I visited Vestorly and thereby the corner office occupied by Justin Wisz and Ralph Pahlmeyer recently.
They are the co-founders — chief executive and chief financial officer, respectively — of the six-person technology firm based for now on 26th Street in Manhattan.
Their space is unusual in that the two actually have a door — the rest of the space, with the exception of the opposite corner office, is occupied by two dozen or so other startups sitting at open tables.
The two are unusual in other ways. For one thing, unlike the direct-to-consumer or business-to-business startups occupying the rest of the floor, theirs is a service built with and leveraging technology to somewhat automate marketing and prospecting for advisers.
And their firm caters both to advisers and consumers, though the former are the ones who pay for it. They currently have, by design, 142 adviser clients — including registered investment advisers and brokers from every major wirehouse and large independent broker-dealer, Mr. Wisz said.
“We have thousands of adviser reps on our waiting list,” said Mr. Wisz, who explained that while the Vestorly service is in full-production use, it is keeping the user base intentionally small. He, his partner and the firm's three engineers for the moment are continuing to work out features, add features and in general incubate the product before making a bigger marketing push to attract additional clients.
The genesis of Vestorly grew out of Mr. Wisz's more traditional adviser marketing consultancy that in turn begat a firm called AdvisorLeap Inc. — a previous attempt at advisory marketing empowerment.
It was more of a “proof of concept,” as Mr. Wisz explained it.
Out of these experiences, he and Mr. Pahlmeyer concluded that a major problem with doing custom marketing work is that it just does not scale very well. So they asked themselves how they could marry marketing to social media in such a way that it would be both scalable and affordable — thus providing solution for advisers' key marketing conundrum: the lack of an established brand among advisers (a problem the big wirehouses and financial services product giants do not have).
So the two entrepreneurs created a content-sharing platform for advisers that is, by nature, compliant. Signing up for Vestorly, an adviser gets a dashboard where he or she can publish content and, more importantly, monitor who is consuming and sharing that content.
Advisers are presented with touch points — opportunities to interact with consumers, and proactively follow them and pursue them as prospects, without seeming pushy. More like gentle nudges.
Upon joining, advisers can share Vestorly by importing their Outlook contacts or those in their customer relationship management software, or if they already have a strong social-network presence, they can log in with their LinkedIn or Facebook credentials.
“Upon launch, everyone gets an invite e-mail customized as coming from their firm, not Vestorly,” Mr. Wisz said.
At present, advisers using Vestorly have access to all the content from the four most popular financial services feeds at Reuters.com that they can share in either an automated fashion or add social-media commentary to. They can also share their own content.
"You become a thought leader in a few weeks," said Mr. Wisz, and by keeping an eye on how content is consumed and shared by connections, you get a sense of who is most engaged among those connections.
There is a great deal of logic built into the back end of the system that is Vestorly's secret sauce. In fact, the firm has two patents pending on the design of its algorithm.
In oversimplified terms, this can be explained as a large number of interconnected “if/then” questions and answers that can be set to be triggered when there is interaction on content.
One example from my own experience kicking the tires and exploring the site was that I noted a “connect” link on my page in the right-hand corner next to my name (which leads to my own user settings). That connect button opens a pop-up that asks if I am ready to connect with a financial adviser, with the options of “not now” or “remind me” — for which a calendar appears so I can indicate a date (if I happen to be on the fence).
This is the front-end interface, the back of which I saw at the Vestorly office (the Mindjet decision tree interface).
Backing up all this is the adviser's dashboard, which allows an adviser to note how a potential client responds, and thereby gauge their level of interest.
“At around 30 to 45 days of use, you will start to see this create a 'lead score' and sort their best prospects,” Mr. Wisz said. “The adviser can customize the algorithm to the sort of leads they are after, as well,” he added, and showed me a Mindjet.com page that laid out the “if/then” logic visually.
I spoke to one of Vestorly's adviser clients, Charles Sizemore, owner of Sizemore Capital Management LLC, a boutique research and investment firm. He also owns and self-publishes the Sizemore Investment Letter through a separate firm, Sizemore Financial Publishing LLC.
“One of the things I like about Vestorly is that they have not reinvented the wheel — they've taken existing infrastructure and made if far more useful,” he said, referring to LinkedIn and Facebook as the existing infrastructure.
He prefers using Vestorly for pushing out and tracking his own material.
“I write a lot of content, and it gives me a way to distribute it. But more than that, most social media does not really have a call to action, and you get lost in the conversation, but this gets them on a marketing list and gets them into your queue. I've seen no other social media that has that,” he said.
He noted, as most social-media consultants often do, that RIAs generally can write about whatever they want as long as they are careful, whereas broker-dealers tend to be a different matter.
“Vestorly allows you to use content from outside and gives you a medium to share that, and at the same time is not going to step on anyone's feet from a compliance standpoint. You can gather articles and send them out with something like, 'I found these useful, and you might, too,'” Mr. Sizemore said.
Within the year, Mr. Wisz expects that Vestorly will become commercially available. Pricing is targeted at approximately $100 per month per adviser and contracts with additional content provider partners and financial-services-related network partners are currently being negotiated, but could not be disclosed.