Bruce Hatt .Principal - Technology

E. bhatt@activebaskets.com

 

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

In 1999, I joined two other software engineers to start a company to develop software for the financial services industry. At the time, we believed that the reporting software available to the financial services industry was woefully inadequate.

By 1999, the general population was buying and selling stocks online. The reporting structures that were available at the time were primitive and misleading. For example, if I decided to sell a losing stock it would no longer appear in my portfolio. More importantly, there would be no record of the impact of its performance on my portfolio. It would seem that the trades never existed at all. Of course, that wouldn't be true. But the only way I could factor in the effect of that purchase and subsequent sale would be the old fashioned way-with pen and paper and some cumbersome mathematics. Our goal was to develop software that would provide this kind of detailed analysis automatically, immediately and continuously. These were the early ideas that eventually developed into PUR Investing's ActiveBaskets.

 

I Quit My Job

We were probably a little bit ahead of the curve on this. I'm not sure that online investors were interested in this kind of detailed analysis in 1999. Nevertheless, I quit my job. In fact I walked away from a significant promotion. And one of the other principals left a very good job at Nortel. In the beginning, we worked out of our homes. Of the three principals, two of us were writing code and the third was our communications guy. It was his job to explain what we were doing.

Basically, we developed web-based software that had the ability to aggregate portfolios from various accounts. We all had various accounts that made up our investment holdings. These separate holdings included pension funds, mutual funds and stock holdings. What we were looking for was the ability to get a sense of the value and performance of the whole portfolio over time at a glance.

We went out and raised seed capital-mostly from friends and family-and went to work. As it turned out, we didn't really need the money. Reuters, a leading international vendor of financial news and data services, came along and signed a contract with us to develop a similar kind of reporting software for them.

The Reuters deal came about completely by chance. I was calling around the country looking for data vendors. I called a Reuters vendor in Montreal and told him what we were doing. He suggested I contact a Reuters' guy in Long Island. At the time, Reuters was creating something called "Reuters Personal Finance". Reuters understood immediately that what we were doing was the ultimate customized program.

 

We Delivered Everything We Said We Would

Ultimately, Reuters changed their direction in the online personal finance initiative. Fortunately, we had a strong contract to lean on. We delivered everything we said we would and Reuters paid us exactly what they were contracted to pay us. At about that point, a conflict arose between my two partners leading to their departure from the company. When they left, I worked pretty hard to get all our original investors their money back plus a return. I felt very strongly about getting them a return on their investment. They had trusted me and I wanted to honor that trust.

September 11, 2001 was the last official day that my two former partners and I were still partners. The three of us were at the office packing. We had the television on. One of my partners was planning to fly to Halifax. Of course, no planes were flying that day. He was so anxious to get to Halifax that he rented a car that afternoon and drove non-stop from Ottawa to Halifax.

With my partners gone it was up to me to raise new funding for the company and decide the direction the company should take. It was at about this time that I first met Mark Yamada. I think I actually met Mark on a cold call to Guardian Capital earlier in the year. The company was on our target list of companies that were looking for the sort of web applications we were developing.

In early 2002, Mark and I finally sat down face to face to talk about the capabilities of our platform. Mark was looking for a way to offer that kind of service to his firm's clients. I am at heart a 'code monkey'. I've started companies and hired and fired staff but management is not my strength or my passion. What I do best and enjoy most is writing code. It was clear to me from that first meeting with Mark that he understood what I was doing. I also recognized that he had the managerial skills and expertise I lacked. I wanted to work with him-one way or another.

Honestly, my first impression of Mark was that he was one crazy guy. I agreed with everything he was saying. He was the first traditional financial professional who saw the software capability the way I saw it. I felt that his approach was both unique and remarkably entrepreneurial.

I joined Mark at Guardian in 2002. I joined that firm in part because I felt it was the best way to see the platform developed to its full potential. Mark and I were focused on this goal from the very beginning. However, because the high net worth business was the highest priority, the parent company never saw it as being as important as we did.

It was also at Guardian that I met Ioulia and Pat. Almost from the beginning the four of us saw eye to eye on the potential of the platform. We also liked each other and worked well together.

Mark was the first to leave Guardian. He left in April 2006. I stayed on a bit longer because by that time there were some serious clients committed to the software. I also stayed on because I wanted to negotiate ownership of the platform as part of my settlement. As it was, the people at Guardian really didn't understand the code or how to run the platform.

With Guardian's consent, I made a commitment to Mark and PUR Investing. I was delighted to be able to bring the platform with me. I'd started developing Basketfunds in 1999. I'd spent years refining the software. PUR Investing is the right place with the right people to see that early work through to maturity. The only thing we might be lacking are the hours in a day to get it done. There just never seems to be enough time to do everything we want to do.

Although the rest of the team is in Toronto, and the workload is heavy, working with PUR has allowed me to stay with my family in Ottawa. The firm's priorities are the same as mine.

 

A Family Man

I was in the middle of severance negotiations with Guardian when my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. It was August 2006. She had just celebrated her first birthday. So I had quite a lot on my plate. I'm delighted to be able to say that she's now in remission. There are some concerns but we're hopeful. With the kind of cancer she has they tend to either not make it right at the beginning, or right at the end. We have about a 50/50 chance that she'll make it.

This isn't the first time my wife and I have faced such a challenge. Our son was diagnosed with autism when he was two. We put him in a special school which cost us a significant amount each year. Insurance didn't cover the cost. Nevertheless, we felt it was the best thing for us to do. Of course, it's taken all our savings, everything we had really. My son will be 6 this summer. Recently, he was tested and diagnosed as PDD, which is not autism. So, he went from being an autistic kid who couldn't speak and was in his own world to being a normal child. We're very fortunate. I think we're very lucky.

I have to say that I've learned a lot about myself from the challenges my children have faced. Most importantly, I think they've kept me focused on what's important. Every minute with them is precious. Phoebe isn't yet 2 years old. She's spent 271 days of her life in the hospital. Whenever she's in the hospital one of us is always there with her. However it goes, I know I'll make the best of the time we have  . . . What would I pay to have 5 more minutes with her? Whatever it took and however much I had  . . .

LIFE B4 PUR


Guardian Capital Advisors LP


Basketfunds Corporation


Industry Canada


Treasury Board of Canada