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Michael Mauboussin Master Class — Moats, Skill, Luck, Decision Making and a Whole Lot More

Michael Mauboussin Master Class — Moats, Skill, Luck, Decision Making and a Whole Lot More

Tue, 05 Oct 2021 14:20

We sit down with the one & only Michael Mauboussin to dive deep into his incredible body of work: untangling skill and luck, measuring moats, persistence of returns in venture capital, decision making and — particularly timely — expectations investing and how to think about valuations in the current 2021 market environment. (!!) Michael's work is maybe our most frequent carve out on Acquired, so we're pumped to finally have a chance to interview the man himself. Big thank you to Patrick O'Shaughnessy and Brent Beshore for introducing us all at Capital Camp this year!

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Yeah, dude, we should see if any listeners want to create some cool, like, animation for the intro music for the YouTube channel. Oh, are we gonna open source it to the fans? We gotta do it. Welcome to this special episode of Acquired, the podcast about great technology companies and the stories and playbooks behind them. I'm Ben Gilbert and I'm the co-founder and managing director of Seattle based Pioneer Square Labs and our venture fund PSL Ventures. And I'm David Rosenthal and I am an angel investor based in San Francisco. And we are your hosts. Well, today we interview one of our heroes, Michael Mobison. We've referenced his work on many episodes before he's given talks that have been my carveouts and as many of you know, Michael is the head of Consilient Research at Counterpoint Global, which is part of Morgan Stanley Investment Management. At mid-year 2021, Counterpoint Global had assets under management of approximately $180 billion. And for those who don't know Michael's work, boy, are you in for a treat? David, I think it's fair to say he's your favorite investor's favorite investor. I love that. Yeah, he's done mind-expanding research on a ton of topics and today's show, of course, has a lens on how to interpret all of Michael's work over the years in the context of today's unprecedented macroeconomic environment. I like that. I'm pressing. Good phrasing. Well, for the presenting sponsorship on this episode, we have the Softbank Latin America Fund back again. As many of you know, from previous specials, Softbank Latam is deploying capital into the Latin America startup ecosystem and it's absolutely fascinating. They just announced they have another $3 billion to invest in addition to their initial $5 billion. So clearly, it is working. And when we asked Palo and Shu, two of the partners in the fund, if we could grab some voices from the founders themselves, they were like, of course. So today we are joined by Gabrielle Braga, the co-founder and CEO of Kinto Andar, the $5 billion real estate tech company founded in 2012 in Brazil. Can you explain how the platform works and what your journey to start and grow the company has been like? Definitely. We enabled seamless housing experience from searching for a home towards the transaction and after the transaction. So we started back in 2012 focused on long-term rentals and we chose that segment because it was the most neglected part of the market was particularly painful in Brazil. And in addition to all the inefficiencies in finding a home, duplicate listings, pull photos, incomplete info online, tenants were required in Brazil to provide a very cumbersome and expensive rent guarantee. While the landlords were afraid of not receiving the rent on time and having headaches with the link when tenants and invictions. And we fixed the transaction by eliminating the need of those rent guarantees from the tenant side, but guaranteeing the rent on time for the landlord no matter what happened. So right now we are about 10 times bigger than our closest competitor. We are the largest platform in Brazil, one of the largest in the world. We have more than 120,000 own-wing rentals that we manage on a monthly basis, but just like we did in rentals where we reinvented the transaction itself, how it's done, we intend to do this in the home buying segment. And in a bit more than a year of operation, we have more than 10,000 per-seal transactions run rate right now. Wow, just so impressive. One thing I've sort of been wondering as we've learned more and more about the Latin ecosystem, can you give us a sense of how it's evolved since you started the company? We launched it in 2013. It was hard to track down into working in this small company. There weren't many tech company startups that had scaled. So fast forward, we've experienced a major shift, especially since Softbank launched the Latin Fund. They basically invested in many of this earlier cohort of startup. Some of them became unicorns. So investors coming and looking for new opportunities, you know, founders coming from all over the world and trying to address problems here. So I think Softbank specifically was pivotal in this process because they were very deliberate in investing these companies and showing the confidence in the region. Well, our thanks to the Softbank, Latin America Fund, Antigobriol and Keto Andar. If you want to get in touch with Softbank, you can do so at or click the link in the show notes. And if you're interested in working at Keto Andar, there's a link in the show notes for that too. As always, this is not investment advice. It's advice about investing, but not any specific investment. Yes, no doubt it'll be educational, entertaining, and Michael's an absolute riot. So without further ado, we'll get into it. Well, Michael, when we all met at Capital Camp posted by Patrick and Brent the other week, we knew we needed to find some excuse to get you on the show and discuss all the big ideas that you've had over your career, untangling skill and luck, measuring modes, decision making complexity theory. But we thought maybe the best place to start would actually be expectations investing. One, because you and your co-author Al Rappaport just published a revised edition of the book, but also two, it's kind of, you know, think about expectations, probably good frame for the current market. So let's dive in on that. Well, thank you both, David and Ben, great to see you guys. The story is very quickly, as I was a liberal arts major in college, I went to Wall Street, I had no idea what's going on. I took no business classes, by the way, I, my father, I take that back. My father made me take accounting for non business majors, and I got like a C in the class out of the generosity of the professor's heart, but I was out there just Wall Street, and I think even the venture world and even corporate world filled with sort of rules of thumb and sort of like old wives, tales of how things work. I was sort of swimming in all this and one of the guys in my training program handed me a copy of Al Rappaport's book called Creating Shrouder Value that book came out in 1986. So I read it shortly after it came out, and for me, it was a professional epiphany. I'll just say almost everything I've done since then has been patterned on that work. There were three things he said, I think, remain the bedrock of everything I think about. One is, it's not about earnings that matters. It's really about cash flow. So the ultimate driver of value of business is cash, not accounting earnings, and we can come back and deepen on that thought. The ultimate is, and I also think really important is that we tend to think about strategy. So what is our strategy and how do we position ourselves and so forth, and we think about valuation is two separate things. And he made the point, I think, very correctly that you have to combine these two things to understand a business and to do evaluation properly. So in other words, the litmus test of a strategy is that it creates value. So you really can't understand or value of business until you understand the competitive situation, the competitor set, the growth of the market and so on, so forth. And then the third and final thing was in chapter seven, he had, it was called stock market signals to managers, and the argument was, hey executive, your stock price refutes a set of expectations about the future financial performance of your company, and it be who's you to understand what's priced in. And you want to do really well from the point of view, the stock market, you have to not only meet but exceed those expectations. I of course hadn't met him. He was like some awesome big guy and I had the opportunity. I started using his work in my work as an analyst and then in 1991, may have 1991, I had the opportunity to meet with him and was absolutely phenomenal. So for me, a real great experience as someone who was trying to learn from the master. We maintain a relationship through the 1990s and then toward the end of the 90s, 1998 or 1990, he said, you know, it might be fun for us to write a book using the same principles, but aimed at investors. That was the birth of expectations investing. That former one was sort of aimed at executives at CEOs. Yeah, Ben, it was in that particular idea of expectations was clearly useful for everybody. And so we rate the book. And by the way, we signed it in the late 1990s, right. So the world's, you know, the world's ripping and the stocks are new and great and everything. Oh, boy, that sounds like familiar. Exactly. You may have just jinks be there, David. The book came out September 10, 2001. Oh, so you can imagine a worst time preceding obviously a national tragedy, but really in the middle of a three year, a brutal three year bear market is we're coming off the dot com boom into the dot com bus. I mean, it was not great. So it was very well received. And we got, you know, there's a lot of people are still have used some of the techniques, but the timing couldn't have been worse. So, so we put this back together. But I went to Alan said, let's, would you like to work on that and he he agreed. He's now in his late 80s. He's amazing to talk to. I still find it every day. I talked to him is exhilarating and awesome intellectual journey. So super fun working on it. And then the other interesting thing is how much the world is changing 20 years, of course. So a lot of new stuff has come along. So anyway, that's the story of expectations investing. Well, we want to ask you for a spoiler in case people haven't read the book from the first time around in case it sort of slipped through the cracks in anything else they were doing in 2001. And they haven't picked it up yet. What's kind of the big seminal idea? I don't want to discourage anybody from buying it. So the idea is to say a stock price or it could really be any asset price, a price of an asset, but let's say a stock price reflects a set of expectations about future financial performance. So the first step is to say, what do I have to believe for this to make sense? Right. You can apply that broadly. The second step is to say, let's introduce strategic and financial analysis to judge whether that set of expectations is too optimistic, too pessimistic or about right. And by the way, more times than not, you're not going to have a view that that's different. But if your views are more optimistic, then you should buy the stock. If your views more pessimistic, you should sell the stock. And then the third and final thing is as a result of those things, take action, right. So buy, sell or hold or do nothing. But the core idea is just basically say, what do I have to believe? Is the company going to do what the market believes it's going to do? And then let me make decisions as a consequence. This concept is really interesting and one that we ended up talking about in our conversation at Capitol Camp where you know, you brought up the point that most of the time the way people come up with a valuation