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cdixon

cdixon

2 years ago

2000s Toys, Secrets, and Cycles

More on Entrepreneurship/Creators

Thomas Tcheudjio

Thomas Tcheudjio

2 years ago

If you don't crush these 3 metrics, skip the Series A.

I recently wrote about getting VCs excited about Marketplace start-ups. SaaS founders became envious!

Understanding how people wire tens of millions is the only Series A hack I recommend.

Few people understand the intellectual process behind investing.

VC is risk management.

Series A-focused VCs must cover two risks.

1. Market risk

You need a large market to cross a threshold beyond which you can build defensibilities. Series A VCs underwrite market risk.

They must see you have reached product-market fit (PMF) in a large total addressable market (TAM).

2. Execution risk

When evaluating your growth engine's blitzscaling ability, execution risk arises.

When investors remove operational uncertainty, they profit.

Series A VCs like businesses with derisked revenue streams. Don't raise unless you have a predictable model, pipeline, and growth.

Please beat these 3 metrics before Series A:

Achieve $1.5m ARR in 12-24 months (Market risk)

Above 100% Net Dollar Retention. (Market danger)

Lead Velocity Rate supporting $10m ARR in 2–4 years (Execution risk)

Hit the 3 and you'll raise $10M in 4 months. Discussing 2/3 may take 6–7 months.

If none, don't bother raising and focus on becoming a capital-efficient business (Topics for other posts).

Let's examine these 3 metrics for the brave ones.

1. Lead Velocity Rate supporting €$10m ARR in 2 to 4 years

Last because it's the least discussed. LVR is the most reliable data when evaluating a growth engine, in my opinion.

SaaS allows you to see the future.

Monthly Sales and Sales Pipelines, two predictive KPIs, have poor data quality. Both are lagging indicators, and minor changes can cause huge modeling differences.

Analysts and Associates will trash your forecasts if they're based only on Monthly Sales and Sales Pipeline.

LVR, defined as month-over-month growth in qualified leads, is rock-solid. There's no lag. You can See The Future if you use Qualified Leads and a consistent formula and process to qualify them.

With this metric in your hand, scaling your company turns into an execution play on which VCs are able to perform calculations risk.

2. Above-100% Net Dollar Retention.

Net Dollar Retention is a better-known SaaS health metric than LVR.

Net Dollar Retention measures a SaaS company's ability to retain and upsell customers. Ask what $1 of net new customer spend will be worth in years n+1, n+2, etc.

Depending on the business model, SaaS businesses can increase their share of customers' wallets by increasing users, selling them more products in SaaS-enabled marketplaces, other add-ons, and renewing them at higher price tiers.

If a SaaS company's annualized Net Dollar Retention is less than 75%, there's a problem with the business.

Slack's ARR chart (below) shows how powerful Net Retention is. Layer chart shows how existing customer revenue grows. Slack's S1 shows 171% Net Dollar Retention for 2017–2019.

Slack S-1

3. $1.5m ARR in the last 12-24 months.

According to Point 9, $0.5m-4m in ARR is needed to raise a $5–12m Series A round.

Target at least what you raised in Pre-Seed/Seed. If you've raised $1.5m since launch, don't raise before $1.5m ARR.

Capital efficiency has returned since Covid19. After raising $2m since inception, it's harder to raise $1m in ARR.

P9's 2016-2021 SaaS Funding Napkin

In summary, less than 1% of companies VCs meet get funded. These metrics can help you win.

If there’s demand for it, I’ll do one on direct-to-consumer.

Cheers!

Aaron Dinin, PhD

Aaron Dinin, PhD

1 year ago

There Are Two Types of Entrepreneurs in the World Make sure you are aware of your type!

Know why it's important.

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

The entrepreneur I was meeting with said, "I should be doing crypto, or maybe AI? Aren't those the hot spots? I should look there for a startup idea.”

I shook my head. Yes, they're exciting, but that doesn't mean they're best for you and your business.

“There are different types of entrepreneurs?” he asked.

I said "obviously." Two types, actually. Knowing what type of entrepreneur you are helps you build the right startup.

The two types of businesspeople

The best way for me to describe the two types of entrepreneurs is to start by telling you exactly the kinds of entrepreneurial opportunities I never get excited about: future opportunities.

In the early 1990s, my older brother showed me the World Wide Web and urged me to use it. Unimpressed, I returned to my Super Nintendo.

