Alumna and CEO of Sharesies, Brooke Roberts says she co-founded the start-up to make the world of investment more accessible to everyday New Zealanders.
After finishing high school in Hawke’s Bay, Brooke was drawn to the hum of the capital city. “Wellington always seemed like a city I would thrive in. I knew that I wanted to get into the business world, and it seemed like the best place for that.”
Brooke says she appreciated the hands-on nature of her classes at the University.
“There was a really interesting Marketing class where we had to pitch business ideas to Sam Morgan, who was then the CEO of TradeMe—a bit like (TV show) Dragon’s Den.
“It was great to have that connection to business leaders in Wellington, and it was cool to have to get our hustle on and pitch ideas.”
After graduating, Brooke planned to travel overseas, but exciting opportunities kept springing up which kept her in Wellington. She first landed a role as a marketing assistant for not-for-profit organisation GS1 and went on to finance, product, and marketing roles at AJ Park, Kiwibank, and Xero.
While she enjoyed these roles, Brooke says she knew she wanted to start her own business and combine her twin interests in marketing and finance. Her dream started to gain momentum when she met a group of like-minded entrepreneurs.
“I was working at Xero at the time, and three of the six other founders [of Sharesies] were at Kiwibank. We all got together because we knew we wanted to start our own business, and there was a business accelerator happening that Kiwibank and Xero were both sponsoring, so we were on the hunt for ideas.”
One of these ideas was Sharesies, which went on to become a fully-fledged business with the help of early investment from the business accelerator. Brooke co-founded Sharesies with six others, including fellow alumni Sonya Williams (Chief of Product and Marketing) and Richard Clark (Chief Technology Officer). The business plan was hatched in October 2016, and the company became incorporated in February 2017. Two years on, Brooke says Sharesies is going from strength to strength.
“We started with seven founders, six of us full time. We now have 24 staff and we’re still growing. We have over 36,000 Kiwi investors who have invested over $38 million. What’s great is a lot of that is money that probably wouldn’t have been invested otherwise.”
Brooke says the philosophy behind Sharesies is trying to create a level playing field when it comes to investing.
“We wanted to give someone with five dollars the same investment opportunities as someone with $500,000. With the technology available today, there’s no reason why access to wealth development should be so unequal. The opportunities need to be shared a lot more. That’s why we created Sharesies—to make it really easy for people to get into investing, and to help them feel confident and motivated as investors.
The minimum investment is five dollars, and Brooke says their model has attracted a lot of first-time investors, who are learning about finance as they use Sharesies.
“So much of learning is by doing. When you hear the news and link that to what’s happening with your investment, you start to see how everything happening in society feeds into business and the economy. It’s really exciting for people to start to see those linkages.”
Brooke says that while 50 percent of people in the United States and 30 percent of Australians own shares, only around 20 percent of New Zealanders are shareholders.
“A lot of people in New Zealand feel like investing is something they can’t do—there’s still this perception that you need a lot of money to get started. And then there’s all this jargon, which hits you with another fear—‘oh I don’t understand this, it’s too hard.’
“We’ve really tried to break down these barriers—and we’ve tried to remove as much of that jargon as possible so that it’s in everyday language.”
Brooke hopes that Sharesies will encourage more New Zealanders to think about their financial futures.
“Investing here has traditionally been synonymous with owning a home, which in a lot of places in New Zealand has become more and more unobtainable. People are starting to realise that’s not the only investment option and that it might not be everybody’s dream anymore.
“Making sure you’re developing your wealth is really important for your ‘future you’ and reaching the goals that you want to achieve in life.”
While Brooke learnt a lot in her classes, she says it’s the connections she made while studying that she values the most from her university years.
“The friendships that I made in my hostel and classes helped me personally but also professionally. I’ve now got friends in all different disciplines, so if I need to learn something I can call them and ask, and they’ll either know someone I can talk to or they’ll have the insights I need. Having that network is probably the most valuable part of university for me.”
Brooke’s advice to current students is to put what you learn in class into practice as soon as possible.
“I wish I’d kept the hustle up of running businesses while I was at university. You learn so much more that way. You’ve got great people around you in your classes to connect with and create something, you’ve got the resources there, you can talk to lecturers who might know people—it’s a great place to experiment with ideas.”