Hardbacon is a fintech startup based in Montreal, Canada, with the aim of educating the average consumer about investing. I recently spoke to Julien Brault, its founder and CEO, about his background, how Hardbacon came into being, and what the future holds beyond the boundaries of Canada.
Could you give us a bit of background on Hardbacon and yourself?
I’m a former business journalist. I used to write about the stock market, startups and venture capital for Les Affaires in Montreal. I also briefly worked for a fintech-focused VC earlier this year. I saw all these innovations happening around consumer lending, robo-advisors and banking, yet small investors looking to invest money themselves weren’t benefiting from this fintech revolution. So, in June, I launched Hardbacon with the goal of helping millennials invest their money on the stock market.
Since the beginning, the goal is to build a trading platform so intuitive that even someone who knows nothing about investing will end up making the right thing, and build a portfolio that makes sense. That’s the idea behind the company. However, we don’t plan to become a brokerage, because capital requirements and the regulatory burden make it so expensive. We plan to introduce this platform to the world as a stock market simulator, thus only allowing people to invest paper money at the beginning. Eventually, we want to work with regulated brokers in Canada and around the world in order to allow people to use the Hardbacon trading platform to invest real money.
The platform is far from ready at the moment, but we’re already generating revenue. If you go to our website right now, you’ll see that we’re comparing Canadian robo-advisors and discount brokers, and we’re publishing a lot of content about investing. We see those activities as a way to validate our business model. Can we convince newbie investors to open accounts and start investing? We’ve already proven that we can, with almost a hundred accounts opened with our partners thanks to our website.
What is your leading product?
Good question. What’s driving Hardbacon as a company is definitely the trading platform we’re working on, even though many people think of us as a comparator website, which is actually what we are on the web right now. However, I see this business as a side project. It’s not core to our offering, but it’s strategic, because this business is allowing us to build relationships with Canadian brokers and understand their pains better. Since we want to work with those guys to allow people to invest real money with our platform, those relationships are extremely meaningful to us.
Aren’t you afraid of diluting your offering?
To be honest, I’m afraid to dilute my time more than dilute our offering. What we’re doing is convincing a generation that’s allergic to finance and investing to invest themselves. So, we need to take people that know nothing about investing and teach them enough so that they understand what an ETF is and why they should be diversified, for example. And we need to reach those people where they are, because they’re not Googling stuff like ‘How to invest money’. So, by building this media business, we’re sharpening a skill that will be critical to the success of our platform.
Who is your main target market?
We are officially targeting the 18-34 demographic. However, it’s much wider than that. Anyone that would like to invest, and don’t feel they are at the level of a portfolio manager, could benefit from checking out our website and subscribing to our newsletter.
You were able to sign several agreements with Canadian robo-advisors and discount brokers. Any lessons learned from this experience?
I learned that face-to-face meetings are essential to establish a relationship with a partner. I spent a week in Toronto and the amount of business I was able to do was amazing. I also learned that, when you work with banks, you’re not going to get anything signed during the first meeting. You need to be patient.
Being the economic capital and financial centre of Canada, Toronto is increasingly referred to as a burgeoning fintech hub. How would you describe the ecosystem in Montreal?
Right now, Montreal is far from Toronto, and even Vancouver, in term of fintech innovation. However, the fintech ecosystem in Montreal is playing catch-up this year, and a lot of new companies such as Payment Rails, Wealthica and WealthTab are burgeoning. Montreal being the former financial centre of Canada, I feel this fintech revolution is really an opportunity for us to get back our former glory.
As a startup founder, what successes are you most proud of?
Having gathered a team of amazing people that truly believe in the mission of democratising investment with no resources – I’m really proud of that.
Any new investment tools your team is working on?
There are a lot of building blocks we need to develop before we launch our simulator. One of them is a portfolio builder that enables people to assess their risk profile and explore a library of model portfolios that fit their needs.
What are your ambitions for Hardbacon in the next few years? Do you plan to expand beyond Canada?
The ambition is to land a first partnership in Canada to show that our trading platform works, but also that it’s secure enough to be deployed here in Canada. Then we want to expand internationally and try to expose as many people as possible to our platform. The ultimate goal is that everyone on this planet could invest money and do it without getting screwed. That’s actually our motto: we help grow your money and avoid getting screwed!
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