Celebrating 20 Years of The Motley Fool Online

Twenty years ago today, on Aug. 4, 1994, The Motley Fool was born online. In celebration of this special day 20 years ago, our investment team went back and looked at how the Fool Portfolio would have done if we'd left it open instead of closing it in 2003. The results speak to the power of Foolish investing.

Aug 4, 2014 at 3:26PM

This was written by brothers and Fool co-founders David and Tom Gardner.

Twenty years ago today, on Aug. 4, 1994, The Motley Fool was born online. We'd started a year before as a print newsletter for friends and family. It was truly motley: lead essays about movies or sports backed up by several pages of stock picks at the end. Over the course of the year leading up to our debut on America Online, we spent increasing amounts of time online, participating in investor discussions on AOL and Prodigy (anyone remember Prodigy?). We found ourselves totally attracted to this new online medium where we could interact much more quickly and intelligently with a growing community of Fools. This growing community prompted the AOL Finance team of Rob Shenk and Katherine Borsecnik to invite us out to lunch, and plans for keyword FOOL were not just made, but in the months following enacted.

And so on Aug. 4, 1994, we opened up on AOL.

Aod Aol

That first day, we started the "Fool Portfolio": $50,000 of our own real money to be invested in a totally transparent and educational way. Our aim was to demonstrate that we "mere" individual investors could and would beat the market over time. "You can too!" we said, both on our site and then increasingly through our Simon & Schuster books and the coast-to-coast Motley Fool Radio Show, where some of you first found us. The notion that you could beat the market with confidence was a radical proposal at the time. To many still getting (improper) teaching today, it may still seem radical. But from the earliest days of the portfolio, with stocks we picked based on great ideas and information coming in from a growing network of Fools nationwide, beat the market we did. 

Our first stock picks were AOL and some Dow dividend heavyweights, and from there we went on over the years to buy some great long-term winners like Amazon, Amgen, eBay, and Starbucks, some non-long-term winners like Iomega and Celera (amazing but not sustainable), and some downright bad stocks like Excite@Home and 3Dfx. As the stock market hit crazy highs in early 2000, that $50,000 touched a high of just about $1,000,000 for an overall return of 20 times our money. Then everything started falling.

The market came down, the Internet reversed from growth to decline, and our business model -- free ad-supported market advice -- came down with 'em. With the Nasdaq (and all our stocks, too) more than cut in half, it wasn't exactly an easy move to shift our business in 2002-03 from free to premium advice. But we had to, so we chose to close down our beloved "FoolPort," by then known as the "Rule Breaker Portfolio" (and including a talent-laden team headlined by Jeff Fischer), in order to restart again with the new services for which people would actually pay. (They're the services you know today, starting with Motley Fool Stock Advisor.)

And so that portfolio into which we poured our capital and our blood, sweat, and tears -- which started exactly 20 years ago today and was in a sense the first prominent effort on the Internet to provide accountable, winning stock market advice -- closed, in March 2003. Even though it was down two-thirds from its highs, the annualized return from 1994-2003 was 20.16% vs. 9.07% for the S&P 500 with dividends added.

The FoolPort had some cool innovations. In the most un-Wall-Street-like way, we announced every pick we made ahead of time, allowing our viewers to "front run" us if they wanted to; we didn't buy until at least 24 hours later. We were trying to disrupt the financial world and its tendency to take action first and let the public know later. We're still doing that, with services like Motley Fool One and Supernova always giving members a full day first to pick up any new recommendation we make and will later act on. We also supported every stock with its own discussion board; we know, no big deal today. But back then all kinds of skepticism were   heaped on "chatter" in "chat rooms" in "cyberspace" and The Motley Fool was made to sound like we were stretching the outer limits of the investment galaxy with this bleeding edge commitment to community intelligence.


In celebration of this special day 20 years ago, our investment team (thank you, Yervand Khoranian) went back and took the portfolio as it stood in March 2003 and carried the positions right through forward, to today. The question is: Had you just bought and held that portfolio beyond its close on Fool.com and stayed invested till today, how would you be doing?

The results are below, and speak for themselves to the power of Foolish investing:


*Data from S&P Capital IQ; calculations by Yervand Khoranian. Assumes short positions were closed and proceeds from acquisitions were rolled into S&P 500 Spider Index Fund.

Thank you to all our 1994-2003 early Fools who helped create from the outset the world's greatest investment community. To the next 20 years, Fool on! 

The Gardners

Put on some Pearl Jam and relive the '90s! Here's the Fool Port's past in full Foolish display:

David Gardner owns shares of Amazon.com, AOL, and Starbucks. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, eBay, and Starbucks. Tom Gardner owns shares of Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, eBay, and Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

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Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

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Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

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David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

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They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

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