September 12, 2022

Will Rush, CEO and Founder of Stack

Will Rush is the CEO & Founder of Stack, the first cryptocurrency app authorized for under-18-year-olds in the United States. The startup is backed by Madrona Ventures (early investors in Amazon, Redfin, Apptio, and Rover, among others) and The Venture Collective (early investors in BlockFi and Axiom). It has been featured on Yahoo Finance, Nasdaq, MSN, Business Insider, Tech Crunch, Geekwire, and BuiltIn, among others. Will has spent 12 years in FinTech working with Sofi, Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, E*Trade, Copper Banking, and others. He built Stack to blend the most speculative but also exciting financial asset class (crypto) with financial education. Stack creates a safe place for teenagers to approach crypto and web3, while their parents sit in the passenger seat.

Julian: Hey, everyone. We're here with Will Rush on the behind company lines podcast. He is the CEO and founder of Stack. It is a legal trading platform for ages 13 plus we'll dive into what that means, especially for long term and, and overall in society. Cuz I think I have a lot of questions for Will, but Will thank you for coming on the show just to dive right in. 


Julian: What were you doing before you started. 


Will: Yeah. Hey, thanks for having me, Julian. Excited to be here and and talk more about the journey. Before I started Stack, I've worked in the financial service industry for a long time. So I worked with companies like Robinhood and Charles Schwaband Etrade and TD Ameritrade, a lot of stock and like banking platforms. 


Will: And thenmore recently I worked with a company actually based out of, up here in Seattle for copper and copper was. One of the first banks that was made specificallyf or teenagers and copper's mission was to have high school kids graduate withcredit score and learn how to save and do a lot of really cool financial literacy things for, yeah. 


Will: Yeah.What,  


Julian: what in regards to what you were working on with the, the other company, the, for my, the financial institutions, what was your capacity there? What were you. .  


Will: Yeah, so I,so at copper I led mm-hmm, the teen investing piece of the product. So it waslike, how do you get a, a high school to care about stock , which is always a,a fun problem to to be a part of. 


Will: And thenbefore that, I worked with companies like in a financial modeling capacity. Solike doing a lot of valuation work and stuff like that. So a little bit more ofa boring  


Julian: Excel job. Ilove, I love the idea of investment. My, my brothers just graduated high schooland are now in college. And I was talking to my mom about just ways that theycan, you know, build credit and things like that. 


Julian: I was like,you gotta get them a credit card and start using it for yourself. Don't let'em. But, you know, there's, there's, there's such a benefit to coming into,you know, that next phase of life with, you know, credit opportunity would loveto like dive into a little bit more about how you, you view investing for teensin particular and how you get them excited about something like that. 


Will: Yeah. Imean, the impetus for Stack, we, we basically started from one problemstatement, right? We said, There is more than the majority of us citizens thathave no direct relationship with investing at all. Right. And so that can beanybody from somebody who has a 401k plan that they just like, you know, don'tkind of passively exist with and they, they retire one day and they're like,oh, this is great. 


Will: I have abunch of money parked somewhere all the way to somebody that like has a really,really bad relationship with finance. And those can people that have bad creditscores or, you know, Don't understand the stock market or think that it's toocomplicated and the thesis was how do we move that population to becomeinvestors? 


Will: And how dowe do it in a way that's gonna make a long term impact? And of course, financesis a cruise ship. You can only move it one degree at a time. The way that wedecided to dive in, and of course, where my experience was, was really gettingmore young people involved. And kids are on TikTok, creating the majority ofcontent that we see. 


Will: They'regetting jobs and side hustles earlier than they ever have because oftechnology. And they're hacking their way into crypto and many other places onthe internet. there is a huge opportunity, I think, for someone to educatesomeone, to create a safe and secure place for teens to exist and really do itand, and understand how they're different as a user base, then, you know,myself as a, you know, 30 something that thinks obviously very differently  


Julian: than, than ateenager. 


Julian: What, whatwould you say like is the importance of getting teenagers in either, you know,crypto trading, which what you're doing with. Or just trading in general orstocks in general investment. 