My roommate tried to get me to join Facebook as a senior in college. I remember thinking, This is dumb. Who'll use it?

In 2011, my best friend tried to convince me to buy bitcoin and I laughed.

Heck, a couple of years ago I had to buy a new car, and I never even considered buying something that didn’t require fossilized dinosaur bones.

I'm no visionary. I don't anticipate the future. I focus on the present.

This tendency makes me a problem-solving entrepreneur. I identify entrepreneurial opportunities by spotting flaws and/or inefficiencies in the world and devising solutions.

There are other ways to find business opportunities. Visionary entrepreneurs also exist. I don't mean visionary in the hyperbolic sense that implies world-changing impact. I mean visionary as an entrepreneur who identifies future technological shifts that will change how people work and live and create new markets.

Problem-solving and visionary entrepreneurs are equally good. But the two approaches to building companies are very different. Knowing the type of entrepreneur you are will help you build a startup that fits your worldview.

What is the distinction?

Let's use some simple hypotheticals to compare problem-solving and visionary entrepreneurship.

Imagine a city office building without nearby restaurants. Those office workers love to eat. Sometimes they'd rather eat out than pack a lunch. As an entrepreneur, you can solve the lack of nearby restaurants. You'd open a restaurant near that office, say a pizza parlor, and get customers because you solved the lack of nearby restaurants. Problem-solving entrepreneurship.

Imagine a new office building in a developing area with no residents or workers. In this scenario, a large office building is coming. The workers will need to eat then. As a visionary entrepreneur, you're excited about the new market and decide to open a pizzeria near the construction to meet demand.

Both possibilities involve the same product. You opened a pizzeria. How you launched that pizza restaurant and what will affect its success are different.

Why is the distinction important?

Let's say you opened a pizzeria near an office. You'll probably get customers. Because people are nearby and demand isn't being met, someone from a nearby building will stop in within the first few days of your pizzeria's grand opening. This makes solving the problem relatively risk-free. You'll get customers unless you're a fool.

The market you're targeting existed before you entered it, so you're not guaranteed success. This means people in that market solved the lack of nearby restaurants. Those office workers are used to bringing their own lunches. Why should your restaurant change their habits? Even when they eat out, they're used to traveling far. They've likely developed pizza preferences.

To be successful with your problem-solving startup, you must convince consumers to change their behavior, which is difficult.

Unlike opening a pizza restaurant near a construction site. Once the building opens, workers won't have many preferences or standardized food-getting practices. Your pizza restaurant can become the incumbent quickly. You'll be the first restaurant in the area, so you'll gain a devoted following that makes your food a routine.

Great, right? It's easier than changing people's behavior. The benefit comes with a risk. Opening a pizza restaurant near a construction site increases future risk. What if builders run out of money? No one moves in? What if the building's occupants are the National Association of Pizza Haters? Then you've opened a pizza restaurant next to pizza haters.

Which kind of businessperson are you?

This isn't to say one type of entrepreneur is better than another. Each type of entrepreneurship requires different skills.

As my simple examples show, a problem-solving entrepreneur must operate in markets with established behaviors and habits. To be successful, you must be able to teach a market a new way of doing things.

Conversely, the challenge of being a visionary entrepreneur is that you have to be good at predicting the future and getting in front of that future before other people.

Both are difficult in different ways. So, smart entrepreneurs don't just chase opportunities. Smart entrepreneurs pursue opportunities that match their skill sets.

Jenn Leach

Jenn Leach

1 year ago

In November, I made an effort to pitch 10 brands per day. Here's what I discovered.

Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

I pitched 10 brands per workday for a total of 200.

How did I do?

It was difficult.

I've never pitched so much.

What did this challenge teach me?

  • the superiority of quality over quantity

  • When you need help, outsource

  • Don't disregard burnout in order to complete a challenge because it exists.

First, pitching brands for brand deals requires quality. Find firms that align with your brand to expose to your audience.

If you associate with any company, you'll lose audience loyalty. I didn't lose sight of that, but I couldn't resist finishing the task.

Outsourcing.

Delegating work to teammates is effective.

I wish I'd done it.

Three people can pitch 200 companies a month significantly faster than one.

One person does research, one to two do outreach, and one to two do follow-up and negotiating.

Simple.

In 2022, I'll outsource everything.

