Eric Satz is the founder and CEO of Alto, a platform for investors to use their retirement accounts for investing in alternative assets, such as private companies, real estate, cryptocurrency, equity crowdfunding, and marketplace loans.
The firm enables investors to better diversify their IRA and 401(K) accounts into higher-return, long-term alternative investment opportunities.
For a long time, IRAs have been dominated by Fidelity, Charles Schwab, eTrade, and Vanguard. However, digitization and the fintech revolution have opened the door for a wave of new upstarts.
In this episode, Eric and Aaron discuss why alternative investments are on the rise, how his company raised a $40m Series B, and the field of competitors.
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If you liked this interview, check out episode 492 with Joe Percoco where we discuss the fundamental pieces of a fintech startup and the future of retirement investing.
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Watson: Alrighty, Eric, thanks for coming on the podcast, man. I'm excited to be taught.
Satz: Aaron. Thanks for having me, buddy. I, I, I've been looking forward to this. I'm ready. You know, hopefully I'm ready to go
Watson: here. Oh, I'm sure you are. I think that the most helpful place to start folks, I want to really, you know, get a precipitous stair climb up into the nuances of what you're doing with Alto, but to start things off if people aren't super into investing, they may have heard of something like a 60, 40.
Traditional equity bond portfolio. That's kind of been the tried and true, safe, right down the middle fat pitch of portfolio theory for decades and for a number of reasons that is less appealing to people. So. In the context of that, being a very kind of conventional style of setting some money aside for retirement or whatever your financial goals may be, what is also doing to kind of serve as a different pole, so to speak of, of funds and, and kind of ways to think about your.
Satz: Well, if I knew we were going to play softball, I would have brought a bigger bat. I appreciate that opening question. So let me start with what all the does, and, and also it makes it easy for individual investors to access their retirement savings for purposes of investing in alternative assets.
Now we define alternative assets as private equity venture capital real estate. Private credit product, securitize artwork, or collectibles like automobiles or watches or babe Ruth baseball cards or Michael Jordan sneakers. And, and crypto as. So so said another way, maybe a little bit going around the barn backwards here is that these are assets that are not publicly traded.
They're not registered securities. And for the most part, places like fidelity and Schwab, which is where an individual in the past may have engaged in the. Conventional wisdom of a 60, 40 portfolio, those places aren't going to allow you to invest in these types of assets. And so we serve two functions in this process we serve, but that.
The connective tissue and the platform by which you access and transact with other investment platforms or even your own investment opportunities in order to execute these transactions with your retirement accounts. And we serve as the custodian, which is a regulated entity and, and required by the IRS for people who want to invest with their retirement safe.
And so I think the thing about 60 40 is that it's old conventional wisdom, and I think it served its purpose, but I think you have to go back to a, to a time a couple of decades ago. When the number of public companies was growing rapidly, where we would end up with almost 9,000 public companies today, we've got less than 4,000 public companies and of the 4,000 that exists today, only 400 matter in terms of returns.
So if you combine that dynamic with the explosive growth in the mutual fund industry and the ETF. Right where everyone said, you know what? You can't beat the market. Don't try to pick stocks. You can't be an active investor. You should be passive about this. Just buy mutual funds. Everybody did. Everybody did that in their 401k.
Everybody did that in their IRA. Everyone who employs a financial advisor, all the financial advisors. Be passive by this mutual fund because, well, that's really easy for them anyway. So in, in today's world where people have this, you know, portfolio of mutual funds, they actually don't have any portfolio diversification.
And that's because every mutual fund or ETF is comprised of some subsegment of the same 400 company. So it's impossible to outperform the market. It's impossible to get any excess returns. And so what we do is we say, you know what? You need portfolio diversification. You can't find it in the public markets.
Let us make these other asset classes available to you. We're not telling you what to invest in. We're saying. Take advantage of this single greatest tool at your disposal, which is diversification in order to reduce your portfolio volatility and increase the potential for returns. Right? And so I think in an ideal world, you might have 10% of your assets in 10 different asset categories.
I think that's sort of out of reach for most, most people and. And it's out of reach today because of who has that kind of time. So really get to know 10 different ESSA categories. But how about five asset categories? How about putting 20% of your investible assets in, in five different categories? And by the way, we're not anti.