Will: Yeah. Imean, starting early, we do a lot of just like education about how startingearly can be a massive difference. I mean, one stale throw out there is if youinvest at the age of 15 compared to investing at the age of 20. You have athree times higher amount of money just by the time you retire. And so it just,it shows like, you know, you can basically start where most people do out ofcollege. 


Will: When youhave a job and you have an income and you know, you're parking your moneysomewhere, but starting in high school, when you're forming a lot more habitswe think from a thesis perspective is gonna make a huge difference. And thenthe second piece of starting early is really all about some tax advantages thatyou can get. 


Will: We we open UT a accounts for all these teenagers. And so that allows them to earn tax freeup to $2,300 a year is the IRS exclusion. And so, you know, most kids probablyaren't, aren't earning more than that anyway, but it's a cool way to save themsome money and and really kind of create a safe place for them to go makemistakes or. 


Will: You know,invest in something that they don't understand and, and hopefully be moreeducated about it by the time they do have a job.  


Julian: Yeah. Ilove, I love what you said there about creating a. Safe space for creating and,and having mistakes. Like, I, I feel that experience is such a great teacher.And it kinda leads me into, to my next question of, you know, outside of the Oobvious financial benefits that comes with, you know, starting early ininvestment and stocks. 


Julian: What aresome other benefits that either you've seen or that you kind of predict for,you know, this maybe cohort or group of people that's gaining? I'm sure you.Starting early, you know, in terms of like society cultural and, and so on. 


Will: Yeah. So wedid a study actually of our team parent group. And so they're like rightaround, kinda like mid forties is the average age, which means that they werein the nineties really early adopters, the internet. And what we asked themwas, what age did you first access the internet? The ones that accessed theinternet during that early adoption phase before they were 18 years. 


Will: Had a 16times higher network, 16, by the time  


Julian: you were intheir forties now that's that's how big was the yeah. Which is crazy, rightpool. Just outta currency.  


Will: The sample poolwas I think so we're trying to get it above 500. I think we've done it with370. Wow.  


Julian: Sostatistically significant for sure. Wow. 


Julian: So, so interms of just like giving teenagers access, how does that work? Because, youknow, I'm assuming most. Well, actually, most things you can't have accessuntil you're 18. Right. How do you go about giving teenagers access to, youknow, trading and stocks and things like that? It sounds like with, with Stack,you focus more on crypto, but with copper it was stock and investment in thatcapacity. 


Will: Yeah. So thelegal way to give any under 18 year old access to a financial product isthrough this UTMA account. And that's the uniform, the uniform transfer tominors act. And UTMA accounts. I mean, they've been around forever how they'vebeen used and how they were used. Certainly when I was in high school was like,your parents could set aside a mutual fund or something for you. 


Will: And when youreach the age of majority, it transfers into your name. And, and what peoplehave started to ask for the last few years, for the first time. What if wecould actually give those teens access and education and have them learn handson with real money. And so that's really what copper and a couple othercompanies step and Greenlight, and a lot of other companies in the space havedone. 


Will: And we werereally the first ones to say, okay, they've done an amazing job of addingaccess for teenagers to banking and stock products, but no one has reallytackled web three and crypto. And this is happening at the same time when kidsare using their Instagram as their financial advisor, their TikTok. 


Will: Cause they,I, you know, and so it just felt like a place. Yeah, there you go. I mean, youknow, there's obviously some great information, you know, on social media, butthere's also the Kim Kardashian mean coin that, you know, you get sold and goesnowhere and you lose all your money. Right. And. What if we could help sort ofcreate a safer and, and better environment for them to start. 


Julian: Yeah. Yeah.Tell, tell us a little bit about the education component. What, what, where areyou investing in the education? Is it simply, you know, how to, and, and whatis the process and mechanism, or is it more, more detailed? Like these are themechanisms of trading and stocks and web three. I always feel like for. 


Julian: Just beforeyou answer the question, you know, giving someone who's younger, actually asmuch information as possible for them to kind of absorb and then, you know,figure out through experience is at least for me was, was the best way forlearning and progressing quickly. How do you tackle educating your user groupwith Stack? 


Will: Oh, Itotally agree. I mean the, the really high level takeaways that we've learnedabout teenagers and how they learn. Number one, unsurprisingly rewarding themin real dollars to educate themselves makes a difference. Right? I mean, sothe, the first form of our app, we, we put out honestly like very underwhelmingeducational content, and we said, let's literally just pay these kids to takequiz questions basically. 


