There were a lot of Warren Buffett "hero worship" type responses to my posts last week on "Doing As Warren Does" and applying the principles utilized to make Berkshire Hathaway the most successful investment company of all time.
And it is understandable why so many people - from very different world views and levels of financial sophistication - rightly consider Mr. Buffett to be the “Perfect Investor.”
His qualities in this regard are almost cliché - honest, humble, frugal, opportunistic in the face of adversity, and possessing of an other-worldly foresight as to where and how to find outsized returns.
But there are a couple of problems.
First, Mr. Buffett, for all of his amazing track record, is 83 years old.
And he is on record as saying that he rarely invests in technology companies as he does not feel qualified to properly diligence and understand them.
Both of which beg the question as to whether the “Buffett Way” is still the way to win in this global, technological age of ours?
And if it is not, then who will be the The 21st Century Warren Buffett?
The Perfect Investor for our era?
While the identity of this person will be almost impossible to discern before the fact, he or she will almost assuredly possess these characteristics:
They Will Love Risk. Relative to the Mid-Century America in which Warren Buffett developed his philosophy and approach, our era of global and hyper-warp speed technological change requires a much different approach to uncertainty and loss.
While Mr. Buffett was able to build an alpha-performing portfolio without significant risk-taking on any one position, the modern investor simply does not have this luxury.
Instead, they must be far more comfortable and proficient with an “Outlier” approach, where a few big wins offset middling performance - and even complete loss of principal - on the significant majority of held positions.
They Will Focus on Market Opportunities More than on Execution. While quality, determined execution will always be at the heart of successful business-building, our Modern Day Perfect Investor will recognize this as a necessary, but by no means sufficient condition for business and investment success.
Far more important will be “visionary” assessments of global markets, specifically as to which types and forms of technology will disrupt these markets over the next 5 to 10 years.
They Will Possess a “Modern” Morality. The idea that that which is moral and right needs to be updated alongside the wild, rapid, and continuous updating of our technologies is a hard one for those of a certain age and era to accept and embrace.
Yes, perhaps “prudent” and “conservative” in this Brave New World of ours are as much barriers to success as they are emblematic of it?
Maybe pomp, flash, celebrity - as opposed to being things to be frowned and looked down upon - instead are assets to be nurtured and promoted.
Maybe morphing one's business model on annual, quarterly, or even monthly basis is not a sign of scattered focus, but rather a necessary competence to survive and prosper in our modern conditions of permanent uncertainty.
It may sound and be unsettling.
But to paraphrase an old but yet very modern philosopher it is sometimes only chaos that can give birth to a dancing star.
In short, our Modern, Perfect Investor will probably not look anything like Warren Buffett.
Other than in the one quality that matters above all else…
…outsized results earned over time.
That never goes out of style.
To Your Success,
P.S. Like to learn how to apply these principles to your portfolio? Then attend my webinar this Thursday, “What the Super Angels Know about Investing and What You Should Too.”
Click Here to learn more.
Many were of the genre that “…Yes these companies you describe sound amazing - awesome technologies, exciting markets, management with knock-your-socks off resumes, but when it comes to actually investing them….”
…How do I even have a chance of separating the wheat from the chaff?
The superstars from the also-rans?
Or, more to the point, the ones that will make money from the ones that won't.
This is the ultimate question, isn’t it?
First of all, we are certainly not referring to “stock picking” to beat the markets. Everyone knows that this is not possible. (And if you have even a sliver of remaining doubt on this point, read this article).
And we're not talking about high profile, private companies that have already raised tens (and sometimes hundreds) of millions of dollars and are deep in the investment news cycle.
For these companies and hundreds of others backed by venture capital firms, by the time the public knows about them, almost always the best opportunity to invest in them has long past.
And, for the most part, we are also not talking about businesses or projects competing in mature and well-covered like Real Estate.
For sure, there are lots of solid real estate investment opportunities, but as it is such an efficient and well-covered market – with tens of thousands of investors seeking projects and deals of all sizes that the likelihood of finding those that offer returns even slightly above average is pretty low.
And let’s also cut out investing in “things” like art, collectibles, and commodities. While in places interesting for sure, statistics over a long period of time show that their average investment returns is significantly less than that of an S&P index fund.
So what investors seeking alpha are left with almost exclusively is that most special segment: startups and emerging companies.
