Market Overview

Austin Powers Can't Save Your Startup


The International Man of Mystery might be popular, but he can't help entrepreneurs promote their startups.

That, however, did not stop one man from trying to enlist in the help of a bare-chested Austin Powers.

"It's a long story, but we were introduced to a venture capitalist by a mutual friend, and he expressed interest," Scott Bell, CEO of the wealth management firm MyGDP, told Benzinga. "After some back-and-forth about our business, we forwarded him a mini-press announcement that we'd just issued about MyGDP. The timing was on the two-week anniversary of our April Fool's Day launch and we were frankly begging to get attention in our stodgy industry."

Bell sent the announcement -- which included a link to a YouTube playlist that he made -- to a handful of industry reporters. "The first video started innocently enough, with Mike Myers dancing around to loud music in his Austin Powers garb," Bell explained. "By the time the first video ended though, Mr. Powers was rubbing his bare chest in a way only he could. After forwarding that e-mail we never heard from the banker again."

From the beginning, Bell said that he knew his promo was a risk, "but we were willing to take the risk to try to get some attention."

"I did certainly re-learn an old lesson from that experience though," he said. "Hire professionals who specialize when you don't know what you're doing. In this case, if for no other reason than to hear the obvious from a PR professional saying, 'Not until you're famous or rich enough to pull it off...'"

Bell said that he also needs to thank his colleagues. "They all thought the stunt was 'hilarious' and 'awesome' when I ran it by them," he said.

Training Wheels

Throughout Bell's career on Wall Street, one of the things that appealed to him was the notion that he'd be running his practice as if it was his business. "I kind of viewed it as a startup opportunity inside of a huge company," he said. "I figured I couldn't lose. In the end, I realized it was nothing like owning your own business because the firm was constantly changing things I had no control over, and much of the firm's notoriety wasn't worth the personal cost. But it was a good set of training wheels."

Bell said that because his firm is bootstrapped, its technology is not as pretty or smooth as some of MyGDP's competitors. "But I actually think it makes us think differently about how best to use technology maintaining the human touch," said Bell. "It's frustrating at times because I know what I want and it's beautiful. We just can't afford certain bells and whistles right now, but fortunately I also don't think we need them to compete. Either way, that's the price of having and keeping a budget."

Still, that "price" can provide a degree of economic freedom. "Not having $20 million of venture capital money in the bank to spend on technology while ramping up for business we haven't earned yet also provides enormous economic freedom to try things that might not work," Bell explained, "without killing our business or risk being voted out of our own company."

Bell said that while he has spoken to a handful of venture capitalists with the hope of finding MyGDP's "banker soulmate," his business plan differs from what some of them want to hear. "Because we are not building something to sell five years from now, it makes our story less bankable to many," said Bell. "I also don't think there is wide-spread understanding among venture capitalists about the nuances of the issues facing our industry."

Austin Powers? No. Profitable? Yes.

"We are profitable," said Bell. "We have been profitable since we opened our doors in 2008, mostly because of our traditional financial advisor roots. We are committed to the idea of continuing to lower our fees as we grow larger. We are also 100% self-funded."

MyGDP serves individuals and families ranging from retirees to 30-somethings still building their wealth. "We have also built a nice network of service providers for entrepreneurs who may need assistance as they grow their companies," said Bell. "We are fee-only, meaning we do not receive commissions for any of the products or services we recommend. We feel that by focusing solely on advice, in this way, we have a deeper understanding of the issues and opportunities facing our clientele with less potential conflicts of interest than the big Wall Street firms and some of our competitors."

" really showed everyone….part of the roadmap to the future of finance," Bell continued. "I started using Mint with my clients to help them with their finances, and realized how powerful that experience could be. Fees were no longer buried in a statement anymore. They were now a clear in-your-face line item."

Bell said that he wanted to replicate part of that experience, "focusing on the advisor/client relationship with portfolios, trying to be mindful of the solutions I thought investors needed."

"For the better part of the last four years I've been searching for the right solutions and found something very similar to Mint's data aggregation technology through a data partner along the way," said Bell. "Using our partner's solution, which aggregates over $200 billion nightly, we are able to securely port a client's data into our office, which is also powered by Morningstar's Office platform.

"Most people might know Morningstar for their mutual fund ratings and research, but the company really is much more. Being able to harness Morningstar's advisor solution differently than anyone before, I realized we are able to offer many of the new services I'd been dreaming of, including simple but powerful portfolio tracking and reporting, as well as in-depth independent world-class research and analytics."

Bell said that the "technology and infrastructure behind both the data aggregation and Morningstar advisor platform is robust and field-tested but no one ever thought to put them together." By combining the platforms, "we are able to serve our high net worth clients with a customizable personal advisor-based experience, working around a client's existing portfolio holdings and requests when prudent."

"And because of the technological efficiencies, we are able to remain true to our low-cost roots, especially since we are able to work with TD Ameritrade (NYSE: AMTD) and Charles Schwab & Co. (NYSE: SCHW) as the custodians for our client's assets."

Additionally, Bell points to MyGDP's six model portfolios, which he says are "simple enough to explain and understand to even a novice investor who might either want us to do the investing for them or simply pay $20 a month to implement the changes on their own for accounts held elsewhere."

"Our subscription service, using the Mint-like aggregation technology, tracks enrolled portfolios, reconciles them nightly and sends monthly alerts about changes needing their attention, as well as weekly and monthly performance summaries," said Bell. "We also provide everyone with an online portal powered by Morningstar which provides daily portfolio snapshots and allows for file sharing with our advisors, as well as report archiving. And because we're people-powered, we're available to help if someone gets stuck trying to understand something."

As a result, Bell thinks that MyGDP now has a solution "for every budget and stage of an investor's life and learning cycle, also allowing for personal preference in how they use our firm's services."

Follow me @LouisBedigianBZ


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