News Tech: This week, Aseem Datar, an investor, speaks with Will Rush, co-founder and CEO of Stack, a teen cryptocurrency platform, about how to teach a young generation that is interested in cryptocurrencies—as well as their parents—about ethical investing. After developing a banking software for teenagers while employed by a corporation, Will applied his ten years of knowledge in securities and finance to crypto and Web3. He observed the enthusiasm and interest that young people showed in cryptocurrency and realised he could use his skills to foster a culture of prudent teen cryptocurrency investment.
For clarity, this transcript was automatically created.
In a way that the younger generation is truly appreciating and engaging with, Stack has been able to balance access and education for both parents and their teens. Will is also obsessively fixated on the educational component. He argues someone needs to be the good guy in what he calls the Wild West of Web3 and crypto, not just because he is about to become a father himself. Stack just secured $2.7 million in investment to carry out that mission and further enhance its platform. The majority of us millennials will grasp Will’s advise for every entrepreneur, “You need to get slime on your face,” but you’ll have to listen to comprehend how Double Dare pertains to starting a business.
Aseem: Hello, everyone. I’m Will Rush, a partner at Madrona Ventures, and I’m thrilled to welcome him here. Will is the CEO of TryStack.io. Will, welcome to the show and please accept my congratulations.
After doing one thing for a while, I eventually reached a point in my career that I believe many people do where I wanted to lean a little more toward the early stages of things and businesses. I so returned to school. At UW, I earned a master’s degree. Additionally, I worked part-time at another venture firm, then known as Ignition Partners but now known as Fuse Venture Partners, while I was pursuing my master’s degree. And it was a really enjoyable organisation to work for; all of their portfolio companies and founders provided a wonderful introduction to the startup scene. And then, at some point, I met Eddie Behringer, who would go on to become one of my all-time favourite mentors in my professional life. He had just achieved success with Snap! Raise, which had completed its private equity exit. And he just launched Copper Banking; at that time, I believe they had three or four employees. It was him, his Snap! Raise co-founder, and possibly a couple more people. But he was also considering how to create a stock and brokerage product for teenagers at the time. The goal of Copper was to create a banking and money software for teenagers that was designed with them in mind, not their parents or other people.
Aseem: You know, this leads us to the obvious next question, which is the inception of the idea around Stack and really trying to understand what patterns you saw while at Copper while being at the VC firm. I want to dig deep into understanding how that idea came to you. What are the macros in the world that you saw? I want to dig into “your why,” as they call it. Why did you build Stack? Will: Oh, man. I mean, I think it really started from understanding the last 10 years in finance and FinTech. We saw companies like Robinhood outside of the 2008 financial crisis do an amazing job of democratizing access. And they did that by allowing you to trade $1 of any stock you wanted with fractional shares and do it commission free. And so, of course, that introduced a lot of new people to the stock market. But with democratized access, I think there was a huge lag in education. And so, being at Copper, being able to impact young people who were at the very start of their financial journey, the impact that you can make and the habits that people form at that age, you know, they absorb things like a sponge, and it was cool to see and be a part of those stories. While I was at Copper and I was researching our stock product, it became abundantly clear to me just through some of the AB tests that we would do where we would literally change one word “stock” to “crypto,” and all of a sudden, our engagement on things like Instagram would just fly off the radar. And so, I think there was a story there. There was a story about this zeitgeist behind crypto, this excitement, this curiosity with the youngest generation. And could you be the good guy in that world?
That was really like, where the thesis for Stack started and how we got to do what we’re doing now. I think there’s so much to unpack, which is how you educate successfully. I think a lot of parents hear teen crypto, and their first thought is, “Whoa! My teen doesn’t even have a stock account.” Or, ” I don’t know if I want to get my teenager involved in Web3 or crypto.” But the reality is that a lot of the teenagers we’ve found are hacking their way into crypto. They’re using their parent’s driver’s licenses to get a Coinbase account. They’re going over the law in a lot of ways to do this. And if we could create a bumper lane, if you will, that to us was a really compelling solution. Aseem: Three things that you said stood out for me. One is this whole notion of democratizing access, right? If you go back a few decades, not everybody was trading in securities. Not everybody understood what it meant to be, for lack of a better term, owner in a company and bet on the growth of that company or that enterprise. And that’s changed over, I would say, even the past couple of decades. I think the second thing that you really mentioned, which was powerful, was this wave of learning and educated investing and guidance. And in the world of crypto, I think it’s more true than ever that people are just trying to figure this out. And especially teens, who want to latch onto this wave, but at the same time, kind of don’t know where to go. They’re discovering it as most people are. It’s fascinating that you are the on-ramp or the guardrail like you mentioned, to educated investing. Because this is going to happen with or without, I would say guides or mentors. And the third thing that you mentioned, which is fascinating to me, is even parents are learning. This is where I love the theory and the thesis behind what you guys are building, which is educated access, educated investing, and providing a friction-free on ramp to growth. So, tell us a little about what’s on offer today with Stack and where people can go to try it out.