We're just saying it shouldn't be 60, 40 public. And so maybe of 20% in equities, maybe a 20% in bonds. I'm, you know, I'm just picking up, but then maybe have 20% in private companies of various stages, 20% in credit product and maybe a 20%. Right. And so what we do is enable that true construction of portfolio diversification.
And, and, and that's what we're about. We're not about saying invest in this one thing, and we're certainly not about saying invest all of it in this one thing.
Watson: And it's part of the nature of the digital age that people have more access, more option to things across the board, outside of finance media you know, the ability to in a globalized world world buy something that was produced on the other side of the planet and have a travel all the way around to you with a, you know, two day expected delivery or whatever the thing may be.
But very specifically. When you think you're talking about diversification and part of the goal of you know, diversifying where your investments are, is trying to get something beyond market returns. If everyone owns an S and P 500 index, then you're going to get exactly what everyone else is getting, but the other, but the other side of it is also a full.
Of risk management. And you mentioned crypto, some of the other options are investing in private companies and artwork, but the farmland piece in terms of a potential alternative asset to be in was a really interesting one because I remember listening to an interview with an institutional investor and they were basically explaining, you know, I don't know if it was the Harvard endowment or Yale or whatever, but like, you know, the average person can't go by.
Multiple hundred acres of forest lands that will be logged and we'll have a nice return over 25 year period, but there's no real sense of liquidity in the market for hundreds of acres of forest lands. But I, as the head of this endowment, whatever can totally conceivable. That's really the difference here is partially there's a, there's a, a legibility and a Lego blue building block nature to some of these investible assets that just weren't an option in the paper and pencil.
You know, when TD Ameritrade was getting built, it was paper and pencil and they were calling stuff in as opposed to being able to digitize everything.
Satz: Yeah. So you're referring to the fractionalization of ownership. When I, when I'm feeling particularly. Particularly poetic. I call it the fractionalization of securitization.
My mom taught me how to rhyme when I was little kid. So you know, it's, it's this ability, eh, actually let's, let's stick with farmland, right? Like, you know, do you have $500,000 or a million dollars or $5 million to go buy all this farm land? Ignore the due diligence side of that of a first, second he's like, dude, do you have the wampum to do it?
Most of us, no, don't right. But farmland as an asset class and certainly as portfolio diversification and something to use to reduce volatility. So I'm not totally dependent upon how my equities do or how my crypto does is a huge asset to have in the portfolio. Specifically, we work with partners like acre trader and farm together who enable you to participate in their in their investment opportunities for, I, you know, probably as low as $2,500.
Right. And you get to review the diligence material that professionals have put together. And they can help educate you. You of course need to do the homework and, and everyone should go educate themselves with respect to how they invest in and where they invest. But that they no pun intended. They literally break it down into bite size pieces, you know, so you can invest in farm land, whereas, you know, five years ago that couldn't happen.
And you can take that same fractionalization of ownership thesis, and you can apply it across all these asset classes. Right? So in, in venture capital or private equity, it may be with Angeles or Republic, or we fonder in private credit it's, you know, with companies like cadence and real estate someone like diversify.
In artwork, it's masterworks it, you know, so the lady in collectibles you'll see at least knock on wood, I'm hoping, you'll see pretty soon getting added to our, to our partner portfolio, rally and Otis. And, and that would be great. Right? So, This ability to build a portfolio and to build diversification within each asset class, no matter how much you have at your disposal, really.
Right. And that's, that to me is exciting about where we're headed in this business. It's also exciting with respect to what I think is going to be key. You mentioned liquid. Right. I think, and this is not happening tomorrow. It's a, it's a slightly longer window or a timeframe if you will. But the, the digit the, the digitization of securitization and specifically the blockchain uses that, that are now sort of on the doorstep of our disposal and how that will enable.
To trade and get liquid embarrassing is pretty exciting to think about.
Watson: So. One of the other kind of big pieces of news and probably reasons that you're excited is that a $40 million series B was just announced for Alto. And another thing that we've covered in many past episodes is the kind of, if you think about different stages, seed series, a series B onwards and upwards.
Each of those come with these different actual risks that need to be removed. Yes. You went positive, you know, stratosphere at hockey stick numbers, but in maybe the earliest stages, what you're trying to prove is this technically feasible. Is there any sort of interest in something like this, does the team make any sense?
