JASON WENK


Three critical lessons stand out. 

I started my career at Morgan Stanley as a 19-year-old I.T. intern, where I spent the majority of my time troubleshooting tech problems and installing Microsoft Outlook. That short internship led to full-time work as a Systems Analyst, a role that mostly saw me building add-on / automated software and integrating data into desktop applications. Still, I got to see firsthand the impact of making good financial decisions, and the access that wealth afforded people. It was a far cry from what I’d seen growing up in rural Michigan.   

My mom, a single parent raising three kids, worked incredibly hard and would have saved all her money had there been any to save. Financial advice, the kind offered by firms like Morgan Stanley, would have made a huge difference to her, but of course, there was no way she could have afforded it. Early on, I decided I wanted to help people get more from their money. 

My first company was a newsletter that helped soon-to-be retirees make better decisions with their 401(k). For a few bucks a month, I’d take clients through a risk assessment and offer regular suggestions for how to optimize their savings. After a while, though, customers would invariably cancel their subscriptions. It was always the same explanation: “You’re telling me what to do with my 401(k); I really just want someone to do it for me.”

That was my first lesson:

Information is good. Implementation is better.

 

That’s when I decided to become a registered investment advisor (RIA) and start my second company, Retirement Wealth. 

In 2004, independent financial advisors faced a huge number of obstacles. They had to work with large, legacy institutions called custodians, they had to comply with a gauntlet of regulations, and to top it off, they had to navigate a grab bag of independent software vendors, none of which integrated with one another. Things that should have been automated and instantaneous took days; things that should have taken days, took weeks.

Still, I was determined to make an impact, and help clients save for retirement. I grew Retirement Wealth primarily through my blog, on which I’d post solutions to complex financial questions. Thanks to SEO, the blog attracted exactly the kind of clients I wanted, and drove Retirement Wealth to upwards of $1B in assets under management over the course of five years. 

We were serving hundreds of customers, and the economics of the business were great, but I had no way to scale—we were dependent on the antiquated technology provided by our custodian.  

This led to my second lesson:

 

Regardless of my ambition or the size of the total addressable market, I would always be at the mercy of any technology I had to “rent.”

 

In 2011, I sold Retirement Wealth and started my third company, FormulaFolios—an asset management platform that helped advisors manage and market their businesses with the same tools and strategies I’d developed at Retirement Wealth. 

FormulaFolios grew quickly—in a matter of years, we were doing tens of millions in revenue, with strong margins—and the impact was an order of magnitude greater than at Retirement Wealth. But for the second time, there was a misalignment between what I wanted to accomplish and what the underlying technology would allow.

It was around this time I encountered Endeavor. Through them, I met Nick Beim, an Endeavor board member and partner at Venrock. I explained how FormulaFolios worked, that no matter how much we grew, we’d always have a ceiling: advisors and platform developers would always be beholden to legacy custodians like Fidelity and Schwab. They were the gatekeepers of financial advice. 

Endeavor also exposed me to other founders and high-growth entrepreneurs. Luca Ferrari, the CEO of Bending Spoons, was one of them. He was running a wildly successful business five times bigger than FormulaFolios, but was still hungry. It was inspiring. 

I’d spent 15 years asking, “Why isn’t there an easier way to get great financial advice to more people?” One advisory firm wasn’t going to move the needle. An asset management platform that could help hundreds of advisors was only a drop in the bucket. The big problems were foundational—they were problems with the operating system of wealth management. 

This was a fork-in-the-road moment for me. I could continue running a commercially successful business, which afforded me an extremely comfortable lifestyle, or I could take a stab at building a truly iconic company.

The first person I called was Nick. 

I launched my fourth company in 2018.

At Altruist, we’re fixing the issues that have held advisors back for decades—building a new, modern custodian and developing new, modern technology. We’re on a mission to make independent financial advice better, more affordable, and accessible to everyone.

It’s a tall order, an enormous undertaking, but our team is up to it. 

Greg Lemond, the many-time Tour de France champion, is famous for saying, “Cycling never gets any easier. You just go faster.” The same is true for entrepreneurs.

And that’s my third lesson:

 

Nothing gets easier—you just take on bigger problems.

 

I spent six years at my last two companies. At each one, it wasn’t long before I could see the limit of our impact. 

Today, Altruist is the third largest custodian by advisors served and we just announced our $169M Series E, bringing our valuation north of $1.5B.

This year, Altruist turns six—but I can’t see the end of the road. That’s how big the challenge is.

And with the size of that challenge comes an equally significant opportunity for impact. 

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