Chat with Johnson and Dad on CoronaVirus and crisis investing

  • A company is only likely to go bankrupt if its creditors recalls debts and it is not able to pay back.
  • In the event of a major wide spread disaster and there is no one around to take advantage of it, it is unlikely the creditors recall debts
  • creditors of airlines would more likely want to have all their clients continue generating revenue with the planes to pay off debt than to foreclose of them and take back planes which are at that point worthless inventory for them
  • Labor unions will not want to have all their union members laid off, they will likely go into negotiations to deal with salary issues.
  • Ships of cruises are likely to deteriorate fast and require Capex to upkeep
  • Credit lines and payment schedule can always be renegotiated if impact is industry wide
  • If creditors are not willing to recall debts, then what would be the cause of bankruptcy? Beware of fake news that preach doom and gloom with no underlying basis
  • If you bought too early into the dip and you are more than half way into the dip might as well hold on for the recovery. Trying to exit too late into the dip will only cause more losses to be unnecessarily incurred.
  • Oil specialists are either producers or consumers, it is hard to determine the demand unless you are an insider
  • Wait till all the bad news are out and sentiment has turned before entering into position. Its ok to only go into position after the company share price has advanced 100% from its lowest levels.

Federal reserve rate cuts

3rd March 2020

  • reduce interest rates from 1.5-1.75% to 1-1.25%
  • purchase of government bonds
  • purchase of agency back mortgage securities

15th March 2020

  • reduce interest rates from 1-1.25% to 0-0.25%
  • effects are in very early stage within the US
  • First signs affected industries
    • Tourism
    • Hotel
    • Travel industry
    • otherwise not showing up in data but sentiment forecasts

Key take aways

  • mandate
    • maximum employment
    • price stability
  • Context
    • Economy propped up by US consumers
    • US unemployment is low
  • Dealing with corona issue
    • Actual impact of US economy is uncertain
    • Ultimate solution will come from health professionals
    • Broader spread of the virus is what changed hence potential risk to the economy
    • Uncertain how long the economy will take to recover
    • Health care, Fiscal and Monetary policies

Thoughts on Fake News

A stroll through the peaceful streets of Rome. In contrast, it felt like the end of the world is here if you read news about Italy recently.

The human brain is a remarkable pattern recognition engine. When given incomplete information it will conjure up the “missing” pieces to generate a coherent whole that could be comprehended. More often than not what gets generated is the worst case imaginable scenario. In a normal time and age this is a wonderful function to have running automatically in the background to keep this primate alive.

However, this automatic function becomes problematic as three trends converge.

Trend 1 – big tech like Google and Facebook consolidated advertising revenue putting news entity under increasingly pressure to sustain themselves as their advertising revenue dwindled

Trend 2 – the proliferation of publication medium means anyone can now claim to be a news entity.

Trend 3 – Proliferation of Growth hacking techniques perfected by tech companies like Facebook that hijacks the human brain’s automatic fight or flight to generate user action that gets converted to revenue.

News entity generate revenue with hyper inflated news that drives readership and vitality by tapping into fear and anger. This drives wide spread panic. Corona  is perfect catalyst.

Book summary: What it takes, Stephen Schwarzman

Profile

  • Partner at BlackStone

Personal effectiveness

  • the bigger the goals the more significant the consequences
  • since you can only do one important thing at a time, always pick the most important one to start with
  • most important lessons are learned at inflection points between when failure turns into success
  • the best executives are made not born, they absorb info, study their own experiences, learn from mistakes and evolve
  • The goal of education (questioning and thinking) as a discipline is to learn how to think, it only ends when you die
  • there are as many realities as individuals, study more individuals
  • find a great mentor
  • Cultivate inner fortitude: Helps preserve morality and ethics in the face of fear and greed
  • The harder the problem the more limited the competition
  • The first job is foundational. Always look for one with a steep learning curve and strong training.
  • when caught in a tight spot, don’t become fixated on your own problem but on someone else’s
  • when seeing a huge transformative opportunity don’t worry that no one else is pursuing it.
  • never get complacent
  • make decisions when you are ready not under pressure
  • objectively assess the risks of every opportunity.

On finance and trading

  • master uncertainty: finance is a dynamic world where you will need to adjust to situations, people and new information quickly
  • build a model to explain a certain phenomena and then test it
  • do not mistake interest in making money versus interest in psychological comfort
  • market tops
    • loose credit conditions and a rising tide
    • buyers generally overconfident
    • number of people you know who become “accidentally” become rich
    • number of IPOs increase at the top, so does the valuations and size
  • market bottoms
    • very hard to bring companies to IPO
    • difficult to detect
    • markets are declining and economy weakens
    • most buy too early or under-estimate the severity of recessions
    • usually takes a year or two for market to get out of recession. even then asset value takes time to recover
    • risk is the least after a crash
    • best time to enter is after position has experienced 5-10% recovery from a crash
  • practice discipline and sound risk assessment
    • wait till the cycle fully plays out
  • Cycles are powered by supply and demand characteristics
    • understand and quantify them
    • e.g. real estate top is when building is valued significantly above replacement cost
  • Sometimes a trend especially negative ones will exhibit symptoms spread across various territories (escalating land prices Spain, India and US prior to 2008)

On building a company

  • fund raising from an LP for a new fund you are starting yourself will be harder than the prior company whom the LP already has a relationship with.
  • make sure there is not sole decision maker for important decisions to avoid getting blind sided
  • Accessing an idea
    • big enough for you to devote your life
    • unique enough as an offering that people will want it
    • timing must be right
  • transition from gut to system during the middle of the life cycle to continue further scaling
  • a business is an integrated system. Understand how one part works by itself as well as in relationship with other parts. Information is the most important asset in business

On management

  • being a strong and accurate accessor of talent is the most critical skills of entrepreneurship.
  • look for cultural fit.
  • Get the candidate into conversation mode
  • its as hard to start and run a small business versus a big one. Choose one with potential to be huge. Why waste time asking for 5-10 million USD when you can ask for 50-100 million USD?
  • find people who sense problems, design solutions and takes the business in new directions
  • be proactive in addressing personal differences over day to day operations

On deal making

  • ultimately comes down to a few key critical points
  • clear away the clutter and focus on these points to be effective
  • learn to slow things down
  • practice intense listening

Related readings

  • Outliers, Malcom Gladwell

Book summary: Buffett the making of an American capitalist by Roger Lowenstein

Keep things simple. Simple should not be confused with easy.

