Joshua Young started his hedge fund less than a year ago. Last month, he caught a break when a university endowment handed him $20 million, quintupling his assets under management.
How did an obscure Houston fund called Bison Interests land such a big fish?
Young, all of 32, had set up a profile on SumZero, a website that started out as a repository for buy-side research and has more recently morphed into a mashup of LinkedIn and Match.com where institutional investors can find up-and-coming fund managers and choose them based on the quality of their analysis. Using SumZero, Young bypassed an old-boy network that prizes relationships, credentials and word-of-mouth referrals. The company says it has helped generate hundreds of introductions between the more than 12,000 fund managers with SumZero profiles and the 270 institutional investors now using the site, which include the family offices of several big tech executives.
"You can really get a sense of quality by looking at someone’s performance, looking at their research, looking at their profiles," said Divya Narendra, SumZero's co-founder and chief executive officer. "A lot of guys that are really smart don’t have a brand, don’t have a huge network and we can help them build that network out."
SumZero is one of many "fintech" startups vowing to bring transparency to Wall Street and is a long way from upending the existing order. But the New York-based company is starting to win respect by surfacing small hedge funds with unique investment strategies.
Multiple studies have shown that smaller funds tend to do better than larger ones, some of which have performed poorly during the recent market rout. But herd mentality and risk- avoidance prompts many institutional investors to steer their money to big, entrenched players. Firms with more than $5 billion under management represent just 6 percent of all hedge funds but manage about 70 percent of the invested capital, according to Hedge Fund Research.
SumZero didn't begin as a Wall Street matchmaker. Narendra, who previously worked at Credit Suisse and hedge fund Sowood Capital, founded SumZero in 2012 as a place for buy-side analysts to share stock research. Analysts can only see others’ work if they post their own. Non-contributors pay anywhere from $10,000 to six figures a year for access to the research, depending on the size of their firm.
As the company signed up members, it began getting calls from institutional investors looking to use the site to scout promising fund managers. Narendra began seeing SumZero as a social network for the investment community. (He was no stranger to the genre. In 2002, Narendra started Facebook forerunner ConnectU with his Harvard University roommates Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. Two years later they filed a lawsuit against Facebook alleging that Mark Zuckerberg had used their source code to build his own site. The case was settled in 2008.)
Institutional investors’ interest in SumZero prompted Narendra to launch a service that connects investors with fund managers—"capital introduction" in Streetese. He reasoned that the feature would prompt SumZero members to post their best ideas in an effort to get noticed by Ivy-League endowments, family offices, pension funds, funds of funds and other institutional investors.
Based in the trendy WeWork office with various other startups in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood, SumZero is a lean operation with just 13 employees. The Winklevoss twins invested about $1 million in the company in 2012, and there have been no subsequent funding rounds. Narendra says the company is cash- flow positive.