Will: Right. Andwhat we learned. Because, especially, you know, high school kids now they're soincentive based. They're so reward based. We had over 70% of our users thatwere actually engaging with this, like in my opinion, very sure. Yeah.Underwhelming educational content, right. I mean, we knew we could do better. 


Will: We knew thatwe could make it more engaging and we were really just testing whether thisreward behavior worked. So that was step one was like, okay, this rewardbehavior works. And there's plenty of other companies that have sort of donesome level of. But number two, how do you create educational content thatactually interfaces with teen users more natively? 


Will: And so thatwas making it look a little bit more like social media content, right. Reallybite size information. Something that they could swipe their way through andjust get one really quick lesson. Yeah. Maybe once a day. And so doing a littlebit of that mixed with each other, we basically, we do educational reels. 


Will: Yeah. Thatare almost like Instagram reels that teach you one concept. And then we have avery, very short quiz at the end. That's like three questions and you can earnreal free crypto, every single quiz that you take. And if you take a quiz everysingle day on our app, you actually get the app for free. 


Julian: Wow. So, sotypically it's, I mean, so many things there with the incentive bays in the, inthe, within creating kind of a social media user experience how has that userexperience been successful? I'm assuming it's been extremely successful. And,and tell me a little bit more about the traction that you're gaining. 


Julian: Now that youyou're kind of. It sounds like you've created a really strong, solid product.You've gone through a lot of adaptation and iteration and now it's you know,now it's time for growing and I'm sure adding new products, what kind oftraction are you? Are you facing now? 


Will: Yeah, so weactually, we, we stayed in private beta for a significant amount of time. Andthat was really because. You know, a lot of teen products, they're verycyclical, probably unsurprisingly, they follow a school schedule, schoolcalendar. And so we sort of knew we had like this go back to school period,which is actually coming up right now. 


Will: Right. Andwe said to ourselves, if we can spend some time just incubating what kids careabout, how to get them to engage in this sort of hybrid environment where one,they can just trade crypto whenever they want. Right. They have their parents,co-sign the account. Their parent is also attached and the parent can decide ifthey wanna approve certain things or if they wanna give their kit the keys. 


Will: And thenthere's this educational platform that ties into it all and says, You know, youbasically are gonna pay this monthly fee for trading. There's no like volumecosts. There's no deposit costs, there's no other fees. And that fee is turnsinto a free platform. The more you educate yourself. And so it literally incentivizeseducation and that that's, I mean, it's taken a while just to even get to thatlevel of our platform. 


Will: I think westill have so much to learn about how we educate users more effectively. Ireally want to do just in time learning, you know, where you can tell someonewhat Bitcoin is the second before you're about to buy it, you know? So I thinkthere's some to-dos there, but you know, we get smarter every day and, and justto give you some traction numbers, we, so we had a wait list of about 6,000users. 


Will: And then wehad a subgroup of that, that 6,000 that are using the app right now. You know,teaching us a lot about where there is engagement and, and where we can getbetter. And then of course, parents too, you know, parents attaching themselvesto those teen accounts is, is a whole nother, you know yeah. 


Will: Part of ourbattle. And then we will open up probably like late September of this  


Julian: too. Wow.That that's incredible. And, and so. So just, just to clarify a little bit forthe platform experience, is it that they have to educate first and then theycan trade. And then also, is there always an approval process for a parent? 


Julian: Are theyalways involved? What's the, what's the typical like user experience. If I'm,you know, a teen signing up for this platform or convincing my parents overdinner saying, Hey, I swear I can, you know, I want to trade in crypto. I thinkI know more than the average person, you know, get me on this platform andthen, you know, I'll make all this. 


Will: yeah, it'sall up to the team parent relationship. So parents you know, obviously canaccess all the same. Mm-hmm parts of the platform as the team themselves.Parents can say, I want, prove everything. I want approve nothing. Or I want toapprove things that are over a hundred dollars or a thousand dollars orwhatever it is. 


