On June 14, Don Montanaro, the CEO of online brokerage and wealth management firm TradeKing, spoke at the LAB about his experiences building his company. TradeKing launched in Miami, and later also opened a location in Charlotte, NC. It was recently acquired by Ally Bank for $2.5 million.
Don was born and raised in southern New Jersey. He earned his J.D. from The Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and B.A. from the University of Notre Dame. He currently lives in South Florida, which he calls his “chosen home.”
During the event, Don noted that at first, he did not know what he wanted to do with his life. He took an aptitude test in high school. The top result said that he should be a Sculptor, and the second said that he should be an Entrepreneur. While Don understood that that test should have no real effect on his decisions, this second result stuck in his head as he continued on with his life. He went to law school. However, while law interested him, Don knew that it was not his passion. After Law School, he moved to California and took a job working in the mailroom of a brokerage firm. There, he learned the importance of having direct contact with investors, as he would send mail to investors of the firm as part of his job.
After working for the firm, he started his career as an entrepreneur. TradeKing was actually the third company that he helped start. He and a group of friends joined together to create TradeKing, which they believe filled a hole in the online brokerage industry. Don attributes much of the success of TradeKing to the transparency that he and his partners provide with investors and with each other. Don runs a blog where he informs investors of the state of the company and allows them to communicate with him directly. This transparency differentiates his company from bigger online brokerage firms. This was especially important during the financial crisis of 2008, when many investors were hesitant on working with non transparent companies.
He also attributes this transparency as a major reason for the company being able to survive through rough times. They accepted the ample evidence that showed that the company needed to downsize, and did not withhold information from each other. Because they downsized, they were able to prosper after the crisis ended.
Ultimately, Don expressed one key driver to starting and succeeding in a business: love what you do. He loves his job. When asked how many hours a week he works, he said he does not know exactly, because he’s always thinking about his company and strategizing to making it better.
Written by Franklin Richard Civantos and Jack Christianakis Pattullo