Burnout.

I felt this, so I slowed down at the end of the month.

Thanksgiving week in November was slow.

I was buying and decorating for Christmas. First time putting up outdoor holiday lights was fun.

Much was happening.

I'm not perfect.

I'm being honest.

The Outcomes

Less than 50 brands pitched.

Result: A deal with 3 brands.

I hoped for 4 brands with reaching out to 200 companies, so three with under 50 is wonderful.

That’s a 6% conversion rate!

Whoo-hoo!

I needed 2%.

Here's a screenshot from one of the deals I booked.

These companies fit my company well. Each campaign is different, but I've booked $2,450 in brand work with a couple of pending transactions for December and January.

$2,450 in brand work booked!

How did I do? You tell me.

Is this something you’d try yourself?

You might also like

Nitin Sharma

Nitin Sharma

1 year ago

The result of my side-hustle blog post with ChatGPT is remarkable.

It's free now.

Src: Pexels

Most content writers—including me—write about side hustles because they do well.

I wrote several articles on a profitable programming side hustle.

Later, I learnt about AI content-generating platforms like Jasper.ai and Copy.ai, which I thought were terrible because they required subscriptions and had bad content. Even I dislike automatic online posting.

Since ChatGPT is becoming more popular, I tried it. It's free now.

Note: I wasn’t compensated to write this piece by this tool. In other words, I don’t receive any payment from their founders. There is no affiliate link, and right now it is free to use. Also, ChatGPT can do a lot more than what I ever did.

Begin.

OpenAI account registration requires visiting the website (if you don’t have one). Just write anything into the chatbot and get a response.

Src: ChatGPT

First, I wrote about the top 10 2023 side businesses.

This came in seconds.

2023 is shaping up to be a year of growth and opportunity for entrepreneurs and side hustlers. With the rise of remote work and the growing gig economy, there are many income streams to consider launching in the coming year. Here are the top 10 income streams to launch in 2023:

  1. Virtual Assistant — The demand for virtual assistants is on the rise as more businesses move online. As a virtual assistant, you can offer administrative, technical, or creative services to clients remotely.

  2. Online Tutoring — If you have expertise in a particular subject, consider becoming an online tutor. There are many platforms that connect tutors with students looking for help with their studies.

  3. Freelance Writing — If you have a knack for writing, consider becoming a freelance writer. You can offer your services to businesses, bloggers, and individuals looking for content for their websites or social media platforms.

  4. Graphic Design — If you have a talent for design, consider starting a graphic design side hustle. You can create logos, banners, and other visual content for businesses and individuals.

  5. Social Media Management — Many businesses are looking for help with managing their social media accounts. As a social media manager, you can help businesses create and execute social media strategies to reach their target audience.

  6. Dropshipping — Dropshipping is a business model where you sell products without actually holding any inventory. You can partner with suppliers and ship the products directly to the customer on behalf of the business.

  7. Pet Sitting — If you love animals, consider starting a pet-sitting side hustle. You can offer your services to pet owners who need someone to take care of their pets while they are away.

  8. Home Cleaning — With busy schedules, many people are looking for help with cleaning their homes. As a home cleaning service provider, you can offer your services to help keep homes tidy and organized.

  9. Event Planning — If you have a talent for organization and planning, consider starting an event planning side hustle. You can offer your services to help plan and execute events for businesses and individuals.

  10. Online Teaching — With the rise of online education, there is a growing demand for online teachers. If you have expertise in a particular subject, consider becoming an online teacher and offer your services to students looking for personalized instruction.

In conclusion, 2023 is shaping up to be a great year for launching new income streams. Whether you are looking to start a virtual assistant business, become an online tutor, or offer home cleaning services, there are many opportunities to turn your skills and expertise into a profitable side hustle.

Better than most online side hustle posts, right?

Write about the top 10 programming side hustles to start in 2023.

I got this.

If you are a programmer looking to start a side hustle, 2023 is the perfect time to launch your own business. With the growing demand for software and app development, there are many opportunities for programmers to turn their skills into a profitable side hustle. Here are the top 10 programming side hustles to start in 2023:

  1. App Development — With the rise of smartphones and tablets, there is a growing demand for app development. You can offer your services to businesses and individuals looking to create custom apps for their needs.

  2. Website Development — Many businesses and individuals are looking for help with creating and maintaining their websites. As a website developer, you can offer your services to help design, build, and manage websites for your clients.

