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Tyrone Ross

Industry Spotlight > Advisors

Tyrone Ross Left Onramp Over ‘Co-Founder Drama.’ Here’s What He’s Doing Next.

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Tyrone Ross, formerly co-founder and CEO of Onramp Invest, is tight-lipped about why he abruptly left the firm in March except to dryly categorize the event “co-founder drama.”

“We didn’t see eye to eye on the direction of Onramp,” he tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview, adding that that was “the script” he and co-founder Eric Ervin agreed to “stick to” for the reason Ross departed.

“There may be a day when I’ll talk about it in detail … Maybe I will; maybe I won’t,” he says.

At any rate, Ross, a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch early in his career, has embarked on two new crypto ventures, an RIA called 401 Financial, and a tech startup for advisors, Turnqey Labs.

In addition to crypto, the RIA will handle what Ross calls “traditional dinosaur-bone assets, like stocks, and all that other antiquated crap.”

Ervin and Ross co-founded Onramp in 2020 as a crypto asset platform to serve financial advisors. According to Ross, he raised $7 million in venture capital for the firm.

When he left — at which point, Ervin took over as CEO — Onramp reportedly was having financial difficulties and laying off much of the staff.

On the Onramp website, Ervin writes about Ross’s exit: “… we hit a wrinkle. As we began to scale Onramp from the initial phase of conception to the next phase of rapid growth, it became clear to Tyrone that he no longer felt he was the right fit for the role. Therefore, I have stepped into the role as CEO …”

Ross now has no stake in the firm.

He has now partnered with three people — one, the co-founder and CIO of his RIA, and two others, co-founders of Turnqey. He is in the process of raising money from “a select group of great individual investors and potentially, some funds,” he says.

His yet-to-be-launched RIA will target clients ages 25 to 45 with a net worth of $100,000 to $3 million and who are “tech-savvy” and seeking a “customized, personalized experience,” he explains.

The RIA will also help “a subset of people” whose net worth is below $100,000.

“I firmly believe that everyone deserves financial planning,” says Ross, who grew up poor in New Jersey, the son of a sanitation worker and a school bus driver.

That life is worlds away from the crypto universe in which he has immersed himself, and indeed, from his base of operations for the last couple of years in San Diego.

But noting that current crypto sentiment is “awful,” he says in the interview, “we deserve it because there’s so much crap and scams and double-talking and horrible narrative about crypto.”

Yet, he’s “never been be more optimistic” about the currency, he hastens to add.

“I’m still a crypto hippie, always will be. I’ve been buying on the way down and will continue to accumulate,” he insists.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Ross, speaking by phone from San Diego. Here are highlights from our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: Why did you leave Onramp Invest?

TYRONE ROSS: One of the last conversations that Eric [Ervin, co-founder] and I had was that we would stick to the script that it was just misdirection.

We came to a fork in the road, and we went straight. But a bunch of things were leaked to the media.

We [each] just had a different direction for where the company should go, and that was that.

Do you still have a stake in the firm?

I don’t own anything in Onramp. I gave up my equity. I gave up my board seat. I gave up everything. I have absolutely nothing to do with the company. Zero.

I’m surprised that Mr. Ervin hasn’t said more about the split?

There was a lot said, actually. The only one who hasn’t said anything is me.

Did you leave because of personal issues with Mr. Ervin or a business disagreement?

Obviously, it was business. It was just co-founder drama. We didn’t see eye to eye on the direction of Onramp. I wish him the best.

Was it a sudden split, or were things building up over time and finally came to a head?

Yeah, all of that would make its way out at some point. When it’s time for that story to be told, I’m sure it will be.

There may be a day when I’ll talk about it in detail and tell my side of the story. Maybe I will; maybe I won’t.

I just wanted to make sure that people who were let go found jobs. They’ve all found great landing places.

Reportedly, you had a meeting with Jamie Hopkins (managing partner of wealth solutions) at Carson around the time you left, leading some to speculate that you were joining forces with Carson. What was that about?

That trip was scheduled before I [left Onramp]. Jamie Hopkins and I are very close. The trip was about the possibility of doing an RIA with [Carson] and a bunch of other things that we explored.

There were a lot of reasons I was there. Jamie is very big on financial education. So we discussed a lot of things.

Now you’ve embarked on two new endeavors. What are they?

I’m starting an RIA for [retail clients], 401 Financial, and for advisors, a startup, Turnqey Labs.

Tell me about the RIA.

We’re waiting to get the [Form] ADV for it approved by the state of California.

We’ll be very much crypto-forward, digging into the Web 3 type of experience [using blockchains] that we create.

