At Home With Porter Stansberry, King of Financial Newsletters
Trade Secrets of America’s Most Lucrative Financial Research Publisher
Six weeks ago, I tweeted at a rogue once billionaire. Now, here I am, wandering his sprawling farm estate.
I'm here to learn how he turned $36,000 into a billion-dollar financial research empire. I want to uncover his trade secrets, and dive headfirst into what's been called the 'perfect business model.' Stick with me, and I'll share it with you.
Baltimore Bound: America’s Hidden Financial Research Mecca
In the dead of night, my Uber halts on an empty road in rural Baltimore County. It's 11:05 pm, and I'm outside a sleepy old house that's my temporary home. This whole Baltimore trip is a dive into the unknown. My host is Porter Stansberry, the king of financial publishing.
Porter's past is a mix of success and shadows. He built Marketwise, America’s largest investment newsletter publisher, from scratch. He succeeded despite brushes with the SEC and dark rumors, like a Netflix series hinting he might've done in his best friend. These controversies only add to the aura of mystery as I step into his world.
Inside the quaint house, Diet Mountain Dew packs the fridge. Sharp contrast to the vast, sprawling Meadowdale Farm just outside.
I've been following Porter for years, trying to decode his magic touch in financial research. Our digital exchanges turned real when he invited me to see his empire firsthand.
Fast forward, and I'm bedding down in his guest house, ready to uncover the secrets of his success.
The Maverick of Meadowdale Farm
The next morning, my guide points me east, half a mile. Down a stunning tree-lined path, I find the modern, L-shaped barn, home to Porter & Co, Stansberry's new newsletter venture.
This barn is a window into another side of Porter; big garages on the first floors, full of Ferraris, farm stuff and other toys. There’s even a room where the wild trophies of Stansberry's hunts meet their final, gory refinement. Upstairs, one wing features a gym and film studio. The other, an informal, open-plan office for Porter and his team.
Porter, towering and solid, greets me warmly. We stroll over to his house, a short commute Porter sometimes covers by dirt bike.
Inside, the playful side of Porter's world comes to life. The Christmas tree is perfectly set up, but with a twist - it's upside down. In his world, ideas turn into reality, all thanks to his dedicated team.
Porter’s in the kitchen with two executives, cooking crab cakes, sausage, and eggs. He talks about his plans to cut costs, improve products, and partner with new publishers. Porter’s stream of ideas is rapid, and even with the buzz of Diet Mountain Dew, it's a challenge to keep up.
”You cannot direct the business from the top down. The business has to grow organically and it has to be led by the people who are closest to the customers,” Stansberry says.
Trade Secrets of Financial Publishing
My fascination with Stansberry centres on his secrets for earning billions selling words in a world full of free info.
Porter explains the gist: simplicity, storytelling, expert insight, and actionable investment recommendations that differ from mainstream views.
“You buy a new iPhone, you're not getting wealthier. You buy my newsletter. I promise you I'm going to do everything I can to make sure you get wealthier. And my track record proves that I can do it.”
Storytelling is key. Reports open with an exciting, historic story. Porter, a virtuoso at this, gets ideas from reading at least a book a week. Recently, he talked about the 1800s barbed wire boom, leading to a great American cattle rush. A severe winter then wiped out both cattle and investors. He links this to the recent rise in artificial intelligence stocks, also at risk of unexpected events. To profit, Stansberry’s looking to boring businesses that will benefit from the new tech, not the high-flyers most investors are focused on.
Favouring the boots-on-the-ground approach, Marketwise reports feature expert opinions. These aren't PR quotes, but real insights from people who've spent their lives solving the issues the analysts cover. “I try not to write about anything where I haven't had a very good conversation with three or four people about that company or in that industry.”
Porter says it’s his expert relationships, not his Bloomberg terminal, that informs his best new investment ideas.
For simple writing, Stansberry’s editors use a Flesch Kincaid calculator, aiming for a score of 7 or less in any published work (This essay scored 7.5 after several revisions. Tough to simplify biz writing). Their style is conversational. Short words, short sentences. No jargon. Porter shares how Mark Ford, a mentor and Bonner's partner, checked his early writing. Ford rated each sentence on its value and how it keeps the reader engaged. They created a research style that's easy for beginners but valuable for professionals alike.
“...people read our newsletters originally because they want to do better with their investments, but I think they only keep reading them if they learn to love your storytelling.”
Porter set a new standard for financial newsletters, often a hotbed for stock promotion. Analysts aren’t allowed to trade in the stocks they mention. He introduced lifetime subscriptions as a main profit source, offering all-access passes tailored to average investors' long-term goals. “... like joining a country club, you pay an initiation fee and then you pay a maintenance fee to stay active, but you get a lifetime's worth of research which actually fits your need.”
As the business grew, they invested more, outbidding Wall Street for talent. Former hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson teamed up with Stansberry in 2019. Last year, fixed income legend Martin Fridson joined Porter & Co. as Senior Analyst. Today, Marketwise publishes 200 research products from 13 brands.
