In today's episode, Henry talks with Brian Dally CEO and Co-Founder of Groundfloor. Groundfloor offers short-term, high-yield real estate debt...
Take a peek behind the curtain at Rocket Dollar with Joe Won, Client Success Manager. Joe ensures every Rocket Dollar client gets their account open and funded as smoothly as possible. He walks our customers from start to finish and uses his 20+ years of financial experience to improve our clients' successes.
Thomas Young: I'm excited to have Joe Won, Client Success Manager at Rocket Dollar joining us. If you're a customer of Rocket Dollar, I'm sure you've spoken to him on the phone and know him well. If you are not a Rocket Dollar customer and you become one, you will talk to Joe. Joe, thanks for stepping away from your day to day, I know you're incredibly busy, and talking to us.
Joe Won: Well, it's nice to be here. I'm happy to talk to you guys about the customer service and the typical calls that we receive.
Thomas Young: Yeah, so it's a lot of calls. I sit in an office next to Joe and get to hear what he has to talk about with our customers and the questions that come in. And then in our office we have a big board with all of the customer service requests that come in. Joe won't leave the office until it's at zero and then the next day he comes in and it's built back up. So we all see the sheer volume that Joe puts out and we couldn't be more thankful. So Joe, let's talk a little bit about your background and the path that kind of got you to Rocket Dollar, how you met Henry. But let's go back to the beginning. Where did your career in finance begin?
Joe Won: Well, originally I grew up working in a family business, which was in the garment industry, manufacturing and wholesaling. When I left New York in 2006 and I started out on my own independent career, I ended up at Merrill Lynch as a financial advisor. Henry was a financial advisor down here in Austin. I was up in Dallas. We just got to get to know each other because I was reaching out to somebody who was successful in retirement plan business at Merrill Lynch and that was Henry. He kind of became my mentor and gave me some guidance and best practices for me to build my own business at Merrill Lynch, pursuing small business owners to open, for example, 401Ks or simple IRAs or SEP IRAs, just to build a business when you're a starting out financial advisor.
Thomas Young: Yeah. So is that how you got into the retirement space just because you identified small business retirement plans as a good opportunity? Or were you pursuing individuals as well as small businesses? Or how did you kind of go the retirement route?
Joe Won: It was primarily because my target to build my customer base really was the small business owner. And probably that has to do with because that's the background that I was raised in. My family was a small business owner. Most of my family friends were small business owners. And I knew that, in my opinion, they had been severely underserved in saving away retirement dollars to build that nest egg so you don't have to work until you're 85 or until the moment that you pass away.
Thomas Young: Yeah. Even if you have a small business, the goal isn't to work in that small business forever, right?
Joe Won: Exactly. It's to make enough money to save and retire, or ideally even better, is build up enough of business and then sell the business and retire.
Thomas Young: Absolutely. But even if you're planning on selling the business as an exit, you still have to have the contingency plan, which is saving for 20, 30, 40 years, however long it takes. Right?
Joe Won: Correct. And it's a great tool for passing on to the next generation, if you have those retirement dollars built up as well.
Thomas Young: Absolutely. Then you can pass the business on and not sell it and set up your kids for a successful future.
Joe Won: Exactly.
Thomas Young: So let's talk a little bit about how you got to Rocket Dollar. You were down in Florida, and we'll talk about the need that Rick, especially, and I were feeling and the introduction that Henry made to you, but what were you doing right before Rocket Dollar down in Florida?
Joe Won: So I had left financial services and I had returned back to something similar to what I grew up doing, which was I was working in licensed products. I was the license director, which simply meant acquiring licenses from large studios like Warner Bros., from Disney's, things like that, and helping develop product for that. And kind of a circular path, I ended up back at Merrill Lynch, back as a financial advisor. I was working out of an office on the East Coast of Florida, and I'd always kept in touch with Henry over the past 12 to 13 years. And of course, Henry always filled me in on what project he was working on.
And it just happened that he called me and he told me how well Rocket Dollar was doing and they had a need. And he knew that from my past experience and from my ability of working with clients, when you're a financial advisor at any large wire house, your goal everyday is to go out and speak to people, to prospect for new business, and then of course to service the clients that you already have in your book of business. So he knew that I could come and take the position on here at Rocket Dollar in customer success and be able to speak to clients. And he knew that I had the content knowledge from all the conversations that we've had previously about business retirement saving and just generally IRAs as well.