Business model assessment

  • Easy to understand economics
  • Strong defensible moat
  • Trustworthy management who treat capital of shareholders with ownerlike care
  • Selling at a reasonable price
  • Able to generate high returns without excessive usage of debts

Guiding principles

  • Stick to companies with your circle of competence
  • Ignore macro economics trends and analyst forecast
  • Choosing between growth and value is a misguided one. See the business model holistically.
  • A share in a business is basically a bond whose coupon rate you need to figure in yourself
  • The character flaws of an individual tend to have very serious spill over effects. Always check for serious character flaws of individuals whose company you plan to invest in.

Float

  • Buy cash generating assets to finance purchase of more assets
  • Insurance is a prepaid model
  • Blue Chip is a prepaid stamp sales model

Management of cashflow

  • Give out dividend
  • Share buy back
  • Reinvest or MnA

The last option is almost always value destroying unless the management can generate ROI above it’s current RoA rate. This is predicated upon a strong defensible moat.

Leadership

  • Confidence
  • Perspective
  • Ability to focus
  • Communication

Analysis of MeetUp.com’s penetration into Japan and relevant mobile behavior on crowded trains

MeetUp.com observed to have significantly penetrated Japan.

A quick study shows significant levels of liquidity on both the supply and demand side for this two sided market place in major cities of Japan.

  • Tokyo
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka

Acquisition model attributes

  • Primary acquisition channel: SEO
  • Primary use case: interest groups as an excuse to practice English.
  • Retention pattern: Weekly recurring usage

Other noteworthy mobile user behavior

Primary data observed glancing over the shoulders of mobile users in crowded trains

recurring use cases

  • Reading comic
  • playing mobile games
  • reading up news on Google News
  • social media (Facebook)
  • No significant usage of music listening via ear phones on trains.

 

 

Learnings on the auto industry in Japan

  • the bulk of the profit margin is in the heavy equipment and second hand used car
  • dealers buy used second hand cars from wholesalers through auctions. They then resell the cars to end consumers for a profit
  • Osaka Japan is the bulk of where Japanese car manufacturers are based
  • Tesla has a presence in Japan though the model 3 is still on the big side when considering normal size of cars in Japan.
  • it is very hard to get prices of sold cars and parts from different parts of the world.
  • Japanese government publish the prices of exported cars the previous year.
  • van life is an officially recognized trend in Japan and has a defined segment

Examples of various networks failing at scale

Most solutions will inevitably break when used at scale. These are two recent examples.

AirBnB’s network scales to extend it starts disrupting entire neighborhoods

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-11-06/miami-beach-airbnbs-top-market-in-u-s-as-charlotte-grows-rapidly

Political campaigning on social media gets way out of control after politicians attempt to scale up the method which got President Obama elected to office 

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-11-07/google-considers-changing-its-political-advertising-policy

Technology eco-system scales up operations in California thereby triggering the housing crisis.

https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2019-california-housing-crisis/

Moderation and self restrain is not common when caught up in a winner takes all situation

 

Crypto-currency exchanges

Business model

  • Pricing model
    • USD 80K initial listing fee
    • fees on each transaction
  • Enterprise sales acquisition approach
    • acquisition channels
      • LinkedIn
      • Crypto-conferences
    • Cost
      • USD2500/month for sales staff
      • USD4000/month for engineers

Landscape

  • Over supply of exchanges versus crypto projects
    • Crypto-currencies have tanked in 2019
    • There are more than 2000 exchanges right now
    • 20 new currencies are minted each month
    • There is a lack of differentiation between exchanges
  • crypto projects are reporting an exceeding high level of failure rates
    • due diligence traditionally handled by VCs for traditional startups are left to end consumers for crypto projects
    • most projects do not have a sound use case
    • teams tend to be poorly managed
  • Uneven playing field
    • US media’s extensive distribution network is the primary advantage of US based exchanges
      • Binance is the largest exchange
      • Binance ability to tap into engineering talent in US has allowed it to be the trail blazer helping it garner constant media attention
    • Chinese crypto-currency companies are attempting to penetrate US and Europe by hiring talents with fluent in English

Complementary assets for Biki

  • Parent company’s crypto news portal
  • Parent company’s engineering knowledge in building exchange software

Microsoft university penetration strategy

Tools of the trade

  • content marketing like documentation and tutorials on how to use tools
  • Speaking at events as first point of contact for lecturers and TAs
  • Sponsorship through hackathons
  • direct outreach to educational TAs
  • support for student mentorship programs

Acquisition

  • Reach to TAs to try out tools for free
  • Setup booths at hackathons and conducting workshops
  • Train student on the use of MS tools so that they can become successful mentors – GitHub strategy
  • Provide budget for student groups who want to organize learning sessions involving how to use the tools

Feedback mechanism /

  • track the conversion rate of documentations visit to corresponding sign up levels
  • track time on documentation
  • listen for feedbacks when interacting with students during hackathons to figure out portions of the documentation that are confusing

Metrics

  • track YoY student traffic usage during lull periods to determine if baseline is improving.