Back to August 2010 home page

Western

Brothers take the long view

For a decade, western North Carolina has tried to brand itself as a magnet for creative, digital-age businesses. Wall St. Cheat Sheet (wallstcheatsheet.com) fits that category. In November 2008, two South Florida natives, brothers Damien and Derek Hoffman, started the financial-advice website in Asheville. It now attracts more than 100,000 visitors a month and has been cited by The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch, USA Today and other media outlets. Editor in Chief Damien, 32, has a bachelor’s in public policy from Duke and a law degree from the University of Miami. CEO Derek, 28, earned a bachelor’s in economics from the University of Michigan. They don’t disclose revenue but say their business is profitable.

Why Asheville?
Damien: I’d gone to Duke and loved North Carolina. I worked for an investment bank called Inner Circle LLP but got burned out on New York. My wife and I wanted to start a family and didn’t want to do it in Manhattan. We loved Asheville and thought this would be ideal. We came in January 2007.
Derek: I followed a year and half later from Chicago. I’d studied in Australia and visited New Zealand. Asheville reminded me of New Zealand. I’d worked for Procter & Gamble and Gillette and wanted to go out on my own. Damien and I started brainstorming. We’d always had an interest in economics and finance, so we launched Wall St. Cheat Sheet.

Asheville isn’t exactly a financial center.
Derek: It doesn’t matter. We’re in the digital era now, and we can communicate and work with other people online and through laptops, cell phones, social media. It’s the future — the mobile desk.

What stage is your business in?
Derek: We’re in the “garage phase,” just pulling the car out of the garage. We work with about 10 people on a contract or part-time basis.

How do you make money?
Damien: We sell subscriptions to our flagship newsletter — $15 a month, the cost of a stock trade — and sell premium products, like our precious-metals reports. That’s $29.95 a month. We get probably 70% of revenue from premium products, though that’ll probably become 50% as advertising revenue, sponsorships and partnering grow.

What’s your typical day like?
Damien: I check the news wires before I go to bed. About midnight, I look at what’s going on in Europe and Asia. I wake up early, hit the wires and try to figure out the top one or two financial stories of the day. Markets in the U.S. open at 9:30, so between then and 10:30 we follow up with three to five posts. There’s another wave of posts after lunch, based on what’s coming out of Washington, then between 4 and 6, several more. We have another wave at about 10:30. Then the process starts all over. We have contributors to the site, but it’s safe to say, we’re working 15 hours a day.

What will restore confidence in the market?
Damien: In the ’80s during the S&L crisis, more than a thousand bankers were jailed. Today, we’ve had only a handful of people handcuffed.

You’re big on precious metals.
Damien: There’s a lot of caution in the market now, given the European debt crisis. We’ve always found gold to be a haven, in addition to cash, in a cautious market.

 

ASHEVILLE — The city won a bid to host the Southern Conference Basketball Tournamentfor three years, beginning 2012. However, it must spend $5.5 million to upgrade its 36-year-old Civic Center if it wants to keep the tournament — and its expected annual economic impact of $4 million — past the first year.

WILKESBOROWells Fargo & Co. will close an operations center here by the middle of this month, cutting 85 duplicate jobs. The center was part of First Union before the Charlotte bank acquired Wachovia and took its name in 2001. San Francisco-based Wells bought Wachovia in 2008.

SAWMILLSAutomated Solutions moved here from Hickory. It plans to add 25 employees within three years, giving it nearly 40. The company makes packaging and plastic for the furniture industry.

BREVARD — The boards of Transylvania Regional Hospital and Asheville-based Mission Health System gave executives the green light to work out a deal that would make Transylvania an affiliate of Mission. They expect an agreement within a few months. Transylvania has about 40 general-purpose beds.

BREVARD — Former Republican Congressman Charles Taylor and his family agreed to sell about 8,000 acres in western North Carolina near the South Carolina border to the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and The Conservation Fund for about $33 million. That’s about half the property’s appraised value.

ETOWAH — A bankruptcy judge dismissed Seven Falls Golf and River Club’s Chapter 11 filing, leaving it open to foreclosure. Developer Eric Vinson owes his lender $26 million. Seven Falls was supposed to have 874 residential units.

Western North Carolina apple growers expect a good crop, aided by storms that cut the supply of apples from Michigan and New York. Last year was a tough one for Tar Heel growers — with just $16 million of the fruit sold, down from $25 million in 2008.