Thomas Young: Yeah. I know firsthand that the need that we had, because if you were a customer at Rocket Dollar in the summer of 2018 and the beginning of the fall, the way we had the work split up was that I was working fulfillment. So I was setting up all the accounts, and Rick, our CTO, was handling the support queue. And it quickly became apparent that we were completely overwhelmed, way in over our heads, and we needed help.
Joe Won: Believe me, I still get calls from some of those clients from back when, when they're doing a second transaction, or they're still trying to clear up what happened in the summer of 2018.
Thomas Young: Yeah, it was definitely painful, just because it's not Rick and I's skillset. It's not what we're good at. And we tapped out pretty quickly, and we went to to Henry, as we always do, whenever we need something or someone to help us. Because Henry's got that Rolodex and he's been in the industry.
So Rick and I went to Henry and said, "We need help in this department. Our customers are not happy. We need to service customers. We need to make sure that they're happy." And that's when Henry said, "I got a guy." About a month later, you'd packed up from Florida, moved to Austin, set yourself up, and were working with us.
So tell us a little bit about what it was like moving from such a big financial services company like Merrill, where there's different amounts of resources, different numbers of clients and what your experience has been like working at a startup like Rocket Dollar.
Joe Won: Well, directly related to Merrill, the truth is it's almost the same experience. When you're a financial advisor at one of the large wire houses, whether it's a Merrill or one of the competitors, you really are running your own business there. So coming over here, it's actually I have more support in some ways because everyone who's at Rocket Dollar is committed to making Rocket Dollar a success. Where when I was at Merrill, or again it could be any competitor, is the other advisors, they're not necessarily your competition, but you're all in the same business and you're all looking to grow your businesses. So in some ways, you are in competition with each other and we're utilizing the same resources.
But being a small business, it's very similar to the way I grew up. And even for myself when I had my own retail store when I was in my 20s in New York, New York, down 14th street, is I'm very comfortable working in a small business that the people that you see every day, everyone is aware of the overall operation. The business might not necessarily be their forte, but everyone gets the bigger picture. So when you work at a larger company, sometime it is strange how you'll meet people and they only have a segmented knowledge of that company's business. So it's kind of comfortable to be back at a small company like Rocket Dollar.
Thomas Young: Yeah, and I think that that's one of the coolest things about working with you is that it's very clear that you have the product knowledge, the operations knowledge, but you also have a small business mindset and that you've done this. I mean, this isn't your first rodeo, this isn't your second rodeo. I mean, you've done all of these things, which is why you joined us, what, in in mid-December?
Joe Won: Correct.
Thomas Young: And a month later in January, I mean it was all on your plate, and you powered through it. Your ramp up was faster than anybody else that we've hired, really. Just the sheer knowledge of the product, but also the routing.
Thomas Young: So let's talk a little bit about fulfillment. What does it look like from the minute someone buys a Rocket Dollar account to the time that they are investing? And know that there's different people on your team that handle different parts, but overall sort of what does that customer journey look like from purchase to investing?
Joe Won: So the typical client who signs up with us, in their mind they already have a targeted investment that they'd like to make. The most common story I hear when I actually speak to a client for the first time, again after they've paid and they've passed through the sales marketing team and now they're a client of ours, is the most common story is my funds, my IRA money, is currently at, for example, one of the large IRA custodians, like a Fidelity or Schwab or Vanguard, and then they receive this opportunity to invest typically in a startup or a piece of real estate.
And most clients, they just aren't really aware and they'll reach out to those Vanguards or those Fidelitys and tell their advisor over there or the 800 number that they called, and say, hey listen, I have a neighbor, he has this startup company. I have an opportunity to invest $25,000. Can you send a check, or how can I draw the money out of my Fidelity IRA and make this investment? And that's when they're told that that's not a possible investment from their Fidelity custody IRA.
So right then is typically when they reach out to that investment opportunity or their friends and their neighbors and they say, hey, how do you invest in these startups or real estate from my IRA? Because Fidelity told me I can't. And that's when they enter the fabulous and wonderful world of self-directed retirement investing. Again, typically from an IRA.
