Bootstrappers: It Took This Visionary Financier 20 Years to Disrupt Investment Banking – Now He’s Earning $15 Million Revenue
It Took This Visionary Financier 20 Years to Disrupt Investment Banking – Now He’s Earning $15 Million Revenue
OCTOBER 11, 2021
BY: CHRIS ROPER
When you speak to David Frank, you immediately think, investment banker. Don’t let the open collar and jeans fool you: David exudes confidence, gravitas, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. And while that might raise your hackles a bit, I’ll remind you not to judge a book by its cover, and in David’s case, he’s so much more than a financier – he’s a visionary.
David has managed investments for over 20 years. He has a stellar academic record and an impressive list of letters after his name. The hallmarks of another Gordon Gekko? Maybe, but note that he’s also a grinder. In 2001, at just 23 years old, he founded Stonehaven LLC, a capital-raising firm that’s evolved into a global private capital markets fintech platform.
Today, David’s business generates around $15 million in revenue and is growing fast. Whatever your opinions on investment banking, you can’t argue that’s an impressive number for a bootstrapped company. While it’s taken Stonehaven decades to evolve into a fintech business, David believes this is only the beginning as it develops its collaborative ecosystem for investment bankers and placement agents.
If you’re lost as to what David does, you’re not alone. Investment banking is a complex, technical, and heavily regulated market. Think of him as simplifying it. In the early years, David raised capital for hedge funds and then private equity. Today’s Stonehaven didn’t manifest until much later, when David realized the value in streamlining the market for its participants.
“Our platform has over 50 capital-raising businesses, like placement agents and investment banks,” David said. “We’d been a traditional finance business and then became a full technology stack for everyone operating on our platform about four years ago. That change in our business model has accelerated our growth, but it wasn’t easy bootstrapping through all the politics.”
How Stonehaven Evolved from Raising Capital to Building Fintech
David graduated with honors from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business with a B.B.A. He’s a CFA charter holder, and a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization. If David is such a master of raising capital, why did he pivot to fintech nearly 16 years into his 20-year journey building Stonehaven?
“We saw a gap in the market,” David said. “Most broker-dealers were just small firms with light infrastructure. And our affiliates all used different CRMs, spreadsheets, Google docs, and so on to track their investors, pipelines, and clients. No one had the economies of scale to build the right tech stack for it all. But we’d been building our foundation for years and saw that we could go all-in creating a fully integrated infrastructure, technology, and community platform.”
“Our platform is better than anything our affiliates have individually,” David said. “We help them find and onboard opportunities, identify the right investors, track pipelines, manage projects, close transactions, and report to clients. We also help them collaborate on originating and distributing opportunities. Our platform consolidates thousands of workflows, saving time and money.”
Sound familiar? Zillow for capital markets? MicroAcquire for investment banking? You’ll find many parallels to Stonehaven’s opportunity in the market today, all consolidating a fragmented market or process into a single platform. Doing so eliminates a lot of the frustration, uncertainty, and time spent doing everything separately, resulting in some powerful network effects.
But just how complicated is the process of origination and raising capital from investors? David believes the problem is that each participant in the industry does things differently, using ill-adapted and isolated systems and communication channels. Despite working towards a common goal, participants misalign on speed and method.
“Before, forming a contract and performing due diligence on a new mandate would require a barrage of emails, calls, and worksheets with a broker-dealer’s team,” David said. “But we’ve created intelligent workflows with insightful decision trees that take into account all the different steps and questions. We can now ramp up a mandate quickly with better precision because we’ve married great talent with well-designed technology and process.”
In other words, Stonehaven builds technology that reflects the logic and decision-making process for all participants in the chain of raising capital and other types of transactions. Stonehaven’s legal, compliance, and due diligence technology automates a traditionally manual and labor-intensive process, leaving affiliates more time to focus on origination and fulfillment (so they can do more business).
David and his team have also built a technology stack for their affiliate partners called Nexus. It helps affiliates identify investors in their database, manage pipelines, track activity, collaborate, close transactions, run email marketing campaigns, and so on. Think of it as an operating system for capital markets.
“We think everything through on a granular level,” David said. “Due diligence, for example, might involve close to 100 steps, each triggering different people, and we ask, where could we do it better? Or could we add a step or contingency or improve the user interface? It’s the same with introducing affiliates to opportunities. We’re always optimizing these super manual processes.”