  3. Software Development — If you have expertise in a particular programming language, consider starting a software development side hustle. You can offer your services to businesses and individuals looking to create custom software solutions for their needs.

  4. Game Development — The gaming industry is thriving, and there is a growing demand for game development. If you have experience in game development, you can offer your services to businesses and individuals looking to create custom games.

  5. Data Analysis — With the rise of big data, there is a growing demand for data analysts. As a data analyst, you can offer your services to businesses and individuals looking to make sense of their data and gain insights from it.

  6. Machine Learning — Machine learning is a rapidly growing field, and there is a growing demand for machine learning experts. If you have experience in machine learning, you can offer your services to businesses and individuals looking to develop custom machine learning solutions.

  7. Cloud Computing — With the rise of cloud computing, there is a growing demand for cloud experts. If you have experience in cloud computing, you can offer your services to businesses and individuals looking to migrate their applications and data to the cloud.

  8. Blockchain Development — Blockchain technology is gaining popularity, and there is a growing demand for blockchain developers. If you have experience in blockchain development, you can offer your services to businesses and individuals looking to develop custom blockchain solutions.

  9. Artificial Intelligence — Artificial intelligence is a rapidly growing field, and there is a growing demand for AI experts. If you have experience in artificial intelligence, you can offer your services to businesses and individuals looking to develop custom AI solutions.

  10. Virtual Reality — Virtual reality is an exciting and emerging technology, and there is a growing demand for VR developers. If you have experience in VR development, you can offer your services to businesses and individuals looking to create custom VR experiences.

In conclusion, 2023 is a great time to start a programming side hustle. Whether you are interested in app development, website development, or machine learning, there are many opportunities for programmers to turn their skills into a profitable business.

These two blogs show that AI can simplify blog authoring.

I asked some tough programming questions, and most were suitable.

The content may occasionally not be what we want, but it will almost always be very helpful to you.

Enjoy.

Pen Magnet

Pen Magnet

1 year ago

Why Google Staff Doesn't Work

Photo by Rajeshwar Bachu on Unsplash

Sundar Pichai unveiled Simplicity Sprint at Google's latest all-hands conference.

To boost employee efficiency.

Not surprising. Few envisioned Google declaring a productivity drive.

Sunder Pichai's speech:

“There are real concerns that our productivity as a whole is not where it needs to be for the head count we have. Help me create a culture that is more mission-focused, more focused on our products, more customer focused. We should think about how we can minimize distractions and really raise the bar on both product excellence and productivity.”

The primary driver driving Google's efficiency push is:

Google's efficiency push follows 13% quarterly revenue increase. Last year in the same quarter, it was 62%.

Market newcomers may argue that the previous year's figure was fuelled by post-Covid reopening and growing consumer spending. Investors aren't convinced. A promising company like Google can't afford to drop so quickly.

Google’s quarterly revenue growth stood at 13%, against 62% in last year same quarter.

Google isn't alone. In my recent essay regarding 2025 programmers, I warned about the economic downturn's effects on FAAMG's workforce. Facebook had suspended hiring, and Microsoft had promised hefty bonuses for loyal staff.

In the same article, I predicted Google's troubles. Online advertising, especially the way Google and Facebook sell it using user data, is over.

FAAMG and 2nd rung IT companies could be the first to fall without Post-COVID revival and uncertain global geopolitics.

Google has hardly ever discussed effectiveness:

Apparently openly.

Amazon treats its employees like robots, even in software positions. It has significant turnover and a terrible reputation as a result. Because of this, it rarely loses money due to staff productivity.

Amazon trumps Google. In reality, it treats its employees poorly.

Google was the founding father of the modern-day open culture.

Larry and Sergey Google founded the IT industry's Open Culture. Silicon Valley called Google's internal democracy and transparency near anarchy. Management rarely slammed decisions on employees. Surveys and internal polls ensured everyone knew the company's direction and had a vote.

20% project allotment (weekly free time to build own project) was Google's open-secret innovation component.

After Larry and Sergey's exit in 2019, this is Google's first profitability hurdle. Only Google insiders can answer these questions.

  • Would Google's investors compel the company's management to adopt an Amazon-style culture where the developers are treated like circus performers?

  • If so, would Google follow suit?

  • If so, how does Google go about doing it?

