I started Whaley with my co-founder Sam Nixon in early 2017 after we met at a Hackathon. We started Whaley to try and solve the expensive problem that is retail investing in Australia.
We proposed doing this with two key points of difference. The first of which was structuring the product around an entirely new tradable financial instrument which was a hybrid between an equity and a retail derivative. This retail derivative was pegged to the price of an equity and controlled using a smart contract. It could be traded between people in the market or the share issuer.
The second point of difference was the product itself. We found that trading products at the time were awfully-designed, complicated and expensive experiences.
With this aimed to take a customer-first, brokerage-free trading app to market in 2019 after raising venture capital and getting backing from a top-tier law firm.
The product front-end required a highly scalable and high performance foundation. We chose Swift due to being familiar with Objective-C and its paradigms. The backend required more thought as we needed to craft a clearing house layer that was able to interact with live financial exchanges and market data. We subsequently chose Ruby on Rails as a backend framework due to the highly complex and interconnected database problems we’d need to catering for.
Our native Swift app originally integrated with the free yet deprecated Yahoo Finance Market Data API’s. I was responsible for successfully phasing out the reliance on these RESTful API’s in place for the IEX market data API’s.
Our Rails hub became a matching engineer and clearing house in one, capable of housing retail derivatives and going to live markets to ascertain and calculate pricing. While we were never able to switch on the ability to trade in live markets, we did prove through closed tests that the new financial instrument would have worked in financial markets.
As a customer-centric product, we needed to craft a beautiful, engaging and warm brand that was distanced from traditional firms in the space. I created a brand thesis and over the course of a week cycled through themes in the space before landing on the phrase ‘invest like the whales’. After testing some prototype brands with a few dozen customers, Whaley commanded the most interest, respect and most importantly, love.
The brand became nautical with hand drawn and digitised imagery across the site, app and other channels. The brand became, within less than a few months, quite well known in the Fintech community for its simplistic approach to global investing.
A large part of my time on Whaley was finding new ways to entice and grow the business. This was a challenge as we were working towards getting regulatory approval to operate as a financial services business.
Over the course of Whaley’s life, I introduced growth hacks such as a waiting line list that showed how many users were in front of you (10% of new traffic came from this hack). I also architected a ghost site and reddit bot which made use of a large volume of traffic attempting to head to a competitors site. The bot picked up on the frequently (at least a dozen times a day) asked phase of “is Robinhood available in my country yet?” and responded with redirects to Whaley.
While Whaley never officially launched, it did gather attention on a global scale. It had thousands of people queued up to use the service, all grown with organic marketing (we spent less than $100 on advertisements). Whaley had a fully functional retail derivative matching engine and clearing house and served live market data. The business never made it to market but was the beginning of a wave of new, successful global investing platforms in Australia that proved how important our mission was.