Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Jannick Malling, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Public. Transcripts for other episodes can be found here.
Transcript – #149 Jannick Malling, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Public | Favorite Books, Lessons Learned as a Serial Founder, Superpowers, and More
Daniel Scrivner (00:00):
Jannick, I am so thrilled to finally be able to have you on. Thank you so much for spending some time and coming on with me.
Jannick Malling (00:06):
Of course, Daniel. My pleasure.
Daniel Scrivner (00:08):
So, where I wanted to start ... and this is a profile of you ... is, if you could just share a quick sketch of your background, and the super challenging way I'm going to frame this question is, the 60-second version of your story, if you can try and tell that.
Jannick Malling (00:22):
So, built my first website when I was 13 back when Adobe Flash was still cool, so I've been a tech nerd ever since, but I actually found my way into very early fintech, 10 years before fintech was even really a word; one of the sort of first online trading companies back in Europe called Saxo Bank. Started that when I was 17, so, very, very young. Which also means that I'm one of these little bit odd characters who's actually not that old, but have been in the space for decades, actually. After that, started another company which was in London, ultimately built a lot of interesting things there. We sort of started it back in '08, so it had a very turbulent start to it, but a good ending. And then moved to New York around six years ago ... right immediately after the Brexit vote, actually ... and started Public, which I'm still running as co-CEO, overseeing product design and engineering, for the most part.
Daniel Scrivner (01:24):
And, yeah, you just touched on it there. You're the co-founder and co-CEO of Public. I wanted to ask how you describe what you're building ... which I know is always a challenging question ... and what will be different about the world if you're wildly successful? And in this case, I think Public is very successful today, but I'm sure in many ways you feel like you're just getting started.
Jannick Malling (01:43):
Yeah, so, we're building the investing platform where you can invest in everything. And to the back half of your question ... which, a very interesting framing, by the way ... I think we are moving from a world where what used to be considered the public markets I guess historically were mainly the equities markets, and then later maybe some fixed income markets which sort of have been forgotten about for the last [inaudible 00:02:14], and now they're kind of coming roaring back. We can touch more on that.
But, really, we see as Public to expand the definition of what constitutes a public market. Our mission statement quite literally is to make the public markets work for all people, and so we see it as being up to us to push the envelope in terms of how you might define a public market. I think, this day and age, a lot of people will certainly argue that crypto is considered a public market, and really continuing to double-click on that definition is important to us. So, for that reason, today on Public, you can invest in stocks, in ETFs fractionally. We offer crypto, we offer fractional alternative investments such as art and collectibles, and just yesterday actually, we announced that we're going to be offering treasuries as well in the form of ... starting in the form of T-Bills, which, like I said, is having somewhat of a comeback in this kind of macro environment.
And doing that for all people means doing it for all the people in US and Europe and beyond, right? We see a world where there's going to be 250, 300, maybe 400 million people in the US and Europe that have an investing app on their home screen, and are able to very easily engage and access these markets, but also doing it in a way where that doesn't just become like a transactional thing for them, but that there's a sense of community, that we constantly give them context to help them actually be the best investors that they can possibly be. And so everything that we do at Public really goes through that lens, and through that filter, and that largely is how we inform our roadmap.
Daniel Scrivner (04:02):
You know, you touched on that at the beginning, but you're clearly a serial founder. You know, you've been the co-founder on the founding team of CRH Group, Tradable ... maybe I'm getting that right, maybe it's Tradable ... and now Public.com. What are the biggest lessons you've learned now as you've been a founder multiple times? You know, I've interviewed multiple founders on the podcast; I always feel like there's something different that they've learned by kind of doing this multiple times. And maybe just a secondary question would be, what do you think has changed the most about your approach or philosophy over time, being a founder multiple times?
Jannick Malling (04:36):
That's interesting, because I actually have found myself recently also just thinking back to a lot of the ... So, maybe take a step back. As a designer, I think a lot about the hypotheses that I had, and I'd spend a lot of time kind of validating those, and the sort of trading version is a little bit before you place a trade, you should have a good idea of your take profit, like where would you double down, or your stop loss when you kill it and move on to something else, and anything that happens in between that, that's the work that you need to kind of figure out.
And I've always had a lot of these frameworks early on that I think I just naturally wanted to disprove in an effort to learn, and so I always ... I actually found myself, in the early days, always assuming that I'm wrong, that I don't know enough. On the one hand, that drove a lot of curiosity in my earlier endeavors. And as I've gotten older, and I've gotten a million things wrong, like most people, a lot of the framework thinking I've found has actually been really solid, which therefore has been quite surprising to me, especially ...