Before discussing Google's likely plan, let's examine programming productivity.

What determines a programmer's productivity is simple:

How would we answer Google's questions?

As a programmer, I'm more concerned about Simplicity Sprint's aftermath than its economic catalysts.

Large organizations don't care much about quarterly and annual productivity metrics. They have 10-year product-launch plans. If something seems horrible today, it's likely due to someone's lousy judgment 5 years ago who is no longer in the blame game.

Deconstruct our main question.

  • How exactly do you change the culture of the firm so that productivity increases?

  • How can you accomplish that without affecting your capacity to profit? There are countless ways to increase output without decreasing profit.

  • How can you accomplish this with little to no effect on employee motivation? (While not all employers care about it, in this case we are discussing the father of the open company culture.)

  • How do you do it for a 10-developer IT firm that is losing money versus a 1,70,000-developer organization with a trillion-dollar valuation?

When implementing a large-scale organizational change, success must be carefully measured.

The fastest way to do something is to do it right, no matter how long it takes.

You require clearly-defined group/team/role segregation and solid pass/fail matrices to:

  • You can give performers rewards.

  • Ones that are average can be inspired to improve

  • Underachievers may receive assistance or, in the worst-case scenario, rehabilitation

As a 20-year programmer, I associate productivity with greatness.

Doing something well, no matter how long it takes, is the fastest way to do it.

Let's discuss a programmer's productivity.

Why productivity is a strange term in programming:

Productivity is work per unit of time.

Money=time This is an economic proverb. More hours worked, more pay. Longer projects cost more.

As a buyer, you desire a quick supply. As a business owner, you want employees who perform at full capacity, creating more products to transport and boosting your profits.

All economic matrices encourage production because of our obsession with it. Productivity is the only organic way a nation may increase its GDP.

Time is money — is not just a proverb, but an economical fact.

Applying the same productivity theory to programming gets problematic. An automating computer. Its capacity depends on the software its master writes.

Today, a sophisticated program can process a billion records in a few hours. Creating one takes a competent coder and the necessary infrastructure. Learning, designing, coding, testing, and iterations take time.

Programming productivity isn't linear, unlike manufacturing and maintenance.

Average programmers produce code every day yet miss deadlines. Expert programmers go days without coding. End of sprint, they often surprise themselves by delivering fully working solutions.

Reversing the programming duties has no effect. Experts aren't needed for productivity.

These patterns remind me of an XKCD comic.

Source: XKCD

Programming productivity depends on two factors:

  • The capacity of the programmer and his or her command of the principles of computer science

  • His or her productive bursts, how often they occur, and how long they last as they engineer the answer

At some point, productivity measurement becomes Schrödinger’s cat.

Product companies measure productivity using use cases, classes, functions, or LOCs (lines of code). In days of data-rich source control systems, programmers' merge requests and/or commits are the most preferred yardstick. Companies assess productivity by tickets closed.

Every organization eventually has trouble measuring productivity. Finer measurements create more chaos. Every measure compares apples to oranges (or worse, apples with aircraft.) On top of the measuring overhead, the endeavor causes tremendous and unnecessary stress on teams, lowering their productivity and defeating its purpose.

Macro productivity measurements make sense. Amazon's factory-era management has done it, but at great cost.

Google can pull it off if it wants to.

What Google meant in reality when it said that employee productivity has decreased:

When Google considers its employees unproductive, it doesn't mean they don't complete enough work in the allotted period.

They can't multiply their work's influence over time.

  • Programmers who produce excellent modules or products are unsure on how to use them.

  • The best data scientists are unable to add the proper parameters in their models.

  • Despite having a great product backlog, managers struggle to recruit resources with the necessary skills.

  • Product designers who frequently develop and A/B test newer designs are unaware of why measures are inaccurate or whether they have already reached the saturation point.

  • Most ignorant: All of the aforementioned positions are aware of what to do with their deliverables, but neither their supervisors nor Google itself have given them sufficient authority.

So, Google employees aren't productive.

How to fix it?

  • Business analysis: White suits introducing novel items can interact with customers from all regions. Track analytics events proactively, especially the infrequent ones.

  • SOLID, DRY, TEST, and AUTOMATION: Do less + reuse. Use boilerplate code creation. If something already exists, don't implement it yourself.

