Reg FD crusader sells investor info company

Mark Coker’s BestCalls.com used the Internet to provide investors with up-to-the minute information on companies

Mark Coker’s personal crusade as an individual investor helped change the way American companies do business.

That’s not a claim most 37-year-olds make.

Two weeks ago, Coker sold his profitable BestCalls.com investor information Web site to Shareholder.com of Maynard, Mass., for an undisclosed price.

Shareholder.com says it plans to keep three full-time BestCalls.com workers in Los Gatos for the foreseeable future.

Coker plans to stay on in an advisory role with Shareholder.com, but will focus on developing his other business, Dovetail Public Relations of Los Gatos.

Back in the late 1990s, Coker, who had been following the stock market since he was a teenager, became fascinated with quarterly conference calls with analysts.

As an investor in a handful of companies, Coker wanted to listen in on those calls and hear what his companies were telling
analysts.

After Legatos Systems Inc. of Mountain View refused him access to its quarterly calls, Coker sold the stock he owned in that company and used the proceeds, slightly more than $100,000, to start BestCalls.com.

“What we’re talking about — disclosure — is all about communication; it’s companies increasing communication and the level of transparency with their investors,” Coker says.

About that time in 1998, BestCalls.com started its partnership with Shareholder.com, the company that would one day become its owner.

“I heard about BestCalls and the campaign Mark was on to open up conference calls,” Ron Gruner, president and founder of Shareholder.com says. “We began to do more things together, using BestCalls information and sharing our strategies.”

While angering some companies hell-bent on keeping their conference calls private in 1998 and 1999, Coker’s BestCalls.com started getting attention in such national news media as Time, Businessweek and the New York Times.

It wasn’t just the press that was paying attention to BestCalls. Former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairwoman Laura Unger, who was a commissioner at the time, also contacted Coker.

“People really flocked to us for ideas on how to manage the move towards greater corporate transparency,” Coker says. “I remember having a conversation with Laura Unger in 1999. She had never attended an earnings conference call before and I remember her asking me, ‘Do companies release information on these calls that they don’t release through other methods?’ I told her definitely. That’s what it’s all about — they were selectively disclosing material information.”

Although Unger balked at new federal regulation, she finally buckled and supported Regulation FD, which requires full disclosure from public companies about information that could affect stock price.

During the public comment period for the regulation, the SEC says almost 6,000 public comments were filed with its office.

“The vast majority of these commenters consisted of individual investors, who urged — almost uniformly — that we adopt Regulation FD,” states the SEC Web site.

BestCalls.com’s Coker says regulation FD, which took effect on October 23, 2000, changed everything and companies that once were reluctant to provide conference call access were willing partners with his company.

“Once that happened, the writing was on the walls for companies to become transparent,” he says.