David Bernard was previously the owner and editor in chief of Equities Magazine, which he built into one of the nation’s leading publications covering small and mid-cap companies. His position at the magazine opened doors for him at the top of the financial community, providing unique access to CEOs of hundreds of companies and financial firms. He sold the magazine in 2009 and is now chairman of the global financial networking site Equities.com. “Equities Magazine had been around since 1951,” says Bernard. “It was older than I am. [Laughs] We are not trying to capitalize on the history of the magazine, as our business now is really completely different. However, when I travel in the United States and meet people in the finance world, I am still quite often recognized as the “Equities” guy.
Opportunist: Tell us about your background.
David: I got into the world of finance approximately 10 years ago, and I came into it from a very unique angle. I used to consult with small boutique investment banks that were taking companies public. Small companies oftentimes do reverse mergers, and I helped them put a package together to do road shows and go to Wall Street. It consisted of everything from branding to developing white papers, brochures and catalogues. I did this for many years, predominately on the West Coast, and typically handled five, six or seven deals a year.
Opportunist: How did you get involved with Equities Magazine?
David: In 2004, through my venture on the West Coast, I did a very successful marketing piece that I sent out to about 4,000 small public companies. Robert Flaherty, then owner of Equities Magazine, contacted me and was interested in selling his company. He had been an editor of Forbes magazine for 20 years, and spent the last 20 years of his career running Equities Magazine. It took a good six months, but we purchased the company in 2005.
Opportunist: What was it like to take over an established publication?
David: The magazine was really in bad shape when I bought it. Bob Flaherty was deeply affected by 9/11, and the national tragedy really took toll on the magazine. The magazine had a lot of debt, but I’m proud to say that within two years of taking it over, we had paid off all the debt we inherited and any debt we created. We converted the magazine from a quarterly to publishing as many as 10 issues a year, and printed 300,000 copies of every issue.
I ran the magazine for about five years and then sold it. We purchased the magazine for six digits and sold it for eight digits. We did very well.
Opportunist: How did Equities.com come about?
David: The magazine’s website, equitiesmagazine.com, was a very robust and active site. We had the opportunity to buy the domain name equities.com privately, which we purchased at a large premium. We never actually did anything with it. I then decided to sell the domain at a nice profit to one of my original investors in the magazine, who had helped me establish some of our best early connections and relationships. About a year after I sold the magazine, he asked me if I wanted to come in and build equities.com with him. We combined our ideas for the platform and our unique skill sets and Equities.com was born.
Opportunist: Tell us about the site.
David: The platform is extremely active. Thousands of people come to the website on a daily basis and it’s growing rapidly. In fact, we are a valued supplier of content to Google, Yahoo! and over 230 different financial and business websites.
Equities.com has many resources. We have our own editorial content, with a growing number of regular contributors and market commentators who write daily or every other day on the platform. We have three in-house editors who manage all the content and write as well. We also aggregate approximately 18,000 news articles from around the world on a daily basis. If you’re looking at news, we provide the capability to customize and use more granular content filters so that you can get the specific news that you want. Let’s say you’re interested in oil and gas in European countries. You can drill down to the content and have particular news items funneled to you.
We are a true resource website of news, information and stock data but we also have a social networking platform exclusively for investors.
Opportunist: Tell us about your social networking platform.
David: My-Fi, which stands for My Financial Network, is our social networking platform. It’s truly a Facebook style social network and I say that specifically because Facebook is truly an interactive social network. We looked at the functionality of Facebook and its ease of use and did our best to emulate some of the structure and some of the functionality because we wanted people to be comfortable with it.
Opportunist: How do users network on your site?
David: Algorithms are built into the program. Within your profile, for example, you can develop as many watch lists as you wish. It will hold 12 securities but you can have 20 of them if you want, all of which would be monitoring different strategies or portfolios that you may be interested in. The algorithm will then determine other members who have similar securities in their watch list. If you’re a member and I’m a member and we both have Apple in our watch lists, for example, it will introduce us to each other based on similar interests.
Opportunist: Do users build a network of friends similar to other social networking sites?
David: Yes, that’s one of the biggest reasons why we created My-Fi. Investors want to connect with other investors. On our platform, members can search for other users in the network through shared information provided in their profile. Once connected, members can communicate and share news or ideas through messaging on their My-Fi wall, member blog posts, and other features of our platform. Friends in common is another method our members can expand their network. Let’s say you’re a new member and I have 20 friends who have Apple in their watch list. If you are in my network, My-Fi will tell you about my 20 friends and give you an opportunity to network with them as well.
You can also “friend” public companies. If you’re interested in following Apple, for example, any time that Apple presents a press release or a principal of the company is interviewed on Equities TV, you would be notified on your Company Feed that Apple has come out with a press release or whatever it may be, which will also be shared with your friends.
Opportunist: How many members do you have?
David: We have about 1,000 people who have signed up. We did a soft launch on Sept. 1, 2011 to let some of the early users test out what we have built so far. We haven’t promoted it yet or set an official launch. However, even with the members we have today, we’ve noticed they’re starting to form groups and put little investment groups together where they’re sharing information and talking about different investments and different brokers or trading systems they use. So it’s definitely starting to take hold with a very small membership.
Opportunist: How is your site different from other social networking sites?
David: It’s more valuable for people who make their own investment decisions and want to learn more about managing their own investments. We provide them with all the financial content and market data that any self-directed investor would want and need, and through My-Fi, we serve as their portal to the global investment community. We really cover all ends of the market spectrum, from the most well-covered large cap companies to especially the undiscovered companies of tomorrow. There is a real demand for information on the small-cap, micro-cap and nano-cap markets. These markets consist of companies with $500 million market cap or less that need a place to tell their story. For self-directed investors, who manage their own investments via an online trading account, we have some background and familiarity working with those online brokerage firms. We know what these investors want when they’re trying to navigate through the market. There are self-directed investors all over the world, and statistically there are over 40 million self-directed investment accounts in the United States alone. We focus on these segments of the market.
