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Interview With Bill and Chris Bruner, Founders of Stockchase

Picture of people working on a wooden table

I had the opportunity to sit down with Bill and Chris Bruner, a father and son duo that founded the successful DIY investors community Stockchase. Recently, Wealthica acquired Stockchase, with the intention of continuing their ground-breaking work.

Hi Bill and Chris, nice to connect with the both of you. Can you please tell me a bit about your respective professional backgrounds?

Bill Bruner: My early start in work was as an optician for American Optical, and the job consisted of grinding glass lenses to correct angles. It was a job that I got tired of and decided an office job of some sort would be better, so applied to Mutual Life of Canada and was hired as an office clerk at their head office in 1948. Two years later the company transferred me to Halifax for training as an Office Supervisor. In 1951 they appointed me as Office Supervisor for the Fredericton N.B. branch. This was followed by a move to the Sarnia Ontario branch office in 1953. Through the years I was asked to consider moving to larger offices in bigger cities, but Sarnia was a pleasant place where I had met my wife Freda and we had started a family. Eventually I agreed to move on and ended up with a promotion as a junior officer, Branch Office Administrator, at the Head Office in 1948, with the responsibility of about 25 Prairie and Southern Ontario Offices. I continued in that role, occasionally changing territories, until early retirement at the age of 60.

Chris Bruner: I am a computer programmer specializing in C/C++.

What led you to found Stockchase?

BB: Stockchase happened by accident. The stock market interested me, so was making notes on comments made by different analysts on different stocks from the Louis Rukheyser TV Show out of the US. Louis was the host and would have different professionals on to talk about their favourite stocks. Keeping track of notes and trying to find different references was difficult. I knew there was some kind of computer program that could handle that, and figured a spreadsheet could probably do the trick, so I taught myself how to use this tool. My son Chris helped with this, and then my daughter Jacqueline, who was teaching this material part time at college made a lot of changes which smoothed everything out. After I had been using this method of keeping track of experts and their comments, Chris approached me to see if I would give him permission to use this as an example of an E-Commerce project for his Master’s degree in a computer course. After he completed the course, he approached me about going into a partnership on a web site using this info. Neither of us had any idea if it would be popular or not, but decided to go ahead.

Selecting a name was a problem and we wanted something that had a reference to the stock-market in some way. We would create a list of possibilities, do a check to see if it was being used, and then make another list and try again. This went on for some time before we got “Stockchase”. It turned out that it was registered but had lapsed. They made us wait for a month or two to make sure the parties didn’t reinstate the name. After an anxious period, we got our name for the site and were in business.

We started using Google ads as our first source of income, which gradually grew. This was followed by our first advertiser phoning to make an appointment. Having no knowledge of how much we should charge when they offered us $300 a month we immediately accepted. Our first advertiser not only gave us advertising, but offered good advice through the years to help us develop professionally.

After a couple of years, our accountant suggested we should consider incorporating soon. Rather than waiting, we proceeded to become incorporated. On our next annual review, the accountant said we had done it right on time as our income had gone up considerably and would have put us into a higher tax bracket. That was our first feeling that we were getting somewhere.

CB: My father was keeping notes on market call on BNN. First he used pen and paper, but that became too onerous. Then he moved to a spreadsheet but that quickly exceeded his computers ability. Then he used Microsoft Database, which he asked me for technical help on occasionally. I suggested that he move to a “real” database system and put it on the web for everyone to use. He asked if we would make any money at it, and I answered “probably not”, and he said. “OK, let’s do it”.

What makes Stockchase different from other investment communities?

CB: There are a number of reasons, first the opinions collected are all from public sources, we have no claim to them other than we have transcribed them.

Second the opinions are cross referenceable, so you can see all the opinions of one expert on multiple companies, or see all the opinions on one company by multiple experts. Often it is enlightening to hear differing views.

Third is that there is no charge for using the service. This was a hobby business, and one that we used in our own investing.

BB: Stockchase has many advantages over other sites. The experts will quite often mention information that is not always available to the “do it yourself” investor.

A viewer can compare one expert’s comments with another expert’s to get a better feeling as to whether they want to go with an investment or not. The history of a stock goes very far back for those wanting historical info.

What is your proudest moment?

BB: Out of the blue, I got a phone call from the Globe and Mail wanting to do an interview. I was thinking this would be one over the phone, but they wanted to do an actual face-to-face interview. The reporter came around to the house, and besides the interview wanted a photograph. This all ended up taking up almost the whole second page of the business section.

Any humorous anecdote?

BB: We asked our viewers to report any errors or omissions to us so that we could correct them. This didn’t happen too often, but I was always pleased when they did this as it showed that the viewers were a part of our structure. Usually the viewers were correct in what they reported, although occasionally someone would complain that we had not mentioned one particular stock. It turned out that these were stocks that had never been mentioned on BNN, so obviously the viewer was not familiar with our purpose or how we operated. I always explained how they could make use of our site and how they could get their stock commented on by contacting BNN with their particular question. My favourite person writing in was Jonathan who would catch about 90% of the mistakes or omissions, and it became a game of not letting Jonathan catch me out. I always tried to keep my responses light-hearted with some humour.

Also, on one show, an irate viewer phoned in to Brian Acker complaining that a stock he had recommended in the past had not performed the way he had said. Brian, with no apologies, said “I don’t remember what I said 6 months ago. Go to Stockchase and you can look it up there.”

What are your hopes / wishes for the Stockchase community for the next few years?

CB: We are proud of what Stockchase has become and I’m glad that it’s in Simon Boulet and Wealthica’s hands. I expect it will take off more and more, because the one thing we were really lacking is portfolio tracking and that is a great fit for Wealthica.

BB: My hope would be that the site would continue on giving valuable information and learning to the small investor as in the past and that more people would use this as a valuable learning experience to make them more comfortable with their investments.