It’s Newer Than We Think But It’s Happened Before

The iPhone was released 12 years ago.

Social media is only 15 years old.

Virtual reality in its retail form is 7 years old. Or less.

Autonomous driving on a mass appeal is barely 5.

It’s easy to lose sight of how young these products really are. We see emerging tech daily in the news or in conversation with friends. Their constant presence makes it feel like it was always this way. But the reality is they have been around for less time than almost 80% of the world’s population.

Coca-Cola is 127 years old.

Multiple generations have consumed it. Grandma, grandpa, Uncle Joe and little Timmy.

Most have not thought anything of this. Sure the dangers of sugar in excess are becoming more prevalent on today’s national stage, but for the last 75 years, it’s been somewhat smooth sailing for the overlords of soda. Produce the drink, sell it, go about your day.

It wasn’t always like that, though.

In 1909, when Coca-Cola was still a young company, boisterous, successful, and breaking onto the scene like nothing anyone had seen, the United States seized 40 barrels and twenty kegs of it. Men in suits with badges and guns stormed in. They seized all the soda they could find.

But why? How could a fizzy drink cause such outrage?

Everyone was worried about a mysterious added ingredient: caffeine. It was suspected to cause serious health problems. Could it be a drug? Should it be legal? Why is everyone drinking and raving about this new drink?

This happened more than 100 years ago. Imagine armed guards today storming into a building and seizing soda. “Everybody down!”

Today, the trial is known as United States v. Forty Barrels & Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola. That is really the name of the trial. Newspaper headlines everywhere, outrage, and suspicion. Must sound familiar. At Thanksgiving, families gathered.

Grandma: “They need to get that off our streets!”

Grandson: “I can feel the boost! This is the future!”

The characters in this story are different, but the theme seems to repeat itself. Autonomous driving, crypto, social media, the list goes on. Still in debate, still quick to form an opinion even with only a few years of real history or data to work with. Steve Ballmer, the co-founder of Microsoft, once fell victim to such rushed judgement.

“Ha!”

“Who would use such an expensive product without a keyboard.”

“People want to email!”

That’s what Ballmer first said about the iPhone. Before he had yet to truly use it, study it, or give it time to unfold. Imagine how different the world would be if he instead slowed down and actually studied it. He probably would have built one similar. We probably would have Microsoft phone.

There’s a reason why quotes like, “history favors the bold” are widely cited and why quotes like, “history favors the critics” or “history favors the pessimists” do not exist. Bold inventions have repeatedly pushed forward productivity and standards of living. There aren’t many examples in history where the opposite is true – stop building, keep doing the same, and that will lead to better lives for all.

In 1950, only 2% of people had a dishwasher. Today, nearly 80% have a dishwasher. In 1970, only 31% of people had a color TV. Today, more than 90% have a smartphone that does 100x more than that color TV. If autonomous driving becomes a thing, an estimated 80 million people will have an extra two hours in their day to read, watch, write, or sleep while their car drives them from point A to point B.

The rate of technology is increasing. It’s compounding. It will only get more uncomfortable as we race to understand its progress. But before the pitchforks and torches come out, whether right or wrong, remember we’ve been here, in some fashion, and there are lessons to help to make the right decisions that go as far back as United States vs Forty Barrels & Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola.


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The Greatest Hoax of All-Time

“You have to be so smart to understand that.”

“I could never do that, I’m not smart enough.”

The greatest hoax of all-time is certain industries, professions or fields of work telling everyone else they’re not smart enough to do what they do. The greatest hoax is making certain professions or fields of work appear massive and unbreakable. Or making them look complex, hard to see through, or impossible to go over. This is what Wall Street does on a daily basis. It’s what tech firms do today.

“You work at Google? You must be so smart.”

I want to tell you a secret.

Literally everyone on planet Earth can learn to code just like the people at Google. It’s all on the Internet and it’s nearly all free. Sometimes it’s only about following documentation that’s already provided to you by a company or a forum. Or it’s who you follow on Twitter and the free instructional videos you find around the web.

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“You work at that investment firm? You must be so smart.”

Anyone out there can learn about the investing world right now. It’s not about any specific school or upbringing. If there’s an internet connection, there’s opportunity. Some of the smartest investors I know have blogs entirely devoted to financial markets. They’re all free to read.

If you’re interested in something today, there’s nothing stopping you from learning about it tomorrow. The next great wave of human capitalism, in my opinion, will come from this profound understanding. It will change everything. It will happen slowly, and then it will simply be. At our finger tips we have access to any concept, equation, thought, or philosophy ever recorded. Yes, you might have to look at an ad for 30 seconds, but after that, welcome to your new line of study. I am definitely not the first person to say this, but it’s worth repeating.