Opportunist: Do you provide stock quotes as well?
David: Yes, we currently have stock quotes from 82 stock markets around the world. Our Equities GQS (Global Quotation System) is a directory of stock markets from around the world, plus all the specific data about the market itself and every public company that’s listed on that market. So you can choose any global stock market and find out, for example, who their top performers or most active companies are with the GQS. We are now in the process of expanding that and we are going to be offering fixed-income products, mutual funds, and ETFs. Those are the categories we are building now. Soon the GQS will feature every publicly traded company, listed on every stock market, worldwide.
Opportunist: Do you have a large IT staff?
David: We have four programmers in our Los Angeles office and 10 in India. We had originally contracted with a firm in Los Angeles that had two partners—one a resident of Los Angeles and one a resident of a town in India. The content developers in India had worked for U.S. companies on a contract basis and we became such a large project for them that they made us an offer to work exclusively for equities.com.
Opportunist: How long has it taken to get your concept off the ground?
David: We put up an early beta site in 2010 and began developing our business plan, but we incorporated Equities.com, Inc. in March of 2011 and soon after we started a full build out. We launched our current equities.com platform just after the 4th of July last year. We have developed the platform in four phases. Phase one has launched and we are getting ready to launch phase two. I had no idea what a big undertaking it was, and it has definitely taken longer to build than I expected—but what I’m learning and what my partner would be quick to tell you, is that our platform will never be completely finished. It is a constantly evolving, living, breathing, growing baby. That’s why it is being worked on literally 24 hours a day.
Opportunist: How do you run a 24/7 operation?
David: Our team in India is 12 hours ahead of us. Our Los Angeles team works throughout the day and before they leave the office, they transmit everything to the team in India. When we come in the following morning, it’s all waiting for us. They will work on it throughout the day. It really is a 24-hour operation.
Opportunist: What does your second phase consist of?
David: Phase two is all about functionality and the user experience. I am not a tech person, so all I can say is we have built our foundation and framework of the platform and now we are going back to finish everything. The framework is laid out and the walls are up and now we are going back and adding the wallpaper and decorations. [Laughs]
Opportunist: Do you have advertising on your site?
David: There is no traditional advertising on our platform…yet, which is done by design. We aren’t launching any advertising until the finishing touches are done.
Opportunist: Do you charge a fee for your site?
David: Membership is now and will always be free. Members can access profiles, stock quotes just like Yahoo Finance on every publicly traded company, or “issuer”, today in just about the whole world.
For issuers, it’s a different story. If an issuer wants to customize their landing page, edit their profile, post corporate videos, release news, or blog, there are many things they can do, for a reasonable fee.
We are examining different price points and part of our revenue model will be to charge companies certain fees. We haven’t firmed up the fee structure yet. There are over 300,000 public companies in the world and the numbers do get staggering if you can get the masses.
However, our primary model is an advertising-based model. As we build into the tens of thousands of issuers; and the hundreds of thousand, if not millions of members, the targeted audience should prove very appealing to advertisers trying to reach our base of self-directed investors, around the world.
Opportunist: Are there any additional features in the works?
David: We are ramping up Equities TV in the next few weeks and months. Our hope and expectation is that we can build up our interviews with CEOs or market gurus and important people in the markets to 15 to 20 video interviews per day. That’s our plan and so far we have been right on track with that. Today, you would probably see about 50 or 60 video interviews. We have been going to events and doing them on location.
Opportunist: Who is your competition?
David: You know, I’d like to say we don’t have competition because we really are a niche platform and I haven’t been able to find another platform that really replicates what we have or what we have done. There’s a lot of competition for someone’s time that they spend on a computer. There are probably hundreds of websites that could be classified as competitors, but to the bottom of my heart, I believe we have developed something unique that does cover a niche market. That’s why we’ve stood out to sites like Google, Yahoo, and others because we do provide content that we create exclusively in this niche market. I think that’s why we’ve been able to take off as fast as we have.
Opportunist: Do you have any major deals or joint ventures in the works?
David: We aren’t ready to announce it but we are signing a contract with one of the largest online publishing houses in the world that will use Equities.com as a content provider for the niche market that we cover. We will have news coming out soon. This has been in the works for about three months, and we signed the agreements last month. They are very interested in having My-Fi, our social network as a social network they will use for all of their business publications.
Opportunist: What expectations do you have for the company in the next few years?
David: Our analytics and web metrics, based on traffic and unique visitors, are extremely robust and truly beat out most of all the secondary platforms in the marketplace. We are definitely on track to reach our goal of one million members and I feel very confident that we are going to get there. Personally, I think it’ll happen in the next year to 18 months. I would like to see My-Fi become the social network in the world of finance and investment. Social networking does seem to be breaking down into verticals. Ten years ago there was basically one site. Today there are hundreds. Our hope and expectation is that we will be the social network people use when they want to find, discuss and learn about investments.
Opportunist: Is an IPO in the future for Equities.com?
David: That’s a good question. My partner, Michael Avatar, and I have financed this 100% ourselves. We have been talking about bringing in outside investors and talking to private equity firms. We have received a couple of offers from firms but they didn’t look attractive to us. We have not made any firm decisions but we are talking to investors, investment bankers, fund managers, etc., and deciding what direction to go in.
Mike has tremendous background in technology. He was voted the 5th most successful entrepreneur in the world in 1989 by the Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs; and he has been the CEO of a number of public companies and startups that have gone public and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues. We are looking for the right value-added partners. Money is an important commodity, but we’d like to make sure it’s the right money.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in the Orlando area.