Robinhood—the fintech startup that offers stock, option, and cryptocurrency trades with zero fees—is taking steps to go public, starting with the hiring of a chief financial officer.
Robinhood co-founder Baiju Bhatt, speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference Thursday, confirmed the company’s plans for an IPO and CFO hire. Both tasks will need to be handled with care. Bhatt said that Robinhood’s business model has subjected it to constant audits from the SEC and other financial regulators.
In the past couple of years, Robinhood has grown from a quixotic idea—no fees to trade stocks—to one of the more intruiging startups in the fintech space. Robinhood raised $110 million at a $1.3 billion valuation in April 2017. It’s now valued at $5.6 billion.
But Robinhood, like many tech startups planning to go public these days, is still losing money. And it’s branching out into areas like stock options and cryptocurrencies that will incur losses as Robinhood pushes for market share. “We don’t intend to make very much money on it at all for the foreseeable future,” Robinhood co-founder Vlad Tenev told Fortune in June.
The thing is, investors in IPOs are willing to tolerate losses as long as they will be turned soon enough into growing profits. And they’ve learned to distrust CEOs who talk cavalierly about losing money. Witness the downfall of Groupon after its manic growth failed to deliver profits, or Uber, which has had to retool its expensive global ambitions.
But given that few fintech startups have matured into companies that traditional Wall Street investors are comfortable sinking their assets into, Robinhood’s approach to the public stock market will be closely watched. In May, Robinhood’s active user accounts reached 4 million, surpassing E*Trade, a trading platform long beloved by daytraders.
Robinhood’s push into cryptocurrencies has helped it sign up more users. The company is not only helping small investors in a market that sometimes seems stacked against them, it’s looking like the most disruptive financial startup since E*Trade shook things up in the 1990s with low commissions and real-time stock quotes. Whether its expensive business model will be welcomed by IPO investors remains to be seen.