Public obviously is a much bigger company than the previous ones, and so that's really a company where a lot of those frameworks have been stress-tested, and I always defaulted to thinking, "Ah, this is a little bit too simple. Let's figure out people who could do it better," et cetera, et cetera, and those certainly exist ... we've hired a lot of those here at Public ... but there are also many times when I've actually ... thinking back now, a little bit more mature maybe, and sort of a little bit more calm, I suppose, than in my younger days, and realizing, "Okay, that was actually not too far off the mark."
And so, I think the one thing to then summarize it that I've learned, which then is the more cliché way of saying it, potentially, but it's really to kind of trust your instincts; and this goes for strategy as well as product. I saw this tweet the other day that one ounce of product intuition is worth a thousand AP tests, or something like that, right?
And I think really, our industry, tech in general has certainly moved into a place where a lot of things have become more quantitative, and a little bit more all about the data and about the numbers, and frankly, a person that will geek out on data as much as the next person, but I think what sometimes can be a little bit overlooked in that development is also just like, hey, go with your intuition, because your intuition is something that is always evolving. Every single decision you make, whether you actively think about it or not, actually helps shape your intuition. You are the product of all your previous experiences. And I think, when you actively think about that, it gets you to a place where you maybe trust your instincts, your intuition a little bit more than you otherwise would.
Daniel Scrivner (08:02):
Yeah. I mean, I love the way you describe that, because it frames intuition almost as like this internal algorithm that we all have that's being trained all the time, you know, if we're kind of honest about it, with everything that we're doing. But yeah, obviously you need that ability to be able to lean on it, and be unafraid to do that, and maybe unapologetic.
Jannick Malling (08:20):
And honestly, right now, as we sit here, everybody is very fascinated with the developments in AI and GPT and everything else, and those are super impressive, and I'm super excited about it, but what we tend to forget is, if we consider that to be impressive, and that's sort of an impressive mechanism, then consider the human brain, which is still infinitely more complex. And that goes back to this internal algorithm, which is one way to describe your own intuition, and that's just something that, yeah, I feel like is a little bit maybe overlooked [inaudible 00:08:58].
Daniel Scrivner (08:58):
Yeah. No, I love that frame. One of my favorite things to ask guests about is favorite books. Some people have a lot of time to read, or make a lot of time to read, some people don't. Typically, what I'm looking for is kind of either books that have had an impact on you, or books that you go to for tactics, that you regularly kind of reflect back on for tactics, strategy. So, I'm curious what some of your favorite books are ... they can be in any category, don't have to be business books, can be fiction, whatever ... and what books or ideas from books you think have had the biggest impact on you?
Jannick Malling (09:25):
So, you mentioned tactics, so my mind immediately jumps to two things: The Messy Middle by our friend Scott Belsky, which is awesome; highly, highly relatable, and just all-out fantastic. Even the frameworks that he comes up with are some that ... I mean, he's an investor in Public, and was one of our earliest users, and have been incredibly helpful over the years in many different respects, both to me in life and some engagements he's had with our broader team as well, and he just has these ... He's coining these great frameworks, again, which I think are really solid, but are yet quite simple.
One is ... I'm not sure if I'm allowed to swear on this podcast, but DY--
Daniel Scrivner (10:17):
Please, go ahead.
Jannick Malling (10:20):
DYFJ, Do Your Fucking Job, which I feel like ... He wrote that book, I guess in 2016, straight in the middle of the bull market, the age of abundance, whatever people call it, and like most great artists, maybe not quite appreciated as much in the time that it's written relative to a few years out. Here we are, the markets have turned, everybody has to roll up their sleeves and do their fucking job. And I think that's something that ... Those kind of concepts are just kind of fascinating.
And by the way, if you haven't read The Messy Middle, please do. The DYFJ concept is much less arrogant than how I probably portrayed here. Sorry, Scott, if I didn't do it justice.
The second one I would argue, in terms of impact, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, obviously another classic, and so not maybe a super novel choice, but I think that was maybe the most ... one of the most raw sort of tales. Again, in terms of thinking about things to relate to, the struggle poem, that really is borderline mental therapy for a lot of founders, and there was something about ... There was something taboo, prior to that, I feel, about admitting if you were struggling as a founder, and so after all that came out, it started to become a little bit ... much more, frankly ... accepted to show your vulnerabilities and embrace them frankly, right?
Chris Sacca is another person to talk a lot about this stuff. And again, those are concepts that I'm a big, big fan of. I'm super, super ... I always over-index people on self-awareness more than anything else, and this concept that vulnerability equals strength ... It takes a strong character to say things the way that they are, and to really open themselves up and just not beat around the bush too much, but also not risking too much what people might think of them in a weak moment, and that's a concept that I just remember from that book specifically, and the sort of ... The whole journey that Ben goes through, I think is just something that a lot of people can relate to. And it's not this tale of building a hundred-billion-dollar-company like you see in the ...