How Reinvesting in the Business Helped the Pivot Succeed
David became a successful producer early in his career and bought out his former partners in 2007. He began building a platform when he invested in solving problems his team identified during their front-line experience. “Instead of cutting ourselves big checks, we reinvested everything into the businesses,” David said. “We financed our evolution with revenue.”
“Most people in our industry are focused on raising capital and executing other transactions, not building tech,” David said. “On the flip side, tech people aren’t thinking about broker-dealer and capital market operations to identify this as an opportunity, either. How would they build an entire broker-dealer and all the elements of an investment banking platform without any experience running a capital markets organization?”
Today, Stonehaven has approximately 90 affiliate partners that support over 110 clients across real estate, private equity, venture capital, private credit, hedge funds, long-only strategies, and direct private placements. David’s team has also grown, with 22 people working across internal management, operations, tech, and data, as well as new equity-holding partners. Although Stonehaven remains management-owned, it might consider raising capital to accelerate growth.
“We have a very seasoned management team that has a long history of working together,” David said. “Steven Jafarzadeh has been with me for 14 years, Mark Sullivan’s been with me for eight, and Alex Brooks has been with me for two years. We’ve also brought on a handful of new partners in 2021 who’ll help us accelerate growth. We can finish each other’s sentences. We know exactly where our strengths are and how to work together.”
Stonehaven has a development team in Belarus and an operations team in India. Their affiliates are in over 15 states plus Mexico, Brazil, Israel, and South Korea. Since he began enabling capital raises instead of raising capital, David has found remote working less of a challenge than most in his industry. Much of this is down to building efficient workflow processes that help him and his distributed development team stay on task.
Stonehaven’s affiliates have always been geographically dispersed, so it makes sense that his team is, too: “Whether we’re onboarding new clients, closing transactions, forming cross-marketing agreements, or facilitating collaborations, we’re used to doing it remotely. And Nexus, our technology architecture, streamlines all of that and allows us to scale.”
You might have little sympathy for the pains of investment bankers, but if David’s efforts to modernize the industry create better opportunities for economic growth, we should applaud them. Indeed, any victory, no matter the battleground, deserves recognition – especially those that were the result of a decades-long, bootstrapped struggle to revitalize a tired market.
About Stonehaven, LLC
Stonehaven is a private capital markets FinTech operating system (technology + infrastructure + data) and collaboration network (origination + distribution) for investment bankers and placement agents (Affiliate Partners) to support companies and investors. Our next generation operating system supports the entire lifecycle of deals: sourcing, contracting, due diligence, identifying target investors/buyers, managing execution (robust CRM architecture), collaborating with other dealmakers, reporting and closing transactions. Our Affiliate Partners are active across all sectors of private capital markets: raising capital, executing M&A transactions and conducting secondaries.
Sep 19, 2023
Rob Lingle of Pacific Alternative Investments LLC, Joins Stonehaven’s Affiliate Platform.
Sep 18, 2023
Christian Wood of Solomon Gideon Capital, Joins Stonehaven’s Affiliate Platform.
Sep 18, 2023
Johnny Ruiz of Solomon Gideon Capital, Joins Stonehaven’s Affiliate Platform.
Sep 18, 2023
Samuel Kelly of Solomon Gideon Capital, LLC, Joins Stonehaven’s Affiliate Platform.
Sep 04, 2023
Amanda Rice of Amanda Rice Consulting, Joins Stonehaven’s Affiliate Platform
Aug 16, 2023
John Degen of Fusion Growth Capital, LLC, Joins Stonehaven’s Affiliate Platform.
Aug 10, 2023
Jason DiNozzi of Catch Capital, LLC, Joins Stonehaven’s Affiliate Platform
Aug 10, 2023
Jason Kirby of Thunder X Capital, LLC, Joins Stonehaven’s Affiliate Platform
Aug 03, 2023
Derek James Carroll of High Peaks Capital Securities, LLC, Joins Stonehaven’s Affiliate Platform
Jul 27, 2023
Code Story Podcast - Bonus: David Frank, Stonehaven
Sep 19, 2023
Rob Lingle of Pacific Alternative Investments LLC, Joins Stonehaven’s Affiliate Platform.read more
Sep 18, 2023
Christian Wood of Solomon Gideon Capital, Joins Stonehaven’s Affiliate Platform.read more
Sep 18, 2023
Johnny Ruiz of Solomon Gideon Capital, Joins Stonehaven’s Affiliate Platform.read more