The time it takes an average person to access any source of random information is at its lowest point. Think about that. It took Bobby the Roman four days to get a book on herbs when he was living in Ancient Rome. Joey from the Bronx gets that in four seconds.

The next great wave of achievement is the mass adoption of this realization. That everyone is capable. And that anyone can literally learn anything at a fraction of the cost compared to another point in time.

I can’t think of another moment when something of this magnitude was possible. I find myself thinking of Leonardo Da Vinci, the most well known polymath. He was refined in various domains of art, math, and science. His contributions alone sparked what we now know as a, “Renaissance Man.” But when you step back and realize what’s available to us right now, the massive amounts of information and knowledge online, a question is posed. Why is everyone not a Renaissance Man? Or maybe it looks a little different…

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Today, there’s no reason or excuse to not have a strong understanding of anything you’re interested in. You can download a language app on your phone and for 30 minutes a night become proficient at that language. You can find how-to videos on everything. My best friend rode a motorcycle from Alaska to Argentina. He had never rode a motorcycle before. He learned watching and then training by way of YouTube videos.

The greatest hoax of all-time continues to be a wall that does not exist. I believe the last 100 years, while proficient and effective for society, were also some of the most secretive and deceptive. What I mean by that is the mystery, image, and perception of certain industries and titans were built on the back of being mysterious, secretive, and almost mythical.

That has all changed.

Today, the game is as flat and equal as ever, potentially more than ever.

I hope you enjoyed this, and I hope you use it to focus, learn, or appreciate a new field that you previously thought wasn’t possible for yourself. I’m still learning and taking in as much education as I can.

_____

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Then and Now

Change is hard.

It’s a grind.

No one changes in a day. Or a week. Or a month.

I think there’s nothing more important than perspective. Perspective is how you learn to embrace the long grind of change. Who you were a month ago and who you are today are not very different. Who you were 10 years ago and who you are today are extremely different.

After 10+ years managing my own portfolio, this has been the single greatest lesson. You come to realize that all of those “moments,” the ones that felt most important, were, in the greater vision you have for yourself or the domain you work in, not really as big as they seemed now that you reflect on them. Maintaining that perspective is a challenge, but you have to do it. I think back to the Euro Crisis sell-off, the Flash crash, the late 2018 crash, Facebook’s plunge, BP, Boeing… The list goes on. Blips in a bigger vision.

The other day, while driving through a rough area in the Bronx, I learned about the SEBCO housing development. What a fascinating and beautiful thing to learn about. A group of churches, missionaries, non-profits, and local organizations banded together in the early 70s to build massive homes for the homeless, elderly, and those who can’t afford high price rents. From the highway, you can see their towering shelters with names like Sister Thomas Apartments, Father Smith Residence, and Maria Estela. I think they now have 15 of them. Maybe more. Very few talk about SEBCO today, but I imagine their time is coming. The grind will be rewarded for people like Sister Thomas (shown below).

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The greats, the best, the people who change things for the better, are built over many years. Sometimes, long after they’re gone. Most great artists turn out to be 100x bigger after they’ve passed on. Sadly, it took that long for their work to spread. But that’s part of the commitment they made when they followed their passion into the profession.

On Twitter, a picture of Steph Curry is getting passed around. Basketball fans out there will get it. Most people who enjoy sports will feel it. The other night, for their last game at Oracle in Oakland, the Warriors wore a throwback jersey from another era, a jersey from Curry’s rookie year. The picture shows Curry then and Curry now wearing his old uniform once again. A you vs. the guy she told you not to worry about.

Steph Curry Then and Now

The before and after pictures of Curry are separated by about 10 years. I see this and am instantly reminded about the process of change and the timeframe it exists on. Your awareness of the journey must always extend beyond a day, a week, and a month. This process is going to take years.

I never thought I would be tying this together, back to my portfolio, and to a moment I had in the Bronx, but here I am. I can’t wait to look back at this in 10 years and see how far I’ve come. I hope you’ll join me in doing the same.

Thanks for reading. Remember to follow me on Twitter and StockTwits. Also, you have to sign-up for my email newsletter.

If you missed it, I wrote about this concept earlier and called it, Don’t do dumb things in seven seconds.

Swinging For The Fences In Markets and Life

I’ve now spent 10 years in the stock market. And I’ve spent seven working directly with the people who make it what it is at StockTwits.

There have been ups.

There have been downs.

But that is true with anything. You will never find a perfect “thing” that has no ups or downs. What you’ll do instead, if it really matters to you, is fight your way out of the downs and strive to remain in the ups. There will always be down moments. While they can brutal, it’s also where you discover what really matters.

