Gift cards for restaurants and big-box retailers are a fixture in grocery stores. Avi Lele’s startup, Stockpile, has added the stock market to that spinning rack. Stockpile makes it possible to buy a kid a piece of Disney, Nike, or other publicly traded companies when you stop for milk on your way home. Unlike traditional brokerages, which require a sizable investment to start, Stockpile offers fractional shares and charges 99 cents a trade.
“We’re making it easy for anyone to start building wealth for their future with as little as $5. The earlier you start, the better, to give your investments plenty of time to grow,” Lele says.
Nothing Lele did at MIT foretold a financial startup. “On Black Monday in 1987, I was taking an exam in 6.432, Stochastic Processes,” he recalls. “When I handed in my paper, the professor said, ‘Did you hear the Dow dropped 500 points?’ I shrugged my shoulders. It was irrelevant to me.” Instead, at MIT he sailed, learned to ride a unicycle, played Ultimate Frisbee, and showed one-dollar movies with the Lecture Series Committee.
Lele earned electrical engineering degrees at MIT and then a law degree at Harvard. He was a patent litigator for 16 years. His secret to court success: make technology understandable—and even interesting—to jurors. “We tried cases about everything from cell-phone technology to pharma,” he says. “I used lots of multimedia and animation to explain things, and jurors actually found it entertaining.”
One Christmas, Lele thought it would be neat to give his nieces and nephews some stock in their favorite companies. But that was easier said than done. He needed their Social Security numbers to set up accounts, and he realized that even a single share of Apple, trading at $500 a pop at the time, would bust his budget. So in 2011, Lele founded Stockpile with an MIT friend, Sanj Kulkarni, PhD ’91, now dean of the graduate school at Princeton University. Today, Lele serves as Stockpile’s CEO.
In addition to making it possible to purchase inexpensive fractional shares of big-name stocks, Stockpile offers its trading platform to other companies for employee incentives and loyalty programs. The company recently closed a $30 million financing round led by Fidelity Investments.
Lele lives in Palo Alto, California, with his wife, Anuja, a controller for private equity firms, and their teenage son and daughter. “My sisters and I and the kids get together and play Ultimate Frisbee. Even my mom sometimes joins in,” Lele says. “It reminds me of playing on the Great Lawn.”
MIT Technology Review readers get $5 of free stock for their kids or grandkids. Visit get.stockpile.com/techreview.