Tribevest group investing platform brings on Harlem Globetrotter

Steve Wartenberg
For Columbus CEO
Travis Smith, left, and Julian McClurkin of Tribevest.

The trout were biting, and the jokes and ideas were flowing as Travis Smith, his older brother, Lincoln, and their two cousins enjoyed a fishing trip to Patagonia, Chile, in 2008 that Smith says they couldn’t afford.

The four were college graduates with good jobs and yet, “We realized there were people in their 50s who had great jobs and were losing their jobs and were scared [due to the recession]. We dreamed out loud together about going into business.”

A pact was made: They would each put $500 a month into an investment group. “We made the first investment [in real estate] and that led to another investment and some leverage, and we kept learning and investing and kept putting everything back into our tribe. Pretty soon we had a multi-million-dollar portfolio,” says Smith, 45. “We secured a future we never could have dreamt of.”

Sounds easy, right?

Not exactly, but Smith was hooked on the idea of pooling resources to create an investment tribe. This led to his creation of Tribevest, a Columbus-based group-investment platform that helps groups of investors create their own limited liability company (LLC), open a bank account, interact, vote and invest all within 48 hours. All while avoiding many of the logistical problems his initial tribe encountered.

“At his core, Travis genuinely wants everyone he comes into contact with to be better off after they’ve had an interaction with him,” says Julian McClurkin, a member of the Harlem Globetrotters and Tribevest’s new chief storyteller. “Travis finds ways to pull greatness out of you.”

Starting Tribevest

Smith earned a finance degree from Ohio State University in 1999 and plunged into the world of financial technology, with stops at HMI Performance Incentives in Boston and the Profitstars Division of Jack Henry & Associates in Columbus.

He was doing well but wanted more, not only for himself but for others. He had the entrepreneurial spirit and the success of the investment group he created with his family, which led Smith to believe they had unlocked a secret known to the wealthy for centuries, he says.

“The Tribevest idea is a way for the middle class to unlock and use the secrets of the wealthy and leverage the economies of scale … to reduce income inequality.”

Tribevest was launched in 2018 with Smith as CEO and co-founder Josh Wilson as COO and head of customer success. They added Zach Bowers as chief technology officer.

The tech side is important, as the Tribevest promise is to make forming an LLC, opening an FDIC-insured bank account, and holding virtual meetings and voting simple.

“We have over 2,000 tribes that have started their journey, and over 500 that are already transacting and operating as a business,” Smith says. “Over 50 percent of our tribes are people of color.” Tribevest’s income comes from the members of groups, who pay the company $5 to $15 a month for the online services. The company has eight employees and is on track to record $1 million in revenue in 2021.

Branching out

Atlanta-based Tre Baker is a self-described serial entrepreneur. He too was bitten by the collaborative-investing bug, but says the administrative burden was too big a hurdle—And then, he read about Tribevest.

“The idea resonated with me and clicked,” says Baker, who has created and leads three tribes. One specializes in startups, real estate and cryptocurrency. The members of his second group invested in Tribevest through a venture capital fundraising investment; and the third tribe is about decentralizing financing, areas usually reserved for the wealthy, he says.

Using Tribevest’s online tools is easy, Baker says. “They’ve really improved the process since the start,” he says, adding the only delay is waiting for the LLC certificate from the secretary of state after the forms are completed on the Tribevest website.

Annette Grant is a Columbus-based expert in the growing short-term rental market created by Airbnb and Vrbo, and she co-hosts the Thanks For Visiting podcast that delves into the field. “This is the next wealth-building tool, sharing with and trusting others,” she says of Tribevest’s group-investment model.

Grant created her first tribe to invest in real estate. “We started it right before [the pandemic] and we’ve never once met in person,” she says. “We’ve never had to exchange any checks or sign any documents … we vote on everything through the portal, and we can message everyone, and all our LLC documents are right there at our fingertips.”

She has started a second tribe, one for people she calls “more seasoned real estate investors.” This tribe has already invested in and owns a piece of two apartment complexes in Texas and Georgia. Grant said a third and fourth tribe are in the works. “Tribevest makes all this seem possible,” she says. “The platform allows you to dream.”

A new tribe

McClurkin splits his time between the Globetrotters and working as a real estate agent in central Ohio.

The Independence High graduate met Smith on the basketball court, where they played pickup games together. He describes Smith as the type of player you want on your team—he’s not a scorer but does all the little things that help a team win, he says.

McClurkin also has the entrepreneurial gene and is in the early stages of starting his first tribe. “I’m learning from all the people I’ve interviewed,” he says of the videos he’s made for Tribevest in his role as chief storyteller. “I want to be informed and I’ve sent out feelers to people who want to join with me and I have a few ideas about how we’ll do it.”

Unicorn status

In the world of tech startups, a unicorn is a private company valued at $1 billion or more. “We’re absolutely a future unicorn,” Smith says. “And our role is so important to narrow the wealth gap and create wealth for the millions of tribes on our platform. And change lives for the better.”

As for the original tribe with his brother and cousins, it’s still in place and they’re still investing and creating wealth. “Now, it’s really about the next generation, our families,” Smith says. He and his wife, Mandy Smith, an Ohio State University professor, live in Upper Arlington and have two children, Brant, 13, and Lincoln, 9. “That’s how we can leave a legacy, by helping the next generation take it to the next level.

Steve Wartenberg is a freelance writer.


1275 Kinnear Road

Revenue: Projected $1 million in 2021

Employees: 8

CEO: Travis Smith