Vestorly makes play for RIA browsers with $4.1 million of VC funding — tiptoeing past prowling issue

BY BROOK SOUTHHALL, FOR RIABIZ

Justin Wisz’s robo-marketing for advisors already serves RIAs like Halbert Hargrove but now he’s reaching for a higher rung of robotics

Brooke’s Note: In my discussion with Justin Wisz, he used an expression I hadn’t heard before: vanity metrics. It means attracting online clicks to your website or social media page for the sake of stroking your ego and then calling it “strategic” to your business interests. Wisz has seen other industries get past that inane practice to something more productive to the advisor and less annoying to their clients. With Vestorly, now supported by several million in venture capital and multiple engineers, he believes he can reach the goal of online productivity.

Straight out of college, Justin Wisz went to work for Ken Fisher’s super-RIA as part of its 2,000-member cult on the hill.

It made quite an impression.

Woodside, Calif.-based Fisher Investments amassed more than 20,000 clients and $60 billion-plus in AUM first by junk-mailing the hell out of the affluent all over the United States and then evolving the effort to include sophisticated online advertising. See: Ken Fisher keeps expanding his $42 billion RIA empire despite UHNW head winds.
Wisz left Fisher in 2009 determined to bring some of that mass-marketing magic to a far more challenged group of marketers — the rest of the RIA business.

He founded Advisor Leap Inc. in 2010, brought on 40 RIAs as clients, then hit a wall as the attention they deserved chewed up all of his company’s bandwidth.

Time to apply engineering to the engineering-defying task of marketing.

Sigma Prime

Fast forward to 2016: New York-based Vestorly, co-founded by Wisz in 2012, is bringing on $4.1 million in venture capital to add to the $2 million of angel money it banked in 2015. The first tranche of cash included a check written by Joe Lonsdale, the 32 year-old wunderkind founder of Palantir and of Addepar Inc., the biggest VC play yet aimed largely at the RIA market. See: The face of Addepar leaves the company amid intrigue about just where it stands with the RIA market.

The protagonist of the latest round of funding is Vestorly board member Jere Doyle, managing director at Boston-based Sigma Prime Ventures.

“We are impressed with the size of the potential in the financial services industry given the lack of a modern content marketing solution that resonates with users and their audiences in such an intuitive way,” he said in a prepared remark.

Vestorly’s client base has grown 150% year-on-year as it entered 2016. It has 26 employees, 66% of them engineers. It plans to double its workforce and keep them all working in one space near Grand Central Station. See:Could engineers be the answer to the RIA talent shortage?. The big engineer hiring binge can be largely attributed to advice from Lonsdale, who has made that the hallmark of his efforts, Wisz says.

‘Drip-marketing’ — but good

Vestorly sends tailored curated content to clients while minimizing the sifting and clipping. Since trading in the Advisor Leap model for Vestorly, Wisz has carved a credible toehold in a new paradigm of automated marketing by automating rote marketing tasks to, as he puts it, “reduce friction.”

Drew Taylor, managing director of Los Angeles-based Halbert Hargrove, which manages $4.1 billion of assets, has used Vestorly for two years and says it has enabled him to send out a good monthly newsletter requiring only couple hours of work for one staff member. That’s as opposed to a quarterly newsletter that took the equivalent of a few days by “one and a half” staff members. The material can range from the latest articles on Social Security to ones relating to wine-making.

United Capital Financial Advisers also uses Vestorly.

There is real value for RIAs in such a service, according to Nerd’s Eye View publisher Michael Kitces.

“At its most basic level, Vestorly is really just facilitating ‘drip marketing’ that advisors have done for years — or decades — in the form of newsletters, but done in a digital format and with some of the potential automation that’s available in the digital context,” he writes in an email. “From that perspective, the reality on drip marketing is that advisors often have rather mediocre and very pre-packaged content, and it has still worked for many advisors. What Vestorly is doing is certainly a significant improvement from the drip marketing status quo for most advisors.”

 

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