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Social-Investing App Startup Public Raises $15 Million From Will Smith, JJ Watt, Sophia Amoruso and Others

Public.com - WIll Smith; JJ Watt;
NINA PROMMER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (Smith); John Carucci/AP/Shutterstock (Watt); Charles Sykes/Invision/AP/Shutterstock (Amoruso)

Public.com, an early-stage company whose founders say they want to democratize stock investing, has brought some notable Hollywood, media and sports figures on board as part owners.

The New York-based startup, founded in 2017, announced a $15 million Series B round of funding. The round was co-led by venture-capital firms Accel and Greycroft, with participation from Dreamers VC, founded by Will Smith and Japanese soccer star Keisuke Honda; NFL star J.J. Watt; Shari Redstone’s Advancit Capital; Sophia Amoruso, founder and CEO of Girlboss (now owned by Attention Capital); YouTube creator and entrepreneur Casey Neistat; Scott Belsky, founder of Behance and Adobe chief product officer; Blavity founder and CEO Morgan DeBaun.

Public.com’s social-investing app launched in September 2019. It lets members buy shares in any publicly traded U.S. company or exchange-traded fund (ETF) like the SPDR S&P 500 for as little as $5 and doesn’t charge any commissions. The service makes it more affordable for first-time stock investors to participate in public equity markets through a “fractional” investment model in which a single share of, say, Netflix (which last Friday closed at $369.03 per share) is split among multiple individuals.

The app lets you follow friends, domain experts and interest-based themes, letting you see what other people are investing in and learn about investing strategies.

“People see investing in the stock market as a daunting process,” said Public.com co-CEO Jannick Malling. The app’s “social layer enables the first phase of an investing journey — you don’t need to invest $10,000 upfront.”

Asked why it wanted to tap celebrity investors for its Series B round, Public.com’s other co-CEO, Leif Abraham, said, “As a social investing app, we want to be inclusive. As the community is built, we want to bring influencers on to the app so that we can build the next generation of investors.” The two co-founders said the startup’s investing-for-everyone vision resonated with the backers who joined the round. “There is a real mission you can stand behind,” Abraham said. “We have something you can be proud of.”

Public.com isn’t designed for professional investors. In fact the company doesn’t allow day-trading on the service: Trades placed in a cash account require two business days for the funds to “fully settle” before they can be used again to buy and sell stock.

While fears over the potential economic damage the current coronavirus have hammered financial markets in the past week, stocks have produced an average 10% return per year over the last 100 years, Abraham said: “Most people in our community are long-term investors.”

To date Public.com, which has 35 employees, has raised $24 million in total funding. The founders wouldn’t disclose how many members they have signed up so far. Accel and Greycroft, which previously led Public.com’s Series A, were both early investors in Venmo, the social-payment service founded in 2009 (now owned by PayPal).

Investing historically has been “something you do alone — in isolation with your numbers and your charts,” Greycroft co-founder and partner Ian Sigalow said in a statement. “Public.com challenges this century-old model by bringing conversations about investing out into the open.”

As for how Public.com makes money, the company generates interest on invested cash in members’ accounts (though it provides users a 2.5% interest rate on their cash); earns fees by lending stock to short-sellers; and receives rebates on certain stock transactions. The company also says it may charge fees in the future for premium features.

Prior to Public, Jannick was co-founder and CEO of Tradable, an online trading platform that is a subsidiary of global holding company CFH Group. Abraham previously was co-founder and CEO of freelancing software startup And Co, acquired by Fiverr in 2018.

Pictured above (l. to r.): Will Smith; JJ Watt; Sophia Amoruso