Elon Musk, founder of online city and community guide firm Zip2 Corp, is ready to launch his second venture, an online financial services supersite. His new company, X.com Corp, plans to launch the first phase of its service – a web site that in Musk’s words will be a combination of the Bank of America, Schwab, Vanguard and Quicken – by the end of the year, although not all of those elements are likely to be in place until phase two, due in the following quarter.
Musk, who is 28 years old, founded Zip2 in 1995 to offer news, entertainment and localized information for metropolitan areas. Zip2 struck up deals with newspaper, television and radio partners, including the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, and almost merged with rival local content provider CitySearch in April 1998 before the deal was called off my mutual consent. In February this year Compaq Computer Corp acquired the company for its AltaVista search engine service for $305m – said to have been the largest cash internet transaction to date. AltaVista used Zip2’s personalization technology as the basis for MyAltaVista. CMGI Inc agreed to take a majority stake in AltaVista at the end of June for $2.3bn.
The proposed X.com site is not a portal, says Musk, because we are the thing itself. X.com will not just point to banking services, but will offer its own banking and mortgage services. It will also enable users to search for alternative services from the X.com web site, although these won’t be integrated into the full system like the home services. Musk – who has past professional experience in banking and a degree in finance from the Wharton School – says the company is in the process of acquiring a bank to provide the transaction processing elements, for a substantial sum. He says the nearest equivalents in the banking world to date – WingspanBank.com and the East Coast’s Telebank Financial Corp, are both weak on the technology side. Other branchless banks operating over the telephone and the internet include Compubank, Security First Network Bank, NetBank, and NextCard.
But the X.com site will also integrate its banking services with personal financial tools, stock and fund trading, and in the future e-commerce functions that, according to Musk, traditional banks can’t do. The company plans to front-end its own-branded trading services through one of the major back office brokerage providers. Later this year it will introduce the X.com mutual funds, including a S&P 500 fund, a US aggregate bond fund and a high yielding money market fund.
X.com has what it describes as serious financial backing including the support of a very prominent venture capital firm, to be revealed soon. The company, based in Palo Alto, has only around 15 staff at the moment, but expects to be three times larger by the end of the year. It will outsource people-intensive activities, such as call centers and check processing, and is using Exodus Communications Inc to host its servers. Today (Monday) the company is announcing that fund veteran and investment strategist John Story has joined the company as executive vice president of X.com, and president of the company’s Asset Management subsidiary. He was previously a senior executive and partner at both Montgomery Asset Management and at Alliance Capital.