or a price target or a share price that they're willing to buy the company at, make their own model with sort of the bottoms up, bake in all the assumptions and then say, okay, here's what I'm willing to pay. And you're sort of making the argument here that, you know, the market has set a price. And actually what you should do is reverse engineer that and say, well, what are the assumptions that I need to believe to make that a good thing to purchase right now, make this a buy instead of a sell or ignore. And basically trying to come up with a probability distribution for each of those assumptions. Let's write that and I'll nerd out for just a second that sort of the original framework for discount of cash on models laid out by a guy named John Brawins in 1938. So very long time ago. So he's laying out a DCF model and you know, it's a little bit complicated. So he's got a chapter chapter 15 called the chapter for skeptics. So he's like, okay, you guys are, you know, you guys do know a certain way and I'm showing you something new you're going to be skeptical about it here. He tries to dress head on all the skepticisms and actually John Brawins says, hey, you know, if you think it's too complicated to forecast what you think the value is use the tools to go backwards. So he actually talked about reverse engineering in 1938, which you're exactly right. And I was trying to get my finger, put my finger on why does it feel so compelled to project value and compare that to price versus reverse engineering price and what it means. I'm sure I have a good answer for that, but I think maybe you feel like you're more in control if you're dictating what the value is versus going backwards. So I don't know what it is, but it seems to me a much more reasonable task, right, to say, what do I have to believe? And by the way, again, like an investing lot, you're going to pass on a lot of things. Because you're just not going to have a differential view. So you're like, all right. It makes me think so much. I literally just like wrote down in my notebook. It's the famous Charlie Munger quote invert always invert. Right. So what would Charlie do the Buffett quote is prices, which you pay values, what you get there a pair for a reason 100% and you'll just mention Ben you alluded to, but I just want to also amplify on it, which is expectations, and I think that the investment I should have been more explicit about is very probabilistic right so what we're really trying to do is think through scenario. So the if then kind of scenario. So we're getting knowledge that the price today is just one of many potential outcomes. It's actually a price reflecting a distribution of potential outcomes. We want to really understand the Richard distribution. So it's all lend itself to good analysis that lend itself to good strategic analysis and financial analysis, but it's not here is an answer. It's really trying to think about the world, probably, which is also very much a sort of Buffett and Munger type of thing. Okay. So this is great because think about today's world probably even this was changing when you read the book the first time with technology, but in Buffett and Munger's original world. So expectations seem to me like they would have been so much more simple. This company is going to perform in X way cash flow is going to be why now even if we're just talking about companies that are traded on public stock markets. So expectations built in seem to me like they're a lot more complex than just like Facebook or Amazon's cash flow next year will be Z you know how should folks think about that. Yeah. And David, I'll just build on this and you know this sort of now versus that as an interesting way to frame it. If you go back way to Ben Graham and so forth, you know they focus a lot on things like book value, which was you know where the accounting was actually probably a reasonable representation because most of your assets were things that truly showed up on your balance sheet. But as you pointed out correctly the world has changed a ton and now more of our investments are intangible versus tangible so as a consequence what's going on the income statement and the balance sheet and so forth is getting a little bit mixed up. So let me just give you one little stat I found interesting that we just recently ran back in 2001 so the year the first book came out capital expenditures and intangible investments and this is for like called the Russell 3000 so basically US public companies was about the same amount 630 640 billion something like that. So just think of a starting line for a race and they're both standing there at the same spot fast forward to 2021 obviously we don't have all the full numbers but if the projections sort of hold out. It'll be the case that intangible investments now are $2 trillion and cat X is $1 trillion. So going from the same starting point intangible investments or 2x the tangible investment and can you for everybody just explain what you mean by intangibles. Yeah so an tangible intangible the basic distinction is exactly what you what it sounds like so tangible things you can touch and feel and kick and so forth and intangible things that are not physical. Obviously canonical examples would be software code but it could be anything could be marketing branding all that kind of stuff train your employees and so forth so what accounts try to do now is to look at the income statement and say which of those items that are spent on selling general administrative expenses which are necessary to maintain the current business and which are discretionary and investments right investment defined as an outlet today with an expectation for future return. That are in this case that are intangible so the big buckets classically or research and development branding but today you think a lot about customer acquisition costs you know all that kind of stuff. And so it's been a watershed change and this is you know called even maybe not even a generation of investors and so a lot of those tools that were developed incredibly useful and thoughtful at the time but just because the accounting change means that they're much less relevant today than they used to be. Patrick O'Shaunas you did a really interesting podcast little over a year ago with John call some from stripe and you know just such a thoughtful guy but call some spending a lot of times like I don't understand why the accounting works is right because we're spending tons of money at stripe to try to build our business but these are mostly intangible investments and they're showing up on our income statement right so we're expecting a really start income doesn't look that great look unprofitable yeah it look unprofitable but this is in for building incredible value right incredible wealth and that's why this original message from rap report of cash flows not earn. Is so in my mind all the time right and this is a really big change and what's exciting for me and I think it's executives or even investors should be thinking about this is that we're a little bit in the wild west of this no one really knows how to think about and grapple these intangibles from an accounting point of view but if you're really trying to understand a business what I always recommend doing is getting down to the basic unit of analysis and how does this company make money and really focusing on that and really refining laser focus on that to understand it and I think that's really good. Understand it and again that the numbers are becoming less insightful for giving us guidance how to think about that and then the other thing that's been interesting I think the last 20 years has been true for a long time but increasingly software based companies can be much more global they can grow much faster and they can be much more global than businesses in the past and that's another thing another feature. By the way it helps some businesses but when you have a lot of intangible assets are built on an intangible edifice it also makes you vulnerable right so if your product or service does not work there's not much there left right so right you're not going to sell for book value exactly so if you think about you know sort of the tails pushing out the tails relative to traditional businesses that's the way I think the way I think about it there they're more extreme good things and more extreme bad things and then what we witnessed in the past. Maybe to go back and rearticulate something the way I understand it venture capital investors have not had a financial investing fundamentals background they often come from being entrepreneurs and so you have people that don't have a robust or certainly as robust as the people you work with Michael an understanding of financial statements and so the idea that intangibles our investments is sort of like inherent it's like duh and then it just feels weird that it doesn't show up in the right place in your financial statements. So it's almost like this hard headed view that VCs have had is now being forced to be adopted by the broader investment community because as Mark entries and puts it software is eating the world and so more and more of the very valuable companies in the world sort of think about their investing internally the same way that the non financial sector of venture capital has thought about them for 30 40 years. Yeah, I mean I agree with all that and I do think that the market has sort of this out to some degree even public companies right so I think we have we're close to a record number if not a record number of public companies today that encodes lose money. You know, so you can lose money the old fashion. It's just your concert bigger than your revenues but but you can lose money the way we're talking about which is you're actually making very productive investments and by the way that's just to take a one step back is the number when I talk about cash flow the number we really care about so called free cash flow which is earnings minus investments and you know some people think all you want positive free cash well well the answer is not really I mean what you want is if you can invest at a high return you want to invest as much as you can humanly possibly can right that you have access to and I was like to point out that Walmart for the first 15 years that it was public had negative free cash flow for each of those years Walmart was profitable in the income statement but they're investing like raising and why was that good because their stores had great economic so like knock yourself out and so that's a little bit of the same mindset so much easier for a Walmart to untangle because you can just look at the cash flow statement and be like oh I see your operating cash flow is excellent so you can disentangle that but with the software companies it all gets tied up in op X right so like you're investing in acquiring customers and hiring engineers etc that gets muddied is like you can't just look at one number and feel like oh I see your operating cash flow is excellent so you're doing the right thing I want to talk about company analysis so Michael you publish the awesome measuring the most paper a few years back that has become basically the bible for how to do this and we thought maybe the right way to dissect this I think you teach Ben Graham's legendary security analysis course at Columbia business school so like how do you think about this concept in the course and how's the course structured. Yes, the course structured and we can do all on the competitive strategy piece but I usually like to think about it in four parts the first is just thinking about markets and you know the fundamental question is our markets efficient or the any efficient whether I'm a venture capitalist or public market investor if I have hopes to generate sort of attractive returns how do I go about that so how do I differentiate