But we’re also going to do traditional dinosaur-bone assets, like stocks and all that other antiquated crap. My partner and CIO will be doing that crazy stuff.

Who is your CIO?

It’s someone I’ve worked with before. Over the next five years, they’re going to win every industry award that’s out there. And when they’re done cleaning up there, they’re going to start creating awards because they’re a super-brilliant individual that just needs the opportunity.

So I’m most excited about giving an opportunity to this [person] to be seen by the financial services space.

Will the RIA serve any other purpose?

It’s going to act like an incubator for currencies. No one really has what I need. So we’re building a stack with the expectation that we’re going to have to fill in some of the blanks with data.

Now tell me about Turnqey, which is a platform for helping advisors work more easily with crypto. It isn’t for consumers, right?

It’s business to business. We’re fundraising for it now … from a select group of great individual investors and potentially, some funds as well.

We should, hopefully, have the fundraising done in the next two or three weeks.

Do you have a co-founder for the startup?

I have two co-founders for Turnqey [who are different from the RIA co-founder]. One of the things I learned is either you found [a firm] yourself or you have three co-founders. So it’s either three or one.

I found two incredibly brilliant individuals who I admire and respect. I’ll be releasing their names soon.

What else can you tell me about the RIA?

It’s for clients 25 to 45 years old who are tech-savvy and looking for a customized, personalized experience. Clients may be even younger than that: Some people in their early 20s have millions.

It will be flat-fee planning — you have to do planning in order to work with us — targeting clients with a net worth of $100,000 to $3 million. But we’re going to take folks zero to $100,000 as well because I firmly believe that everybody deserves financial planning.

You grew up in a very poor family and have worked to help low-income people in similar straits. Is that still a focus for you?

One hundred percent. It will never fail. [As I said], we’re going to work with a subset of people [who earn a lower income] that need help and planning.

There’s a digital divide that needs to be closed. About a month ago I had a meeting with Sen. Cory Booker [D-N.J.], and we spoke about this.

It’s not the people’s responsibility to understand the difference between Bitcoin and Ethereum.

The main thing is to make sure that the technology is so ubiquitous and available that they don’t even know they’re using it and that it’s making their lives more efficient, making things cheaper and saving them money.

I believe wholeheartedly in what [crypto] means for the world in general, but especially for people who grew up in the [low-income] world that I did.

Anything else you’d care to mention about the RIA?

We’re going to also work on some new financial education stuff. I can’t show all my cards now, but it’s going to be really cool.

With high volatility and bearishness in the market, certainly on the crypto side, what’s your take on digital assets right now?

I’ve never seen the sentiment for crypto as bad as right now. It’s awful. But we deserve it because there’s just so much crap and scams and double-talking and horrible narrative about crypto.

So the sentiment is the worst, but I’ve also never been more optimistic than I am right now: there’s the money that continues to be raised, the opportunities out there for the best teams and the best projects, which are phenomenal.

Crypto definitely isn’t going away.

What are its biggest challenges?

This is almost like the 2008-2009 financial crisis for crypto. It’s only 13 years old. It needs to go through different things. Now it’s hitting puberty.

When it was introduced, there was money-printing like crazy. Now that’s changing. The environment is changing.

The narrative changed as things happened. Everyone was saying that Bitcoin was an inflation hedge. But it doesn’t really look like that right now. Bitcoin will be strengthened as it continues to endure. So I’m still a crypto hippie — always will be.

Have you been buying during the downturn?

I’ve been buying on the way down. I will continue to buy. I haven’t sold a dime. I will continue to accumulate.

You told me in a 2020 interview that when you were an advisor at Merrill Lynch, your experience there was “mixed”: You had a great mentor — who was white — but you also encountered “horrible racism and bigotry from the firm and sometimes from clients,” you said.

As a CEO with your own companies, do you find racism still to be an issue for you personally?

I’m still Black! That hasn’t changed! Have I run into racist situations since then? Absolutely.

I’ve had some very interesting situations that I could talk about from building Onramp and everything else where I’ve had to have folks come back to me and apologize for things that were said or done.

I’m still a Black man in America, which means that I’m going to be face to face with racism. Does it help when you have a title with influence? Sure. But I [can’t] change the fact that I’m a 6’2” Black man with probably one of the Blackest names you could think of. I can’t hide.

I can’t change how people are going to respond, but being in an influential position shields you from some of it.

What do you think of all the media attention you’ve received about leaving Onramp?

When I left my little probation officer’s job to go to Merrill Lynch, nobody cared. Now I’m in Barron’s, and people are calling my folks asking what’s going on. Why do they care? It’s amazing to me.

Pictured: Tyrone Ross. (Photo via Onramp Invest)