust.
Just love that human side of things, but as a follow-up, Willa, you mentioned earlier that Public and many of its members hold this value in long-term investing. And so I'm curious, what do you see as the role and responsibility of apps like public and promoting responsible investing behavior? And what does that look like in practice? Like how do apps genuinely influence investing behavior in positive ways or not?
Yeah, I think first and foremost, education is really important, and giving people context around what they're doing is really important. And 90% of our community identifies as a primarily long-term investor. And so knowing that public is being built for investors rather than people who are there too, to trade regularly. And so making sure that our community has the education and the context, they need to feel confident in the decisions they're making is really important. So for us, that looks like building these things directly into the app. I talk about context. If you are on a stock page on Public for an app that has been labeled high risk by the SCC, we have a safety label there that says this stock has been labeled high risk for XYZ reason. Maybe it's a small market cap. Maybe it recently filed for bankruptcy. We're not saying that you can't invest. If you want to do so, that's your decision to make, but we want to make sure that you have the context so that you're not looking at this and saying, Oh, X dollars per share. That looks interesting to me swipe or, Oh, this dropped recently must be a good time to invest, invest, and making sure that, you know, okay, this is the context around this. And I can make a decision accordingly.
It's kind of like this child safety cap, on medicine bottles like you can still open it. You might have to think for a second, but like, that's why I thought of, as soon as you said it, I was like, oh yeah, it's like a child safety cap.
It just asks you to think for a second. Is this something that you want to do? And another thing that makes you think we have a section of your portfolio called a long-term portfolio. So if some ofthe stocks that are in your portfolio are ones that you want to hold on to and stay invested in for a long time, you can put them in your long-term portfolio. And if you then press sell, we'll say, are you sure you want to do that? You said, you wanted to, you said, you want to hold onto this one for a while. You can still say, Nope, want to sell. I changed my mind. We're not locking you into anything, but giving people the tools to understand a little bit more about how they're investing, because otherwise people might not know about capital gains taxes and the difference between short-term and long-term capital gains, or might not understand what it means when a company goes bankrupt. And if you, if you don't pause and say, oh, wait, I might want to learn a little bit more about this before I make this decision, then we're doing you a disservice by not presenting you with as much context and information as we can.
And one thing that really popped into my head is this the difference between generations and I think about a young person like maybe your sister engaging with that and being like, oh, okay. So this is now going to be okay, this is a 40-year investment and not four years or something like that. And I'm really curious through all of those things that you've built into the app. Are you seeing generational trends? Are you seeing generational differences or maybe they're all coming together and now everybody's best friends and, and they are learning these things will together.
It makes me think of a conversation that I witnessed or was probably part of too, back, probably in April or may of last year when the pandemic had just really started to unfold and change the way we were living our lives. And a couple of college students on the app had invested in an e-learning company and we're talking about, well, this is what we're using now. This is, what's a huge part of our schooling now. And some other investors on the app who are older and who aren't in school anymore. We're like, okay, tell me more about this. I want to learn from you about the way you're using these things in your day-to-day life, because that changes the way I think about this product as someone who may want to invest in that. So I think it all goes back to, we all have a different perspective to offer, and we all have a unique angle, unique entry point to how we're thinking about these companies.
And I wouldn't necessarily say that all gen Z investors are doing X versus all, millennials are doing Y. But what I'm seeing with younger investors is that in the same way that I think, you know, and this is a completely different conversation, but I think in the same way, we're seeing younger people shop in a way that that aligns with their values. I think we're seeing that in the way, a lot of young people invest too. They want to make sure that it's something that they feel good about. And then by the nature of those folks, being on public and being part of the conversation, they are participating in the dialogue. And so those voices have a seat at the table. So I think the thing that I find most interesting about having young people involved in the conversation earlier is just that we're having different conversations because there are different voices who are speaking up.
This is my dream world. Just, just letting everybody know.
So kind of related to that, I would love to ask you about if you've noticed any trends on socially responsible investing. And so for listeners, just as a quick side note, sometimes you'll hear this referred to as ESG investing around environmental, social and governance goals or relatedly impact investing, but Willa, yeah. Have you seen any trends around that? How does the social network of the app influence those types of investing behaviors?
We talk about a lot - Public as a place to invest in the companies you believe in. And so I think that ties pretty closely to this. It loops in a lot of the things we've talked about from being able to buy fractional shares. If there's a company whose leadership you really admire, or who has really strong social practices, you can invest in that company, even if shares are hundreds of dollars. But I think the social element of Public and getting into the habit of sharing your reasoning when you're investing, it brings people's attachment or interest in these types of companies to light, because they're excited to say, okay, I invested in this company because look what their leadership team just did. Or I invested in this company because they just promise to go carbon neutral by 20 whatever date because Public is a place where we're not just having conversations around what the numbers are. It shines more of a light on what someone's reasoning for investing. And therefore we're just having more conversations about the value alignment and the social alignment between people and, and the companies they're investing in.