In most major sports, whether it’s football or baseball, only a small percentage of the game is a moment of action. Most of the time, it’s a steady slog, timeout or commercial until… WHAM! Something big happens. A must-watch moment. Then, the cycle repeats. In life, it can be the same. You go through the routine and then… WHAM! Something happens. It’s almost as if 1% of moments determine 99% of the rest.

Warren Buffett famously said he, “tap dances to work.” He is a sage investor and he also happens to be a sage at one-liners. I assure you that when he wrote down several billion dollars in his Kraft-Heinz investment, there was no tap dance. WHAM. Yet despite that setback, we both know there will be another act. And he will win again. Because this is what he cares about.

Working in the stock market all these years, I have seen quite a bit. Plenty of WHAMs – even to my own portfolio. I admire the rise of the stock market anti-hero. The one who overcomes setback after setback when by traditional norms they were not supposed to. The ones who do what traditional systems tell you not to do. The ones who did not get a world class education or pass an examination. The ones who have a day job completely different from markets. Instead, they’ve found their own way, and it works for them.

I have seen the portfolios of my friends on StockTwits. In the words of Owen Wilson, “wow” is what I would tell you. I remember the first few times I met a few in person. There was no flashy suit or Mercedes Benz. It was the opposite.

Their humility is probably why they’ve grown such impressive portfolios. The right amount of humility can cure any setback. Because maybe it means you were preparing yourself the entire time. I’ve learned to admire an adage that goes something along the lines of, “hiding wealth is a sign of wealth.” 

In my time in the market I’ve noticed how a select few can dominate the conversation. Generally, it is for their cause. The hedge fund gurus go on TV after they’ve put a position on. The great thinkers tell you why their industry is right because, well, that’s the industry they work in. But the anti-hero rarely has anyone ever speaking for them.

In the early days, I was told we had to go punk rock on the world of finance. The “Wall” would have to be torn down. I think about that today, and believe it more than ever. I hear about the trading desks at big banks where everyone sits silently, insanely self-consciousness, glued to their Bloomberg terminal, trapped in a vortex of worry.

The do-it-yourself investor is coming for that old line of work. If the launch of e*Trade and other trading services in the 90s was a glimpse, today we are on the cusp of a revolution. Low-cost ETFs, mobile apps, social networks to test ideas, and the list goes on. Your Uncle’s wife’s brother’s kid, Bobby, is building a position in Bitcoin as we speak and there’s no manager, adviser, or bank sitting between him and his actions.

There’s an obsession with the rotation of active funds vs. passive funds. You know who you are. But what’s missing is the growing education and interest of the DIY investor. Last I checked, TD Ameritrade had record net new client assets, near record trades per day, and revenue. Should I say any more?

In the words of Marc Andreessen, this is a community of nights and weekend people. They’re getting no credit. They also don’t care. Their returns are all they need to know.

Today, I’m taking their side, and I’m swinging for the fences with them. Because it’s what we care about. Foremost, I believe StockTwits is on the cusp of something massive. Secondly, as someone who manages my own portfolio, I have taken a few big bets related to my core beliefs. Some have won, some have lost. But they’re always something I believe in.

My most recent bet is Twitter, and I think it’s insanely misunderstood and incorrectly valued. More on that soon. The point is it’s where the anti-heroes spend their time and everyone has an equal voice. Including the ones who do it themselves. And those who were told they shouldn’t ever get involved, but did.

Thanks for reading. Remember to follow me on Twitter and StockTwits. Also, you have to sign-up for my email newsletter.

If you missed it, I wrote about this concept earlier and called it, Don’t do dumb things in seven seconds.

Slowing Down While Everyone Taps More

I am reminded of how easy it is to do something online.

You can write, reply, like, report, and follow in a second or less. Tap the button, and mission completed. Action, feedback, reward.

We’ve all been taught about Pavlov’s dogs. Or most of us have at least heard of them. Ironically, that’s what we’re all becoming. We are the dogs of the Internet. Obediant to notifications appearing on our screens.

The same is true for investors and traders. It has never been easier to hit buy or hit sell. Many thought the DotCom bubble was the peak for instantaneous actions in markets. That could not have been more wrong when you consider the speed of market structure today vs. back then. Speed and reward are at the cornerstone of the action. Faster, faster, faster. Tap, tap, tap.

There’s a group of social scientists who believe the rise of social interactions online is making everyone more anxious. It also makes people more overwhelmed. We subconsciously obsess with instant feedback and gratification. This feeling or concept isn’t going anywhere, either. It is only becoming far more prevelant to the day-to-day lives around us. There is no sense in trying to stop it. It’s out there, unseen, and misunderstood.