Companies almost always with these characteristics:
They are Small. As in less then $10 million in in revenues and less than 30 employees. Not hard and fast rule, but holds true 95%+ of the tie.
They have an Ambitious Leader. At the beating heart of these companies is almost always a charismatic individual that leads big and manages small.
A leader with an articulate “point of view” on where a market and an industry are heading.
And who can then translate this vision to the day-to-day small business discipline required to turn dreams and visions into objective reality and results.
They Compete in Big Markets. This one is easier than ever before. Why?
Well, with a 7 billion person strong, $84 trillion global economy, almost every business – even those in the smallest of niches - has a large global opportunity.
Of course, to profit from them opportunities requires great leadership and management (see above) but the opportunities are everywhere.
Companies with Thoughtful Revenue Models. This is where the ability of a company's leader to think and act both “big” and “small” are so critical.
Quite simply, companies that build asset and equity value for their shareholders are vigilant in ensuring that their monetization strategies are built around long-term customer retention and satisfaction, and NOT short-term gain.
Companies that are Lucky. The new and eternal mantra of our age is luck. Books like the Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, and the Age of the Unthinkable profess on it.
Aspiring entrepreneurs who seek their name in lights pray to it.
And the average man unwilling to step outside of his box gets none of it.
Yes, as it has been true since Roman times in our booming deal economy for investors and entrepreneurs like Fortune does Truly Favor the Bold.
The question, of course, is will it favor you?
Remember the bull markets of the 1980s and 1990s, when everybody was making money in the stock market?
Bad News: Those days are GONE… and they’re not coming back
Click below to discover mine and Growthink’s exclusive report on WHY today’s stock market is broken -- and what you can do about it:
http://www.growthink.com/stock-market-dead <-- Click here
It’s almost hard to imagine how strong stock market returns used to be…
Just look at the average annual returns of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1982 to 1989:
• 1982: 19.61%
• 1983: 20.27%
• 1984: -3.74%
• 1985: 27.66%
• 1986: 25.58%
• 1987: 2.26%
• 1988: 11.85%
• 1989: 26.96%
The good times continued in the 1990s. On January 1, 1990, the Dow Jones was at 2,810. By December 31, 1999, it had exploded to 11,497 -- an increase of 409% in just 10 years.
But today’s stock market is BROKEN.
From 2000 to TODAY, the Dow Jones has only moved from 11,078 to 16,700 (only 40%). And INFLATION has reduced purchasing power by 37%... which means the net returns of the Dow Jones have been close to ZERO.
Download this report and discover why the stock market is broken – and what you can do about it.
With 41% of all U.S. venture capital investing activity, Silicon Valley is the nation’s unrivaled tech early technology investing epicenter.
As the innovations and wealth that have flowed from Valley Tech companies - from Apple to Cisco to Ebay to Facebook to Google to HP to Netflix to Pixar to Oracle to Yahoo and thousands more - have enriched the world beyond measure.
And since the start of this year, almost impossible to believe stories of fortunes being made there have inspired us all (and provoked more than a little jealousy, too!).
I profiled a pair of these stories - Jim Goetz of Sequoia Capital parlaying a $58M investment into WhatsApp into a $3B fortune when in February Facebook purchased the messaging app
And Super Angels Peter Thiel and Sean Parker, who through their Founder’s Fund invested $16 million into virtual reality headset maker Occulus VR, which returned more than $740 million when Facebook bought the business last month.
Great for them.
But it does beg the question: Has Silicon Valley become so dominant - has it so separated itself - that the best opportunities can only be found there?
Of course not.
In fact, the argument can be made that the worst place to invest right now is in Silicon Valley.
As the stories above illustrate, deal prices there are high, and there is more money than ever (including $7 billion in fresh capital raised last quarter) chasing fewer and fewer deals.
So smart money is starting to look elsewhere.
Like in Los Angeles.
Long renowned as a digital media and entertainment hub, LA Tech investing activity has never been greater, with both funding and deal activity at a five year high.
Smart investors are making a lot of bets on young LA companies, with 70% of all area investing activity happening at the Seed and Series A stages.
Like in the Valley, Internet and Mobile-related businesses dominate - with close to 80% of all venture activity being concentrated in these areas.
