Sugar Wallet is a New Zealand fintech cofounded by Devrath (Dev) Soni and Sophia Ritchie with a mission to make investment ‘ridiculously simple’ for everyone.
“In APAC alone, there are 143 million who can afford investing but continue to primarily save through their bank,” Soni said.
“One of the reasons for this is because platforms are too complex and time consuming for the everyday person who has lower financial literacy.”
The pair kicked off the idea by talking to hundreds of people, including tradies, doctors and even the unemployed, and concluded that helping people make investing a ‘habit’ was how Sugar Wallet could help them improve their financial wellbeing.
Fast forward just six months, and the team of four has built a platform that helps new investors automatically invest a percentage of their wages into one of three easy investment funds in under five minutes.
It’s a simple platform for beginner investors that feels familiar, safe and easy, so they can finally get started.
The team has partnered with established fund managers to ensure their users have access to industry-leading asset classes – but without jargon like ETFs; Stop loss and APY.
“Our users tell us that before Sugar Wallet, they were simply procrastinating around building good money habits, and that signing up has solved this,” Soni said.
Already Sugar Wallet has experienced ‘viral’ growth in just short few months in market, with its early traction and metrics matching and in some instances outstripping same-stage metrics for platforms like Sharesies and Spaceship.
Now Sugar Wallet has been selected to join the GD1 funded Phase One incubator which aims to produce 10 Kiwi technology ‘unicorns’ (aka ‘Kiwicorns’) by 2026.
‘It’s not enough to copy’
Dev is no stranger to small businesses gone bigger – having previously grown his custom clothing store, Devonché, to sell the most custom suits in New Zealand within three years out of a single store; serving news networks, All Blacks, Black Caps, BMW and others.
He also helped the florist Flowerist achieve $100,000 revenue digitally within its first six months.
Cofounder Sophia Ritchie worked at Xero and Billy (a bill-splitting platform) as a software engineer and is also a serial entrepreneur.
Growing a tech startup, however, was a brand new challenge requiring an unrequited focus on what Soni calls ‘problem discovery’.
“I’ll never forget a last minute chat I had with an experienced unicorn operator, who asked me: What problem are you solving?” he said.
“We were about to go full-steam ahead with mimicking an overseas app, but that afternoon, after hearing myself describe my high level thinking, it all seemed very shallow. That conversation was key in charting our course back to ‘problem discovery’.”
It’s not enough to copy something that works well overseas, Soni realised
“If you’re in a regulated market, building market by market, like fintech – you must understand the local market – local sensitivity and the unique problems faced locally by your ideal target audience before you can think of scaling a global business and seeing if audiences internationally have the same problem,” he said.
“Time spent thinking through the hard questions is critical.”
Since then, the duo have sought mentors who repeatedly ask the hard questions; and can offer advice from lived experience.
“There’s lots of wisdom available online but founders need advice on applying that wisdom to their particular startup. There’s immense value in tapping into the experience of someone who has walked that road already,” Soni said
“What Mahesh Muralidhar, CEO and Phase One Ventures founder, has created for early stage startups is a step above the type of formulaic ‘knowledge’ out there. The incubator’s mentors all have immense credibility and can provide real-world experience and advice that sees them challenge our naive assumptions. A lot of them have been involved in taking companies from $0 to a billion dollars in revenue – that expertise is rare in New Zealand.”
Sugar Wallet’s angel investors include executives and ex operators from international fintech and B2C giants: Robinhood, Transferwise, Canva and NZ Rich-Lister William Smale, with team experience spanning Xero, Pocketful, Thero, NetWealth, Pushpay and EzyVet/VetRadar.
“We’re solving a very real problem for everyday, financially inexperienced people; and we’re excited that they’re partnering with us to build habits that will literally change their future. It’s why we exist – to make investing sweeter,” Soni said.
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