Written by Andrew Seale
Sometimes Kevin Mulhern feels like a secret Canadian, flitting from meeting to meeting, immersing himself in America’s big media landscape.
“Where are you based?” they ask the founder of AdvisorStream, an automated marketing platform for financial advisors and real estate professionals that curates articles and videos from major media outlets like Forbes, Reuters and The Globe and Mail. He’ll mention the New York office (a satellite sales office) before casually dropping the Toronto connection, which is the startup’s true headquarters.
It used to be they’d think it’s cute, almost a novelty to be Canadian, admits Mulhern. But over the past six years since he launched AdvisorStream, the conversation has started to shift.
“Everybody knows and respects Toronto,” he says. Not that he needs any convincing, he likens the city to a girlfriend that he has a hard time being away from during these stints in the U.S. “I spend half my time in the U.S. but I can’t wait to get back.”
The truth is, for all the clout the U.S. media giants hold amongst Mulhern’s financial services clients (a large deal of which are based in the U.S.) it was The Globe and Mail’s CEO and publisher Phillip Crawley who first took a chance on the content curating startup.
Mulhern had first eyed the financial services content marketing niche while helping to launch Richardson GMP (formerly – Richardson Partners Financial Limited) brokerage.
“The Richardson family in Winnipeg gave us $100 million to build the best brokerage in Canada – no legacy systems, built from an (intellectual property-centric) point of view,” recalls Mulhern. “It was a hell of an experience.”
He came off the experiment certain there was a gap in the market for professionals like financial advisors and real estate agents who didn’t have the time or expertise to market themselves digitally. And, more critically, make sure they’re abiding by their federal financial regulators rules for what they can legally market to clients.
Sure, there were marketing and sales options like Eloqua and Salesforce, but they cost in the tens of thousands to use.
“There’s no way an individual real estate agent or financial advisor can afford that, so we saw a big opening there,” says Mulhern. He reached out to a journalist he knew who put him in touch with Crawley.
“He saw what we were doing and believed in it and said ‘I think you’re right, I think this is how we as publishers can increase revenues and how content can best be used safely in all this digital marketing going on,’ – that was really the breakthrough,” says Mulhern. “The senior people at the New York Times and other papers respect Philip… once the Globe got behind me it became much easier with all the other player in the U.S.”
But there was never any question he’d build AdvisorStream in Toronto.
“I’ve worked here so long, I have this ecosystem to lean on and talented people I trust and have built businesses with,” says Mulhern. “(And) Toronto is this massive city, yes we’ve got Vancouver we’ve got Montreal but it’s kind of what New York is to America but even bigger… it has more weight in total population than even New York has in the U.S.”
He describes it as a gravity, the same sort of gravity that drew AdvisorStream’s head engineer (who won an innovation award from NASA, beams Mulhern) back to work in Toronto. The same sort of gravity that draws design talent, marketing talent, tech talent – a myriad of different people with different ideas – to one place.
And Mulhern plans to leverage it.
“I know you hear this a million times but I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world you can get better talent and better support systems than Toronto,” he says. “I truly believe the gravity of Toronto is so great that you almost have to be here.”
Photos: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)