CHRIS COSTELLO - Co-founder of Blooom
“Millions of Americans don’t have access to professional financial advice because they don’t have enough money to get attention. That’s just not right.”
If you get Chris Costello started on the subject, it’s hard to stop him.
“These are regular people who make America what it is. They’re the school teachers, the factory workers and the store clerks. They want their money to work as hard as possible, but don’t have access to professionals to make that happen.”
Chris knows how to make it happen. He started his career in the 1990s as a stockbroker helping really big money work hard.
“I rarely met with anyone worth less than a million dollars.”
As his success snowballed, so did the amount of money required to do business with him. Eventually, this threshold rose so high that it disconnected him from average Americans who needed basic guidance on essential money matters like retirement savings.
“It occurred to me that my own parents wouldn’t even qualify to get in my front door.”
That bothered him. Something else bothered him, too: Many people are wasting their investment opportunities.
“A friend asked me to take a look at his 401(k) and I couldn’t believe what I saw. He had no idea what he was doing. I knew he wasn’t alone. Most people have no choice but to do it all themselves, and that’s not nearly good enough.”
“I can still remember the night back in January 2013. It was late, and Kevin Conard and I were emailing each other back and forth, and he made this epic statement that now lives on the walls of the blooom office: ‘Wall Street has made a habit out of running in the opposite direction of people that don’t have big accounts...why don’t we build something and run towards them.’ By the next morning we had looped Randy AufDerHeide in, and before long we were meeting in Randy’s basement late at night, after our kids were in bed, to begin building what would become blooom.”
That’s how the idea behind blooom was born. Chris, Kevin and Randy decided to uproot their conventional financial careers and cultivate a company devoted to helping average Americans grow their retirement portfolios.
Blooom started as a technology service that you connect to your 401(k) to analyze, monitor and deliver feedback on your investments. Are you paying hidden fees? Do you have the right mix of stocks and bonds? Blooom goes to work answering questions like these, and even makes changes to optimize your 401(k) for you. Apply blooom and watch your retirement grow like a flower – literally. The company uses a simple visual translation of your portfolio’s health that’s as easy to understand as a daisy. And all of this for a small subscription fee.
“It’s 10 bucks a month, comparable to Netflix. But the value, of course, is so much bigger than movies. We fix your 401(k).”
The thing that kept us going was the mission.
Fixing 401(k) investments was a big idea that immediately took root. But getting the company going wasn’t easy. Chris and his partners began building blooom while still working and raising kids, so time was scarce.
“We were constantly juggling, and thought about throwing in the towel many times. The thing that kept us going was the mission. We knew we had a good idea that could make a difference for millions of people who needed it.”
Persistence weeded out moments of doubt, and eventually the sun came out. As blooom winds up its fourth year, more than two dozen employees are now watching over a billion dollars in retirement savings. No robo-advisor has ever hit that mark faster. Blooom did it on just $13 million in venture capital, too. (Similar companies have raised significantly more venture capital to reach the $1 billion mark.)
“We still have such a long way to go, but we really feel like we’re onto something. Feedback from our clients backs that up. We’ve heard heartwarming stories from clients now enjoying more financial security. That puts the wind in our sails.”
Chris’s advice for other entrepreneurs?
“Start something that you’re passionate about. Start something where you’ve seen a wrong that needs to be righted that you feel strongly about. You cannot start a company just because you think you can build something from the financial standpoint. That alone is not enough to sustain you.”
Even if you’re not an entrepreneur, Chris offers a life lesson he’s learned from growing his company that may help you, too.
“Learn to continue through the suck. You know, a startup throws a lot of suck at you. Life throws a lot of suck at you. I think it’s a false hope to think you want to try to build a company and have it never suck. And it’s a total false hope to think you’re going to get through life without it ever sucking. So instead of trying to avoid the suck, learn how to get through it.”
Chris feels the Greater Kansas City area is the ideal home for his thinking, his ambition and his company.
“Greater Kansas City has been such a big part of my life. Same goes for my partners. People are so generous with advice. We’ve had many mentors across the area help us get going in the right directions. Local people have even invested directly in our company. The support for our business is one of a kind, and that’s on top of all the wonderful things that come with living here, like the cost of living, the pace and the family-friendly culture. Kansas City is just a great community.”
As blooom branches out, it’s relying on other local companies to grow along with it. Chris recruited Lead Bank’s help for a very particular reason.
“Lead Bank wants to be our partner; it shows in everything they do. Even Josh Rowland, the bank’s CEO, gets us. He knows we’re trying to do great things and he believes in us. We get the attention we need and deserve.”
While blooom blossoms, it’s proud to bring the community along. Chris says his company looks forward to creating more jobs and generating more wealth to carry Kansas City into the future and repay it for playing a central role in their lives.
“If we execute and evolve blooom like we want to, we’ll help our community build its future, too. Growing our business and our hometown – how can we do better?”