Last year, I profiled Ryan Hughes ’14: Founder of Bull Oak Capital, Early Graduate, Father and Husband. Ryan founded his company Bull Oak Capital (www.bulloakcapital.com) as an investment firm using strategy he designed with the help of Anderson faculty members Hanno Lustig, Professor, and Jason Hsu, Associate Professor. After back-testing the strategy and writing a whitepaper on its results, Ryan moved to San Diego to launch Bull Oak. We recently caught up.
DYLAN: It’s been a year since you launched Bull Oak Capital. How is business?
RYAN: Business is good! This is my first real venture out on my own so it’s been exciting for me. (Before FEMBA I was in finance as a financial advisor.) I’m past the one-year mark and I’m not homeless, so I guess you can call it a success! In all seriousness, business has been good. It has its peaks and valleys–and it was definitely difficult the first few months–but momentum has been picking up and Bull Oak is making a name for itself.
DYLAN: How So?
RYAN: Well, not many financial advisors are financial experts. It sounds absurd, I know, but it’s true. There are a lot of financial advisors that are good at retirement planning, but not many of them are knowledgeable when it comes to portfolio management and the markets. Most advisors hire third–party managers via mutual funds and separate accounts. So, for a high net worth individual to work directly with a portfolio manager is rare. This is where Bull Oak Capital differentiates itself.
DYLAN: How has Anderson helped with the launch of your firm?
RYAN: There is no way I could’ve launched this firm without the help of Anderson. It was absolutely critical. First and foremost was the creation of the investment strategy; Professor Lustig’s and Professor Hsu’s guidance during my year-long research project was obviously crucial. Second, a few of my fellow FEMBA classmates also helped with the design of the strategy, namely Dr. Dragos Munteanu and Dr. Mahyar Kargar (who is now an Anderson Finance PhD candidate). Third, a good number of my initial clients were fellow Anderson folks (classmates, alumni, and faculty). And finally, the UCLA Alumni Association in San Diego has been a great resource.
DYLAN: What would you say has been the biggest challenge in your first year?
RYAN: I would say the biggest challenge has been trying to create forward momentum in a competitive industry like finance. Of course, the easiest way to create momentum is to generate sales–but that’s easier said than done. To close any sale, especially in this industry, there has to be a significant amount of trust. Nobody is going to give me their life savings if they don’t trust me. When I was at Merrill Lynch, building that trust was easier. Everybody knew of Merrill Lynch, I never had to prove the firm’s credibility, and therefore a certain level of trust in Merrill Lynch’s brand image was extended to me as one of its representatives (despite the 2008 financial crisis). In the beginning, nobody had heard of Bull Oak before, so it was more of a challenge to build that same level of trust. The easiest way for me to begin to break through was to talk about my experience in the industry, my education from Anderson, and the sophistication of the investment strategy.
DYLAN: Anderson has certainly helped prepare you for the launch of Bull Oak Capital (www.bulloakcapital.com). In hindsight, is there anything you would’ve done differently?
RYAN: Overall, I’m very happy with my experience at Anderson; however, I wish I‘d taken more Marketing courses. I overloaded on Finance courses, which certainly helped, but at Bull Oak I spend a significant amount of my time on marketing efforts. I truly believe that I have a huge competitive advantage, but it is easy to get lost in the crowd. There are a lot of small and mid-sized investment firms out there, though most are without a unique value proposition.
Luckily for me, a lot of my competitors are not very good at positioning themselves in the market. I’ve spent a lot of effort this past year shoring-up this area of weakness by hiring several marketing experts. The biggest improvement thus far? My online presence. My website was completely redesigned and I have an SEO expert helping me out. The second? I’ve started a regular newsletter (www.bulloakcapital.com/newsletter) that I send out to ~500 subscribers. There is still work that needs to be done, but I’m happy with the progress thus far.
DYLAN: Anything exciting on the horizon?
RYAN: I’m very close to bringing on my first Bull Oak Capital representative! He was a good friend of mine at Merrill Lynch and he looks to be a great addition to firm.
DYLAN: Any last thoughts?
RYAN: To any of my fellow Anderson colleagues that are contemplating an entrepreneurial venture, do it! This has not been an easy year me, especially on the heels of completing the FEMBA program. However, if you have the will and the opportunity, don’t hesitate! You will not find a better time in your life.
Anderson is rich with intellectual capital. One would think that business ventures would be more prevalent at the school. Yet, I don’t believe there are nearly enough Anderson entrepreneurs out there. The Anderson community is a fabulous resource waiting to assist you. All you have to do is to pull the trigger and make it happen!
DYLAN: Thanks for keeping us posted. Hope we get to see you and Bull Oak Capital for FEMBApalooza 4!