Saturday, April 20, 2024

Wilmington brothers chart the markets

It’s Friday morning in Wilmington, and men in shorts and sandals move around the office. A small sign outside announces the headquarters of Worden Brothers Inc.

But don’t be deceived by the casual environment. The software firm on Boathouse Road is a hub of activity that influences thousands of daily financial investments across the world. Worden Brothers offers stock-market charting and analysis software, providing real-time data and functions to help investors track stocks, indexes and options contracts.

Since the three brothers’ 25-employee business launched in 1988, it has issued more than a dozen versions of the TC2000 offering as software, which has evolved from a PC version to cloud-based platforms.

“I look at our software as another level from anything you’re going to get from a Schwab or an E*TRADE or a TD Ameritrade,” says Chris Worden, the company’s president and the middle brother, referring to three leading brokerages for individual investors. “We’re targeting people who are looking to organize the things they’re looking at, keep them organized, have their own algorithms, filters and scans in there so they can watch things in smaller chunks and manage what they’re monitoring in an easier way.”

He wouldn’t disclose the company’s annual revenue or the number of subscribers willing to pay the $10 to $90 monthly fee for the service. No one confuses Worden with financial data giants such as Bloomberg LP or FactSet Research Systems Inc. But the company’s longevity suggests it’s found a solid niche, clients say.

A key element of the TC2000 platform is “the variety of ways that you can analyze the market,” says Jim Rich, a retired auto-industry executive who co-founded an investment club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “Everybody has their own technique. That’s what makes the platform so attractive.”

Worden’s TC2000 Version 18 added stock and option capabilities that provided almost instantaneous screening capabilities, Rich noted in a review on the website. Alerts allow scanning of up to 10,000 options contracts “in the blink of an eye,” he wrote.

Eric Wish, a director of a University of Maryland research center who writes a stock-market blog, says TC2000 “has done everything that I could imagine I wanted to do.” One of the perks of TC2000 is the alerts clients receive to help monitor unusual stock moves. While markets move for many reasons, he says learning about technical analysis can help any trader’s understanding on how to make money.

“In the end, it’s like a golf club,” Chris Worden says of his firm’s tools. “The golfer still has to swing it, but the technology has certainly improved.”

Worden began working at age 12 for his dad, Don, a pioneer in stock-market research who owned a stock-market newsletter publishing company based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The elder Worden had previously worked for a stock brokerage in Durham and for years, he answered investment questions on a radio show in the Triangle.

Chris Worden worked in the chart department, helping meticulously draw stock charts by hand, typically a multiday project. Over time, he developed a passion for technology as his father added Wang computers, digital typesetting equipment and printing presses. His dad and a forward-thinking middle school teacher in Florida taught him algebra and computer programming when he was 13.

After the Worden family moved to Chapel Hill in 1981, 15-year-old Chris learned how to develop software at Chapel Hill High School, including writing algebra-drill programs for area middle schools. Chris and his dad developed stock-charting software on an Apple computer. Each night, they uploaded the data for 50 large-cap stocks to a rented server. Customers could then dial a local number, plug the phone into their computer and plot charts. The software was branded TelChart, short for “telephone charts.”

In 1988, Chris partnered with his older brother, Peter, to start what would become Worden Brothers Inc. The youngest brother, Jon, joined a few years later. None of the brothers earned college degrees, and Peter is the only one who has worked at another financial company, having spent a couple of years as a broker in the Raleigh office of Charlotte-based Interstate Securities Corp. Chris enrolled at UNC Chapel Hill but left when he concluded the coursework didn’t further his entrepreneurial goals.

Business was initially slow as the brothers experimented with newsletter products and software called the Trader’s Edge. On the side, the brothers delivered Domino’s pizzas to keep the business afloat.

The breakthrough came when Chris bought a Hyundai 286 computer on credit. Inspired by the pre-internet Prodigy online service that offered news, weather, bulletin boards and other information, Chris saw a niche for offering stock-market analysis.

At the time, investors needed multiple software packages and data services to analyze stocks. His goal was for customers to press one button to gain access to a significant amount of information.

Worden Brothers’ first product, TeleChart, was named to honor their dad’s original software, followed by TeleChart 2000, which was one of the first products to stream real-time stock data over the internet through license agreements with stock exchanges. TC2000 also let customers set up chat groups that enabled investors to swap trading ideas.

Two decades later, Chris Worden still leads the design process, though he credits his company’s experienced software developers for the product’s successful evolution. Since 2011, TC2000 has operated using cloud technology with data processing, scanning and calculations completed on Worden servers instead of customers’ computers. In 2013, Chris started an affiliated broker/dealer called TC2000 Brokerage Inc. as an alternative to existing companies.

Stocks are just part of Chris Worden’s entrepreneurial efforts. In 2017, he partnered with two company colleagues to form Wilmington-based Mad Mole Brewing. It has 63 solar panels to help power its brewing process, earning national recognition from Solar United Neighbors, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that promotes solar energy. He’s also an avid pilot and has a rating to fly jets including a leased Citation used for corporate travel.

After operating the business in Chapel Hill and later Fort Lauderdale, the Wordens moved to Wilmington in 2008. Chris’s wife, Wendy, grew up in the Port City, and the brothers enjoy taking advantage of the coastal lifestyle. Chris and Peter are boaters, while Chris and Jon are golfers.

“We take pride in creating a high-quality product at a fair price,” Chris Worden says. “Hopefully, our customers keep rewarding us for that.”

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