Maybe the cure is to get out of its way.

Some people have tried not touching their phone for the first hour after waking up. Others purposly let their phone die of battery on a 24-hour cycle so it literally, “loses its power” over them. These types of strategies are not made in normal situations. No one ever tried to make a rule to calm the consumption of vegetables. It’s because we’ve come to learn that it’s a net benefit to eat more of them. Net benefits are not throttled. Net negatives are.

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At some point, in the great book of cliches, you indeed must call a spade a spade.

While everyone else is tapping, downloading, commenting, perhaps there is something beneficial in doing the opposite. The opposite now would be slowing down. I’m not entirely sure what that means. I think many will have different solutions and insights for this. But if the world wants you to speed up, to consume more, to tap more, try doing the opposite of that.

Thanks for reading. Remember to follow me on Twitter and StockTwits. Also, you have to sign-up for my email newsletter.

If you missed it, I wrote about this concept earlier and called it, Don’t do dumb things in seven seconds.

Smart People Don’t Do Dumb Things In Seven Seconds

It’s said we judge the people around us within the first seven seconds of meeting them.I think something similar happens online. I don’t know what the scientific word is for this, but one image, video, or headline from a Twitter account can push us from 0 to 100 (real quick).

The speed from the time a visual is seen to the creation of a unique opinion about it happens with a spark of electricity from screen to neuron. A flash of light, and an opinion is born. It’s a remarkable capability. But it is also a Grecian achilles heel. It’s how outrage is created so quickly through social networks. It happens in those first few seconds of seeing that one “thing.” Someone no one will meet has made a dent in the universe, and they probably did it from a basement.

The rise of fake news has overtaken media.

So have the networks who mistakenly give it a platform.

The real problem, however, goes deeper. The real problem is the collapse in the number of people thinking critically. It’s almost as if everything online has also been reduced to seven seconds. Maybe we weren’t built to see a tweet and calmly articulate a meaningful take. Maybe we were built to see, and act. See, and react.

Seven seconds.

I’ve learned this lesson not through argument, or research, and not through political conflict. But instead, with my own money on the line. My worst investment decision ever happened because I reacted quickly to a piece of news that was not exactly true. This loss has become a lesson that I’ll never forget. It also sparked the long road of reworking my day-to-day intake of information. It’s a fight against an inherited gene that enables us to see, think, and react.

Everyone, at one point or another, searches for that one secret to succeed. Wake up earlier! Work more hours! Manage your calendar! All of this advice calls for people to do more with less time. Do more, to Be more, and Add more. But today, the opposite is true. While everything is speeding up, the real strength is in slowing down. Warren Buffett’s protege, Todd Combs, beautifully says he spends most of his day reading books and company financial statements. He’s in total control of his information flow. No single tweet would ever persuade him. He’s not looking to add more complexity to his day. Here’s what he said in his own words:

“I read about 12 hours a day. Our offices are like a library. So I read annual reports, conference call transcripts, etc. Most things are routine, mundane and obvious, but every once in a while you find something interesting worth digging into.” – Todd Combs

Our minds are extremely good at what they do. But sometimes being incredibly good at something leads to wreckless behavior and bravado. Others might prefer to say, “pride goeth before a fall.” When we form an opinion in seconds, it’s almost as if our mind is bragging. We are so good at forming an opinion in record time, now we’re just showing off.

See it, think it, react.

As information speed increases, as content creation increases, and deliverbility increases, the goal not only becomes consuming less, but more importantly, the need to reclaim what it means to be a ciritical thinker.

And to be a critical thinker, you need to think longer than seven seconds before making a judgement.

Thanks for reading. Remember to follow me on Twitter and StockTwits. Also, you have to sign-up for my email newsletter.

If you missed it, here’s what I learned about the stock market in 2018.

You Are Always Going Up Against Something

“They’re not gonna give it to you? So what? You’re gonna take it. You’re gonna do whatever it takes. Do you hear me? You’re gonna go your own way. You’re gonna do what they won’t do. You’re gonna be smart. You are gonna cut corners, and you are gonna win. They’re on the 35th floor? You’re gonna be on the 50th floor. You’re gonna be looking down on them. And the higher you rise, the more they’re gonna hate you. You don’t matter all that much to them. So what? So what? Screw them. Remember, the winner takes it all.”

Better Call Saul, Season 4, Jimmy McGill to Kristy Esposito

It’s not easy to talk about conflict. Or competition. Most want to run from it. Or paint the world in a rosier picture. We are mostly afraid to look into what it really means in our day-to-day lives.