myself to do that and then the last piece which by the way is the newest part of the course is on decision making and what I came to realize no probably 15 or 20 years ago was what differentiates good to great investors has little to do with their sort of technical skills like their building built spreadsheets or whatever and much more about their temperament and in particular their ability to make decisions under some sort of stress or tension so we'll come back to decision making real quick I got to ask what's the story of how you came to teach this legendary course because this was so awesome. I mean all this stuff is luck right so I joined what the time was the first Boston corporations now credit suites as a food industry analyst in 1992 so liberal arts major gone food industry exactly so so big general mills and Kellogg's and Campbell and all that kind of stuff that was my industry so I'm you know I'm a new guy and I'm like plugging away and in but well just say that from the very beginning I love to hang out with the technology guys because they thought they were the coolest guys and they got to work on all the cool stuff right that's how I got to know like Bill Gurley very early builds career when he was an analyst and you know said like a cool guy working on cool stuff so there's a guy there named Charlie Wolf who just the guy and Charlie was actually a tender professor at Columbia Business School who decided he had a sabbatical year decided he wanted to do equity research of all things and and every firm turned him down except for first boss and they gave a job this is like now the late 90 late 70s early 80s and they said what industry he's like to follow he's like well there's this new thing called personal computers maybe I could do that and they're like personal computers he had nobody cares about that. Yeah. I take that industry. I was the PC analyst and like you know so there's like apples coming public oh man and he was an academic he's an academic you the trade academic yeah trade academic so he walks in my office and he goes hey you know I'm working on the PC stocks and I wonder if I'm thinking about brands you know like so down compact and all these he's like what do you know about brands you know you're a food guy so I was like I really know that much about brands actually but my here's some stuff I've done and you know you can check it out and of course just to be clear this is me coming right off working on the rap report stuff right so I'm using an approach that you know you could argue is a little bit more academic than that was traditional on Walter at the time so it comes back to the next day and he goes yeah there's not that much about brands in here but you should teach a Columbia Business School so like wait what so honey make this connection and I think at the time you know he had a connection to school and they were looking for people to teach security analysis right which is I mean this is the course that Warren Buffett the whole reason he went to Columbia was to take this course so I mean I don't want to overstate all this I mean it is called security analysis and Graham did teach a version of all this but many people have taught it or a long you know so not no there's not there's nothing I'm not unique in any way in this way but so then he asked me to teach it and I went up there and you could also win your new York you can bring in great students and so it's a fun experience for the students so I started doing that in the summer of 1993 so this year 2022 will be my 30th year of doing this in row which is actually really cool so that's the story on how how I got there and so let me now delve into Ben's question about competitive strategy and I'll just say that I don't know if people really recognize this but the very first version of measuring the mo came out in 2002 so nearly 20 years ago and I'll just say that that was among probably the top three hardest things I've ever done professionally and the reason was not so much that any of the ideas were that difficult but it was an incredible exercise in synthesizing right so like many other people I read Michael Porter I read Clay Cresciensen I read all the I knew the Brian Arthur literature on increasing returns and so forth but the question is how do you bring this together in a way that sort of cohesive that allows an investor or an executive for somebody to understand not to mention these were abstract concepts I mean you read them and they click and you're like oh yeah competitive strategy by Michael Porter this totally innately makes sense but then that next level of literally measure so the thing is I mean you can start with basic things like competitive advantage interestingly by the way and I have all the Porter books and I read many of them when I was very young and they're really rich but they're difficult they're not fun they're not easy books to read and in fact I usually recommend the people who are interested in understanding Porter read a book by a woman named Joan McGreddo called understanding Michael Porter you know because she's a journalist she worked elbow to elbow with him for many years and she actually explains the ideas I think more clearly than he does with a lot of examples so here's an interesting question what is the definition of a competitive advantage you know if you say a moat and turns out the Porter himself never really defined it and so we argue that a competitive advantage it have two features one is an absolute one one is a relative one the absolute one is you should have returns today or returns that are promised to be above your cost of capital right so in other words cost of capital simply an opportunity cost concept so if I'm taking a dollar here it should earn above what that dollar could earn somewhere else in terms of opportunity cost and then the relative one is you should be better than your competitors right if we can define a competitive set you should be better that's a competitive advantage so then your points exactly right we want to start with something a little bit quantitative in the sense you can hang your hat on it and we try to measure that by things like returns on to us the capital so we basically broke the strategy into three pieces one is I call it lay of the land but basically what am I dealing with here right so we do things like entry and exit in the industry market share changes pricing flexibility so these are all sort of broader to get a sense of the field that you're dealing with right so for instance if you have an industry that shares a weapon around all the time it's really hard to be king of the hill for a long time if market shares are really transitioning a lot by contrast you get like soft drinks these guys slug it out for one market share point right so that's a really stable industry then we talk about industry dynamics so this would be the classic quarter stuff for you this really role of your state value chains and the five forces I also put the Christians since stuff on disruptive innovation there by the way disruptive innovations I think a very helpful theory I think most people don't really understand exactly what's talking about so it's worth understanding like going back to his basic principles and then the third piece is what is the source of this company's competitive advantage if it has one and the simplest way to say you know it's usually low cost producer or some sort of differentiation and what's also neat about the low cost producer differentiation is we can tie that back to return on capital right so basically the simple model is low cost producers tend to have low margins and high capital velocity and what's capital velocity so capital velocity would just be margins are going to be profits divided by sales and capital velocity sales divided by investor capital right so low margins high velocity that means you're turning your capital fast that's a low cost producer high margins and low capital velocity that's a differentiation so you think about here's a way to make it more concrete think about a supermarket they don't make a lot of money on all the items they sell but they sell a ton of stuff right you think that versus Tiffany's I don't really know Tiffany's business but Tiffany probably make a lot of money when they sell stuff and they don't sell that frequently jewelry storage in Eric Lee right so what happens is immediately just show me the incomes statement or even adjusted state financial statements and I can tell you right away like if they're going to have a competitive advantage sort of how are they going after it right which is interesting yeah so measuring the mode I think it was an attempt to try to be structured and thinking through this stuff and I was very specific about putting a checklist at the end and I think checklist are interesting just because they force you to think about all the different issues not all the issues are going to be relevant for all the companies but just to make sure that you're being systematic and thinking through the various issues and it sounds a little bit tried to talk about like you know like David say before sort of these markets are a little bit crazy but so it sounds a little bit tried to do this kind of work but I just feel so much better trying to really understand the economics of a business right before I get involved with it. I'll tell you if I started this is the inputs you had to be I first discovered your work through Bill Gurley talking about it when I was a super young whipper snapper VC a decade ago and I read measuring the boat I actually pulled up my copy of it ahead of this literally like the whole thing is highlighted like like this like like why did I have even bother highlighting this because it's only the words that aren't highlighted but I took your checklist at the end and I was like I'm going to make this part of my you know early stage investing process and try to break up I think it was like well well. It much work. I'm flying this to a seed stage investment is yeah it's hard. It requires a little bit of a mental leap but it was so fun. Oh David that is a great bridge to complexity investing. The future is so freaking unknown for early stage companies Michael I'm curious how do you apply this in an early stage type company where the world could change so much between what the nascent company is now and what it will become. I mean these are really hard questions and there are sort of two pieces one is you know how would you value it and then how do you just think about the business itself and how the world might unfold. When I think of complex adaptive systems I think about certain features I mean to break that term down complex just means the interactions of lots of agents right adaptive means that those agents learn they try to anticipate their environment and react to it but they environment changing itself changes how they learn and changes their behaviors right so it's the system never settles down. And then system is the whole is greater than some of the parts so when you think about the world that way there's a very big evolutionary component to it which means that's why we can't I think have a difficult time anticipating where the world's going to go. That said Ben I think that one thing that I often think about young companies is really options more than you know like a sort of bond or something boring like that and you know an options theory has been around for a very long time obviously black souls in the 1970s sort of define mathematically some of the key principles it's not perfect mapping to the real world but not too bad. And then in the late 1970s early 80s academic starts a well these ideas are interesting for financial options but we can apply them to real businesses as well and so how do we think about that so where real options tend to be valuable is when you have sort of four characteristics in place