And they go online, they Google that, they see that there's some older companies that have been around for quite awhile. They look at the fees, they look at the process they have to go through, that they're going to have to ink-sign paperwork, fax things, or maybe physically even mail things. And then from a friend or just from looking online, they come across our site, Rocket Dollar. And they see just from looking and reading that they can enroll online, that the whole process for signing up can be digitally completed, they look at the way that they'll get a LLC as the investment that their IRA makes, and that they, the person, will be able to manage and operate that LLC to make their own investments, that checkbook control, and they like what they see.
So when they sign up with us, they're not so familiar with the nuts and bolts and the processes of getting the funds to that investment, but generally they have a broad picture. But of course when they reach out to me in customer support, or the team, what we do is we're just there to hold their hand and start the process of yes, they're a paid client, but let's get your IRA funded. Let's get those funds to your LLCs bank account for the LLC that's owned by your IRA. Let's help you title your investment correctly, to reach out to your deal runner, to the investment group and say, my investor of record is going to be this LLC. And we get them squared away.
It takes about two to three weeks. But at the end, from the month prior where they were scratching their heads, wondering why I can't make an investment into this startup from my big IRA custodian IRA, again we'll just pick on Fidelity, at Fidelity, they're sitting back and they're saying, here, Mr. Investment, here startup, here's my check, and I just invested from my IRA. And then fortunately for us, we still get a lot of referral business. They seem to be telling their friends.
Thomas Young: And just a a point of clarification, we'll put a link in the bio of this episode into how that structure of the IRA and the LLC works so you can click through, and that'll be in the description of the episode. But yeah, I mean what seems like a very complicated process of moving money around and money shifting, you guys have made really easy on the fulfillment side. And it might take a while, and there might be a couple of wet signatures that you need to make, not because of our process but because of the person releasing the funds, but it's certainly much more technologically enabled versus some of the other custodian companies, than maybe even some of the other self-directed, well certainly some of the other self-directed, companies out there.
Joe Won: That's true. And there's always going to be some hiccups in this process. And again, sometimes it's because as you mentioned, where your funds currently are at. That IRA custodian, we have to follow their process to make sure they release your funds to transfer your new IRA. And also it's just because for most of our clients it's the unfamiliarity of doing a self-directed investment from an IRA or a solo 401k plan.
And it's true, just like when I was at a large wire house, is you tell them of your clients, hey, I absolutely understand you don't think about something like this every day of the week. I do this as my job. Please let me help you. Let's get to your goal, which is to make that investment. And then you can forget about this process for the next three years until your investment matures, or hopefully the process works so well for you and you're comfortable with it, you'll find another investment in a few months, and we'll help you go through this process one more time.
Thomas Young: And of the people that are making two, three, four, five investments out of their accounts, how does that call volume sort of decline from the first investment? It's unfamiliar to a lot of people and you want to make sure you title the investment and the money gets in and all that. But how many people are reaching back out a second and third and fourth time for deals? Or do you think that most people, once they do the first one, they're comfortable and empowered and they go ahead and just make the investment? What's that sort of drop in call volume, if you will, look like?
Joe Won: I would say it's about, just overall broad stroke, 50/50. So 50% of our clients seem to make that one investment, that one goal, of why they started their relationship with Rocket Dollar as a self directed IRA service provider. Then other clients, once they've made one, they find a second investment, they find a third investment, just like you said.
The typical client, they didn't move all their funds over from their old IRA. So they do have to get back in touch with us and we have to work with them to move over additional funds from their previous IRA into their IRA here at Rocket Dollar to get to that LLC to get to that LLCs bank account to make the investment. But the clients, definitely the touch volume goes down. The calls aren't as necessary. It's much easier. We can send an email out and say please ink-sign this, your old IRA requires it, and it just gets done. Where the first time through the process, often the client may call and ask and just want to hear it in a phone call, just to confirm that the project is going correctly.
So yeah, I love working with second and third time investors because the process is just a lot more seamless. If there's a hiccup, absolutely get on the phone. But it seems like we can just reach back and forth in emails and knock it out maybe in three or four touches rather than the initial 10 to 15 touches, phone calls and emails included to get that first time investor through the entire process.
