A Gift That Grows

Alum's Site Makes Giving Stocks Easy
by Karen Shih ’09 | gao headshot courtesy of Sparkgift | illustration by Jesse Wu ’14

Gift cards are easily lost. Toys pile up and gather dust. Clothing styles and tastes change with the season.

What’s left to get a kid for her birthday?

Stocks, says Tia Gao ’02 (below), co-founder of new stock-gifting platform SparkGift.

“It used to be that the uncle would run late to a birthday party, stop by the bank and grab a $50 savings bond and look like a hero doing something that’s really responsible,” she says. “But laws changed, and you can’t buy bonds from banks like you used to. There’s no tool for kids to learn about saving and growing money for the future. We started SparkGift to make it easy to give an investment gift.”

Just a quarter of people under 30 report having money in the stock market, according to a 2015 Bankrate Money Pulse survey, so Gao says exposing kids early helps dispel fears about investing.

SparkGift is simple: All you need is the recipient’s email to send a stock or exchange traded fund (etf). The company offers fractional shares (not available through investment sites like Ameritrade or Fidelity), which means customers can buy $50 of Google stock when each share costs more than $500. After receiving the email, children or their parents can create an account on the SparkGift site to manage their funds.

Since she and two former coworkers launched the company last fall, it has been featured on technology and financial websites such as ReCode and Main Street. She declined to share customer numbers, but says for each account created, five more people, often other relatives, usually join to add money.

Gao got her first taste of entrepreneurship through the Gemstone and Hinman CEOS programs, helping to develop a wristband to track the location of parolees.

“Tia was one of the most talented Hinman students we’ve ever had,” says former Director Karen Thornton. “She’s willing to take risks and leave something that’s comfortable in order to do now what she knows is hard.”

Gao forged her own path, as one of few women majoring in computer engineering.

Since then, she’s earned two graduate degrees from Stanford, gotten a taste of the startup life, and worked at Microsoft and Google, where she helped launched Google Wallet.

Giving up a steady paycheck was a big decision, but “when we realized there was something that could improve lives and didn’t exist,” she says, “then it made it easy.”


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