The TV shows tend to be about those kinds of companies, and the really, really crazy stories, which also makes them unrelatable at the end of the day. Hollywood adds another 30% on top, and then you have something that's great entertainment, but that you can't learn as much from, and so I do really appreciate these raw intake kind of anecdotes from folks that's been through very, very successful outcomes, but are also not afraid to provide a deep, kind of of vulnerable, authentic glance into what the journey was actually all about.
Daniel Scrivner (13:33):
Yeah. We actually had Scott Belsky on the show to talk about The Messy Middle, so we'll link to that episode. Incredible, incredible book, and he's amazing. And you bringing up the kind of ... what DYFJ, Do Your Fucking Job piece, reminds me, it made me think of Frank Slootman's book Amp It Up, which I think is another just incredibly direct ... Clearly, he has a direct leadership style, but I think all of that book is kind of a wonderful meditation on, what does it look like? How do you create an organization to be able to do that? Yeah. Fantastic books.
One of the other things I love talking with guests about is their approach to productivity and performance. This may seem a little well-trodden, but really, the way that I think about it is like, if you have large enough goals, at some point you have to engage in the exercise of ruthless prioritization of your time, your priorities, and just making sure that you're kind of geared up and can be on all the time. How do you think about allocating your time, prioritizing your work, and do you have any daily habits or practices around that?
Jannick Malling (14:27):
A lot of daily habits. Typically, actually, they revolve around family more than me personally, so ...
Daniel Scrivner (14:34):
As they should.
Jannick Malling (14:34):
So, obviously that's a hard constraint that you're going to work around, but actually, there's a lot of truth to that, because for me, I use habits as a way of taking care of everything in my family and on the personal front so that I can flourish as much as possible in what I do with Public. I don't have any specific habits around Public. Obviously, we've got ... I know about processes, and with meetings with different parts, and this, that, or the other, but the Public journey, as you know, has always just been very wild, and frankly, no two months have looked the same. So, to the extent that I've tried to create any habits, they've probably quickly been broken because, you know ...
Then we've sort of been through COVID, and then there was GameStop, and other meme stocks, and there's just always been something, right? So, I think I've used habits more as I've gotten older and realize that there's only 24 hours in the day, and so trying ... maybe failing, but certainly trying to take my sleep more seriously as well, carving out enough of a time block, and then what happens within that time block is sort of less habitual, you could say.
Daniel Scrivner (15:57):
To ask maybe a different question, one of the things you brought up there that I think would be amazing to talk about is volatility; you know, your experience at the company being all over the place. So, maybe to ask a different question, how have you gotten comfortable with that, and how ... especially just knowing you have a family. You have this kind of high-pressure job. You need to go home and be able to disconnect. Anything that's worked for you or been helpful there, kind of end-of-day?
Jannick Malling (16:22):
Yeah, so, I think I've benefited tremendously from actually being in and around this industry since I was 17 years old, so I kind of grew up with it, and I sort of don't know a, quote/unquote "job" that didn't have that level, and ... To give the audience ... I started my career in 2005, so, I think two years in already Bear Stearns, another Yearly Men, and then from there, a bunch of other crazy stuff. So, I think I got well trained in compartmentalization very early on.
But it's funny, because in the early days ... You know, when you're 17, 18, early 20s, you don't have anything. You've got friends and you've got your family, as in your parents and so forth, but you're just much more kind of caught up in it, and as you start to have other very real responsibilities in the world outside of your company, you've got to compartmentalize a little bit more.
And that's been the thing for me, compartmentalization. And I don't know if I've been a little bit of a natural at it, or I was just trained in it really, really early. It's probably the latter, to tell you the truth, and so it just becomes ingrained, and then you sort of, like most other things ... It becomes a little bit like riding a bike, to be honest, and I think that's helped me a lot in the Public journey as well; having been through all those kinds of experience. The dollar Swiss peg that was removed back in 2015, which now reminds me of a lot of the stuff that you see in the cryptocurrency space and so forth.
So, I think it ... I certainly started my career fairly early, and probably a number of things that I missed out on as a result, but I do think that I reaped some benefits from that at this point by just having seen a number of things that can help me have a slightly different perspective on all these events as they unfold.
Daniel Scrivner (18:24):
Yeah. Yeah, it feels like part of the key there is acclimating to the environment so that you're used to it, so that your default isn't to be reactive, and you can begin to be proactive and just be in the moment, and try to lose some of that emotionality.
Jannick Malling (18:38):
Daniel Scrivner (18:39):
I'd love to ask two final questions. One that I always like to as is around unique edges and superpowers. You have this really fascinating background where you clearly have a business mind. You've co-founded multiple companies. You also are very design-minded, and have spent a lot of time designing. How do you think about your edges or superpowers, and how those show up day to day?
