Feeling Bullish @ StockTwits
While I was planning my weekend visit to San Diego, I decided to take the opportunity to add something unique to my startup journal. I’ve been investing and trading to financially support myself for last two years, and have always found the investors’ social network, StockTwits, fascinating. It’s not only a great platform to share finance-related news, but also a great tool to gauge the investors’ sentiments.
Knowing that StockTwits is based in San Diego, I decided to reach out to people to see if I can meet someone to learn more about StockTwits. Through chains of emails, I got connected with the former CTO, Chris Corriveau. Chris was responsible for StockTwit’s development from the beginning for over five years until May 2014. After exchanging few words, Chris generously invited me to Con Pane Rustic Breads & Cafe, which offers one of the best cinnamon rolls in San Diego.
In the Saturday morning, I drove down to San Diego, and arrived there around 8 a.m. I could not be more excited to kick off my weekend with an awesome opportunity to meet with Chris. A few minutes after I got there, Chris greeted me with a typical San Diego outfit — a t-shrit, shorts, sandals and, of course, shades. We got a couple cinnamon rolls as he suggested, and I got a cup of dark roast coffee to caffeinate myself after two hours of driving. After the introduction, I officially turned on the voice recorder on my phone to document Chris’ story.
Q1. What Led You to Work at StockTwits? — How Did It All Start?
It all started with the blog post from Howard Lindzon. He has a hedge fund company, and was involved with a lot of angel investment deals throughout the 2000s. Twitter was one of the deals he got to look at, but he didn’t fully get the idea of Twitter. He instead thought a Twitter for investors and traders would make a lot more sense. He was more interested in transacting actionable data such as news, rumors and sentiments about stocks. Why would anyone care about a tweet about how we’re getting cinnamon rolls here, right? So, he made a blog post about the idea of StockTwits, and my friend and college roommate Soren Macbeth, who co-founded StockTwits with Howard, approached my company and me to build the first prototype of StockTwits.
The MVP* worked really nicely, though we practically built everything on Twitter’s API. So people would tweet on Twitter and we would pull stock related tweets to our website. Even if you are posting on our website, you would use a Twitter account to tweet. So that was the beginning. We were basically testing, “Will people actually tweet about stock related news?” “Will people share their sentiment about stocks?” “Will people actually use cashtag [e.g. $TWTR]?”
“And they did.”
In the early 2009 when Twitter really started to grow, we approached Twitter and asked them if they could offer businesses like ours a more reliable API or SLA*, since we couldn’t do much when we were yelled at by our customers from the API outages. It could have been a great business deal for Twitter, but they said no. They were too busy growing their own business at that time.
At that point, we decided to create our own platform similar to Twitter’s, and we did. We also augmented financial specific features like industry, stock price, cashtag ($) and such. From there, we raised multiple series of investments and kept scaling up.
Q2. What Led You to Settle in San Diego?
When we started, Howard was a client of my firm based on the East Coast, while Howard was based in Phoenix. So, for the first two years, everything was virtually operated. There was no central office.
In 2010, my team and I were talking about moving out of Massachusetts, and we were thinking of moving to Austin, but Howard was thinking of moving out of Phoenix to San Diego at that time. So he suggested us to move to San Diego and have a headquarters there. I visited San Diego many times before and always loved it. I always thought to myself that I would probably end up in San Diego in the future. So we eventually decided to move here in August of 2010.
Q3. What Is It Like to Work in San Diego? — What Are Your Favorite Parts?
It’s awesome! I love it here. Many people think that there isn’t much going on here in terms of tech, but there is actually a lot of things happening here in San Diego. There are a lot of companies that are not well known to the public, but it’s because they are busy developing their businesses, not publicizing. We have everything from big corporations like Qualcomm and Intuit to a bunch of startups that no one really knows about, but are growing and building profitable businesses. So we have a lot of things going on, but I guess we are just not doing a great job at advertising it.
San Diego is about lifestyle. It’s Southern California. We work hard, but we also have a great work-life balance. It’s very different from working in New York or San Francisco, where things are more hectic. It’s definitely not for everyone.
“I’ve got a city. I’ve got a beach. I’ve got mountains. I’ve got deserts. And I can do all these things in one day. That’s what I love about being here. I’m really bullish on San Diego.”
Q4. What Was It Like to Work at StockTwits? — What Were Your Favorites?
Being virtual for the first two years was a challenge, but we eventually overcame a lot of the communication issues. We definitely have a culture with an interest in finance and stocks as well as fun.
I really liked the idea that started it all. Before I worked on StockTwits, I used to dabble in stock markets a bit. So, naturally, the idea fascinated me. When I had more time, I used it for myself. Ironically, as StockTwits grew, I had to focus more on StockTwits over managing stocks.
Another thing I really liked about the idea was the opportunity of researching massive data. If you have a lot of data, you can get some pretty interesting signals. Eventually, we created a data business, and I thought that was really awesome. It was where I had believed the revenues would come from. It’s something that I am very proud of it.
Lastly the core team I got to work with was amazing, smart and fun and I would love the chance to work with them again.
Q5. What Is One Thing That Surprised You the Most since You Started StockTwits?
How long it took for financial institutions to realize the importance of social data. With social media, you can get useful information and signals to make good decisions and trades. But it took a really long time for financial institutions to adopt the idea and that surprised me a lot.
For the first two years, we were pitching the idea door to door, but no one fully understood the value of it. Imagine if you could have the opinions of hundreds of thousands of people on what to buy, why to buy and so on. To be able to mine that data is a huge advantage. Five years later, people now seem to finally understand the value. It’s surprising that we were quite far ahead.
I think the industry is still behind, and that’s probably because of institutions like SEC and FINRA which dispose a lot of regulations. Dealing with these legal matters is always an issue.
Q6. How Do You See Financial Institutions Being Disrupted in the Next Few Years?
There are a lot of interesting things going on in fin-tech. We’ve got Wealthfront, Robinhood, SprinkleBit and more. A brokerage based in North Carolina, Tradier, is doing what Stipe does, but for stock trading. I think you are going to start seeing, well at least I’m hoping to see, some interesting technology within investing and trading platforms. There are a lot of legal hurdles to overcome to achieve that, but hopefully some rules will become a bit more relaxed in the future.
I can see trade-it-now type of buttons being all over the place with API implementation. A lot of publishers or websites like Yahoo Finance will have trade-it-now buttons so that readers can trade right off the article or twit on StockTwits. They can just click the embedded button and boom, a trade ticket will pop up. This sort of innovation will open up the door to much more interesting development in the space. As investing gets easier and easier, I think we are going to see a lot more opportunities to invest. Investing in general will be more available to people. I mean crowdfunding is technically a fin-tech and you know how that’s going. Fin-tech has been in need of more technology, and I think we are finally starting to see some.
After more than an hour of interesting conversation and fruitful discussion about fin-tech disruption, I had to be on my way to my friend’s graduation. Meeting with Chris was such a relaxing yet insightful learning opportunity to get to know more about StockTwits’ history and the fin-tech industry. I personally want to thank Chris again for sharing his amazing story and vision. Feeling pumped by the delicious cinnamon roll, caffeine kick and Chris’ story, I felt bullish on StockTwits.