Who is your enemy? I use the word “enemy” lightly here. What I mean is, who are you going up against in your career or passions? Who else wants the same thing you want? There are rarely multiple winners. We memorize the names of successful business people and athletes. We never know the names of the other people who wanted the same exact thing, and failed.

I was once told for every billion dollar startup idea, even more is lost among those chasing similar dreams. The drum beat of the few who win is all we ever come to know. Bill Gates beat a lot of people in software for several decades. Buffett destroyed hedge fund gurus year after year. The Warriors and Patriots keep winning despite any amount of fan negativity. Bezos is still eating the retail businesses around him.

At the end of the day, everyone, and I mean everyone, is just like you in that they have a goal to accomplish.

It can be easy to mistake success with hard work. Those who work the most, will win the most. We hear athletes talk about it all the time. They thank their hard work. But the unsung reality is that someone else had to lose in order for them to win.

They worked hard? Yes. They were dedicated? Yes. But more importantly, they were aware of a counter force. They outsmarted someone going after the same thing. Ultimately, this is the sole point of business. To fight for market share. It’s what the analysts are doing at your local prestigious banking job. Eventually, there can only be one managing director. This is the war we are constantly waging. It happens to everyone, all the time.

As an investor, the same story arch governs the markets you play in. You can work as hard as you can, study a stock for months, and calculate the odds of that stock doing well with the greatest statisticians. The problem, though, is that you’ve left out the most important thing. It’s as if you blind folded yourself before walking into the arena.

Who are you going up against?

For investors, the goal is to outperform the S&P 500. If you can’t, you should buy the Index, and sleep easy. Everyone is going up against something. No profession avoids it. Maybe you run a repair shop in your local town. You certainly are not the only repair shop. To grow your business, it’s not about who works harder. It’s about doing something fundamentally better than whoever it is you compete with. These rules have held held true since 500 BC when Sun Tzu wrote:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”

Sun Tzu

It’s not an easy task to know who you’re playing against. Sometimes the enemy is hidden. Designing a perfect plan to play your best game against that enemy is equally a difficult thing. If it were easy, I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it. I think of two teams studying their opponent for hours, in a war room, film running, and notepads out. They are trying to understand the force they are going up against.

Who is the opposition?

How do they play?

What are they good at and bad at?

How will the weaknesses be exploited and the strengths contained?

I know most people reading are investors, both individual and professionally. So I can start this exercise for you by examining what it means to be going up the ultimate force – the S&P 500. I’m reminded about the strict process the index follows to add, and subtract stocks:

‪1. Liquidity

‪The stock should have sufficient liquidity in the form of shares outstanding, and trading volume.‬ One example of this is monthly trading volume divided by shares outstanding of at least 0.3.‬

‪2. Fundamental Analysis

‪The selection here is surprisingly simple.‬ The absolute must to be added is four quarters of positive net income. That’s the only must. The absolute has to happen criteria on fundamental analysis. ‬

‪3. Market Capitalization ‬

‪For a comparison ny to be included, it has to have a market cap greater than $4 billion. In addition, the company should be considered a leader or top name in its industry.‬

‪4. Sector Diversification‬

‪The S&P 500 is a collection of all the major industries and sectors. The Index is designed to weigh each sector of industry as a fairly as possible without overweighting one or underweighting another.‬

‪5. Fair Representation

The S&P 500, when looking to remove a company, or potentially add one, asks a single question: “if the Index was created today, would this company be included because it absolutely meets the criteria above?”‬

The criteria above should hang across office walls across Wall Street. It’s how the competition selects the stocks they’re trying to outperform. To be ignorant of that, or to think, “everything will take of itself” is a complacent approach. And nothing great was ever built on complacency.

Economists say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I think that’s mostly true. You’re not going to get much without putting in the necessary work. I might also take it a step further and say there’s also no such thing as an easy lunch. We’re all in a crowded restaurant with a table for one. Your job is to figure out how you will get it, even if that means just a bite or piece of bread to gift to someone else.

We are all going up against something.

It’s not an ugly truth. It’s not a harsh reality. It’s just the nature of things as they are. It can be fun or exciting coming to this awareness. Most of us take it for granted. We’ve stumbled into fortuitous situations entirely overlooking all the people who tried to beat us. Most us don’t even know who we overcame or when. But we did, and the sooner we realize it, the better planned we will be when we suffer our first big loss, and more proud we can be when we get our first big win.


Thanks for reading. Remember to follow me on Twitter and StockTwits. Also, you have to sign-up for my email newsletter.

If you missed it, here’s what I learned about the stock market in 2018.