first is it's good to have volatility in the market right so this is an interesting thought that's a little bit backwards right so typically if you say for financial asset your discount rate is some sort of cost a capital lower is better for value right so if I have a lower discount rate I'm going to have a higher value right all things being equal so I think everybody sort of gets the math of the current market where the discount rate is zero to negative yeah look at the current market but options are actually interesting because the option is the right but not the obligation to do something right so you take out the downside so in an option what you want is lots of volatility you want lots of volatility right which is sort of counter so the more volatile the world is the more valuable the option is and so that's I think an interesting thought for there you also want this is where there becomes a big premium on management so management's ability to understand options and the other side of intelligent is extremely valuable and you can think about the history of corporate executives some of whom have been amazing and identifying and exercising options you know to easy example would be of course Jeff Bezos but he has been is just like to say he's been great at it and then the other thing is interesting is a feature is access to capital right because if you even if you decide to exercise an to exercise an option, you need sometimes to do things like you have to pay for them, right? And I think that there was a lot of really interesting stuff intellectually going on in the early 2000s, so 20 years ago, right? But it was a huge bear market, huge hangover from the dot com. And there was just limited access to capitals, a consequence. There are probably a lot of really interesting things that didn't happen. Just look at and look at Instacart and Chewy today, you know, like these weren't bad ideas. It's just the access to capital, went away. Yeah. So that's all really interesting too, but even just strategically, I think that the key is still to go back to the basic formula, which is the basic unit of analysis is what we're doing, makes sense. The only other thing I'll add is that in doing this work over the years, one of the things I've always found is underappreciated to sort of the role of entry and exit in industries. And I recommend my students spend time understanding entry and exit. I think very few people are, by the way, are familiar with these statistics typically. But I think that one thing that's important to recognize is that as an industry starts, and by the way, the guy that did the main work on this and it's beautiful work is a guy named Stephen Klepper from Carnegie Mellon. Klepper died a few years ago, but this is really cool stuff. And so what Klepper showed was that almost every industry is like, it's going, there's a huge upswing in the number of competitors. And again, think evolution, right? So the market's sorting out what it likes. And then once it's figured out kind of what it likes or what it works, then there's a huge downswing, right? So that's consolidation or business is going out of business, bankrupt or whatever it is. And so you get this pattern of up and down. And that's another really interesting thing to think about when you're looking at early stage stuff, which is say, all right, where are we in this whole cycle? And by the way, when it rolls over, in other words, the number of companies is declining. It's actually really interesting time to invest because usually the industry itself is continuing to grow. And it's a fewer number of companies that are capturing the spoils, right? So it's like a really interesting dynamic. We wrote a little bit about this. I mean, Klepper is obviously the God, but you can do this for industry after industry, sorting out automobiles, be classic example, radio, a lot of it in the internet for sure, disk drive. So there are lots of cool examples of this pattern playing out over time. So those are just some thoughts that might be fun to think about and play with. One thing to drill in on is, so you mentioned with the early stage investing, the idea as you could think about it more as optionality versus the same way you would think about investing in a late stage company. Are you sort of making the argument that you can deploy a little bit of capital and it's effectively buying an option on the potential that the way the world shifts that company becomes big, that that's sort of the way to think about an early stage investment? I think that's right, Ben. And I think the other interesting thing is, you know, we wrote a big piece on public to private equity probably a year or a little over a year ago. And one of the things that I thought was really cool in that report was an analysis done by a few academics on the return profiles for three sets of investments, asset classes. The first were venture, right? So I think they looked at 30,000 venture deals, some gargantuan number of venture deals. And then they looked at 15,000 buyouts. And then we looked at 30,000 periods for public companies. And so what you're looking at is the distribution of payoffs, right? So I'm going to say what everybody already knows, right? Which is the median venture deal earns nothing, right? And many venture deals lose money, but the tails are super extreme. So that's a really interesting way to think about essentially an option payoff, right? And then buyouts were a little bit, you know, about like 25% lost money, but most of them kind of did okay, but a little bit more right, you know, what right more skewed than the public markets and then the public markets looked much more like a bell shaped distribution. So in a sense, the interesting question is like, what is the best set of frameworks to map what we actually know empirically the payoffs look like? And that's why even in venture, it's like you think about especially early stage venture. I mean, whether the things worth 50 million or 100 million, if it's going to be worth 10 billion in 10 years or three years, like it doesn't really matter that much what you pay for today. So that's why these sort of extreme outcomes obscure the sort of first day. And that's why you always, you know, these funny stories about people like we pass on Amazon because it was too expensive. Or like, you know, it made sense at the time, but in retrospect, obviously those things don't look like they make sense, but they do make sense, actually. Yeah. I mean, to the extent that something is in the pool where it could be the next Amazon, if it's truly early stage, then it's worth kind of any price at that early stage, but the trick is determining if it is of the set of companies that truly could be the next Amazon. That's why you're also building a portfolio of these things, right? So you would, I mean, some obviously if you're, for example, founder or whatever, you're going to have most of your skin in that one game, but if you're a venture person, you're going to spread out your bets a little bit and hope that in, you know, these are very familiar patterns that you just hope a couple of things in your, in your fund are the ones that hit and sort of pull the wagon along for everything. Yeah. Well, the reason why I had a tough time as a young BC applying your measuring the mode checklist to early stage investments is I didn't realize the paradigm of what the asset was that I was buying. It was an option. And so you should think of it as an option, this framework we were just talking about, versus if you're buying a public security, you should think, well, I don't even know what the right word is of that type of asset that you're buying of an option versus a, yeah, it's just more of a cash flowing business that's clear and, and more almost like a fixed income, you know, where we have sort of visible and predictable to some degree cash flows. Yeah, no, exactly. I think that's not a bad way to think about it. Yeah. Okay. So before we move on from your class, and since we're in valuation land a little bit here, and we are in as they say unprecedented times, let's take the most extreme example of having to work backwards from price. So for fun, let's look at Tesla and say like when the margin is safety is, as Nero as it's ever been in making an investment in any asset because multiples based on any aspect of a business are at all time highs, how are you sort of walking through an exercise with your students of working backwards from some ungodly valuations of companies and where it still may make sense to invest? Yeah. And by the way, not surprisingly, Tesla has been this company we've analyzed in our class a bunch of times. Usually, by the way, at the end of the class, I bring in portfolio managers who assign stocks for the students to work on. And Tesla has been one that's been sort of a perennial one. For many of the reasons you just described, and sort of the head scratching component, well, you just have to sit down and pencil it out and think to yourself, and by the way, Tesla is another example of sort of this optionality. Are there things that they're doing that are not visible that could be of value in the future? So you have to pencil all that stuff out. The other thing I'll say about Tesla, which is, we have a bit about this in the book, but the idea has been around for a very long time, this concept of reflexivity. So we tend to think that there's this thing called the value of the firm, and I'm sort of the observer and if the values higher than the price, I'm going to buy it and make money and so on and so forth. And we forget that this goes back to complex systems that there's an interaction between the observer and the actual thing itself, and that reflexivity basically says the very act of bidding up a stock changes the fundamental outlook for that company and so on and so forth. Especially if they can raise gobs of money at that new valuation. And precisely, and I think that it was not too many years ago that Tesla was sort of skating on thin ice in terms of finances and so forth. And then as a stock took on a life of its own, the stock went up a lot that allowed them to raise capital and get themselves on much stronger footing and then that buys them time, buys them runway to do other stuff. So I think this idea of reflexivity is really big one now. But with the idea, I mean, the idea has been around for a very long time, but the term reflexivity I think was coined by George Soros. So just to be clear where that intellectually comes from, I didn't know that that's awesome. Again, a very old idea, but reflexivity. Now, the key is like when you get off this thing, right, because reflexivity works in two directions. And you could think about one another area where reflexivity's been historically a very big deal is in mergers and acquisitions and sort of conglomerate roll ups. So you think about businesses buying other businesses and their stock as well. Then the user stocked by another business and they keep doing this until and so forth. And often where the gig ends up is that they have to do deals that are so large to perpetuate their growth rate, to perpetuate the fulfill the expectations that it just becomes like essentially an instrumentable task. So I think that's one way to think about some of these businesses. Now, the meme stocks, we've had flavors of this. People think it's all new. We've had flavors of all this stuff for a really long time. So there's really not that much new to that. I think maybe perhaps that people can organize themselves more efficiently because they can use online tools and that they can transact essentially free or very low cost that allows that takes friction out of the system that allows it to be perhaps a little bit easier, but they've been basically versions of this for a long time. Now again, some of these meme companies have been pretty smart about raising capital