These investments are paying off, with 59 recent venture-backed Tech Exits, including Demand Media (IPO), Cornerstone on Demand (IPO) Riot Games (Purchased by Tencent), Edgecast (Purchased by Verizon), Servicemesh (purchased by CSC), LiveOffice (purchased by Symantec) and Integrien (purchased by VMware).
And many, many investing “win” stories like these can be found in Tech Centers like New York, Boston, Chicago, Austin and more.
Yes, the Valley is great but it is far from the only game in town.
And there is a strong case that its best investing days may be behind it.
The word to the wise here is to look elsewhere.
To Your Success,
P.S. Click here for a recording of my private equity investing webinar: What Peter Thiel and Sean Parker Know about Investing and What You Should Too.
My company's strategic advisory board met this past week.
All I can say is wow – I benefited from it in ways that I barely could have imagined when first organized.
Here is what I got out of it:
That Often It is Better to Receive than to Give: While advisory board members, unlike a formal board, do not have liability nor fiduciary responsibility, their time and energy requirements to participate are significant.
And for most smaller companies, the financial incentives it can offer advisory board members are relatively little compared to the value of board members’ time.
A good if imperfect analogy is that for many senior executives their involvement with a smaller company advisory board is almost a philanthropic endeavor – where they give of themselves without expectation of direct reward – financial or otherwise.
Correspondingly, the owners and managers of the small company must approach the sage advice and good energy offered by their advisory board fully in “receiving” mode.
For businesspeople of the mindset of always trading value for value and reciprocal obligation, this is hard. But only by clearing this space can the board’s counsel be best received.
And somewhat counter-intuitively, often only by management fully accepting the “gifts” of its advisors will the board member’s experience be richest.
Begin with the End in Mind: For companies beyond the startup phase, its operating executives are naturally pulled to the shorter-term challenges and realities - this quarter’s revenue and profits, this month’s sales, the challenges and angst of a difficult employee decision, etc.
An advisory board discussion, however, by both its nature and by the kinds of folks attracted to serve on it, naturally pulls to the longer view - to the big questions that all businesses should be regularly asking themselves always but rarely do.
These questions fall into the big categories of “why” and “which.”
The "why" questions are hopefully embodied in the Company’s mission and its values, and need the regular attention of strategic planning sessions like advisory board meetings to keep them from existing only in “hot air.”
The “which” questions are in many ways the harder ones that an advisory board dynamic can specifically help address.
You see - ambitious entrepreneurs and executives, especially after they have a little success, are naturally drawn to expanding their sense of their market opportunity, and correspondingly their list of product and service offerings.
This naturally leads to a diffusion of focus, of trying to be all things to all people. A thoughtful advisory board will challenge management to more clearly define where they are aiming to be 1 year, 3 years hence and beyond, and from this vision where resources and attention should be focused today.
Speak Little, Listen Much: Managers and owners of emerging companies are often also the lead salespeople, the lead “evangelists” for their companies.
As a result, their default mode is to always be selling, always be pied-pipering their incredibly bright futures.
This is natural and good, but in a strategic planning session it is of equal importance that the challenges, the obstacles, the concerning risk factors be sat and grappled with long and hard.
Even if, especially if, so doing is buzz-killing and / or depressing.
Why? Because it is often only in the “low negative” energy state that a certain kind of reflective creativity can flourish, and completely new approaches to solving vexing problems can be discovered.
Brevity is Next to Godliness: Strategic planning sessions in a modern business context should be tightly scheduled to last not more than 2 hours. After this length of time, diminishing returns starts setting in fast.
A tight frame also requires all participants to come to the meeting prepared. And, in turn, that the meeting organizers select the right meeting homework and then plan and moderate the agenda with the proper balance of structure and free-flowing dialogue.
Doing all of the above requires work – a good guide is that for every hour of strategic meeting time there should be 5 hours of planning time by the meeting organizer and at least 2 hours of preparation time by each participant.
Conclusion: Given that the only way to increase the value of a business is to either a) increase its bottom line financials and/or b) to improve its strategic positioning and growth probability, creative planning sessions like advisory board meetings should be a FIRST priority of any responsible manager of a company with ambition.
They are classic Steven Covey, “non-urgent, extremely important” activities.
Ignore them at your peril, and benefit from them in ways, like I did and will, well beyond reasonable expectation.
