Zero-fee stock trading app Robinhood is getting some product firepower as it dives into cryptocurrency and weighs platform aspirations. Investor Josh Elman will join Robinhood as its VP of product while remaining at Greylock, though in a reduced capacity as a venture partner instead of as a general partner like before.
With 4 million registered users, $176 million raised and a $1.3 billion valuation, the five-year-old fintech startup is shifting from a period of finding product-market fit to building a serious business. Elman’s experience with rapidly rising companies like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn could help guide Robinhood toward maturity.
“In January, I started talking with a few of my partners about how I want to spend the next decade of my professional life. What gets me the most energized is when I can dig in on product with a hyper-growth company. To that end, I’m joining Robinhood to lead product, where we will continue building powerful tools to give everyone broader access to our financial system,” Elman tells TechCrunch. “I am going to continue my role at Greylock as a venture partner, and will continue to represent Greylock on the boards in my portfolio. I am grateful to my partners for their support, and excited for what is next.”
Greylock has always been known as a fund run by veteran operators like Reid Hoffman, who joined as a partner while still the CEO of LinkedIn . A Greylock spokesperson tells me, “Josh is a sharp product-thinker who has backed excellent entrepreneurs and innovative companies that we are proud to have as part of the Greylock portfolio. We are supportive of Josh as he takes on this new operating role, and look forward to continuing our work with him as a venture partner.”
That term “venture partner” typically means someone who isn’t a full-time permanent member of the firm like a “general partner” as Elman was before. Some might view the shift as a demotion, or the start of a transition out of the firm. Greylock tells me Elman can still lead deals, though.
The new role could create some conflicts, though. Greylock recently invested in cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase’s August Series D. But Robinhood just launched its own cryptocurrency trading platform in December, undercutting Coinbase’s 1.5 percent to 4 percent fee on trades in the U.S. by charging zero commission. Coinbase might worry that plans it shares with Greylock could make it back to Robinhood.
Elman has dealt with this before, having hyped text fiction app Hooked whose seed round Greylock funded before it backed competing app Yarn’s parent company Mammoth Media with Elman joining its board. Elman declined to comment about the matter.
An eye for interfaces
Elman began his career after a bachelor’s degree in symbolic systems with a focus on human computer interaction at Stanford in 1997. Elman worked on product for music company RealNetworks, and growth and job boards for LinkedIn before joining custom merchandise startup Zazzle . His big break came working on the launch of the Facebook Connect platform. He was then a PM at Twitter until joining Greylock as a partner in 2011.
In my experience, Elman is one of the best investors at spotting emerging social trends and helping companies find winning product strategies. He’s quick to dive into teen-focused social apps, understanding and funding them before they blow up. He was on the boards of Musically (sold to Toutiao) and SmartThings (sold to Samsung), plus was one of the few investors in honest feedback app tbh, which sold to Facebook. He’s currently on the boards of Medium, Houseparty and Discord — which are redefining blogging, video chat and video game communities.
Robinhood could use Elman’s skills as it tries to unite the traditional stock and cryptocurrency worlds using free trades up front while monetizing with subscription bonus features. The way Facebook and Twitter turned friends and thought leaders into a feeds of content to consume, Elman could assist as Robinhood does the same to financial markets.
“I’ve known Josh for a couple years now and he’s always struck me as one of the most thoughtful product builders,” says Robinhood co-founder and co-CEO Baiju Bhatt. (Disclosure: I know Bhatt and his co-founder Vlad Tenev from
college). “We’re lucky to have him lead our product initiatives and join our leadership team as we take Robinhood to the next level.” Robinhood now has 170 team members across the Bay Area and Orlando, Florida. It’s planning to hire a VP for engineering and for customer support while scaling those teams, as well as legal and biz dev.
Having jumped the regulatory and engineering hurdles to offer cost-efficient stock trading, Robinhood has a huge opportunity to become the backbone of a new generation of fintech apps. The company declined to comment, but the startup could one day build APIs so other products could interact with your Robinhood balance and bank account. Elman worked with Facebook to let partners piggyback on your identity, and he might have ideas for turning Robinhood into a fintech platform.