  • Build features-building capabilities: N features are created by average programmers in N hours. An endless number of features can be built by average programmers thanks to the fact that expert programmers can produce 1 capability in N hours.

  • Work on projects that will have a positive impact: Use the same algorithm to search for images on YouTube rather than the Mars surface.

  • Avoid tasks that can only be measured in terms of time linearity at all costs (if a task can be completed in N minutes, then M copies of the same task would cost M*N minutes).

In conclusion:

Software development isn't linear. Why should the makers be measured?

Notation for The Big O

I'm discussing a new way to quantify programmer productivity. (It applies to other professions, but that's another subject)

The Big O notation expresses the paradigm (the algorithmic performance concept programmers rot to ace their Google interview)

Google (or any large corporation) can do this.

  1. Sort organizational roles into categories and specify their impact vs. time objectives. A CXO role's time vs. effect function, for instance, has a complexity of O(log N), meaning that if a CEO raises his or her work time by 8x, the result only increases by 3x.

  2. Plot the influence of each employee over time using the X and Y axes, respectively.

  3. Add a multiplier for Y-axis values to the productivity equation to make business objectives matter. (Example values: Support = 5, Utility = 7, and Innovation = 10).

  4. Compare employee scores in comparable categories (developers vs. devs, CXOs vs. CXOs, etc.) and reward or help employees based on whether they are ahead of or behind the pack.

After measuring every employee's inventiveness, it's straightforward to help underachievers and praise achievers.

Example of a Big(O) Category:

If I ran Google (God forbid, its worst days are far off), here's how I'd classify it. You can categorize Google employees whichever you choose.

The Google interview truth:

O(1) < O(log n) < O(n) < O(n log n) < O(n^x) where all logarithmic bases are < n.

O(1): Customer service workers' hours have no impact on firm profitability or customer pleasure.

CXOs Most of their time is spent on travel, strategic meetings, parties, and/or meetings with minimal floor-level influence. They're good at launching new products but bad at pivoting without disaster. Their directions are being followed.

Devops, UX designers, testers Agile projects revolve around deployment. DevOps controls the levers. Their automation secures results in subsequent cycles.

UX/UI Designers must still prototype UI elements despite improved design tools.

All test cases are proportional to use cases/functional units, hence testers' work is O(N).

Architects Their effort improves code quality. Their right/wrong interference affects product quality and rollout decisions even after the design is set.

Core Developers Only core developers can write code and own requirements. When people understand and own their labor, the output improves dramatically. A single character error can spread undetected throughout the SDLC and cost millions.

Core devs introduce/eliminate 1000x bugs, refactoring attempts, and regression. Following our earlier hypothesis.

The fastest way to do something is to do it right, no matter how long it takes.

Conclusion:

Google is at the liberal extreme of the employee-handling spectrum

Microsoft faced an existential crisis after 2000. It didn't choose Amazon's data-driven people management to revitalize itself.

Instead, it entrusted developers. It welcomed emerging technologies and opened up to open source, something it previously opposed.

Google is too lax in its employee-handling practices. With that foundation, it can only follow Amazon, no matter how carefully.

Any attempt to redefine people's measurements will affect the organization emotionally.

The more Google compares apples to apples, the higher its chances for future rebirth.

Theresa W. Carey

Theresa W. Carey

2 years ago

How Payment for Order Flow (PFOF) Works

What is PFOF?

PFOF is a brokerage firm's compensation for directing orders to different parties for trade execution. The brokerage firm receives fractions of a penny per share for directing the order to a market maker.

Each optionable stock could have thousands of contracts, so market makers dominate options trades. Order flow payments average less than $0.50 per option contract.

Order Flow Payments (PFOF) Explained

The proliferation of exchanges and electronic communication networks has complicated equity and options trading (ECNs) Ironically, Bernard Madoff, the Ponzi schemer, pioneered pay-for-order-flow.

In a December 2000 study on PFOF, the SEC said, "Payment for order flow is a method of transferring trading profits from market making to brokers who route customer orders to specialists for execution."

Given the complexity of trading thousands of stocks on multiple exchanges, market making has grown. Market makers are large firms that specialize in a set of stocks and options, maintaining an inventory of shares and contracts for buyers and sellers. Market makers are paid the bid-ask spread. Spreads have narrowed since 2001, when exchanges switched to decimals. A market maker's ability to play both sides of trades is key to profitability.