Inside a ‘Perfect Business Model’
Brian Hunt, a close colleague of Porter’s, believes the investment newsletter industry fits Richard Russell’s 12 “perfect business” criteria:
Products are high value and copyright protected. Costs are low. Customers are global. Profits are scalable. The work is portable and interesting. Regulation’s moderate. Business is repeatable, and so on.
Porter says it's like software: “If you look historically at our margins and our revenues per employee and our profits per employee, we align very closely with the very highest end companies [traded] on NASDAQ.”
A former Stansberry worker said the firm aims to use a third of its money for research, another third for ads, and the rest for profit.
Pulling it off is another story. Scores of independent researchers scrape by. They lack Stansberry’s expertise and huge 17 million-strong investor base to upsell to.
Porter’s marketing is inspiring, covering big, important issues. “...if you take the time to listen or to read one of my marketing packages, I want you to learn enough in that free content to make it worth your time.”
A 2010 video sales letter, ‘End of America’, brought in an estimated 500,000 new paying customers. It went through 15 rewrites over 5 years before smashing industry records.
I once had dinner with a famous central banker. Though it was only an ad, he insisted we watch 'End of America' during the meal, hanging on every word.
“I don't know how to explain it,’ Porter says of his ‘Big Idea’ campaigns. “It just comes… as though someone is dictating it to me in my mind.”
Porter works intensely, sometimes writing nonstop for days, admitting the approach nearly killed him. “I only know one way of writing newsletters, which is full tilt.”
Genesis of Porter Stansberry
Porter's journey to becoming a publishing billionaire started with his adoption. His real dad, scarred forever by the Vietnam War, ended up living on the streets. Porter's mom found a new start with Frank Stansberry, who embraced Porter and his brother as his own in the heart of Central Florida.
A highschool surfing buddy, Steve Sjuggerud, was a child-prodigy, managing a mutual fund in his early 20s. Sjuggerud mentored Porter. They soon transitioned to research, joining Bill Bonner’s Agora Inc. in Baltimore. But, Porter sparred with a middle manager, and was fired.
However, every end is a new beginning. Bonner trusted Porter and invested $36,000 in his new newsletter in 1999. At the time, Porter was only 26 years old. It evolved into Marketwise, a $1 billion public company, once worth $4.75 billion, which has paid over $550 million in dividends.
After growing profits and revenues by 30% each year, Porter retired in late 2020, ready to enjoy Miami's beaches. However, his plans changed unexpectedly. Marketwise stock spiralled down 85% after what Porter called an “ill-begotten IPO”. The stock drop accounts for his ex-billionaire status. Four CEOs came and went as profits sank. Battling the IRS and a heart attack, Porter sold everything from yachts to bitcoin to raise cash.
In January 2023, he blasted the company's actions. When they refused his help, he launched Porter & Co. to challenge Marketwise. In just a year, it’s grown to 12,000 paying customers at $3,000 per year.
“Seeing somebody destroy my legacy, that's very motivating,” Porter says.
Backed again by Bonner, together they control Marketwise, Porter stormed the boardroom in October 2023. He sacked several directors and appointed himself Chairman and CEO. Since his return, Marketwise's stock has soared, doubling in weeks.
“The vision for the business is very simple. We want to hire the very best analysts in the world. We want to publish great research and we want the customers to be clamouring to buy it because it's so good.”
Porter Stansberry Lets His Guard Down
There's Porter, kingpin of newsletters, a man of contradictions. In his Porsche, he's both a sophisticated CEO and a raw character. We hit a local inn, beers in hand. His architect buddy, 'The Rat,' crashes the scene. Porter's stories about Marketwise's inner wars get wilder with each gulp. He’s fighting to prove he was right, and that he can make the company win again.
He's blunt about the ghosts in his past, like the 2003 SEC lawsuit over deceptive advertising. Despite the heat, Porter stands firm, defiant. "If I was a fraud, could I attract Wall Street's elite and build a top research firm?"
He's got a point. When taking on the government in your writing, brace for a storm.
Then there's the mystery of Rey Rivera's death, a shadow that follows him. Rivera's plunge from a Baltimore high-rise in 2006 was likely a suicide, yet a last call to Stansberry's offices casts doubt. A Netflix special even suggests Porter might be a suspect. “It's horrific. You can't even imagine what it's like to tell people I had nothing to do with my friend's death,” Porter told the Baltimore Sun.
'The Rat' hollers at the bartender for another round.
The next morning, I'm at Marketwise’s headquarters in the Mt. Vernon area of Downtown Baltimore. Just steps away, the stark reality of immense poverty looms. I’m grabbing a writing guide from Jamison Miller, one of Porter’s closest advisors. Porter's there, his voice echoing down the hall. I snag his signature on my copy – “Live the Dream,” he writes.
This Baltimore trip was a deep dive into Stansberry's world. I found a band of brainy mavericks. Porter Stansberry, while not as well-known as figures like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, is comparably influential in the world of financial research publishing. These industry leaders, including Porter, are complicated characters. It's never smooth sailing for them but they work tirelessly to wow customers and come up with better ideas.
He did it all from gritty Baltimore. "Wall Street is a state of mind," Porter says.
PS - Porter spills on markets in our forthcoming video interview, and man, it's a ride. Can't wait to share it with you soon.