And then a series that you're looking for some form of evidence that, you know, we figured out how to grow this thing. And a lot of those risks risks are there. $40 million round, at least in my mind looks very much like a growth round. It's like, Hey, we have a formula now of getting more types of assets being available on the platform and getting people to use our platform.
Can you talk about specific to a series B what risks you had to prove were off the table or, or demonstrate we're likely off the table to your investors and how did you do that?
Satz: Yeah. Regardless of what name you give a particular round of financing, you know, you typically start at the beginning of of any company with kind of team risk product market fit, and then execution.
Right. And, and I think as you go through the various fundraising stages, you've got to eliminate. Parts of each of those risks. And as you eliminate the sort of big question marks and, and there's not any one thing within team, there's not any one thing within product market fit. And there's certainly not any one thing within execution.
You know, each one has variables living underneath. And so. You have to begin to eliminate a bunch of those variables and that, and at the beginning, at the very beginning, I honestly it's about storytelling, right? It's here's how big the market opportunity is. We can attract the people to help build us the company that's going to take advantage of that, that market opportunity.
And by the way, here's why people want that solution to this. As you go to to series a, as you're building a series, a your, your, you know, the product is out in the wild. You're no longer selling the story. You're hopefully demonstrating that you have product market fit, that, that people want this thing that you are selling.
And, and that kind of gets you to the series. A and we did the series a. For us anyway back in March, April of, well, of last year of, of, of 2020. And the idea was that we could show that with the product market fit that we had demonstrated and with the team we had built up until that point that we could begin to accelerate.
Watson: Let me pause you real quick. You said last year you said March, April, 2020. Did you mean.
Satz: I meant 20, 21. Yes. Okay.
Watson: You say, if you raised in the middle of like the world seemingly coming down, that would have been one of the most, like we would stop everything else and just be like, tell me about that story, but 20, 21, got it.
Satz: Yeah. 20, 21. But what I will tell you is I raised immediately before the world coming down and, and this is like that. And I'm going to come back to the soreness. Second. I think. I'm older than a lot of entrepreneurs. I think I'm, you know, I'm 52 years old. I, I have seen more cycles than a lot of, you know, on entrepreneurs and sort of at the end of 2019 going, going into 20 You know, I had this uneasy feeling about things.
I certainly wasn't predicting a pandemic by the way. You know, my crystal balls first of all is not made a crystal and certainly not clear like that, but so we ended up raising right before right before the pandemic. And as a result, we were able to continue to accelerate growth. Through 2020.
Whereas other people were thinking about, okay, who are we going to cut back? How do we spend less all this stuff? Like we, we were doing more, not less. And you know, so a little bit more than a year later in March at 21, when, when we raised the series a we demonstrated that not only have we built something that people wanted.
They were paying us for it. Right. And so basically from the year 2021 had 15 X revenue growth, which you could S you could say you're still starting from the, from the law of small numbers. But I don't care. 15 X, 15 X, 15 X is, is a big, it wasn't that small that we were starting with fit, you know, fit 15 X is, it is a big number.
And so that was the train that we were on. And that's what led to our series B because, because it was saying, look we feel like we've established ourselves as the leaders in the category. This is what our vision roadmap for the future looks like with more money, we can, you know, not just step on the gas put, but put the pedal to the floor and, and we think we can go another, you know, call it five to seven X from 21 to 22.
And that's, that's what we're trying to do now. And that, that's why we raised the $40 million.
Watson: And so. So, what I was struggling with going into this interview was understanding the proper categorization. Cause if you've looked at, if you've watched startup deck, like people do their pitches, one of the slides of every single deck is here's like the five competitors and we have this box and like all these different things, like, look our box, we have everything.
Check mark. And then all of our competitors are missing at least one check mark in some way, shape or form. And we've referenced, we've referenced, you know, TD Ameritrade, fidelity Schwab, some of these kind of conventions. Enormous platforms, billions and billions and billions and AUM that are helping people to kind of wrap up their equity and bond, investing into these IRA type of rappers.
Is that who you point to as the competition for a platform like this, there, you kind of foresee that they eventually have to move in this direction and you have that first mover, nimble start-up type of advantage, or do you conceive of the chess board in a different. I
Satz: think, I, I think about it somewhat differently.
