The founder of Stellar Startups finalist Asset-Map LLC, Adam Holt, graduated from Rutgers University to work in financial services. He joined local investment firm Karr Barth Associates Inc. in 1998, and then RubinGoldman and Associates in Bala Cynwyd in 2000, where he continues to work part time as lead adviser for 30 key clients.
Throughout his travels, Holt noticed that clients were often stymied by "80-page reports that we all knew they weren't going to read," he recalled. "I wanted to democratize financial services, and really get back to basics. When finances are complicated, people get stuck."
"Even high-net-worth clients were constantly frustrated with these reports, so I started creating a visual map" that sketched out the clients' life insurance, retirement accounts, special-needs trusts, and other assets in a square surrounding them — all on one page, he said. The goal was to trigger an effective conversation about what actions should be taken.
Where did Holt get the idea? Motivational speaker Tony Robbins played a role.
Holt's mother worked as a real estate broker and agent in Philadelphia, and attended a Robbins seminar when her son Adam was still in Lower Merion High School.
"She came home and said, 'I think you'd really learn something from Robbins,' so she enrolled us both in a weekend seminar," recalled Holt, who is now 43. He was so taken with Robbins' ideas that he began volunteering at staff events, learning about mind-mapping, where a key subject and related areas are diagrammed to view patterns and generate ideas. Holt said he did mind mapping for Robbins' personal records.
"Once I was older and working in finance, I began using those same mind-mapping and fact-pattern techniques and drawing one-pagers by hand as visual aids for my clients," Holt said. His parent company, AXA Advisors, gave Holt permission to use the asset map in the field with clients in a more formal way, and "my business tripled. I was acquiring clients more quickly and helping them have a more consumable view — all on one page. No 80-page reports!"
In 2004, he completed an executive MBA program at Drexel and began percolating the idea of turning his visual client maps into a business.
"I was president of alumni in the Drexel Executive MBA program, and I bootstrapped," he said, investing his own money in 2008.
He hired BISIL to create the software to sell Asset-Map. By 2012, about 90 financial advisers from AXA were using Asset-Map, and by 2013, "I realized it should be a standalone company."
The company's official founding date is March 15, 2013. That year, Holt raised $600,000 initially from friends and family, invested about $1 million of his own money, and hired local law firm RCCB to help set up the business.
"All of our vendors are clients of mine, and I like to keep the business local. Even our developers are all local, because we want to help the Philadelphia region."
Since then, Asset-Map has had $3 million in revenue and hired 10 full-time employees. The Asset-Map system is used by roughly 3,000 financial advisers worldwide at 305 firms, Holt said.
More than 300 advisers are using Asset-Map in the Philadelphia area alone, including tax lawyers, wealth managers, and insurance professionals, he said.
Holt released an international version in 2016 with different currencies, and includes a visual inventory of assets. Each adviser pays $129 a month, or $1,500 a year, to use the service.
The company has no competitors yet. "Creating a scalable interactive visualization for millions of household iterations that is also optimized for paper-based printing is actually really challenging," said Holt, who may need a diagram after that sentence. He also noted that Asset-Map last month scored $25,000 after startup peers chose it as a co-winner of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Village Capital's FinTech Accelerator. Asset-Map is also a finalist in the second annual Stellar StartUps competition held by Philadelphia Media Network, the parent company of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.
Fittingly, Asset-Map moved its offices into the Bourse building on Independence Mall East last fall, near Third Street, also called "Nerd Street," where many web developers and other startups are located in Center City. Holt can now walk to work — he lives in Queen Village with his family.
What about future growth? The rise of robo-investing — where a computer-driven program drives investments — is providing opportunities for Asset-Map. Holt says he has had discussions with "the largest robo-adviser in the world" about using Asset-Map, and he notes that many robo-advisers are starting to realize that "when there's high risk of loss in a portfolio, investors want a human voice."
"Robo 2.0 is learning that humans provide confidence," Holt said. "Otherwise, if they want advice quickly, they just go to Google."