Porter Stansberry, I think, doesn't like to be photographed. When I recently visited the website of the business he leads, Stansberry & Associates Investment Research, I found individual pages for ten of his editors and four contributing editors, all with mugshots to give a sense of personality.
Here's blue-eyed, toothy Steve Sjuggerud, who edits True Wealth, which he says, specialises in "safe, unique alternative investments overlooked by Wall Street". Here too is bearded playboy-styled Dr David Eifrig, the brains behind Retirement Millionaire, claimed to reveal "how to live a millionaire lifestyle on less money than you'd imagine". Also Matt Badiali, the heading-towards-bullnecked author of S&A Resource Report and S&A Junior Resource Trader, which at first I thought was aimed at children, but apparently tips "junior resource stocks".
These three, and eleven others, look into the camera, giving a sense at least of their reality. But Porter Stansberry himself? He's nowhere to be seen in the output from his investment advice business. I didn't spot him, for instance, in any of his videos. And (of course) not in his radio show. He aims to be the opposite of my mother's idea of a good child: Porter Stansberry wants to be heard, but not seen.
Putting aside any suspicion that he's wanted by the authorities, a possible explanation, I suppose, is that he's shy. Although he may be a Schwarzenegger of ideas and a Kong of marketing muscle, perhaps hiding behind his morning Wall Street Journal breakfast is just a slice or two of buttered toast.
How I discovered Porter
Nope. I don't think so. More likely he reckons his visage would prove a turn-off to his punters. At heart Porter Stansberry is a salesman, more than an analyst, and from bonds to retirement plans, from automobiles to real estate, a steady eye and firm handshake can seal a deal. A come-to-bed picture is usually helps. As Dale Carnegie famously declared in his landmark How to Win Friends and Influence People: "A smile costs nothing but creates much."
Porter, moreover, studied under a Carnegie-style guru who would surely have put him right. In an interview, years back, he revealed that after being fired from a copywriting job, he was mentored by Michael Masterson, the formidable author of business bestsellers such as Power and Persuasion and Seven Years to Seven Figures, who most confidently grins out from his homepage.
As Masterson himself explains in a tip for newbies titled "How to sell anything", there are three fundamentals to the craft:
(1) People don't like the idea of being sold to.
(2) People buy things for emotional reasons, not rational reasons.
(3) Once their heart says YES, people need to have their brains agree.
Of course, this advice is laced with a dump of horseshit. But you get the general idea. And Stansberry's sales technique is so dependent on Masterson's - packaged these days as the Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting - that for all practical purposes (well, perhaps not all that practical) the two men's styles are joined at the hip.
As Porter himself explained of a Cinderella-type transformation that came over him while, as a young man, he knelt at Masterson's feet: "Fortunately, the sales letter I wrote turned out to be a big winner, making about $1.5 million in six months. I didn't have any trouble finding work after that."
Which is how, in 2003, I discovered Mr Stansberry. Or, more correctly, since I didn't "discover" him in the meaning of The X-Factor, I found out about him while working on assignment. I'm an investigative reporter and had been sent to California to make inquiries about a biotech company. Its name was VaxGen, and it claimed to have invented the world's first vaccine against Aids.
It goes without saying that the claim was ill-founded. But enter Porter Stansberry. Magnetic. Even as my sources - who were to feature in a mammoth report in The Sunday Times of London's magazine section - were saying things like VaxGen's technology "forgets a century of science", he was banging out a Masterson-style tip-sheet, urging his subscribers to pile in with their dough:
My name is Porter Stansberry. I'm an independent equity analyst. It's my job to find breakthrough investments - a job I've done for tens of thousands of investors for more than five years.
But this opportunity is, without a doubt, the greatest investment opportunity I've ever seen.
Those who took his advice lost a great deal of money. And, to me, their fate was inevitable. But claiming to have spent $250,000 on research, he herded them like lambs off a cliff. The stock price plummetted. Yet still he called "Buy". I have to admit, I was impressed.
So that was the beginning, and I've followed him ever since. From a distance, of course. We're not connected. So when I found the opportunity to profile the man - and to bring together some of the wisdom through which others judge his acumen - I couldn't resist the opportunity to share them.
I've no dog in this show. I don't invest or advise. As Sergeant Joe Friday said in the 1950s TV series Dragnet: "All we want are the facts."