“Ready for some charts, buddy?”
“Hell yeah, I’m ready for some charts!”
And so began my weekend at a conference called Stocktoberfest: Investing for Profit and Joy.
Like many trade writers, I go to a lot of conferences. And like many conference attendees, I go for the networking, not the content. Anyone who’s sat through enough tech-related panels, interviews, and “fireside chats,” knows they eventually start to run together, creating a halo of uselessness over one’s day.
So you can imagine my attitude going into a conference called Stocktoberfest: Investing for Profit and Joy. Investing has contributed approximately zero joy and negligible profit to my life. I was a little confused as to why Sarah even sent me, but also wasn’t about to turn down a few days in Coronado.
To my surprise, I found myself fascinated by much of the content that was, on the surface, meant for the trader audience. Speakers discussed things from macro-trends in foreign exchange markets to complex trading and investment strategies. Part of what I found compelling was how scientific playing the stock market is. It makes venture capital look like random, arbitrary picking. VCs invest because they “like” a company, or because they like the entrepreneur. Traders do it based on cold data, and they do it at scale. They’d look at a big exciting $500,000 seed funding deal as a rounding error.
The reverse was true, too. Many of the traders and money managers in the audience told me they enjoyed the startup demos from companies like Videolicious, NewHive, Blayze, and Rebel Mouse — companies that offer very little relevance to their work — more than the detailed discussions about, say, moving average crossovers.
It was a rare melding of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, two worlds that rarely see eye-to eye, much less attend the same event. It’s a rare individual that can maneuver both realms deftly at once, but that is precisely what Howard Lindzon, StockTwits’ founder and the day’s fast-talking, wise-cracking ringmaster, does every day.
I’d heard stories from his Lindzonpalooza events back in my finance writing days; Brad Feld called Lindzon the “king of ghetto entrepreneurship,” another guy called the events TechCrunch Disrupt Meets Burning Man. Lindzon himself has made weekend-in-vegas comparisons.
The conference reflected the many identities of StockTwits, as well as Lindzon’s identity as an advocate of the San Diego startup scene, active angel investor, and friend of powerful finance gurus. StockTwits occupies an in-between world that isn’t quite pure finance and isn’t quite pure startup.
Sure, the company is a social media startup that aims — to crib from Mark Zuckerberg — to make the financial world more open and connected. But it’s also a financial company, doing battle against several large, powerful data and news conglomerates. And lastly it’s publisher and news service, providing highly specialized information to a highly specialized audience.
It was a “something for everyone” approach that I wish more conferences would embrace. I was happy that there was something for me, the tech writer, since I still had to file stories (I covered StockTwits’ API and Rebel Mouse’s $2.5 million funding). But I was more thankful I got to listen to Michael Parekh’s thoughts on the coming broadband disaster, or Josh Brown’s thoughts on transparency in financial punditry.
Ultimately it served to increase my interest in the coming fintech revolution, as Lindzon characterized it. There is such a high premium on financial data. This is why Bloomberg subscriptions cost $2,000 a month; why the most basic Factiva susbcription costs $10,000 a year; why LexisNexus has a 151-page pamphlet just to explain its pricing.
But no longer. StockTwits, its API partners, and many other fintech startups, are making sophisticated trading information and rich sentiment analysis available for free or nearly free. The startup mentality is beginning to infect finance (only a few years to a decade after it’s infiltrated New York’s other legacy industries like publishing, advertising, and fashion). “The years of the financial Web being locked behind paywalls are behind us,” Lindzon said. This is why StockTwits, with its 6 million users, is free. “We’re democratizing access to financial information.”
So I suppose the headline of this piece could be “Cynical writer goes to conference, actually learns something.” It’s a good thing I caught the last flight out of San Diego today. I think the sunshine is starting to affect my brain.