First of all I think we all owe a lot to fidelity Schwab, TD. E-Trade all those folks. I mean, they, they moved I I'm going to say they, they took the investment landscape and they shifted it. Up into the right, so significantly over the last couple of decades to everyone's benefit. And, and those are, those are incredible combination.
I think we're doing something very different from what they do. I, I, I consider them to be. One, one of two things either potential partners because they, they decide that w what we built is a value, and they want to partner with us in order to enable access to their client base, or eventually potential competitive.
But I don't think that's happening tomorrow. And if, if you asked me what my goal is with, with Alto, it's to displace fidelity as the leading retirement investment platform. And, and, and if you don't have goals like that now all companies are different, but we're a company that's raising venture capital.
We have institutional investors. So, you know, I think it's only appropriate that we have goals to do display Sutton, display someone like fidelity. Th the, the other thing that I want to point out, and I think this is a somewhat relevant an important comparison. Actually it has to do with Charles Schwab the man, not the business, but the business followed, which is if you roll back a few decades, The brokerage industry commercials were dominated by F Hutton.
And, and you may not even be old enough to it, to, I've seen an EF Hutton commercial. Yeah. Right. So it was sheriffs and Lehman Hutton. Is what bef I mean, there's so many mix ups in the, in the brokerage industry and investment banking industry, but the F Hutton commercial, when something like when, when, if Hutton talks people listen, and, and there was this commercial where EFA.
To the extent he was a guy would start speaking and everybody else around would sorta turn and cut their ear and, and try to listen to this stage, you know, investment advice. But really the, the scene in which this took place was a country club or a yacht club or a golf course, or pick some setting where you had, you know, You know, wealthy white guys.
Right. And, and it was like this commercial was really only speaking to that demographic and, and a broker wasn't going to talk to you unless you had a certain amount of money. And I think one of the, the, the Justin incredibly genuine and brilliant things that Charles Schwab did was to say, you know, what.
We're not giving the average investor, the average American enough credit here. Everybody can and should do this. And by the way, the discount brokerage that Schwab introduce, like in the early seventies, it was like 49 99 a trade. Can you imagine? For Robin hood zero Schwab 49 99. Like that was, that was discount brokerage trading.
But what they did was they said, Hey, we're going to put a store on every corner of Maine. We're going to invite people in, we're going to help them. We're going to educate, we're going to tell them why they need to do this. And he was just way ahead of his time there, I think. And it was just absolutely brilliant.
And so to, to, to a certain degree, what I like to think that we're doing. Is what Charles Schwab did without the, you know, stores on the corner of main and main, which is like, you know what? Everyone deserves the ability to, to potentially achieve some outsized returns. It's not without risk, but we want to help you understand those risks.
We want to help you do your homework. We help you diligence opportunities. And then of course we want to make it so that you can execute an affordable way. So just trying to follow that model, hopefully we'll have a quarter of the success he did.
Watson: Yeah. I mean, that would still be an absolutely epic company because it, those companies are, if you're in finance, you have an appreciation for the scale and the, the, the amount of just kind of market moving impact that they have.
But if you're not there. You know, I don't wanna say hidden in the background cause they're probably every other, like a NFL Sunday running some sort of commercial in some way, shape or form, but it's easy to miss the, the scale there. So I'm going to talk really quickly about just another important nuance, not speaking over people's heads because there's there's finance people.
They're gonna be just nodding along and then there's gonna be folks that might miss the nuance here is because that these are IRAs. There are potentially tax advantage. Statuses associated with making these investments so that it's already possible to, you know, because of reg CF and some of these crowdfunding platforms that you referenced masterworks, you can go direct to all of these platforms and do that type of investing.
I just got an email the other day that was like solicited via angel list to be a part of the seed round of a startups round of fundraising. The important element here that takes. Doing it through also to another level is the potentially tax advantage status that comes with being in the IRA rapper. So I thought maybe you could use the story that got all sorts of people in a tizzy about Peter teal and his investment in Facebook.
As an advantage as an example of that, or if you wanna use a different one. I totally understand.