Jannick Malling (19:01):
Yeah. I mean, certainly having the sort of mind of a designer, for better or worse, for lack of better wording, it's just very impactful across the bar, but definitely a huge net positive, and I think it doesn't just relate to product design ... designing UI, UX, mapping out customer journeys and all that stuff ... but I think the sort of design thinking concept stretches actually far into strategy. I think there's a super interesting overlap with finance. I often do find myself at a little bit of an odd profile sometimes, because it's sort of like a designer by heart, but just grown and raised in finance from a very early age, and I think with that it's really ... Sometimes visualizing ...
This goes back to the intuition part, maybe, but how changing a few pixels on a screen is going to change numbers in an income statement, and there's a lot of stuff that has to happen in between. But, I think because I've always been sort of coming at it from both edges, that's really one thing that I think allows me to make decisions very, very quickly that I have a decent amount of confidence around, and a small enough error rate that, if I can make those decisions quickly enough, ultimately will be pushing in the right direction because the sort of success rate there, I guess, is high enough that even if it's the wrong decision, you can iterate on it super quickly, et cetera.
But I think that end-to-end view is something that I try to also continue to nurture. I try to stay super hands-on ... I think I am fairly hands-on on all our product design decisions, and partly because I enjoy it, quite frankly. I can't kind of help myself. I think most of the designers at Public know that at this point. But I also think it helps to provide that super high-level kind of perspective, because I think, as an IC designer in a team, you're maybe looking a little bit more directly at just the job to be done, what's on the ticket, what's the use of story, how do I immediately achieve that; and in a perfect world, that rolls up to some sort of an OKR, and that rolls into strategy, et cetera, et cetera, but it's very few companies where all of that map 100% directly perfectly up in this beautiful tree.
I think that's one of the things that, maybe as a first-time founder, you would think that you need to operate at that level to be successful, and I think it's not the case. No companies, frankly, that I know of, have that. And then, you know, it is helpful to be the person who can lend a second set of eyes and really see how moving pixels around can create a different financial outcome for the company.
Daniel Scrivner (22:08):
No, I love that. It's really taking those two sides of your brain, or those two kind of perspectives, those two powers, and putting those together, and making sure that they connect. Final question that I always like to ask is what advice you would give to your younger self if you could go back in time. You know, you talked about starting working super early, and so if you could go back to yourself in childhood, when you were in college, when you were in high school, at the beginning of your career, is there anything you would tell yourself that you could carry forward? A reminder, words of advice, anything?
Jannick Malling (22:38):
I mean, one thing, frankly ... The first thing that comes to mind, which I sort of touched on, is actually trust and cultivate your intuition as much as possible, and the more you cultivate it, the more you should trust it. And I think there's a lot of self-doubt in the journey, and some of that is just being very self-aware of that stuff, and I think that is how you learn, that is how you improve on yourself. That's how you make progress.
But there's maybe also, I don't know, 20%, 30%, 40% too much of it, which ends up being wasted mental energy that could go into other things. And at the end of the day, any company, the most finite resources is not money, it's actually potentially not even time, it's mental energy, at the end of the day, right? That is the ultimate most constrained kind of resource at the root level, and so whatever you can do to actually optimize that, and really ensure that you spend that in the right places, I think that's incredibly paramount. It's also a very, very difficult thing to do, by the way, and that's where having frameworks have really helped me, both in terms of prioritizing not just what to work on, but also what to think about.
There's a lot of this stuff that just happens in thinking. I remember in my old company, I would have a lot of travel days. It was sort of a fairly global platform, so a lot of going between Asia and Europe and the US, and most of my teammates can probably attest, because whenever I would land after a 12-hour plane ride or something, there's something about also just being disconnected way up in the clouds, and ... You're really able to do a lot of deep thinking there. And again, carving out space for allowing yourself to think deep and really resonate through things, and really reason through how things would potentially develop, I think is very important.
And then having something some framework for how you prioritize which things require really deep thought, because the other part of it is, you've got to work your ass off and hustle all the time, right? So, again, it's almost like this little bit of duality between just checkers and chess, right? You've got to do both, and you've got to be in it, and constantly be pushing, pushing, pushing; but on the other hand, you also just can't push too far down a rabbit hole without stopping every now and again and revisiting some of your fundamental assumptions. Are they still true and accurate? Are there hypotheses that you have validated one way or the other to really guide the direction in which you push? Your company is a ship, and you've got to spend time manning the wheel, but you've also got to spend time looking at the compass and making sure it's not broken, and it's pointing in the right direction, and how you balance those two is very, very difficult, but that's certainly, as founder and CEO, where I would over-index the majority of my time.
Daniel Scrivner (25:38):
So well said. Perfect note to end on. Thank you so much for joining me, Jannick.
Jannick Malling (25:42):
Awesome. It was great, Daniel. Thanks.
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