To your success,
Don’t you just love these booming markets? Well, if you don’t, try on these IPO, M&A, and financing stats from 1st Quarter 2014:
Initial Public Offerings: 72 companies went public in the U.S. in the 1st quarter - the largest number of new issuers since 2000 -raising a total of 11.1 billion. And, as of Monday 54 of the 72 of them were trading above their IPO price.
Mergers & Acquisitions: Global mergers & acquisition activity totaled $710 billion (Thomson Reuters), up 54% from last year.
Private Equity. Private equity firms did 850 deals, representing investments of greater than $152 billion (Pitchbook), up 11%.
Venture Capital. 1,348 companies raised more than $15 billion from venture capitalists, up 36%.
They also raised $10.3 billion for 578 funds in the 1st Quarter, up 51% from last year.
After many years of ongoing economic and investment dreariness, isn’t this so refreshing?
And aren’t we heartened that the doomsayers have been proven so fundamentally wrong?
Wrong about the U.S. economy.
And wrong about what is so clearly the dominant leadership position of this country in all of the great technologies growth industries of the 21st Century - software, biotechnology, energy, digital media, and more.
And beyond the numbers, there are some great stories.
Of new industries being built, of fortunes being made. Here is one of my favorites:
Last week, Facebook acquired virtual reality headset maker Occulus VR for approximately $2.24 billion.
Among the investors were Peter Thiel and Sean Parker, of PayPal and Napster fame, who through their VC The Founder’s Fund last year invested $16 million into Occulus.
Upon Facebook’s purchase of the company and correspondingly of their shares, their position is now worth more than $740 million, or a return of close to 50X on their invested capital.
How did they do this?
What selection strategies did they utilize to identify companies with this kind of return potential?
Well, attend my webinar Thursday - What Peter Thiel and Sean Parker Know about Investing and What You Should Too - to find out.
On it, I will share:
- Why the majority of investors presented the opportunity to invest in Occulus declined to do so
- How Thiel and Parker and their fund partners diligenced the deal and decided to invest in Occulus instead of in the dozens of virtual reality technologies then and now in the marketplace
- How Big Data and Black Swan portfolio theory and modeling were critical to their valuation analysis on the deal
- How today’s booming IPO and deal market, discussed above, is affecting (positively and negatively) the technology deal marketplace
Register now via the below link:
To Your Success,
P.S. Interested in the topic but can’t make the webinar time? Well, do register and will make sure that you get a recording of the presentation.
Global Technology Mergers & Acquisitions Activity is now at its highest year-to-date level since 2000 (in terms of both dollar volume and deal number).
Overall there has been $65.2 billion of M&A activity announced year-to-date (Thomson Reuters).
And then layer in the the crowdfunding boom (both donations and investment-based) and the exploding growth of peer-to-peer lending sites like Lending Club and Prosper.com, and never before have there been so many and so good “digital” places for those seeking and those providing capital to connect and transact.
More entrepreneurs and businesses having access to outside capital than ever before and...
…for the first time investors having the ability to efficiently build diversified portfolios of private equity and debt investments with strong, positive expected value.
Now compare all of this freshness and innovation against the ongoing dreariness of the “public” markets.
From 2000 to today, the Dow Jones has risen from 11,078 to approximately 16,268 (as of 03/26), or approximately 42%.
During that same time inflation has reduced the dollar’s purchasing power by almost exactly that same amount (38%).
So basically 15 years and ZERO real investment return.
Now what do these two fast diverging worlds, the increasingly innovative and transparent one of private investing on the one hand, and the flat and more opaque than ever one of the traditional public market returns on the other, mean for the entrepreneur and for the smaller investor?
Quite simply, it is all good.
For investors, it means access to higher returns.
Research from the Kauffman Foundation Angel Returns Study and the Nesta Angel Investing study, compiled by Robert Wiltbank, have demonstrated that the "...average angel investor (across the U.S. and UK) produced a gross multiple of 2.5 times their investment, in a mean time of about four years.
And for the entrepreneur, it means more, quicker, and cheaper access to capital, especially in smaller amounts.
Which leaves more time and energy for what entrepreneurs want to do and what we all need them to do…
…starting and growing profitable and innovative companies that make the world a better place.
Amen to that.
To Your Success,
P.S. To listen to a replay of my Thursday webinar, where I explored some of the key lessons learned from Sequoia Capital's $58 million investment into WhatsApp - and subsequent $3 billion windfall - upon Facebook's purchase of the messaging app last month, click here.
