Intro & Icebreaker
Q: What is Public.com and what do you do there?
Rockford: Public.com is the app where you can invest in everything. We’re a platform where you can invest in stocks, crypto, ETF, alternative assets like fine art, wine, real estate, music rights, and so on. We're building a platform that helps our users be better investors by informing them about public markets and giving them the context they need to make smart investment decisions.
Q: What about yourself? What do you do at Public?
Rockford: I am the VP of acquisition at Public, so in the marketing org alongside the brand team. My responsibilities span across paid user acquisition, growth partnerships with influencers, affiliates, and content publishers, lifecycle marketing, and SEO and our community team, which is kind of like the social layer within the public app.
Q: How did you get to Public?
Rockford: My background is in paid user acquisition. Prior to Public, I was at a mobile games publisher in New York called Tilting Point where we published a portfolio of some 25 games ranging from hyper casual to hardcore multiplayer. Prior to that, I was at a little agency in Colorado called Ad Action Interactive where we mostly focused on affiliate and partnership marketing. Fortunately all of those different channels kind of rolled into exactly what we needed at Public. When this opportunity came around, it was a great fit for me.
Q: A big reason why I wanted to have you on the podcast is because I think investing apps are at an interesting point in time, given the economy. There's inflation, there's rising interest rates, and stocks are on the decline.
Because FinTech is such a large and growing section of the apps that we look at, I want to understand right now, what are the challenges that are being presented to you from a user acquisition and engagement perspective? Are your goals changing? Walk me through what you're experiencing and doing right now.
Rockford: It is definitely a tougher time to be a FinTech at this time of year than it was last year. The biggest sort of change is the mindset shift of the audiences that we're trying to go after. In 2021, people were having insane amounts of FOMO when it came to public markets. Every time you turned on the TV, markets were booming. It doesn't matter what channel you were watching, everybody was talking about investing. Come 2022, things started to decline a little bit. You really can't turn around nowadays without getting a healthy dose of gloom and doom.
This has definitely presented headwinds to our business and the FinTech space in general. However, it’s offered us an opportunity to change our strategies a little bit. We’ve started to think more about our copy and our goals.
Q: How have your business strategies changed?
Rockford: In 2021, everything was all about just user growth and acquisition. Now we're much more conscious about the audiences that we're targeting and the quality of users that we optimized for. That's not to say that we weren't before, but now it's just become more important because not everybody has disposable income to invest. Our strategy has adapted to the type of person and professional that is still going to be investing in the markets.
That changes the words that we use, the kind of partnerships that we cultivate, the sort of images we use in our creatives. It changes a lot, but at the end of the day, it's really about making sure that we are highlighting the benefits that we bring to investors in this current market moment.
Q: Did you already know what attracts that market or did you have to do new research to figure out how to target these users more now that you’re much more interested in them?
Rockford: We already knew who those users were and where they spent their time. It was really just a matter of allocation. Instead of doing broad-based acquisition campaigns and then optimizing that on the backend, it's really more about making sure that we're meeting that audience where they are. Especially with the difficulties of ATT and making user level targeting a lot harder, you have to be sensitive to where these people spend their time and what content they consume in order to make sure that you're getting in front of them.
Q: What's been the biggest shift for you in how you go about your daily job with the privacy changes? Are you spending more time testing than you used to, or did you know who these users are and so you know how to get to them contextually?
Rockford: The biggest change has really been a lot of the contextual stuff that I was just talking about. We make sure we are running content partnerships with the right websites and partners, are partnering with the right influencers, and stuff like that.
On the social and search side, it’s really changed our device mix. The amount of paid users that we're acquiring on iOS has gone down. Android as a share of acquisition has gone up, but it's also forced us down this path of acquiring users on desktop. Public was a mobile first company. We only launched our desktop product properly at the beginning of 2022. It’s been really interesting seeing how users behave differently on desktop versus an app with all of the new screen real estate and what they spend their time doing on the platform. It’s also forced us to get a little bit more creative about how we optimize post-install. In a pre ATT world, you could really rely on the fact that your user targeting was going to get you the kind of post-install behavior that you wanted. Now you have to do a lot more proactive cross-selling with lifecycle messaging, like push notifications, email and segmenting users to make sure that you're really connecting them to the value that they're looking for in your app.
Q: For the people you're acquiring on desktop, are you viewing them as separate? At what point do you push them to the mobile app, if at all?
Rockford: We do have banners on the web app to remind people to download the app so that they know that we're a cross-platform business. It’s interesting, the makeup of people that are primarily desktop users tend to skew older. Older people don't like digital communities and social media as much as younger cohorts that grew up with it.
