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Talking expansion with Public.com GM International, Dann Bibas
Learnings from HBO, the primacy of customer discovery, and an experimentation mindset
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Today we’re speaking to Dann Bibas, GM International at Public.com, the US-based multi-asset investment platform which has recently launched in the UK. Prior to joining Public.com, Dann was Head of Expansion for Assets at Wise. He is a graduate of McGill University where he received the Asper Scholarship and currently lives in Amsterdam with his family.
Thank you Dann!
Dann, could you start by telling us a bit about your background? You’ve held two different expansion roles at Wise and Public?
Of course, I’m currently the GM International at Public.com, a US-based multi-asset investment platform that recently launched in the UK. Before Public, I was the Head of Expansion at Wise for its Assets product.
Both are expansion roles but slightly differ. At Wise, the role revolved around product expansion. We launched a new investment product in existing markets within an established payments company (ie. a new vertical). At Public, it’s about geographical expansion. We are launching our investing product into new markets such as the UK (ie. a new market).
Can you give us some insights about Public's recent launch in the UK?
I believe go-to markets should start by finding a specific pain point that matters to a specific group of people and grow onwards from there.
In layman’s terms, find a wedge.
Early on at Public, we saw that UK customers were still paying high fees on US-stock investing either through commission, FX, subscription or hidden costs. We also saw that UK retail investors didn’t have sufficient tools and data fit for a modern, sophisticated investor.
These were the pain points in the UK that we felt Public would be uniquely suited to solve. We knew the maturity of our US-based platform could give us an edge in offering better data and tools for US-stock investors. Secondly, we also saw an opportunity to keep fees low and accessible because our technology, scale and processes allow us to do so.
Expanding internationally can often take years and requires significant investment. What are your thoughts on organisational mindset required to launch in a new country or market?
You’ve hit the nail on its head by bringing up an organisational mindset. In my opinion, the best way to gauge this is by having a frank conversation with stakeholders on whether or not the company’s mission statement aligns with said expansion plans. If it does, keep going. If it doesn’t, stop right there.
For example, our mission at Public is to make public markets work for all people. As such, we knew that we needed to expand outside the US if we wanted to support “all people”. The alignment was there from day one, which was the first step in building an internal mindset required for international expansion.
Can you talk about the mentality of experimentation that’s often required for new initiatives like international expansion?
I like the term “mentality of experimentation.” It’s spot on.
Whilst mature segments of a business likely have more established processes and growth channels, launching in new markets often requires a sense of creativity, experimentation and grit.
Launching in a new market - even from within an established company - is a bit (though not entirely) like being a startup again.
When thinking about international expansion, what are some other businesses that have inspired you?
For inspiration, I prefer to look outside our industry.
I recently listened to a talk by Richard Plepler, the former CEO of HBO, which was terrific (disclaimer: I have an unhealthy affinity for The Sopranos).
He talks about how HBO and other media giants have had to adapt their content as they evolved into global businesses. He gives a nod to Netflix, who quickly saw streaming as a global business and built out local content to supplement their English-language programmes. By creating local content, Netflix attracted new subscribers in new markets who would then discover other classics sitting in Netflix's library. To compound this further, some non-English speaking content would eventually become big hits in English speaking markets (Such as Money Heist or Fauda).
In short; more subscribers, more markets, more streaming. An international expansion masterclass.
For companies, founders or operators thinking about expanding internationally, any dear tips you can share?
In general, companies should look at international expansion as a customer discovery exercise first.
This means they should first focus on customer needs and understand if they’re best suited to solve particular problems for those customers in a given market.
I’d only proceed afterwards to top-down analysis on TAM, projections, targets, budgets and such. I often see people doing it the other way around but think it’s better practice to start with customers.
As a follow up to that one, any must-read literature out there on international expansion?
In terms of reading, I have yet to find a “must read” on all things go-to market. However, one piece of startup literature that I always recommend is Eugene Wei’s Invisible Asymptotes. I try to re-read it every year or so.
In short, he defines an invisible asymptote as a ceiling that a company’s growth curve will eventually bump up against if it continues down its current path. In Amazon’s case it was shipping fees. And how do you proactively address this? Well, that’s up to the reader to find out. This is a real gem, I won’t share any spoilers.
Asking you this question with my investor hat on. You’ve launched new products, led country roll-outs, gone through multiple regulatory processes and more. Are there any pain points you’ve uncovered in these “zero to one” initiatives that could be solved by new startups?
For companies expanding across borders, a common pain point I hear is that the number of third parties can become overwhelming.
Let me illustrate this through a fictional example. Let’s invent a crowdfunding platform called Akash Crowd which supports startups and investors in 10 countries. Naturally, they’d need a payment provider to support their online checkout. And as we all know - different countries will have different payment methods, currencies, card preferences and such.
If Akash Crowd opts for a single payments vendor that boasts broad coverage across multiple markets and products, they’ll have a single, unified integration. Great, that’s ideal.
However, sometimes vendors offering broad coverage are not specialised in all the markets that a cross-border company like Akash Crowd is active in. As such, this vendor may have less competitive pricing, reduced local support, and fewer country-specific payment methods - all diminishing Akash Crowd’s customer experience in that market. Hmm, not so great.
So what do you choose - a specialised provider for each market (which will increase complexity) or opt for a single provider that supports a more manageable stack? These decisions are never easy. This requires understanding the trade-offs, potential solutions and weighing all the different outcomes.
But to answer your question, any solutions that can improve vendor procurement and/or orchestration could be valuable. If you know of any, I’d love to meet them.
Last question, Dann. I also know you as an angel investor in early-stage FinTech. What’s one thing you believe will be different for angel investors going forward now that we’re in a more constrained economic environment?
Sure, Akash. My hunch is that founders and angel investors will forge closer relationships in this economic environment. Simply put, an environment with less available capital means investors will likely make fewer deals, albeit higher conviction ones (you’d assume).
This means investors should have more time, focus and quite frankly, incentive, to get to know founding teams and support them however they can.
Fewer relationships but more meaningful ones. That’s a positive thing in my books.
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