5 questions with TradeStation’s John Bartleman

By Riley Kaminer

Few innovators have been as deeply entrenched in the South Florida tech world for as long as TradeStation CEO John Bartleman. The Plantation-based company currently has 300 full-time employees in South Florida alone. 

While only about 5% of the fintech’s business today is crypto-related, TradeStation has doubled down on this rapidly-growing space. Last month, it made waves by commissioning a 3,000-pound charging bull statue at Bitcoin 2022. The online securities and futures brokerage firm was also in the headlines recently for enabling United Way of Broward to accept donations using cryptocurrencies (Broward’s Mayor Udine making the first crypto donation).

In an interview with Refresh Miami, Bartleman discusses the past, present, and future of TradeStation, the role Broward plays in the South Florida tech scene, and more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

TradeStation CEO John Bartleman. At top of post, Bartleman, center, with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and TradeStation executive James Putra.

How has TradeStation grown since you joined the company 23 years ago?

When I joined TradeStation, we were shipping disquettes and just going to CDs, which was a big advancement. We acquired a company based in Dallas that had an online web distribution model and took our product online. We also made an acquisition of an online broker dealer here in South Florida, and really shifted our business model. We were a publicly traded company at the time and transitioned from selling software to becoming a broker dealer. 

My team had to figure out how to tie our software into being a brokerage and having direct connectivity to trading on equities, equity options, and futures. We built out that capacity over the 2000s.

In 2011, Monex Group in Japan purchased TradeStation, taking us private. [The group is now planning to bring TradeStation public via SPAC.] What they loved about us was that we were an award-winning software platform with a differentiated product in the market. We eventually did tremendously well launching that product in Japan.

In 2016, I became President of the group and started to bring TradeStation in a new direction, expanding beyond the professional day traders and the institutional clients we had. We started to reposition the company, creating more web and mobile technologies that were more user friendly for a younger audience. 

Then we decided to get into the crypto space. From 2017 to 2019 we developed our first product and went to market with a standalone crypto web and mobile interface with five cryptos to start. We do crypto lending, which enables us to pay our customers interest on their crypto balances as an added feature to having a TradeStation Crypto account.

Now we’re working on a few really cool things. One is that we’re going to launch our fully integrated crypto into the multi asset web platform we have. We expect to have our mobile app with all the asset classes including crypto in a new simplified version of the software later in the fall. In June, we are going to be launching the next eight cryptos that we will support.

We’ve also been working on an API. Over the last year and a half we have onboarded about 80 fintech platforms with a community of 35 million active monthly users.

What major crypto trends do you find most interesting?

The next five years will see a lot of change. I’m very bullish on a lot of the technology that’s happening. The problem is that I think we are in a bubble, with extreme valuations and interest rates increasing. ​​But I’d like to see some of the more solid projects really take hold and grow.

I’m a huge fan of the metaverse. We’re friendly with the guys at Magic Leap and want to do more events with them to get the energy going around this. I was just talking with their CEO about what these virtual worlds look like, and how we meet and work in this space. It’s getting there, but it still needs a lot of work. We’re going to experiment, but I think there’s absolutely a future herre.

I love NFTs and can really see the application of some NFTs out there. I think it’s a major trend, especially when you think about collectables or private securities being securitized and brought onto the blockchain. In general, we’re seeing a major evolution of the infrastructure of blockchain technology, and its integration into legacy systems as younger generations push for things like 24 hour trading.

We’re also experiencing an evolution on futures, creating events-based products to trade. I say ‘trade’ not investing because it’s a little bit more like gambling: for instance, what is the temperature of New York going to be tomorrow.

How do you deal with crypto-related compliance issues?

Our lawyers work with state regulators and the SEC to respond to any questions they have.  Across the board in crypto, the SEC really wants to know everything you’re doing because it’s new. They want to know how the regulation is going. We continue to partner with them as that evolves. So it’s really more about education and giving them any information they request.

What’s TradeStation’s key to success when it comes to keeping customers happy?

You have to listen to your customers. We have a really high touch relationship with our customers, so we can understand their needs. The hard part is that we’re multi-asset and are expanding beyond just the active professional trader. So it’s always a give and take on providing what the customers are looking for and where we can go strategically. It’s a difficult balancing act. Some platforms that have scaled very quickly have learned this the hard way.

What role does or can Broward County play in the broader South Florida tech ecosystem?

We would love for Broward to be the face of South Florida tech just like Miami has become. We need some anchor conferences like Miami had in April, or Permissionless in West Palm Beach. We’ve got to stand up here in Broward and make some noise, you know, and create even the ecosystem of what they’ve done. 

It’s tremendous to see the energy in events in Miami, with hundreds of young people coming together and networking. But part of the problem of living in Miami is the real estate. These young people might not be able to afford Miami housing costs. But maybe Broward or Palm Beach is a more affordable alternative, kind of like Brooklyn was to New York. We’re willing to do whatever we can to foster that and make that happen.


Riley Kaminer