as well. So again, they've bought runway and maybe bought some optionality through that. But most of these movies don't tend to end well just to be clear. So we'll see how this unfolds and finishes, but they tend not to be good endings. And how do you reconcile most of these movies don't end well with Bill Gurley's comment of the only way to get through the downsides and to enjoy every last minute of the upside? In general, people should be fully invested. So what do we buy? Yeah. And I think that the context may be slightly different and I want to put words in anybody's mouth, but I think Bill's attitude was, Bill's take is a bit more to me like this idea of market timing. You think yourself, you're I'm really clever and the market seems really expensive. So I'm going to sell it and then when it gets cheap, I'm going to buy it back and so on. So for then what history tells us and that is that none of us are that clever. We just don't know. And I think that's a little bit what Bill was saying with the venture thing is that things feel a little bit rich and G, we should be throttling back a little bit, but we in retrospect have a hard time being good at doing that. So that would be my context there. But I think the idea that movie doesn't end well is that that's pretty easy to document, right? We've seen that funny cases. And you know, I just love I mean Matt Levine at Bloomberg is a genius. And you know, he's got this thing called the boring market hypothesis, which I've always loved. And I think there's something to that, right? Which is, you know, 18 months ago, we sort of locked people up. They had nothing to do. They had no sports to bet on. We put a little extra money in their pocket through stimulus and they're like, all right. You know, here's here's something we can do to keep ourselves entertained. And in some cases, make some money. And so that's sort of sparked the thing. But we'll see how it unfolds. 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You said a minute ago that the difference that you've found between great investors and average investors is the quality and temperament of their decision making. How should people think about that? This has been an area I've been fascinated by and I think that as a world, we avail ourselves of these tools too infrequently, right? We should be doing more of this. You know, Ben brought up a point early on, which I just want to reiterate, which is sort of thinking about different scenarios for how the world might unfold. And I think that one of the biggest mistakes we tend to make is that we tend to think we know the future better than we actually do, right? So the idea is to maintain sort of an open ended understanding of how things might unfold. So there are a number of tools. I'll now rattle them off very quickly. Most of them are about opening up your mind and one of them is about feedback. So the first one on opening up your mind is this idea of base rates. And for those that are not familiar with this, you know, when we are faced with problems, the typical way we solve a problem is to gather a bunch of information, right? Combine it with your own analysis in your experience and your own input. And then you project into the future, right? And it feels very natural because you've gathered the information and you're obviously using your own devices to figure things out. Base rates are actually a very different exercise, which is it says, hey, let's think about this problem as an instance of a larger reference class. Let's just basically ask what happened when other people were in this situation before us. And it's a very unnatural way to think about the world, right? Because you have to leave aside your own views, you have to leave aside all the stuff you've gathered and so and so forth. I mean, psychologists have demonstrated this a very, very robust component to your decision-making. So understanding and thinking about base rates, I think is a really powerful thing. And if you asked me to, if I could go back to my 20 year old self and say whisper in the ear and say, there's one mental model to sort of put into your life, I would say base rates. Another idea is pre-mortem, same idea. And there's an interesting psychological piece to this. But pre-mortem just says, let's pretend we make an investment today, pretend. Then we launch ourselves into the future. Now it's a year from now, it's 2022, whatever. And this investment has turned out to be sour. It's been really bad. And then each of us independently, and this is important, each of us independently writes down why this turned out badly. So in other words, each of us is going to write a 200-word Wall Street Journal article dated 2022 as to why this turned out badly. And it turns out that again, you don't have the intellectual baggage of having made the investment and your mind is opened. And there's some interesting reasons why future to present is better than present to future. But again, a mind-opening exercise. The third thing is this idea of red teaming. So again, people are very familiar with this. Probably the most cybersecurity is good example now, right? So the blue team defends the red team attacks. And you say, all right, we're going to, we think we're secure, but we're going to hire hackers to try to hack our own system. You know, they're the red teamers just to see how vulnerable we are. So red teamers are people that are organized to challenge thinking, challenge the prevailing views of things. And it's really hard, right? Because even organizationally, we fall into these mindsets. We all start to believe the same thing. You need some of this sort of to jar you into reality. And then the last one is journaling. And that's this idea of feedback. And I think it's just really hard in our world, whether it's venture, even as an executive or public market, it doesn't matter. It's brutally hard to give yourself honest feedback about what's happened, right? So even if something turns out great, did turn out great for the reasons you thought it would, right? Or are you just a lucky, do you just come up lucky? Or maybe sometimes you did all the right things and it turned out poorly, but it was the right decision, right? At the time, given the information you had. So this idea of journaling is just keeping a decision log and reviewing it periodically to make sure that you're thinking about things properly. And then you're giving yourself honest feedback. And the ideal is to do it probabilistically. If you can write down, I think there's an x percent probability, this is going to happen by a y-date that gives you the apparatus for a scoring system that can be super helpful. And again, it's not a ton of extra work because you're doing it already, right? You're just being overt about it and writing it down. And so that's another thing that I think people can do in terms of their decision making to improve. It takes a little bit of discipline. It's not like a ton of time, but it takes discipline to do that. And I think those that do it well, certainly benefit it from massively. For sure. Just because you are relatively quick in your moment there on base rates, I want to take a quick break and read this passage from Connomenon to Versky because for anyone who hasn't studied base rates and is like, oh, I should Google this after Michael talks about it. Because one little quip will be like the beginning of the rabbit hole for you. So the quote is, an individual has been described by a neighbor as follows. Steve is very shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful, but with little interest in people or in the world of reality. A meek and tidy soul, Steve has a need for order and structure and a passion for detail. Is Steve more likely to be a librarian or a farmer? Okay. So everyone has something to say. I was saying I was hanging there. Now of course, your intuition says a librarian, but in fact, there's something like 10X or 20X, the number of farmers in the world. So you should really just look at the base rate and go, I'm going to ignore everything you just told me and say farmer. But of course, our brains trick us and we all say librarian. One of the things we might want to talk about is a little bit of this stuff on luck and skill. So can we dive into that a little bit? Please. Oh, this is one of my favorite books. So look, I just think that one of the most fascinating topics out there is this idea of untangling skill and luck. So I was able to write a book about it about eight or nine years ago and what inspired you to write the book, by the way, it's so good. It's funny. I love this day when you ask like, where do these ideas come from? Because I'm a big huge sports fan. I played lacrosse in college actually, but I was kind of an anti baseball guy. So I didn't mind baseball, but I didn't really like baseball that much. But then I read money ball and I was like, this is awesome. This is like so interesting, right? And I think I was the first person on Wall Street to write about money balls. I wrote a piece about it within a week or two of the book coming out because I was so fired up. And part of what they're trying to do is figure out, like forget about what the person looks like, whatever. Let's figure out what wins. And so these are things that are skill contribution. So that got me thinking a lot about this in terms of the, and then got me focused on the analytics community where this thing is really important. And then I wrote a book called Think Twice in 2009 and Think Twice is about decision-making. It's really an homage to Connemon actually, to like the kinds of stuff that Ben just read about. And I had a chapter on Luck and Skill and I'm like, this is a cool thing, right? And I made it chapter two, right? So I'm like, uh, people are going to get this, the first one was on base rates actually, right? And this is chapter two. So I'm like, we're going to get right. And my editor reads it and she comes back and she goes, I don't know, skill luck stuff. It was too complicated, you know, put it, you know, if you want to keep it, put it it yet, right? So I'm like, all right, all right. What a sight. So it's like, I'm going to last chapters. And so I get friends that read it and my friends would go, oh, I like your book, but that chapter on Skill and Luck now, that was cool. So I'm like, I knew it. I knew I should have put that in the video here. And so I was like, so this is like a spin off like those TV shows like, oh, that, you know, like Mark and Mindy spun off from Happy Days or whatever. Like, this is like a spin off. So I'm like, okay, this luck skill thing. There's a lot more here. I also read full by randomness by Teller about obviously in 2001 as many people did. And obviously the basic point hitched in a head like a two by four that there's more randomness in the world than you anticipate, but I felt that it was lacking in the sense that it didn't really give you the tools to quantify any of that stuff, right? So I was like, okay, I'm loaded up now. I've got this idea that this is really important. By the way, the subtitle book is Untangling Skill and Luck and Business Sports and Investing, right? So it's all stuff I find interesting. So I've that encouraged me to go down the path. And so it actually made me sense just to very quickly define some terms, right? So skill, we're going to say is the ability to apply one's knowledge readily in execution of performance, right? So you know how to do something. And when you're called on to do it, you can do it. So you have to go play violin and carnival hall like snap your fingers. You're going to crank, right? You're going to be awesome. Luck is much more difficult to define. And by the way, it gets into philosophy very quickly. So you have to put a pull down to figure out where you want to stay. But I'm going to say it has three key attributes. One is it happens to an individual