Will: Well said, on so many fronts, there is this huge opportunity with what we’re building to, I think, tie two wants of our two users. There’s the parent user, and the want is education. The other user is a teenager, and the want is access. And one is hacking their way, and the parent who wants both themselves and their teenager to be educated really doesn’t have a lot of places to go right now. Because there really just isn’t that much education in crypto in general. We’re really living on the edge of the most cutting-edge area of the financial sector. The offering that we have now — our app is live on Google Play — it is set up so that a teenager opens a UTMA account, which is the Uniform Transfer to Minors Act. That requires a parent to be a cosigner on the account. And it allows teenagers to have legal access because if they access Coinbase or Robinhood or any of those other platforms that are out there right now, they’re actually living above the wall, meaning they only allow 18 or older users. But we allow legal access for teens. And then there are a lot of other really cool things about the app. So, for one, a parent can set approval limits. That means they can say, “I want to review everything,” “I want to review trades that are above $50 or a hundred dollars,” or “I want to give my teen the keys, and I trust them to go make good decisions.” The second thing that we do a lot of is, like we’ve talked about a lot — education. How do you balance the education element and teen who is on TikTok and a lot of trends that they see are evolving in a matter of minutes or hours. How do you get their attention? How do you actually win in this education world that obviously very few people in finance have been successful with? And I think the way that we have chosen to win and really what we’ve learned about teenagers over the last 18 months is — it has to be bite size. It has to be tied to just-in-time learning. So that means, if you’re about to buy Bitcoin for the first time, you want to know about Bitcoin right then, and how can we win that moment? And then there’s the third piece of it that has proven successful in a few other startups, which is the learn-to-earn model. And that means you actually get benefits, and for us, you get fractional amounts of crypto if you teach yourself about it.
Will: We’ve learned an immense amount from teens working with them. I mean, we literally work side by side with them and in a lot of capacities — we’ve physically shown up to high schools. We’ve physically sponsored events. We’ve digitally sponsored events. What they’ve taught us over that period is you’re only going to command a very short period of time, and that includes education. That includes even if you reward them through something. And so, how can you win small moments that have a big impact? So, we’ve built that into our education content. We expect our team users to be spending an hour between 30 seconds and 90 seconds on the educational module of our app. But if we can do that consistently a few days a week or even every day of the week, I think that’s where you win. The second thing that we’ve learned from teens is, in this world of technology, they’re highly capable. And I think many products built for kids and teens infantilize them a little bit, and this generation is different. As you said, they’re the entrepreneurial generation. They identify as entrepreneurs. A lot of them have side hustles. High school is different, and we need to recognize that, and we need to lean into that because they’re highly capable. And if you give them the right tools and the right guardrails, I think they’ll shock the heck out of you with what they’re capable of doing.
Aseem: I think one of the things that stands out for me is the UTMA license you guys were able to get, and that’s really the foundation of how you’re approaching responsible investing. That’s awesome because it’s all about providing that guided education path for somebody to take control of their own destiny in a responsible way. I was curious what are you hearing from the teens — or, as I call it, the entrepreneurial generation — what are you hearing as they’re using your platform? To a parent user, I think that third element is really important because we are doubling down on education from day one — by saying, we will give you free benefits, rewards, whatever you want to call it, via crypto, just for educating yourselves. There is a new offering that we’re going to release later this fall that I think will be by far the most exciting offering that we have to date. And it really plays on both a parent wanting education and a teen wanting access, and really how to balance the two of those as thoughtfully as possible. And also from a lot of the early engagement statistics that we’ve seen from our user base on our app.