Courier-Post

Courier Post

Teen weaves big success on Web

By Joseph Busler, Courier-Post Staff
Monday, October 9, 2000

Brett Klasko is an editor, publisher and president of his own financial dot-com company.

In a few short years, he built his Internet business, Investors Alley Corp. (http://www.investorsalley.com) into an award-winning Web site that receives a quarter-million page views a month, has more than 10,000 registered users and publishes the work of a nationwide network of about 30 free-lance financial correspondents.

Already, Klasko said, he has turned down an offer of well over $1 million — “almost $2 million, really” — for the business, which he operates out of a small office at One Greentree Plaza on Greentree Road at Route 73 in Marlton, with two … employees.

An amazing-enough dot come success story, made all the more so by the fact that Klasko is just 17 years old.

The Cherry Hill High School East senior describes himself as his company’s “interim CEO” because he’s in the market to hire a permanent one.

“Everybody tells me I need to get some ‘gray hair’ in the business,” he said. “Also, I’ll be going off to college next year.”

He also needs to find someone to run his business so he can go off to college — business school, of course.

Investors Alley is a free, advertiser-supported financial news portal that offers news, opinion, investment research tools, interactive message boards, and a raft of model portfolios.

The site has received some major Internet awards, including the Go Network Money Award and recognition by Online Investor Magazine, Infoseek, Lycos, Netscape’s Netcenter, Snap and Hotbot.

It’s quite an accomplishment for any young executive, much the more so for one who won’t legally be able to sing an enforceable contract until his next birthday.

“I can’t even be on the board of my own company,” he said. “I can’t legally execute stock trades; the accounts have to be custodial accounts with my father’s name on them,” he said.

But such legal impediments ultimately don’t have much effect.

“I manage my father’s investments,” he said.

His father, H. Ronald Klasko, is Investors Alley’s vice president and legal counsel. His day job is head of the immigration department at the Philadelphia law firm of Dechert Price and Rhoads.

Klasko isn’t all business. He loves to play sports and is in junior varsity baseball at East. His grades are good, even though he’s worked out an arrangement to leave school at 1 p.m. to go run his business.

“I’ve really learned time management,” he said. But he said his father has told him that “he’d like me to bring home some normal teen-age problems once and a while, not just contracts and business problems.”

Klasko has been trading stocks since he was 13, but his affair with the market wasn’t love at first sight.

It wasn’t from his father — or his mother Marji — that Klasko got his fascination with the stock market. That came from his maternal grandparents, Elaine and Elwood Becker, who live in Florida.

“My grandparents gave me a subscription to the Kiplinger’s financial newsletter, but I hated it,” he said.

“I had no interest in the stock market,” he said. I wanted them to give me something like a football. I wanted to be a kid.”

Undeterred, the grandparents struck again, giving him 10 shares of McDonald’s stock.

“I didn’t want it. I didn’t see anything I could do with it. The dividend, about 75 cents, was ridiculous.”

But the grandparents’ persistence paid off: “Over time, I began to follow McDonald’s, then the stock market in general,” he said.

At 13, he began to trade stocks, companies such as Cisco Systems, Microsoft, and Netscape, during the heady days of the great technology-led bull market. He made money. He also made mistakes and learned from them.

He was hooked.

Already an Internet user, he put up his first Web page when he was in eighth grade, in 1997.

It developed into something called The Wall Street Page, a homespun investment site hosted by GeoCities.

“It was still in 1997 that GeoCities named me its ‘Cool Site of the Day,'” Klasko said. “I got maybe 1,000 hits that day.”

The attention resulted in his first advertising contract, a banner ad.

But then he went to update The Wall Street Page and it was gone.

“GeoCities kicked me off,” he said. “I found out that they didn’t allow you to make any money from pages they hosted, even thought I was paying them $5 a month for it.”

He learned from the experience, building a better site, which became Investors Alley, where commercial success wouldn’t threaten it. The new site attracted attention and, in August of 1998, won a cash award from a major search engine that brought not only price money but more exposure, more visits and, soon after, a $3,000 advertising contract.

“It was the first big check I received,” he said.

Today, just one of his correspondents is regularly paid — senior columnist Mike Kreusch, a Chicago futures trader with no previous writing experience, who receives $200 a month. (All the contributors are part time, with day jobs. Most write for the exposure or for the love of it.)

Klasko is ready to take his business to the next level — preferably before he has to leave for college. He has been spending a lot of time working on his business plan with an eye to seeking venture financing. He optimistically projects that, with sufficient capital to expand its revenue-producing and other services, Investors Alley could show a $50 million profit by 2004.

Currently, Investors Alley operates on a shoestring basis, with highly variable revenues of “$25,000 to $50,000 a year,” he said.

“Of that, there’s maybe 1 percent profit and I don’t take a salary,” he said.

He said he’s financed the business so far with [private] money and $7,500 to $10,000 in profits from his personal investments.

“Only with venture money will I be able to hire a permanent CEO, have a paid staff and provide coverage at the next level,” he said, adding that he is aware venture capitalists will want a solid road map to profitability.

“VCs don’t want to see BS,” he said.

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