organization. So it happens to you or your company or your favorite sports team or whatever. Okay. Second is it can be good or bad. And I don't mean to suggest that it's symmetrical because it's not, but there's a good positive side and a negative side. And third is, and this is the squishiest one. It's reasonable to expect a different outcome could have occurred. So if we rewound the tape of time and we played it again, it'll be reasonable to see a different outcome, right? So that's, I'm going to say is luck. And so when you have that in your mind, there are a couple of things that come out of really interesting. One is what we call the luck skill continuum. So you could think about activities along a continuum on the one extreme would be all skill, no luck, right? Nothing really over there. But you think about chess matches or running races, right? There's the fastest person's usually going to win, right? Then you think about the other extreme, which would be all luck, no skill, so roulette wheels, lottery, right? They're fair. Okay. So there's no element of skill in those, what's all the market investing? Yeah. So it's actually interesting. Hold on to that thought because we want to come back then just a moment. And so then you have everything arrayed between those two extremes. And by the way, we did, we did in the book. We did for fun, which was professional sports leagues based on a season. And you can see, for example, that basketball is a sport that's furthest away from random. So the most essentially skilled dictates the outcomes. So Ben, you were sort of joking a little bit about that about where public market investing is. But I want to, I want to actually want to build on this because this is actually probably the most popular concept that came out of the book and it's called the paradoxes skill. Ah, so good. This is so mind blowing. Yeah. And I, this again, none of these ideas are new. With me, I got this idea from Stephen J. Gould in his book called Full House from the mid 1990s. And so the idea is that when you think about the biologist, yeah, evolutionary biologist, exactly, good call. Yeah. So the paradox skill says in activities where both skill and luck contribute to outcomes, which is most stuff, as skill increases, luck becomes more important. And you're like, wait a second. How does this work exactly? Right. So we can think about skill in two dimensions. The first is absolute and the second is relative. So the first is absolute skill. And I think that we agree if we look around the world, whether it's sports or business or investing, the level of absolute skills has never been higher. Right. If I gave you what is at your fingertips today and put you back in the 1960s as an investor for instance, you could run circles around your competition, right? Because you just have better tools available to you. And certainly sports, we can see that, especially sports, measures versus a clock, right. Things are people are just faster and so and so forth. The second dimension though is the really important one, which is relative skill. And what we've seen in domain after domain is relative skill gaps have narrowed. The difference between the very best and the average is less today than it was in the past. And you could think about all sorts of tons of reasons. For example, sports leagues are super easy, right? Because you think about like the NBA used to be, you know, certain types of players from certain part of the country. And now it's a completely global market that best players anywhere the world will be found and they'll be drawn. Well, Chamberlain could just like totally dominate back in the day. But if we're playing in the NBA today, like he would have a lot more. Right. This is how the whole thing got going was Steven J. Gold wrote about Ted Williams, who hit 406 in 1941, that very magical year. And by the way, if Ted Williams, and he was almost exactly a three standard deviation event, I don't know what the 2020 numbers will prove to be, but if you're a three standard deviation event in the most recent full season, you hit like 385 or 390. So it's awesome, right? You win the bad thing, Tuddle going away. But that's what the top one and a half percent or something of everyone. Yeah, top one and a half percent, right. So you're not breaching that 400 level, which is super interesting. So the point is, if you now you think about two people with absolutely wickedly high skill levels, but they're completely equal, then the outcome is going to be a coin toss. It appears to be random, even though they're incredibly skillful. So it's funny because I still play like beer league hockey. And so the hockey guys are hockey players are the most skillful guys. And it shows up as a very random sport in our system. And I'm like, I'm like, you're missing the point. It's not that they're not skillful players. They're amazing players. It's just that they're all equally skillful, right? And so as a consequence, differentiating to this, you said, moment, go, David, differentiating yourself. It's extremely difficult to do. And as a consequence, it all feels like a big coin toss. And so Ben just to come back on investing, I think that's what we see in investing, which is in public market investing, the numbers appear to be random or partially random in large part because markets are so good. It's not because of the markets of bad, the markets are actually really good. Now the other thing I'll say about venture in particular is that there is persistence of performance. And the way we measure ongoing skills, this notion of persistence, if you do well in period one, you'll do well in period two, right? So if you're really good at math tests, you take a math test today, you take one two weeks, you'll do well both times, right? So it indicates skill. And by the way, there's almost always this concept of regression toward the mean if you do really well, you go, okay, so I want to come back to regression in just a second. So persistence is an indication of skill, right? And so it turns out, if you look at venture capital in particular, by the way, public equity markets, very limited persistence, right? So if you did really well last year, you're expected value is closer to the average. The following year, buyouts, they used to be persistent. Now it seems to be much more closer, not so much persistent, but venture, we still see a lot of persistence. And that's the top 10%, maybe top 20%, do really well over time. So if you can get access to one of those funds and invest with them, you tend to do very well. So the interesting question is, why is that? You guys might have better views on that. But I have a pet theory app as to why that is, but there is persistence in venture in particular, and that stands out relative to a lot of other asset classes. And then here's the last thing I want to say about this luck and skill thing, which is, and this goes back to base rates, right? Which is, we can't leave it away with that. We want the pet theory. Okay, yeah, yeah, for sure. All right, I mean, this is my pet theory. So you guys can tell me you can shoot me down, but it actually came out of network theory, but it's this idea called preferential attachment. It's a website, for example, website traffic tends to file a power law. And their power laws all over the place, right? But we don't always know what the causal mechanisms are. We can build mathematical models that generate power laws, but they may not be representative of the real world. But power laws and websites might be something like, you know, if you're building a website, what you want to do is point to other ones that are popular, right? And if everybody's doing that, then that leads to this phenomenon of some becoming super, super popular, right? So the theory would be something like preferential attachment and venture, right? And there's some, there's a little bit of evidence this. This is a very academic way to say they get the best deal flow. They get the best deal flow, exactly. But there's a big caveat here, which is if you're a great startup, you have to know that you're great, right? And then you have to know to call Sequoia or benchmark or any of that in recent horror, which wherever it is, right? There has to be identification on both sides. And then by the way, going to one of these leading firms, there's the primitour and so forth, it gives you like a stamp of approval that that also helps your future. And that goes back to like a reflexivity thing, right? So there's this sort of like you said, best deal flow, there have best terms, but it's this reinforcing mechanism. And by the way, the process can be bootstrapped by something random, right? It could be just, you know, we happen to get three lucky deals and we did well. And so now we're waiting for smart, right? One of the most testable hypotheses, and I've not really seen really robust work on this, but one of the testable hypotheses would be something like if a partner leaves a leading venture firm and starts his or her own shop, if it's like the person genius and skill then that should port. And if it's the preferential attachment, that would not port, right? So that's an interesting way to test that. My feeling without having looking at the data is it does not port or it does not port nearly as well as the individuals might hope it would. Right. Exactly. So let me talk a little bit about regression toward the mean. This is interesting. And we'll just try to close out this thought, which is base rates, right? Is this idea like just statistical, you know, base foundation? And then the inside view, which would be, let's just look at my own analysis and what I know about the world, right? So it turns out that on the all skill side, all you need is the inside view. So if you're running, you might be a good chess player, right, in your local club, but if you're playing Magnus Carlson, it doesn't matter. Your win-loss record does not matter, right? So Magnus is going to beat you every single time he plays you. By contrast, if it's, so there's no regression, right? There's no regression. And then if you go to the complete luck side that continuum, there's completely regression. So you won the lottery yesterday, that's awesome. But you respect probably winning the lottery today is the same as it was yesterday, which is my new rate. So it goes back to a complete randomness. So you can actually figure out, not just, we all know that regression toward the mean happens, but you can actually figure out the rate at which it happens by understanding sort of where you fall in this continuum, which is super cool. It's a very powerful mental model. And by the way, if you're a sports fan, I mean, you could go on all day about this stuff, right? And if you're a sports statistic has these features and you can figure out how fast players will regress based on these statistical concepts. Well, this is interesting. This leads us to, there's a question that David and I have been like bickering about since the end of our Berkshire Hathaway 10-hour extravaganza. And David was sort of asserting that in this world where investment returns happen so much faster than ever before with tech and especially in crypto, yes, Warren Buffett was very impressive, but the next Warren Buffett will be even more impressive. And my push back to David is, well, no, everyone is competing on this global playing field now. And so it's so much harder to get the type of returns, especially at the amount of capital that Warren was investing. The paradox of skill has gotten so extreme. Yeah. So Michael, my question for you is, will we ever see someone who has the 60 plus year track record that Warren did ever again or will no one ever be able to match that? It's a fascinating question. And this is another Stephen J. Gold from the same book where he says extraordinary streaks are a combination of skill and