A version of this article originally appearedin Entrepreneur Magazine and can be seen here.
This Saturday, I took my sons to Toys"R"Us to buy them baseball gloves. A great American tradition to be sure, and with opening day just 2 weeks away, both spring and the national pastime were in the air.
I looked for the American baseball glove names of my youth - Rawlings, Wilson, Easton, Spalding, Cooper.
My boys happily tried on gloves (most much too large for their little hands) to find the perfect fit.
For whatever reason my eye was caught by the fine-print label on one glove and its none too surprising "Made in China" imprint.
My curiousity piqued and my young sons' attention of course being diverted by all of the amazing toys in the store, we started wandering about.
Tonka. Backloaders, dump trucks, bulldozers, and more. Made in China.
Chutes and Ladders. Gnip Gnop. Battleship. Twister. Yahtzee. Risk. Connect Four. Made in China.
The erector sets have evolved impressively from the clunky sets I remembered. Made in China.
Hundreds of Hot Wheel model race cars - beautifully modeled Camaros, Jeeps, Corvettes, and more. Made in China.
On to the figurines and action figures. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tom Brady, Lebron James, Albert Pujols. Staring out lifelike from their boxes and Made in China.
Blond-haired blue-eyed Barbie and Ken. Made in China. GI Joe. Defending our freedoms and Made in China.
Notes To Self
Call me old-fashioned, call me protectionist but it just didn't feel right to buy my sons Chinese - manufactured baseball gloves.
Then thinking practically as a striving parent does, first order of business was to go home and get my boys immediately enrolled in intensive Chinese language instruction because by golly if this is how the world is now then where is it going?
And on this thought I caught myself. I realized I had fallen for the classic mercantilist trap and confused "Made In" with "Value Added."
What's the difference? Well, for you parents reading out there put it this way - none of you I would surmise want their sons and daughters to grow up and work in a factory (though, of course, it is like all work noble and deserving of praise).
But a LOT of you would be VERY happy if your son or daughter went to work as a product designer for Lego.
In marketing or public relations for Mattel.
In corporate finance at Rawlings.
At the NFL league office.
In post-production on the movie Avatar.
As eco-friendly packaging and shipping designers for Toys"R"Us itself.
These Are the Good Old Days
While it is hard for many to accept, it is beyond clear that America is MUCH wealthier today than it was in the so-called good old days when the U.S.A. was the manufacturing capital of the world.
What's The Point?
Very simply, wealth and power in the modern world is NOT about making things. It is about reconceptualizing them.
Apple. Google. Microsoft. In Apple's famous (and grammatically incorrect) advertising campaign, none of these great American companies actually make anything in the strict sense of the term. But they invest lots and lots of time and money in thinking different about them.
To put it another way, modern wealth and power are NOT in the things themselves. They are in their recipes - the instructions of HOW to make them.
And in making new and better recipes, American entrepreneurs lead the way by miles and miles.
And assuming government stays out of their way, they will continue to do so.
To when my little boys enter the workforce and beyond.
Last week, I shared how between 2011 and 2013, Sequoia Capital invested approximately $60 million in WhatsApp – the instant messaging subscription service bought last month by Facebook for $19 billion.
And how Sequoia’s return on that $60 million was close to $3 billion, or more than 50 times its original investment.
I then offered to share some of our research findings as to the selection strategies that early-stage technology investors like Sequoia now utilize to identify companies with this kind of return potential.
Not surprisingly, the response was overwhelming.
So much so that only a very of those who wanted to learn more were able to get in before registration sold out.
So to accommodate all of the requests I have agreed to re-present our findings and will do so via web conference tomorrow at 7 pm ET / 4 pm PT.
To register, click here: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/647747626
On it, I will share:
• Why the majority of investors presented the opportunity to invest in WhatsApp declined to do so
• How Sequoia partner Jim Goetz diligence the deal and decided to invest in WhatsApp instead of the literally hundreds of comparable messaging applications then and now in the marketplace
• How Big Data and Black Swan portfolio theory and modeling were critical to Sequoia’s valuation analysis on the deal
• How today’s booming IPO market, with through March 1st more than 42 IPOs raising $8.2 billion – the highest YTD activity since 2007 – is affecting (positively and negatively) the technology deal marketplace
• And much, much more
Register now via the below link:
To Your Success,