Will: And so theyset, they set the the stakes parents have to do, what's called know yourcustomer mm-hmm and that's a legal requirement of any United States financialproduct. So they have to put in their address and their birthday and theirsocial security number and all those things. And then once they've done that,the team can, let's say the parent sets up auto approval, meaning, you know,they, they let their team do anything. 


Will: Their teamcan go trade, they can do whatever they want. They don't have to take theeducation part of our platform. Again, the reward based education, we've seen70% of our user base use it. So I think. You know, just incentivizing that andattaching it to our revenue model has been a really cool, yeah. 


Will: Learningearly on, on how we can actually get kids to educate themselves and say to aparent, Hey, you sure you can open a Coinbase account for your kid? A, theiraccount often gets frozen because they realize that it's a teen, you know, sortof hacking their parents' information. And B it's 0% educational. 


Will: Right. Andthere's just them, you know, investing what they see on their. Or you can cometo us and you can say, Hey, I'd like a level of education that, you know, I'mbasically paying a subscription fee a month to give my teen access, but alsoto, yeah. What, what are,  


Julian: what do yousee like the typical uses or I, I guess for me, you know, I, I. 


Julian: Backgroundwise, you know, I worked at from a young age at 14, you know, getting approvalfrom the school and everything. That's kind of how I, you know, first,initially was introduced to like income and and earning, you know, I didn'thave a, a what do they call it? What. God an allowance. There is that's notsomething I was super familiar with, but what, what do you see in terms of howthese teenagers are funding their accounts? 


Julian: Is it, youknow, the hustles that they're working, is it their parents giving them an lotamount of money and are they growing it? You know, what do you see? You know,in terms of the funding of the accounts, what's that experience look like? 


Will: Yeah. Imean, so you definitely can have a parent, a lot, a certain amount of moneyevery month as part of your allowance. You also can attach a team bank accountto it, right? So you can completely self-fund. As a teenager, you can say, Ihad a summer job that, you know, I earned amount of money I wanna put part ofin Bitcoin, you know? 


Will: And sothat's, that's certainly something that we enable how you fund. To us,certainly less important. We do teach a fair amount of periodic savings on theplatform. And so that means agnostic to the amount of money that you're puttingin just getting in the habit of putting something is something that we, youknow, mm-hmm think that you should be doing. 


Will: And theearlier on that you do it probably the better. But yeah, I mean, every team isdifferent. We also do financial literacy workshops. That's our acquisitionchannel for all of these teen. And so we actually show up to high schools youknow, most often like investing or finance clubs and we put on a financialliteracy workshop and we teach, you know, I loved your story about likelearning different incomes at age 14. 


Will: A lot ofthese kids, you know, are taught their whole lives, go eat ramen noodles, get agood job and save your money, which is actually a horrible lesson to learnearly. What you should be learning is, is have multiple income streams is topark your money in certain places to go to that extra layer of inertia, to be,to make your money, make more money for you. 


Will: And so we doa lot of education.  


Julian: Yeah, no, Ilove how, how you kind of. You know, the perspective shift, because I was toldthe same thing, save my money, put it into this thing that I'm not really incontrol of growing. And for me, I there's. Oh, and I think a lot of teenagers,they just have like a natural instinctual hesitation to that, cuz it doesn'tnecessarily make a lot of sense, especially with, you know, life. 


Julian: I feel likewhen, when you attack it and, and you know, you go through this trial errorprocess, it bears. Fruit, whether it's opportunity relationships or what haveyou. So yeah, really, really excited about the, the perspective shift and howdo you think that's gonna change? Like how companies grow? 


Julian: Because I, Ifeel like a lot of companies are pairing this educational component for theircustomer base and, and user. Along with the products that they use and not onlyas an acquisition funnel, but as a way to, you know I, I guess almost in a way,upskilled our user. How do you think that is? Do you think that's gonna changeand are we gonna go through a huge shift in companies doing that primarily, oris it more of a long road in your mind? 


Will: Yeah. Imean, I think there is a massive opportunity for the private sector to educatecurriculum, as we all know moves.  


Julian: No, not  


Will: very quicklyand so, you know, there, there is almost a burden to bear right. Of the worldchanges so much every day that education needs to change with it. Right. And weneed to continue to educate users. 