Benefits, requirements

A broker receives fees from a third party for order flow, sometimes without a client's knowledge. This invites conflicts of interest and criticism. Regulation NMS from 2005 requires brokers to disclose their policies and financial relationships with market makers.

Your broker must tell you if it's paid to send your orders to specific parties. This must be done at account opening and annually. The firm must disclose whether it participates in payment-for-order-flow and, upon request, every paid order. Brokerage clients can request payment data on specific transactions, but the response takes weeks.

Order flow payments save money. Smaller brokerage firms can benefit from routing orders through market makers and getting paid. This allows brokerage firms to send their orders to another firm to be executed with other orders, reducing costs. The market maker or exchange benefits from additional share volume, so it pays brokerage firms to direct traffic.

Retail investors, who lack bargaining power, may benefit from order-filling competition. Arrangements to steer the business in one direction invite wrongdoing, which can erode investor confidence in financial markets and their players.

Pay-for-order-flow criticism

It has always been controversial. Several firms offering zero-commission trades in the late 1990s routed orders to untrustworthy market makers. During the end of fractional pricing, the smallest stock spread was $0.125. Options spreads widened. Traders found that some of their "free" trades cost them a lot because they weren't getting the best price.

The SEC then studied the issue, focusing on options trades, and nearly decided to ban PFOF. The proliferation of options exchanges narrowed spreads because there was more competition for executing orders. Options market makers said their services provided liquidity. In its conclusion, the report said, "While increased multiple-listing produced immediate economic benefits to investors in the form of narrower quotes and effective spreads, these improvements have been muted with the spread of payment for order flow and internalization." 

The SEC allowed payment for order flow to continue to prevent exchanges from gaining monopoly power. What would happen to trades if the practice was outlawed was also unclear. SEC requires brokers to disclose financial arrangements with market makers. Since then, the SEC has watched closely.

2020 Order Flow Payment

Rule 605 and Rule 606 show execution quality and order flow payment statistics on a broker's website. Despite being required by the SEC, these reports can be hard to find. The SEC mandated these reports in 2005, but the format and reporting requirements have changed over the years, most recently in 2018.

Brokers and market makers formed a working group with the Financial Information Forum (FIF) to standardize order execution quality reporting. Only one retail brokerage (Fidelity) and one market maker remain (Two Sigma Securities). FIF notes that the 605/606 reports "do not provide the level of information that allows a retail investor to gauge how well a broker-dealer fills a retail order compared to the NBBO (national best bid or offer’) at the time the order was received by the executing broker-dealer."

In the first quarter of 2020, Rule 606 reporting changed to require brokers to report net payments from market makers for S&P 500 and non-S&P 500 equity trades and options trades. Brokers must disclose payment rates per 100 shares by order type (market orders, marketable limit orders, non-marketable limit orders, and other orders).

Richard Repetto, Managing Director of New York-based Piper Sandler & Co., publishes a report on Rule 606 broker reports. Repetto focused on Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, E-TRADE, and Robinhood in Q2 2020. Repetto reported that payment for order flow was higher in the second quarter than the first due to increased trading activity, and that options paid more than equities.

Repetto says PFOF contributions rose overall. Schwab has the lowest options rates, while TD Ameritrade and Robinhood have the highest. Robinhood had the highest equity rating. Repetto assumes Robinhood's ability to charge higher PFOF reflects their order flow profitability and that they receive a fixed rate per spread (vs. a fixed rate per share by the other brokers).

Robinhood's PFOF in equities and options grew the most quarter-over-quarter of the four brokers Piper Sandler analyzed, as did their implied volumes. All four brokers saw higher PFOF rates.

TD Ameritrade took the biggest income hit when cutting trading commissions in fall 2019, and this report shows they're trying to make up the shortfall by routing orders for additional PFOF. Robinhood refuses to disclose trading statistics using the same metrics as the rest of the industry, offering only a vague explanation on their website.

Summary

Payment for order flow has become a major source of revenue as brokers offer no-commission equity (stock and ETF) orders. For retail investors, payment for order flow poses a problem because the brokerage may route orders to a market maker for its own benefit, not the investor's.

Infrequent or small-volume traders may not notice their broker's PFOF practices. Frequent traders and those who trade larger quantities should learn about their broker's order routing system to ensure they're not losing out on price improvement due to a broker prioritizing payment for order flow.


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