Satz: No. So I wouldn't do, I want to build on what you just said first then that, and then I'll talk about Peter too. So you know what, whether it's in your fidelity IRA or in your auto IRA you don't pay taxes on capital gains.
You're you only. So, you know, to extent you have gains, you get to re-invest them without pay, without paying taxes and you get the benefit of compounding returns. And I'm probably gonna butcher this, but I think on sign referred to compounding at the time it was compounding interest. So I'll call it compounding returns is like the eighth wonder of the world.
And you can do some quick math or pull out a Google sheet or Excel or your spreadsheet. And, and you could just see how much bigger your returns are over a lifetime of investing. Call it 20 or 30 years, depending on how old you are. If you're not paying those, you know, let's just call it a 20% tax rate every time you get returns.
But instead you get to reinvest that 20% each time that before you know it, that's a big number. The the, the second piece, which is the Peter Tio question, the issue actually didn't live with his investment in Facebook. I don't think anyone in any way questions, the validity. His having invested in, by the way, what's important here is that he invested out of his Roth IRA.
So he did an alternative IRA investment, like an also IRA investment out of his Roth IRA. And you know, for those who don't know, when you invest, when you put money in a Roth, you pay the taxes upfront and then all your returns, including when you take your distributions out at retirement are all texts.
And so he made he famously made a $500,000 I think it was a $500,000 investment in a very early Facebook. Which turned out to be worth a billion dollars. And well, we call that a good investment. So and, and the thing about also that, that I like to point out is that you don't have to have $500,000 to do what Peter to.
You can have $500 or 5,000 or 50,000, you can still achieve the same return through our Roth account. Right. You know, the absolute dollars may be slightly different. But the IRR is the same. The, the piece that I'm not saying is that when you invest out of an IRA, there are certain, although highly limited restrictions.
Which has to do with what is called a prohibited transaction. And so for all the entrepreneurs out there, as well as the CEOs who are on boards of companies, you cannot use your own IRA to invest in your own company. And. So all the, all the hubbub around what teal did actually goes back to his investment in PayPal and whether or not that was inappropriate investment.
Now, I don't know the details around it, but I suspect whether it, whether it was legal or not knowing in the IRS notice, you know, until some point beyond the statute of limitations is what I suspect. So, yeah.
Watson: It makes sense. I just think that you know, the, the very easy thing for all the platforms to sell you on.
And, and it's very understandable is pay less in fees, pay less in fees. Everyone has to pay less in fees, but it's really important to also recognize that, you know, if your, your fee is being reduced from say 1% to 0.1% or 0.1% to 0.05%, that versus. Avoiding a 15%, you know, tax or whatever the, the effective capital gains tax would be on that trade.
You're talking about completely different levels of you know, potential savings when you use that vehicle. So I just, I think it's important to recognize that because someone's gonna say, well, I've already bought a piece of art on masterworks. I've already bought my, you know, swanky set of shoes or whatever on rally.
And I, I, I don't necessarily need this. It's like, that's partially what you're trying to also help people do
Satz: know that that's right. The savings are of a far different scale. I think it's also important to note that you can't use your IRA to buy from yourself and assets that you already own. Just, just so people.
So, so people don't take you know, I don't want some to have the takeaway like, oh, you know, I bought something on rally. I want to now sell it to my IRA. That's one of those prohibited transactions.
Watson: Right. So Eric, this has been fantastic. I, I hit most of the questions that I had today. But before I kind of aim towards wrapping up with the final, last two, was there anything else you were hoping to share about business building, building about Alto in general, that I didn't give you a chance to
Satz: look at it it's every, every overnight success is like some long time in the making, right.
It, you know I was interviewed about the series B round LA last week. And unfortunately it didn't make it into the article, but for those who, who are listening at, at home, what didn't make it into the article. As I said, you know, all these articles get written about the founders and the CEOs And what while founders and CEOs certainly deserve some level of credit.
It is my strong belief that it really has to do with the team you surround yourself with as well as catching catching, a couple of breaks, getting lucky here and there. Oh, what I like to say about luck is that it's where hard work opportunity and awareness intersect. It's like that ability to recognize that something is about to go your way and to, and to take advantage of it.
But look, we, we, I raised the first money for Alto in 2016, right. It's 2022. You, you really gotta want to do whatever it is. That thing is that that you're doing is not always up until the right.