Will: Anincreasingly digitized world, how all of these different things are functioningand how they. And, and giving them technology in their own hands to, to trythings yeah. And make mistakes and do all of that is of course incrediblyimportant. I think the really good ones that you'll see that pair educationinto their app follow the money, the ones that are actually putting theirdollar down and saying either I'll pay a user to educate themselves. 


Will: I'll givethings to a user for free for educating themselves. People companies give a lotof things for free or money away in a lot of different instances. Sometimesit's to share on your social media, sometimes it's to refer friends sometimesit's to do a lot of different things, right. But educating is rarely one ofthem. 


Will: I think thereally good ones are starting to build education into their revenue model toreally double down  


Julian: on, on beingan education. Yeah, no, that's, that's, that's huge. The company I run rightnow, we're focusing on, on this other part of our business where we're buildingmore of a community around education, especially within, you know, engineeringand web three and just kind of fostering a community that. 


Julian: So sustainitself with, with active learning especially because yeah, you're right.Education moves so slow. I hate rediscovering things about history that Ithought were one way and then are another on TikTok. And I'm just like, ah,I've got the clown filter on. But yeah, it, it's, it's an interestingexperience now with education, do you think, do you think the private sector'sultimately gonna disrupt education into a way that it advances it more quickly?


Will: Yeah. Oh,absolutely. I mean, I actually think that it's already happening in some ways.I mean, you could argue that that documentaries on Netflix that, you know,shorts, educational videos on TikTok, you know, wherever you look they'redoing, just as much to educate a teenager as school curriculum is to be honest,you know, and how much of it. 


Will: Is arethings that you take with you for the rest of your life? I mean, you know, Ilearned some financial hacks on TikTok that I remember forever. And, you know,I don't remember what the, you know, what Mesopotamia or some of the like fifthgrade history lessons or yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, so I think there's,there's some practicality to to what the world around you is educating throughsome of these  


Julian: medias. 


Julian: And justcurious, and maybe this falls into the next question. But one, you. I, I guesswhere's the control in this information, because I know a lot of people have atat least myself just being skeptical of where information's coming from and thereferences and the studies that go behind certain pieces of information. 


Julian: Where doesthe responsibility lie in terms of the control of that information and thevalidation that that is, you know, absolutely correct. You know, with, withmath, it's a little bit more cut and cut and dry. But with other bits ofinformation, I think it could be a little bit, you know gray within the grayarea. 


Julian: But where,where is the control within the quality of that information? 


Will: I think thatit all comes down. I mean, you mentioned in the, in the beginning aboutexperiential learning, I think experiential learning is everything, right? Imean man, what if the CU curriculum was thrown out at the window and you tookan 11th grader and happened, start their own business. Right. how educationalwould that be? 


Will: Right? Causethey would actually go through the block and tackling of what that. And so I thinkwhen it comes to investing in what we're teaching, you know, these financiallessons, what's so great about it is we could be an educationally platform.Nobody would really care. You have to be able to go take the educa, the bitesize education that we're giving you. 


Will: Yeah. And goexercise it. Right. Go, go learn what the technology behind the Bitcoinblockchain is. Yeah. And then go use it, you know? I, I think that's really.Education needs to go is, is, is teaching small things that are reinforcedthrough your actual experience?  


Julian: Yeah, Iagree. I agree. What do you, what are some of the biggest risks that Stackfaces? 


Will: gettingparents to to, to feel like, you know, they can trust us, I think is numberone, to be honest, I, I, you know, I mean, they see teen crypto on our websiteor, you know, and our talk or whatever it is. And I think parent, we still havea lot to do with parents of saying, Hey, we're the good guys. You know, turnedoff certain product features like, you know, one that we did was crypto on andoff ramps where 98% of all crypto fraud is we turned that off as a featurebecause we said the teens really need to send crypto to external wallets off,probably not. 


Will: And that'swhere, you know, the immutable ledger is experiencing all of its fraud. And somaking like those top level decisions, just to make our platform more secureand safe for teenagers, you know, we have to now go educate parents that wemade them, you know, and that we are the good guys and that we're there to bethe first platform where their kid, you know, experiences crypto, and then theycan go graduate to Coinbase or Robin hood or whatever. 


Will: But, youknow, starting here is, is much safer and better than, you know, just kindof.  


