Parisian Benjamin Chemla is CEO and co-founder of Shares, Europe’s first ‘social-trading’ app, which has already amassed over 250,000 users after its UK launch. Shares recently secured an additional $40m as part of their Series B raise, bringing total investment up to $90m in just 14 months, led by Peter Thiel’s venture capital firm, Valar Ventures.
Serial entrepreneur Chemla previously launched on-demand delivery platform Stuart in 2015, raising €22m pre-launch, before being acquired by La Poste. It now operates in over 100 cities with over 900 employees.
I lasted with my first boss no more than two hours. It was clear in my mind from that first day that I wanted to become an entrepreneur.
I had wanted to be a lawyer very early in my life. I went to Sorbonne, aged 18, the next year I won a debating competition and the following one I became president of debating. I like the acting, convincing people and speaking in front of people. The problem is that when you want to become a business lawyer, there is little contact with the client until you become a partner.
The first day I went into that office where I was due to begin came after seven years of studying law. At this business law firm, HR were expecting me, and I remember how impersonal it was and getting annoyed at having to wait at the entrance. At noon I left the company and told HR that I wasn’t coming back.
I had all these startup ideas but being an entrepreneur wasn’t a big thing back in 2012. I was 23 and when I told my friends and family, they thought I had got fired on the first day. I lived the startup life for 18 months. We had an office in the basement of the business school where I was, paying €100 a month until we raised our first round.
We raised €400,000 and I remember calling investors for €5,000 in trying to convince them and sell the story and vision. One guy said that he wouldn’t be investing and I called him back the following week. I didn’t want to let him go until he accepted. I told him that I had thought about our conversation and made some tweaks – and he then invested. It was a big victory for me; I’ve learnt that it’s not about the amount of money, it’s bringing people into your vision.
Part of the journey of a CEO and founder is about connecting your investors and staff and it never stops after that. I’ve been selling my ideas since the beginning and also being cautious of the deal you make.
With the mindset I've adopted as a lawyer, I always look at the terms very carefully and do contracts the proper way. It’s not by chance I got myself into fintech; it’s a highly regulated environment and when you mix regulation and tech, you can build a strong barrier to entry.
I have since raised 15 rounds across the four companies I’ve launched. Before Shares, I moved to the US in 2017 to start from scratch, with no contacts or visa in place, a company called Fithouse, which was set to take over several WeWork spaces by March 2020.
The pandemic hit and I spent eight months fighting. We lost all our revenues overnight in 2020. I had 100 employees and had to announce that the business would never reopen. It was a tough moment, as well as for friends who were investors. I told them, ‘I am 31, this is not my last company, I’m not sure when it will happen but I will give you shares in my next company.’
I’m putting all these passions, learnings and mistakes into launching Shares which is perfect in both timing, team, product and investors.
We know that Gen Z’s are really into finance. Why? Because they grew up with social media and what I see on Shares is that people like to connect with their friends and make decisions based on social signals. I don’t mean that they are right in every move they make but it’s always better together.
Until now we are officially launched in the UK before opening up to 27 countries at the end of the year. Out of 250,000 downloads, 45% of our users are female, which was a massive discovery. The average age on our platform is 22 and young women are curious about finance, want a piece of the pie and need to find the right place for it.
The idea was to create a safe environment and strict community guidelines have been implemented. Any profile on Shares has to be validated and fake profiles are impossible. Portfolios are monitored if someone is promoting a decision and the concept will protect users from fake information and news.
We have communities around discussions and interests. Our first was based on female CEOs and founders where we had a lot of traction. It’s about how you present yourself to the world and these are just the seeds before the magic happens, while having Venus and Serena Williams as shareholders and the faces of the company says a lot about what we are trying to achieve.
Like any startup, it’s like a wild animal in the first few years. You know where it starts but not where it ends. It evolves over time and I’d like to say that Shares will never finish as a product. We are adding assets all the time. We started with US stocks, but already we are working on NFTs, Cryptos and European stocks.
Sometimes you need to hire the right people and learn from them. You can learn from your boss or your direct employees. I’m a good arbiter, make fast decisions but I’m always learning and listening from people 10 times smarter than myself. At Shares we have staff who came from the likes of Revolut, Monzo and Bumble and all them are bringing serious expertise.
There are two types of founders, the first being those who are passionate about one topic or industry. The second are those who see things and want to build new solutions to solve problems, no matter what industry. I’m with the latter and over the last 10 years I have been in logistics, fitness and now fintech. I now see Shares as the future of finance.
My investor friends from Fithouse didn’t believe me but six months later I gave them shares in Shares. Entrepreneurship is a long journey and it’s all about people, while you can lose and failure is always on the table. But always make quick decisions and not push too much on something that won’t work and invest in people. That’s been my main learning.
Benjamin Chemla was speaking at the 2022 Web Summit in Lisbon
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