Thomas Young: Yeah, and one of the things that you do really well is sort of thinking of the client. And for us, it's so normal to move large amounts of money on a daily basis into our accounts. But one of the things that you remind everybody of, and everybody on your team and everybody on the Rocket Dollar team, is that this is money that people have worked for a long time to save, and making sure that they're comfortable and confident in what they're doing is really important. Especially when that transfer period that you talk about, when the money leaves a custodian before it arrives in the LLC checking account, that can be a moment of anxiety for people because it's being transferred, the money's on its way, but it's not visible. And you do a really good job of reminding us and clients that it is unnerving if you're not used to seeing that.
Joe Won: No, in this day and age where you're used to being able to log in and always see your account values and know where your money is, it's a disheartening feeling to know that your funds have left an old IRA custodian, literally a check is in the mail, and we're waiting for it to arrive at your new IRA custodian, where then you can be visible again. But when you're moving a good amount of money that you've saved for 20 years, and there is a period of time, whether it's five to ten business days, where you can't log in somewhere and see those funds, yes, a lot of our clients, they get a little nervous. They need that additional call and additional email. But I definitely believe in as long as we are perfectly transparent and the clients are aware of timelines, then they can rely on that. And up to now, every funding has gone well. We've gotten every client who signed up with us to meet their investment goal.
Thomas Young: Yeah, that's one of the things that we're all really proud of is people come to us, like you mentioned earlier, they have that funding event that they need to meet, and sometimes the timelines get really tight. And your team has done a really nice job of making sure that those deals get funded.
Joe Won: We might have to pay a fee here or there, and us, sometimes the client, but there's always ways that if we have to accelerate the process, it can be wired, sometimes we can lean on our service partners and we can get things accelerated. But yes, up to now we've been able to accommodate every client.
Thomas Young: And that's awesome. So a couple of other things that I want to talk about before we get back to the support queue is when it comes to product development, how does the feedback that you get on a daily basis, being on the front lines, translate to changes in the fulfillment process, the product itself with the product team, and even the marketing team? Do you see that sort of feedback that you get get implemented, or how would you like to see that kind of improved so that makes your job easier?
Joe Won: Well, ultimately, whether it was at a large company or here at Rocket Dollar, a smaller company, it's the similar process, the reality is is the people that actually speak to clients the most and work with them necessarily aren't the ones who are putting the outward front facing marketing or sales presentation to the clients. So the one thing that I think needs to be done, and I've been working on, and I press someone like you, and I work with the engineers to improve the user experience on our website, is that most of our clients, they absolutely are very proactive people. They're go getters. That's why they're out there and they've decided to make a self directed investment. They're well beyond just leaning back, clicking online, and buying mutual funds or ETFs, brokerage products for Wall Street. They are proactive. They want more control of their financial futures.
Same thing for our website, or any other service provider that they engage in any other product field, whether it's financial services or healthcare, I'm sure they're proactive. They're comfortable going out doing their own research, their due diligence. They can complete most of these processes themselves, but we have to provide them the information.
What I've been working with mostly with the marketing team and the engineers is to build our websites so that access to information is more straight forward where clients can, in a lot of ways, self-service their investments. Because a lot of our clients that call in, they really didn't want to call in. If they could have had a cleaner process on our website, and just understanding what they need to accomplish, they would have done it themselves. Just like they're finding these investments and they're getting it done and doing it themselves.
That's my ultimate goal, is really to just strip this down and streamline it. So for those clients who don't want to speak to me or don't want to reach out to customer success and are these self-service, get it done themselves, people, that they can just at their leisure login, understand the process, it's very clear and transparent to them, and they can more or less complete it themselves. Of course, there will be a touch here and there where we will have to reach out to them just to confirm information, but this is a process that can be completed predominantly by the user themselves.
Thomas Young: Yeah. And you know, I like sitting in on those meetings with you because you do have such good insight like that, and I mean, you hit the nail on the head. Our customers are go getters. This isn't something for the passive sort of happy-go-lucky guy. I mean, these are people that are hungry to improve their financial futures, their retirements, their investments. Which makes for a fantastic customer base, because they are go getters. I get calls from our customers about deals that they're excited about or things that they've done, and hearing these sort of success stories are really fun, and you get to hear them everyday.
Joe, thank you for taking some time out of your day. I know you're incredibly busy, so thank you again, and hopefully we'll have you on again when your team is bigger and we have more to share.
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