Julian: It's youknow, with, with a huge, you know, during COVID, especially a lot of people gotonto these platforms and we saw just so many different hosts of new, I don'twanna say issues, but just, just new overall scenarios that I think the legacyof trading and investment wasn't ready for. 


Julian: And so Ilove that you're making those high level decisions to create an environmentwhere it's. You, you kind of have the, the bumpers up, you know, if you werebullying, you kind have the bumpers up, but in a way that you're still movingforward and learning and progressing, which, you know, I think is, isincredible. 


Julian: What's thelong term vision for Stack. 


Will: If we doeverything that we are meant to do. I think that we will create a hugegeneration of investors that understand the latest technology being theblockchain. It's different use cases being crypto NFTs, you know, so many thingsout there. And that we're probably, even if it's just, again, one degree at atime steering the cruise. 


Will: We're slowlymaking a few curious teenagers that might have never approached yeah. Theblockchain or crypto without us. Mm-hmm, letting them approach it in a reallyeasy, simple fashion. And who knows, maybe they end up working in for a webthree company. Maybe they end up building part of the future for web three andits ecosystem. 


Will: I mean, howmany cool stories could you have created in the nineties if you had given abunch of teenagers education on the internet? Yeah, it would've been aprogress. So it just, you know, I, I think there's so many. Yeah. So, so. Oh,man, it's you, you have the potential to, to give amazing stories. And sothat's, that's what we're passionate about. 


Will: I mean, ifStack fails, if we never make money, if we never have an eggs mm-hmm and if wenever do any of those things, what we will always go to sleep you know, with a,with a full heart is we've shown up to over a hundred high schools and giventhat financial literacy workshop,  


Julian: and thatmeans there's so much, I don't wanna say regret, but. 


Julian: There's somuch, you know, yearning for me to have learned that you know, that I'mlearning that I have learned early in my twenties that I'm like, man, if, if Iwas only set with the information just like prior and like use that time I had,because you're stuck at school, like you might as well learn. 


Julian: And, andthose who care to be dedicated students Will invest time or at least, you know,we'll show up and learn that information giving them the opportunity to do so Ithink is just leads to just compound. Positive effects just over and overagain. And so yeah man, I, I love what you're doing and, and the bonus questionI like to ask on my guests is what books or people have influenced you? 


Julian: The. 


Will: Oh man.Well, I'm reading the trillion dollar coach right now, which is an amazingbook. So I highly suggest that one. You know, I think like the classics that,that everybody, well, if you're in your twenties, I'll plug this book. Cause Ithink this is probably the book that changed my life. The most it's called thedefining decade and it's written by Meg J. 


Will: Who's apsychologist. She only sees people in their twenties. And it's a lot aboutjust, just having different experiences collecting data, trying new things.Mm-hmm, trying new jobs without I think kind of really living and breathingthesis of this book. I don't think I ever would become a founder. 


Will: I don'tthink I ever would've started my own company. And so it really just, I think,opens up the, the truth about who you are as a person and, and how you can testthe world for  


Will: theday.  


Julian: I love it,man. I love it. Well, I definitely, I love asking that question cuz it gives mehomework to do. And so I add just to my reading list and, and I can collectdifferent information. 


Julian: So Iappreciate that answer. Before we, before we end the conversation here, wherecan we find you? Where can we support Stack you know, channels, get, get yourplugs. 


Will: I love it.So our website is trystack T R Y S T A C k.io. So you can check us out there.You'll see, probably two things I'll I'll throw out there. One is you can getaccess to our beta directly from our website. And then number two is you canactually, if if you're a parent of a teen or someone who knows a teen or ateen, the. 


Will: You can setup for our ambassador program and that's the way to get us to visit your highschool. Yeah. Put on a really cool financial literacy workshop. And then wealso give you some rewards in the app itself for becoming an ambassador. Sothat's cool place. And then feel free to check out our Instagram and Tiktok's. 


Will: We're justat T R Y dot S T A C K . Trystack.  


Julian: Cool,man.  


Julian: Well, thankyou so much. Well, I really appreciate the conversation and joining the show.Yeah, I hope to see you see you out there and, and I hope to see the, the appgrow. 


Will: Thank you somuch for having me, Julian. And it was a pleasure.

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