Few apps have seen as much success during COVID-19 as trading apps like Robinhood and Acorns, which have given cash-strapped Americans a potential avenue of income and possibly replaced traditional gambling during shutdowns. Our Breakout Startup of the Week, Public.com, is one such app. Geared at brand new traders and investors, Public stands out as the most user-friendly of all the consumer-level trading platforms - a distinction which will carve out a significant chunk of the competitive market.
Robinhood and Acorns certainly market themselves towards and target a market of beginner traders, which both apps have caught flak for in the past. But Public.com is the first to do that while offering a wealth of information and tools to help traders understand what they’re doing - and all within the application. There’s no need to open a wiki or a youtube video to explain how a certain trade or stock works when you’re using Public because all the information is in the app, keeping you there. And the longer you stay on the app, the more likely you are to trade.
Public’s wealth of resources and tools that help new traders understand what they’re doing is what truly sets it apart from other apps on the market. Public employs a system similar to Twitter’s “moments” feature - it groups stocks together under certain categories to make it clear what’s being traded, like “Tech Giants” and “Mammoths.” Really, though, this feature is just emblematic of Public’s strategy of mimicking the most successful features of the biggest social media apps in history and applying them to the context of trading.
The app makes trading at any level, from fractional shares to much larger orders, easy and understandable by using the visual language of the world’s most successful social media apps. Robinhood once advertised itself as a democratization of the trading process. Public, however, tunnel visions on that focus with the entire user experience of the app from the interface to the name of the app itself.
It’s a strategy that’s paid off in spades for Public - the company was founded in 2018 by Jannick Malling, Matt Kennedy and Sean Hendelman and has grown to include 48 employees. In that same period of time, Public has raised an impressive $23.5 million, including $15 million in a March Series B funding round. Public is riding the e-commerce tsunami to success, but isn’t just coasting along. It’s making an effort to carve out a space for itself within the wave. On top of this, it told Techcrunch in May that its usership increased 80% in April as compared to March, and that was just the start of the pandemic. As it has mired on, Public’s user base has surely grown significantly larger.
You may be rightfully wondering how Public stands a chance against Acorns and especially Robinhood, which has risen to a $2.2 billion valuation, has seen a massive influx of new users and can’t seem to stop raising money. And while Robinhood may very well emerge as the titan of the space, there is still room for several significant competitors. By carving out a specific niche as the beginner’s app, Public is making a two sided bet; that there will always be a need for a beginner-friendly trading experience, and that their approach allows them to grow to overcome even the most established trading apps.
In the end, the key takeaway from Public’s model and rise is the importance of identity in competitive markets. Look at TikTok, which was able to borrow format and language from its clear predecessor in Vine, but eventually evolved to create something entirely its own. Public is headed in the same direction, carving out a stronghold in a worn battlefield that is all its own and will carry it for the long-run. If you were a seasoned trader advising a friend just getting into the scene, which would you recommend to them? The app famous for glitches and mishandling of users' money? Or the one that holds their hand along the way?
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