On Spoke Funds in D.C.

Last week I had the privilege of being invited to Washington, D.C., to attend Patriot Boot Camp.

The Boot Camp was a three day conference put on by the folks at TechStars, which bills itself as the #1 start-up accelerator in the world. The usual TechStars program is an intense ‘incubator’ for new tech companies, where the founders get daily access to advice, mentorship and strategic input from luminaries in the technology industry…all while living on-site for three months to program and bring a new product or service to market quickly. At the end, the companies demo their new idea to a packed room full of venture capitalists and angel investors, who then proceed to shower them with money. Or something.

Patriot Boot Camp was a very abbreviated version of the longer, more typical TechStars program. But I loved it, anyway. I applied to the program a month ago and along with 70 other veterans from around the country, got accepted – in my case to talk about Spoke Funds. Though I was the only one there with a new business idea in the financial services industry, I was blown away by the ideas other veterans had. Everything from new agricultural equipment to HIV test kits to better baseball gloves to new iPhone apps. And as I mentioned to a number of other vets there, it was good to be in a room full of peers that you just implicitly trust again. Don’t get the same vibe being at a conference full of hedge fund guys.

In any case, on the last day of the program, each of us was given two minutes to stand up and give our hopefully-by-then polished “pitch” about our idea to an auditorium full of folks. So for whatever it’s worth, here was my pitch on Spoke Funds at Patriot Boot camp…

I’m Cale Smith, the managing partner of Islamorada Investment Management, based in the beautiful Florida Keys, and I came to Patriot Boot Camp to save investors from mutual funds.

There are more than 7,000 mutual funds in this country, which means there are more mutual funds in the U.S. than Taco Bells. The industry’s dirty little secret is that mutual funds are financial products that are made to be sold, not invested in. The vast majority of mutual funds underperform the market, charge fees that are too high, and 60% of all mutual fund managers don’t own a single share of the funds that they run.

I would like to build a platform to help the next generation of portfolio managers launch and run a better kind of fund. In 2008, I created an alternative structure for my portfolios, that I eventually came to call and trademark as a Spoke Fund. A Spoke Fund is a group of separate investor accounts, that are all linked to a core account that contains most of the portfolio managers’ own money. So the portfolio manager and the investors are truly in it together.

My Spoke Fund has grown from zero to $13 million in assets under management. I have been profitable for the last year and a half. I have also helped 8 other portfolio managers launch their own Spoke Funds, and you can find most of them on SpokeFund.com.

The platform I want to build will earn money the same way the portfolio managers do – as a fixed percentage of the assets under management. The business is capital-light, has monthly recurring revenue, is easily scalable and if we do it right has the potential to capture some network effects.

The number one thing I learned this week is that I really need to find a technical co-founder – someone with serious technical chops and who is also up for picking a fight with Wall Street. I’m also looking to put together an advisory board of people with significant experience in financial technology. So I’d love to talk more to anyone afterwards who might be able to help with either.

Thanks for your time.

And yes, I did wear shoes on stage. So, no flip-flops. But no socks, either.

Finally – a postscript of sorts from the soapbox – in case you haven’t been paying attention, our capital markets are a mess these days. If 2008 didn’t convince you, then perhaps the flash crash of May 2010 did. Maybe the recent Facebook IPO brought it home. If you’re still unconvinced, please go read Dark Pools to find out just how much we have been sold out by the exchanges. All of which is to say this:

This country’s stock market is becoming, quite literally, a casino.

I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t think anyone does. But I’m pretty sure that fixing it starts with bringing some accountability and leadership back to Wall Street. And not in the empty, vapid sense of those words that politicians throw around like free candy. I mean as those ideals are taught in places like the military. And at investment firms that are true fiduciaries.

I think Spoke Funds are one way to do that. Not the only way, to be sure, but one way. I’m hopeful that Spoke Funds can among other things help make managing other people’s money a noble profession again. So to the extent anyone who reads this can help get that message out, in whatever way that might be, I’d appreciate it.

You can find out more about me and my Spoke Fund here, and you can learn more about the other Spoke Fund managers here at SpokeFund.com.

Thanks in advance. Now, go hug a veteran.

And for more on the philosophy behind start-up accelerators like TechStars, I’d highly recommend The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. You can also find out more about TechStars here – and here’s another link to more about last week’s Boot Camp.

Cale Smith

About Cale Smith

Portfolio Manager at Islamorada Investment Management.
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