luck, right? If you think about it, you can't have a streak without having a lot of skill and a lot of luck. You need both components to it. So what we're arguing here is the luck piece hasn't changed, right? So that's the world. Maybe maybe some of the outcomes are more extreme, but luck is basically the same thing. So we could talk about their sort of independent event luck like rolling dice or whatever. And then there's sort of social phenomenon where we get these power law outcomes, but basically that whole thing is roughly the same. And then I think if we're arguing that skill has become more uniform, then it would say that it would be very difficult for people to replicate that. So there are certain statistical streaks that I think are going to be very difficult for people to match or exceed. Joe D'Amaggio 56 game hitting streak. And by the way, there are a bunch of books about D'Amaggio streaks. Some of them are right over on that shelf over there. And there are a couple of kind things by scores at the scores table. There are a couple random plays. So there's a lot of luck, but again, amazing skill, right? He was a 325 hitter. That's easy and amazing player. We're going to talk about Ted Williams, Bill Miller, the S&P 500 for 15 years in a row. I think that's going to be very difficult for anyone to do again for the same reasons we talked about. So there are certain streaks. I think they're going to stand, eventually they make it broken, but they're going to stand the test for a long time. So it's going to be difficult. And I mean, Buffett is amazing and so forth. Obviously, when you're moving as much capital around as they are today, it's just a much taller task. If you think about the Buffett partnership from late 1950s to the late 1960s. Oh, I'm just going to shout the lights out. Just shout the lights out, but again, much smaller fond and much more nimble and sort of little under the radar and so on and so forth. Well, and the paradox of skill was much lower than. Again, I'll nerd out for just a second. One of the ways we can measure that is to look at the standard deviation of excess returns, right? So alpha, right? So excess returns. So if you're an active manager, what you want is a big fat bell-shaped distribution, right? So lots of positive alpha that's on the right and lots of negative alpha. So you're going to be the winner and there going to be a lot of people losing nets to zero, of course. So you want that to be fat because that means there's lots to gather. And then what has happened consistently is the bell-shaped distribution's gotten skinnier and skinnier and skinnier, right? Which is exactly what you expect from the paradox of skill. And that's how I picked up on the ghoul thing. So ghouls showed that the reason there been no 400 hitters is precisely because the standard deviation of batting average has gone down over time, right? Which is all these are all the things that are symptomatic of what this idea would predict. Which is cool. So anyway, you just think about if you bought an automobile in 1970 or something, there was a huge variation in the quality of automobiles. Today, they're all really good, right? I mean, you know, some are better than others, but they're all really good and you can go by. Emily, safe. It's crazy. You know, all things being equal. So I mean, obviously, there's status stuff related to it, but in terms of actual performance, getting around like they're pretty, they're all pretty good, right? And part of it is, it's just stuff on, you know, again, this is why this happens is best practices. You don't think about athletes, you know, best practices, best training, nutrition, all these techniques. So in the corporate world, you know, the best ideas get transferred from one organization to another very fast and so forth. So it's, it stands to some reason that that would be, there'd be uniformity in the next of excellence. And even interested in our world in venture, you know, when we do our sort of classic episodes, we talk about what things were like the level of skill among venture capitalists, like back in the day was laughable. And today it is extremely competitive. So you're seeing this happen. Definitely. Yeah. All right. For our final sponsor of the episode, listeners of the show, if you've been listening to our specials so far this season, you know that Ben and I collaborate, not just unacquired, but in quite a bit more in our lives. And in particular, we are constantly sending back and forth versions of this massive spreadsheet that we both use to track our personal investing portfolios. Hopefully we'll be making Michael proud. Yes, indeed. One thing though that until this year was not in our personal investing portfolios was real estate outside of our primary residences. And we've been wanting to add it because as we've been talking about on this whole episode, tech prices and the markets are a little unprecedented as Ben. You said, I feel like I'm taking crazy pills, David. Is that the correct term to say? That is that is one way to say it. I wish I could diversify my assets and invest in something, you know, more predictable, more stable, really to counterbalance a lot of the rest of my portfolio right now. Indeed, indeed. And now we have the perfect way to do that, which is fund rise. So fund rise is one of the only platforms that lets anyone, not just accredited investors, by fractional ownership and custom portfolios of private real estate assets. This is the same type of thing that like university endowments do and sophisticated pools of capital. You can access cash flowing real estate properties to invest directly without paying the management fees of a reate and also having fine grain control over what you actually are investing in. So since fund rise started back in 2012, they have over 150,000 active investors on the platform and over $5 billion worth of real estate. You can track all of your individual portfolios, including data like occupancy reports, construction progress, market data trends. It's truly the best of both worlds where you get the low minimum and diversification you'd get with a reate, but all the granular control of managing it yourself. You can learn more and sign up at fund or by clicking the link in the show notes. All right. Well, that's a great lead into a discussion on Michael, your career path. So the world of investing today is so much more competitive in every asset class than it was even in the mid late 80s, David, especially as you're alluding in startup investing. I mean, it was shooting fish in a barrel at that point and now it's, you need to do a lot of things to be the best. And Michael, I'm curious if you were 18 years old today, what do you think you would do with your career? Yeah. I'm wondering, that's a little bit too hard to answer, but if you're talking about investing, the first thing I should just say is that at any point, it doesn't seem like it's easy. It only seems easy when you think back on it. So when I started, I mentioned when I started teaching at Columbia Business School, I just want people to conjure up in their mind. There was no internet. Right. When I wanted to do financial statement analysis, I would request from our library a memograph of the 10K. So this is just a different world than what we're used to today. So just in a, we used to fax our reports and mail our reports to clients. Mail them. Oh my God. Exactly. So you want to see my report on Kellogg, you would come in the mail. Wasn't this, uh, this was one of Bill Garely's like big distribution innovations when he was an analyst, right? Is he would fax a like newsletter, right? Do you know the story on that? It's a great story because there's a guy. I want to get a story. Yeah. There's a great analyst at Goldman Sachs named Dan Benton, who ended up being a great investor on the, they had a hedge fund, a great investor as well. Dan Supertale's a guy, probably top-ranked guy in his sector, had a really loyal filing and decided one day to go to the buy side. So he was leaving his job and he had a very popular newsletter that was sent out at a very specific time slot. And so girl is this young guy and he's obviously also very marketing oriented and very alert. And he realizes, well, this guy's leaving, but everyone's used to getting this fax at, you know, like 8 p.m. on Tuesday or whatever it is. So he's like, I'm going to launch above the crowd and it's going to come at the exact same time that Benton's thing used to come. He's going to be pure substitution. Really? It was completely brilliant. I mean, obviously that's great marketing, but it's also great content, right? He had great stuff. So the combination of those two things really helped catapult him, you know, again, it's content, but it's content and good distribution. So yes, that's the point I do want to make it. It doesn't seem that easy at the time. But going back to your question, I'm slightly dodging your question, Ben. No, but I'll go back to your question, which is, as a broad concept, if I were to go into investing, the one thing you want to think about is this idea of looking for easy games, right? So the metaphor is poker, right, which is if you like to play poker on front, so if I call you guys up and I go, Hey, David, Ben, I'm having a poker game in my house Friday night, which I'd like to come over and sue me like to make money. You'd be like, Oh, yeah, yeah, that's cool. Like who else will be there? Who else is playing? And I should be like very unimpressed by the list. Exactly. Be like, Oh, really rich guys who are really bad at poker. You'd be like, Okay, I'll be over. That's cool. By contrast, if I said, Oh, no, I've got these really good players. There's good or better than you are. You'd be like, Okay, I think I got better things to do, right? So part of it is like thinking about who's going to play the game and poker is a nutrient metaphor and zero sum in the sense that $100 walks into the room. $100 will walk out, but who has it will change in the course of the game. And so that's a little bit true about investing as well. So part of it is thinking a lot about the game that you're playing. And so are there opportunities, whether those are niche, your parts of the market, whether they're different geographies or something like that, where you feel like you can be the smartest person at the poker table. Now the challenge is often that it's difficult to scale those kinds of things. It's often easy to do that in a sort of nichey way, but it's hard to do it in a very big, big way. But that would be the first thing I would say. The other thing I'll just say is just in broadly speaking, is that I have three of my kids are out of college. I've got two in college ones a senior. And you know, so they're going into the world, right? And I've always been in Bivalent about finance because on the one hand, I think it is an amazing, like what you guys do is super fun and you never see it's learning and truly interesting. On the other hand, there are a lot of big problems that need to be solved in this world. And I would love to see our best and brightest young people try to get after those problems or at least allocate some time and energy to doing those kinds of things. So I've always been a little bit ambivalent. So part of it might be, you know, if I were a younger person, I probably, by the way, I should have studied computer science. And had I been born five years or 10 years later, I almost certainly would have been a computer science major instead of a government major. Because I always, I always, and actually did a little bit of tiny bit of programming back even today. But so I think those kinds of skills and the CS thing is less the skills actually programming skills that I find so attractive. What I really find attractive is a sort of a way of thinking about the world, which I think is a pretty good way of thinking about the