It’s a little bit different just seeing how people use the product differently and like what parts of the product they leverage more.
Q: Public acquired a company called HyperCharts earlier this year, and I wanted to just know what that acquisition was about? Are you already leveraging it?
Rockford: We acquired Hyper Charts earlier this year and this was really a move to help give our users more context around their portfolio.
Hyper Charts helped people understand public companies beyond what you read in financial statements. They do that by leveraging company specific metrics.
HyperCharts had this beautiful website that visualized all of these companies' specific metrics in a way that helped people understand the companies behind the ticker. You can make really strong decisions based on things like EBITDA, cash on the balance sheet, and all that fun stuff. But at the end of the day, you have to really understand how the business works. And that's what HyperCharts does.
Ultimately, HyperCharts became the foundation of what has become Public Premium, which is our paid subscription service. It's basically all of the unique company data that HyperChartswas visualizing and collecting. We've just patched it in as part of the Public Premium product to help give our users the tools and contexts that they would like to have around the companies that they already own.
Q :In addition to the charts, are you producing various types of content that are being pushed out through the app?
Rockford: That's something that is really kind of carried by our community team. A lot of our community members are very active in the app and will give summarized insights such as “what happened in the markets this week” or “here's everything that you missed from Netflix’s last earning call.” A lot of that stuff is present in the app and not necessarily behind a paywall. A lot of this content is information that the community is offering up to the user base to help them.
Q: Can you tell me about Public Premium?
Rockford: Public Premium gives you real price alerts based on parameters that you can set yourself. It gives you access to pre-market, after hours trading, and a whole litany of other things. It’s definitely a powerful tool, but the context around your portfolio is definitely something that a more sophisticated investor would benefit from for sure.
Q: What do you think is the stickiest future of your app and is it something that you specifically point users to?
Rockford: That's an interesting question because it really depends on the type of user. However, I think the “community” that we've talked about a little bit already is particularly sticky.
It’s basically a social feed within the app that allows our user base to interact with each other. When I first joined Public, it was a really great way to discover stocks that I'd never heard of before, read posts from people explaining why they love a specific company, and hear about market news curated for you by people that have similar investing goals to you.
If a creator in the app that you follow or engage with posts something new, you might get a push notification that they just made a new post. Or if somebody replies to a comment that you made in the app, you get a push notification that'll draw you back in. I think it's a cool and “sticky” feature of the app.
Q: How do you keep an eye on your competition and how does it impact any decisions that you make?
Rockford: We keep a pretty close eye on all of our competitors. At the end of the day though, it doesn't really impact our decision making process. We've got a really smart team of people here that are building our roadmap and prioritizing the work that we do, the campaigns that we run, and what products we're pushing. It is good to know what style of creative a competitor is employing on Facebook or what partnerships a new crypto exchange is striking up on YouTube. Those sorts of things are good to help understand the competitive landscape of different media buying opportunities but I wouldn't really say that it impacts our decisions. The other piece of intelligence that we keep a really close eye on is keywords. Understanding what keywords our competitors are bidding on and who's bidding on Public's brand terms is usually pretty indicative of what is really driving business.
Q: Has the budget that you dedicate to paid keywords risen at all within the last 12 months?
Rockford: Specifically on iOS for sure. Apple search ads are the one channel that were largely unaffected by ATT. I think especially with the rise of our investment in desktop acquisition, paid search is a big part of that too.
Q: In the past few years, what big changes have you seen as it pertains to marketing mobile apps from companies, whether they're mobile first or not. Then looking forward, where do you see either FinTech or public going?
Rockford: The game has changed so many times between now and a few years ago. That's one of the reasons that I like working in mobile growth because it changes every year or two.
It's a new problem to figure out and solve for, whether it's ATT and user based targeting, the rise of influencer marketing on TikTok, or whatever it may be. I think what's really changed the most though, is that people have just become a lot more cognizant of LTVs, CAC, and quantifying the quality of your marketing programs. That's becoming more important now, given the current state of the tech market. I think it's a lot less common nowadays to see people deploy enormous budgets in FinTech, without any sort of KPIs to track beyond clicks.
People are more in tune with how their users monetize over time, what conversion funnels look like, and all of that sort of stuff. Looking forward, I think the landscape is going to continue to change in terms of go-to channels. We are already seeing it change with how marketing dollars are spent on Facebook, Google, and TikTok. That shift is gonna continue. Whether it's influencers, whether it's content marketing, or whatever it may be, change is the name of the game.
Game time: Two Apps and a Lie