I wanted to reflect for a moment on how Zoe came to be, and why we do what we do. We launched back in February 2018—and it’s been an absolute whirlwind. At Zoe, we match consumers with independent, fee-only financial advisors. In just a few months, we exploded from zero to thousands of matches across the country. The traction attracted top-tier investors, great press (here, here, here), and talent. Yet, like all company stories, behind the scenes, it wasn’t an overnight success.
Actually… it almost didn’t happenBack in 2011, I graduated from Wharton Business School without a job. After stacking up 15 rejections for roles in asset management, I did what any sensible 29-year-old without a job would do—I took off with my wife to the beaches of Cartagena, Colombia to recharge for a few days. I was wearing a bathing suit in the back of a smelly taxi as we hurtled down the narrow streets of Cartagena when I got “The Call.” JP Morgan Asset Management wanted me to swing by their NYC offices to present for a role as a global market strategist. I’d soon be doing in-depth research on the economy and markets, and communicating the findings to our clients, who were financial advisors. Within 18 months, I went from Associate to Executive Director. The bank elevated me to spokesperson status; I did CNBC TV spots and was quoted in The Wall Street Journal on a weekly basis. One of my favorite parts of the job was presenting to large audiences of our client’s clients—by which I mean regular, real, non-finance folks. I absolutely loved finding ways to explain complex topics—like the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing—in a simple, clear manner everyone could understand. After each presentation, I got pats on the back from people like Grace, who’d retired from Pepsi the prior year and had four grandchildren. Or Harold, who met his wife at his employer, General Electric, 20 years back and was now just a few years out from retirement. They shook my hand warmly and told me things like, “Thanks for that…I’ll rest better at night knowing my money is in good hands.” I remember thinking, I can see myself doing this for a looooong time.
So yeah, Zoe almost didn’t happenThen I received an invite to present at a large conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was an internal powwow for 400 financial advisors at a large bank (which will remain nameless, you could substitute any of the major ones). The stage was lit like a Beyoncé concert—though the people onstage were a bunch of slightly overweight, middle-aged men who’d once been star athletes in high school. I was sitting in the backstage area, waiting for my turn to speak. By chance, the agenda had their annual award ceremony lined up just ahead of my speech. A big, booming voice called out:
“The award for the Biggest Producer in the Mid-West Region is…”
“The award for Most Sales of Large Cap Growth in the East is…”The voice droned on and on. Finally, I turned to Stephanie, who worked in marketing for the bank and was sitting next to me, and asked, “What is a producer?” She said, “Oh, they mean the sales force…you know…the advisors.” She had a conflicted expression of both disgust and pride—like someone who’d once truly believed her firm had a purpose but now knew better.
I realized that I was witnessing the equivalent of doctors having an internal conference to celebrate which doctor had sold the most drugs to patients.Now, there’s nothing wrong with the sales profession—this is about context. These people called themselves financial advisors to their clients and promised to help them with the most important financial decisions of their lives…but they knew they were really salesmen. The “production” numbers Mr. Booming Voice was giving awards for were someone’s retirement dreams, college funds, and savings to buy a home.