Are there any other final thoughts you have about how to encourage new investors to open their minds to this world? Or maybe the ways in which the investment world is changing and will continue to change?
I think the thing that I get most excited about is seeing more people excited to participate in these conversations, but not just to participate in the conversations, but to actually invest. And I think having a community space, having a social space where we can talk about investing, talk about the markets is going to allow more people to participate in a way that we haven't seen before. And to go way back to when you introduced me at the beginning. So prior to working at public, I worked for a reproductive health startup called Lola and my interest in working there was that it was making conversations about bodies and periods more normal. And that really mattered to me because having conversations about things that we don't normally talk about reduces a lot of the shame. When I left Lola and went to Public, I'm just like, okay, tampons to FinTech, I'm really confused.
But for me, money and reproductive health are things that we don't talk very much about. And in the same way with money, if these are things that we feel embarrassed to talk about, if, you know if you know that you probably should have started investing, probably should have opened a 401k, but are embarrassed to talk about it. You're never going to do it because you're going to feel so intimidated by it. And so if we can create a space where there aren't stupid questions, it's okay to ask what's a dividend. It's okay to say what's capital gains taxes. It's okay to ask someone, why are you interested in Microsoft? I haven't used Microsoft before. I've heard of the company, but I use Apple for everything. If none of those questions are off the table, then we feel so much more confident in our own knowledge and our own participation. And that's what excites me about what Public is doing to make the stock market social. And that's just what excites me about getting more people, whether they're younger or older and just didn't feel like they saw themselves as an investor, they didn't see themselves as someone who could invest getting them involved. That's what I'm excited to see and continue to see.
Well, we'll, uh, thank you so much. That is honestly inspiring and makes me want to take a look at the stock market and the trends around investing in an entirely new way.
Well, thank you so much for having me. And if you are on public and if you do download Public and you want to come find me and say hello, I'm @WillaTF on Public, and really enjoy getting to know our community and what they're excited to invest in and learn more about their angle on their portfolio.
And, and do you hear that everybody it's @WillaTF. She, she very intentionally didn't use her initials because she's amazing and smart like that.
You can't be a community lead and have your handle be @WTF.
Not quite the public brand gusset close, not quiet. So I have this terribly funny question that I've been wanting to ask you about. So what financial advice have you been reading lately? I hear there's this really amazing woman that everybody needs to hear about.
Yes. So in addition to all the conversations that I get to read on Public, there is a woman named Kelsey who has a newsletter called not your boyfriend's investment advice, amazing name. It's a good, it's a good title. And it takes investing concepts like specks and dividends and breaks them down in terms that are funny, so that you're actually enjoying the content that you're reading, but also helps you feel like you actually know what these things are. You're not just dictionary articles.
Oh, and she's hilarious. Like actually hilarious. You just mentioned a couple of her articles and I was laughing over here thinking about the names of these, the one that you mentioned it literally is like spank my ass. Like, tell me that is not a hilarious title for something that could have been incredibly boring, could have been very dry. She's amazing. Everybody needs to read about her. We'll just start there.
It's a good place to start when we're thinking about making the stock market interesting.
Well, we loved having you. You're magic sauce and I'm excited. So for anybody listening that doesn't have a public.com account, go get one because they're fantastic. And if you haven't heard it as we were talking, you'll be inclusively welcomed in every conversation.
It's a very positive community. It's a very productive and respectful community. And that matters a lot to us.
Speaker 2: (33:28)
Thank you so much for joining us today. Next week, we'll be entering our final mini-series of our podcast season. Can you believe that you've actually listened to me for this many episodes? Everyone's confused and amazed, including me. Our last mini-series is also one that we all very excited about. If you haven't noticed, we all very, very excited people. Everyone has to get over it because we're just excited people on this podcast. We'll be talking about gender, sexuality, and money. We're going to discuss being queer in the workplace, queer health care, pink tax, and so, so many other important topics.
That's right, Mary. Yeah. We cannot wait for you to join us for those episodes. They're going to be fascinating, really delving into some deep topics with some amazing guests. It was so great to be with you all today. Just as a reminder, our podcast email is firstname.lastname@example.org. That's email@example.com. And please get in touch. If you ever have any thoughts, questions, feedback, or ideas about new episodes or guests that we should be talking to. We'd love to hear from you.