Worden takes stock charts to the web
February 4, 2011By JP Finlay
Chris Worden knew he wanted to return his software company to the Tarheel State – he just wasn’t sure where. When the company decided on Wilmington, new ideas flowed and a second wave of expansion for Worden Brothers ensued.
Worden Brothers formed in 1988 while Chris was an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Saving his money from a delivery job at Dominos Pizza, Worden started the business that has since transformed the electronic stock chart industry. His brother Peter left a successful brokerage firm in Charlotte to join Chris and launch the company.
“We’re a North Carolina company. We had lots of ties to Wilmington,” Chris Worden said. “It’s where we wanted to be. We liked the water, we liked the town. It’s a great fit.”
Launching its first product in 1991, Worden Brothers brought stock chart software to the public through a more efficient and easy product, the predecessor to the eventual TC-2000 software. John Worden also joined the company in 1991, handling corporate finances, adding one more brother to the mix.
Chris explained that as a child in the 1970s, he would watch his father send out stock market charts and analysis letters. He knew the stock business and the products people would pay for. He transformed that knowledge to computers in the old days of DOS software.
“The two things I knew were programming and stock charts. In 1988, to look at stock charts was a four-step process, and it was expensive. My idea was to simplify and remove steps from the process,” Chris Worden said.
The TC-2000 software saw rapid growth, becoming the dominant product in the industry. Since 1993, the TC-2000 has been named the best stock analysis software by Stocks and Commodities Magazine for 18 years running. Worden Brothers continues to tweak the software and improve it, keeping clients happy with new innovation leading to a profitable subscription-based service.
As the company grew, Worden Brothers moved offices to Ft. Lauderdale. Worden said the staff really enjoyed the Florida lifestyle, but after a few years knew it was time to return to North Carolina. In 2008, Worden Brothers purchased an office building on Boathouse Road for $1.65 million and invested another $400,000 in renovations.
“We made the commitment to come here. We moved a lot of families up here.”
The company also knew that the move was the perfect time to explore a new, web-based product. Worden began working on a website with similar technology to the TC-2000, originally purely a research and development experiment. The website experiment was led by Ole Pederson and Ken Gilb, two software developers that Chris describes as two of the most important hires in the company’s history.
“We’re always trying to figure out how we are going to keep people excited. We knew this was the direction we had to go. If we didn’t start getting in the web world, we’re going to end up dying. And we got a new start in Wilmington.”
The website, now called FreeStockCharts.com, first launched in June 2008. After more work and more investment, the site took off.
“We built it and by summer 2009 people were using it like crazy. It was a new business model for us. We knew we had to cross platforms,” Worden said.
Though the subscriptions for the TC-2000 still drive revenues at the company, the website now pays for itself through advertisements.
There are countless metrics to measure a website’s popularity, but perhaps the most telling statistic at FreeStockCharts.com is that the average user is on the site more than 140 minutes per visit. The site has also entered into an agreement with TD Ameritrade to provide stock content for the 6 million TD Ameritrade customers with pre-filled data from any TD Ameritrade account.
Worden explained that the free website has not hurt the TC-2000 subscription business, though it has not helped either. The next move for Worden Brothers is to consolidate users of the TC-2000 and the website, and to convert free users to paid subscribers. The opportunities for growth, according to Worden, are huge.
“We don’t want to take away from the free site, but we will continue to add to the pay site. People will want to have it. We always gave everything away – software, websites – and you can pay if you want to. The product is better being online.”
Worden Brothers plans to strategically broaden the subscription base to the website. Within the next year, the company would like to get 75 percent of the TC-2000 subscribers moved to the online version. The company will continue to send the software out to customers who prefer it, but expectations are for a mass shift to the website. From there, they want to add the current 200,000 registered users of FreeStockCharts.com to the subscriber base, and eventually, bring in unregistered users of the website in addition to previous TC-2000 subscribers who gave up the service in the past.
The good news at Worden, and in Wilmington, is that the expansion will create a need for more workers.
“Everybody is cautiously ready to start getting new blood. It’s like the economy is getting ready to turn. We’ll find the smart people who can create. I want tech people who are young and innovative to be interested in our company.”