world for the most part. And you know, so the question is, is there a really big issue out there that I'm passionate about could be climate, could be some sort of health mitigation, whatever it is? And are there ways that I can sort of make a dent at that problem? That's the kind of stuff I also think about. But if it's investing, the answer is try to find a game where you think you can be the smartest person, how about to be a smart person room? Do you have any inklings about, and it's okay if you don't right now, but I think everyone listening can sort of muse for themselves, where do I feel like there's not enough smart people running and I can go be king of the hill over here? Do you have any inklings about where that might exist in the world? No, I mean, investing, I don't feel like I would just try to stick to investing where I think it's the most clear. There are a couple of things that are interesting, one, certainly I would just, I would go geographically, right? So are there markets where I can land on the ground, you know, whether they're frontier markets or what we would call smaller emerging markets, where really the due diligence and shoe leather will get you ahead of the game. In the US, it might be, for example, private equity, a lot of people talk about this, but if you're doing buyouts, are there other segments of the markets or geography of the country, for example, where you think you could do something that's interesting? The other thing in public markets, one of the interesting ideas is that most public companies are now in index funds or ETFs or something like that. And so they're fairly well trafficked and studied. The question is, can you develop a list of companies that are not followed by analysts that are not in indexes that are not in ETFs, right? That might be a little bit neglected. So that might be an area where again, you show up and you're the only person playing at that poker table, something like that. So there might be some creative ways to think about that and the other area, of course, which is now very much in its infancy, is decentralized finance or crypto or so on and so forth. So there will be many fortunes made and many fortunes lost in that area, but the question is, can you set yourself up in such a way to be again, doing something ethically good and profitable? All right. One last question in our little fun wrap up round here. It took us all of human history to see the first trillion dollar market cap company. And then in like 18 months, we had a couple more two trillion dollar companies. Do you think we'll see a 10 trillion dollar company and how soon do you think we'll see that? I think the first one's easier to answer than the second one, right? So at some point, that seems very likely. I'll give you an infinite time frame for something that generally increases. What poker table do we replay in our game? Exactly. Whether that's in my lifetime is another question. So no, part of it is, you know, I think the David alluded to this before. I mean, it's hard to get your head wrapped around the impact on valuation of just declining interest rates, right? So I don't know where the 10 year treasury note today is around 1.4, 1.3% something like that. If you told me 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, at some point, we're going to have a 130 tenure. I would say you're bonkers and I would have bet a lot of my money that that would not come to pass. And those things are real drivers of value, especially if you have some component of growth. We wrote a report last year called the math of value and growth. And we just show how just theoretically the mathematics really are crazy. If you have relatively rapid growth and high returns and a low discount rate, it just really cranks value substantially. And I think part of the one to $2 trillion sprint was the function of this sort of backdrop, right? And not just equities, of course, is across the board. I mean, you guys were talking about this credit, this bond spreads or let down venture, a lot of money flowing and valuation drop across the board. So that's common. So the answer has been, I don't know. The other thing I'll just say that I found fascinating is as part of the thinking about the new version of expectations investing, I went back and looked at the top 10 companies today by market capitalization and the top 10 in 2001, right? So 20 years ago. Oh, I don't know if you guys want to guess that. This is actually pretty interesting. So how many companies that were top 10 in 2001 or top 10 in 2021? What would you guess out of the 10? Let's see. Was Saudi or Ramco in 2001? It wasn't public, right? And was Microsoft in there? Yes, it was. So I bet one. Yeah, guess one. Yeah, they're very good. So Microsoft is the only company that made the list both times. And the estimate is something like excluding Microsoft. So if you just look at the other nine, and Microsoft is two different companies with the same date. That's right. So if you took Microsoft out, so you bought the other nine, turns out their market capitalizations are down $460 billion in the 20 year period. Whoa. Right? So it's just an amazing. And then of course the wealth creation, Apple, by the way, Apple's market cap, I'm not going to get this right. But Apple's market cap was less than 10 billion, I believe. And that was 2.4 trillion, right? And Amazon was also, you know, six and a half or $7 trillion, a billion dollars now they're 1.6 trillion or whatever it is. So there's just huge amounts of wealth sloshing around. Interestingly, by the way, three of the top 10 companies today were not public in 2001. And two of the top 10 were not founded, had not been founded yet. Facebook hadn't been founded. And I mean, I see you driving a car. Is Tesla one of the top 10 most valuable companies in the world? In the United States. Oh, wow. I got. So that's interesting. So part of the answer, Ben, I think is that I don't know how long it'll take. You know, I think that we should have relatively muted expectations for returns in all asset classes. I know we're going to have it. We're up for another grade 2021. But because of where we are with risk-free rates and credit spreads and so on and so forth, people should have fairly muted, I think, expectations going forward. So it's going to take a long time. But the other interesting question is if the next 20 years were like the past 20 years, is it conceivable that only one of the companies we see today is our leaders is going to be on the leaderboard in 20 years? Is it conceivable that 20% will be companies that have yet to be founded? Is it conceivable that 30% will be companies that are yet to be public? Super interesting. Right. And so it depends if you consider crypto companies public or not. Right. Yeah. Sure, we don't know. But when you take a 20-year snapshot of things, the change seems pretty extraordinary, right? Yeah. That's such a good point. Like did we think, if you reflect back to 2001, that the top 10 companies, banks and oil companies had as many defensible business model characteristics as the big five tech companies today? Like everyone is obsessed with these network effects and the value that they derive from being platforms and their staying power is just unbelievable. Did we think that 20 years ago? But think about, I mean, the number one company was general electric. General electric was considered to be sort of the case study and everything about innovation and management. And if you could draw a manager from, you consider the best management training program in the world, right? The banks interestingly look, most of these banks have been around for decades, if not centuries, right? You think about these leading banks. So whether they were considered to have Google-esque type of modes is a different question, but they had decent returns on equity and so on and so forth. So yeah, I don't know if it was quite as excited as it is today. But yeah, I mean, by the way, you can go back in time. General Motors seemed like it was untouchable in 1970, right? Untouchable. And so it's just the bare in mind that the world's changed and things show up. You know, interestingly, one area that seems to be substantially underrepresented, but a huge sector is healthcare, right? So you get a couple of marginal guys in the healthcare, but might there be some sort of digital technology oriented healthcare company that becomes one of the top companies in the next 10, 15 years? Interesting questions. Anyway, certainly possible. Yeah. Well, Michael, we can't thank you enough, just such a fascinating last hour and a half. A couple things to point people to if you want to dive deeper on any of these topics, of course, we'll link to all the papers that Michael has written, the books that he's written. The first time I was introduced to your work, Michael, was the talk you gave at Google in 2012, is basically an hour long talk taking the untangling skill and luck into slide form and walking through that visually, totally blew my mind. So I highly recommend that and we'll link to it in the show notes. Where would you want to point people to and if folks want to get in touch with you, what's the best way? Yeah, so my email address, if you'd tracked down or report my email addresses on there, my Twitter handles MJ Mobison. So that's at MJ Mobison. So that's not too hard. So you can DM if that's something of interest and yeah, I'm pretty easy got to find. Generally, you can go to Columbia Business School website. You can find my school email there too. So I'm easy got to find. Love it. All right, listeners. That is all we have for you today, except we have an announcement. Some of you who are in the Slack at slash slack already know this or if you follow us on Twitter at acquired FM, you know this as well. But we just launched the acquired job board. Woo. This is big news. Shout out to super intern, Sandy Kim for putting this together and quarterbacking the whole project. But as many of you know, we have a jobs channel in the Slack. It's been a great way for listeners to share opportunities with each other forever. And now we've made a job board to basically start curating some of the opportunities were super excited about out there in the startup ecosystem. And for those of you out there thinking, I kind of wonder what I'll do next. We got a great set of jobs for you at slash jobs. If you're like, I love listening to this show and I wish I could work with like minded people who also listen to this show that is now possible slash jobs. David, anything else? It really is cool. Really huge. Thank you to Sandy. Sandy is so awesome. If you're in Slack, you probably already know Sandy. And too, like it's so cool that like we can do this now and the infrastructure exists. We use palette. Like these are the companies in the community and the companies we care about. This isn't like Like it's nothing against monster, but probably not where most of you would go to look for your next career. Now and speaking of the community, if you want to become an LP and dive deeper into the topics we cover here, you can do that at slash LP. There are over 50 episodes in the back catalog plus new episodes coming out as well. Got a few in the pipeline. We are super excited about both crypto stuff and non crypto stuff. And you can join slash LP. With that, we want to say thank you to the soft bank Latin America fund to modern treasury and to fund rise. And we encourage you. If you liked this episode and you were like, someone else out there should really hear the gospel that Michael Mobison is preaching. You should share this episode with them as well. And of course, while we love all the social media stuff, we really value the one-to-one relationships. So send it to a friend, send it to a coworker. And thank you so much for listening. All right, listeners. We'll see you next time. See you next time. Uh?