Watson: Yeah. Take your lumps along the way. It's a par for the course. So Eric has been fantastic. I'm really excited.
Like I, one of my favorite things when I do these interviews is when I come across something that I know that I will inevitably. Refer or, you know, advise a friend to check out in the future and unambiguously this falls into that category. Cause I got a lot of friends that, you know, try to try to do angel investing or probably need a more tax advantaged way to Yolo their crypto investments or whatever the thing may be.
So for folks that want to learn more about auto checkout, all the things you guys are doing, what digital coordinates can we provide for people? Yeah. So
Satz: also ira.com is. The easiest, a L T O ira.com. Right. That's, that's pretty straightforward. We're on Twitter, I think also under auto IRA. Maybe there's a underscore in there somewhere.
We're on LinkedIn. I'm on Twitter. I'm on LinkedIn. I go by real names. So I'm just Eric's I know it's boring, but I'm just Eric sets of both. So you know, you can pay attention there. Or you can just look up my sweatshirt if you're watching this on video, my hoodie right on.
Watson: I feel like your, your name is right on that barometer where it's distinct enough.
Like I've never heard of like another Eric SATs before, but it's simple enough that like, someone's not going to struggle to spell it or look it up. Most likely maybe you've had different experiences, but I feel like you kind of are right in that Goldilocks zone. Yeah.
Satz: It's funny. It's funny you say that.
So, you know, most people, I think that a fault for most people with Eric is a city. And, and that's what I am, so that works to my advantage. So you'd be, you'd be surprised when I say SATs, like sentence, some of the, you know, w when I'm on the phone with an operator, I'm like S as in Sam, a as in apple, T as in Tom, Z as in zebra, and they're like, oh, sets.
I'm like, yeah, that's what I said, but. Sasha runs with cats, but I don't know if I get all, I get all kinds of stuff. It's crazy. Ask my kids.
Watson: Yeah, I'm right on the other end where there's a, a famous country singer. Who's also named Aaron Watson. Who's like Matt order of magnitude more famous than I am.
So I'm, I'm dealing with that, like, like Joe Smith. I can't even imagine what his world must be like, but anyways we're going to link all those links in the show notes. To this episode, you can find it in the podcast app. You're probably listening to this firstname.lastname@example.org slash podcast for every single episode of the show.
But before I let you go, Eric, I would like to give you the mic one final time to issue an actionable personal challenge to the audience.
Satz: It's a great question. So it's probably not going to be the, the answer most people might be thinking. I give it, I mean, crypto is so top of mind right now and we have a crypto IRA product.
Coinbase is our partner. And I highly recommend that if people are going to make long-term investments in crypto, that they use an Alto crypto IRA to do it. But that's my, that's not my, my one thing, because I think people are kind of already looking to try to figure out how to do that instead of.
What I would challenge you to do is to open your standard also IRA account move some money from wherever you have it, whether it's fidelity, Schwab, wherever to, oh, over to Alto and, and do some homework and diligence on your, on your first alternative asset, like non crypto alternative asset. Whether it, whether it's a.
A startup company on Republic we fonder or AngelList, or buying an interest in a piece of art on masterworks, or we've got 70 plus different investment platform partners that you can begin to to diligence. My, my challenge to everyone out there is make your first alternative asset investment and See what that's like, see how that feels challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone.
Watson: And I think that one of the other important elements of taking an approach that isn't just throw it in the index and forget it is also, it requires you to do more thinking, like, you're not saying go for it. You're saying diligence, it find it. And that's a very different than. Literally set it and forget it.
Which, you know, we probably spent another hour on like the philosophy of actually approaching your life that way, which we don't necessarily have the time to, but I am, I am in agreement with you on that front. Well,
Satz: excellent. And so let's see if we can get some people to do that for themselves for the first time.
Watson: Amen. Eric has been awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Aaron.
Satz: Thanks for having me, buddy.
Watson: We just went deep with Eric SATs. Who've run out there has a fantastic day. Hey, thanks for watching to the end of my conversation with Eric. If you enjoyed it, I would encourage you to check out our past conversation with Mike Green.
He is a high level investment manager. We talk about Bitcoin. We talk about index funds and all sorts of other risks that investors of all shapes and sizes need to consider.
Satz: Check it out.