Friday, October 16, 2009

Tarzan, the Digital Jungle, Connecting to Your Future

This post will help novices understand why twitter, blogging, and related social media are more than a fad, and you don’t have to be Tarzan to control your jungle.

If you were born before 1974, you may be thinking that the facebook, blogging and twitter phenomena is a passing fad. Think again. Think today. The amazing publication power from blogs, twitter and social media is changing the way we do business. And it should.

How does it work? Its like the jungle. There is more than one Tarzan calling all the elephants to come save his rear however. Flocks of birds may have more to tell us about how this will all work ultimately, but in the interim it is as simple as that. If you are a bird you call and listen all day long about basically the same stuff humans worry about. Where is the best place to eat? Is that place safe or dangerous? Can I meet someone special there? When are we taking off for winter? etc. etc.

The business ramifications for this advent in human behavior are enormous. Think about it. You have a brilliant idea but you have no connections to the people who can use it and would likely pay you handsomely for it. In the past you would search and perhaps never find a connection that could help you. Today you google Blog sites for people that have those interests. You try to add value to them so say they might pay attention to you.

You reach out to that blogger and he agrees with your good idea. And he makes a post about it. He also sends out a message on Twitter (a “Tweet”). Now he is your Tarzan! He has 1,000,000 followers because he is an expert in his field (or he is really popular for other reasons). In any event, your idea just got posted and within a few days 1,000,000 people heard about it. For Free! That kind of marketing would be unaffordable in the past. Better yet, 1% of his followers agreed with him and “re-tweeted” the post, and those 10,000 folks are connected to another million people who also like your idea. This is a whole new level of leapfrog - Its like lightspeed leapfrog(TM)!

How do you reach out to bloggers? Having a blog is a good start. Birds of a feather flock together - Bloggers have a pecking order, they have protocols, quid pro quo’s, and much of it is driven off the value add of what they read. If its drivel its going nowhere fast. So think hard about what you think is valuable and does it add value to others. A core component in any business relationship.

Exponential compounding of relationships is what this is all about. It still is who you know more than what you know, and blogging and twittering is the new connecting force of the human flock. I’m told by Hackers can hit every single computer in the world in a matter of minutes. Your ability to connect to your future is just a Tarzan tweet away. Who knows, maybe you can be your own Tarzan?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

40 Gigabytes and a Stool

OMG, the Titanic sank. (See Link to 2004 article Its About Time) Roughly a year ago, thousands of people killed for simple pilot error – no wonder Captains go down with the ship. Some Hedge fund managers would say that is an easier fate than what they face now in terms of high water marks, new regulations, and horrible investor relations. Few people cared five years ago when the alarms were set off, and now that the boat has sank, even fewer care to go back and see who was at fault. In fact, our federal government has chosen to put the very people responsible for the system break-down in charge of the repairs. The stampede for the market’s exit nearly killed the herd. The quantifiable logic that market forces are outside quantifiable boundaries is now plain to see, and no one seems to know what to do. Many lead steers are dead, others penned for slaughter by the Cowboys at the gate. Still others in limbo, watching the herd to determine where their best relative position will be.

The system that created unimaginable wealth is somehow unimaginably gone. Or is it? The basics of life are still produced and available at the supermarket. The electronic means of moving value p.k.a. Cash, is still in tact. As long as you don’t have to use a wheel barrow to carry your bank notes, no one can tell the currency is debased. The issue at hand is connecting the American dream with American reality. The bridge between dream and reality is and always has been the indefatigable American spirit; the ingenuity, the innovation, the entrepreneurial DNA that we inherited from our fore-fathers, who had the gumption to leave the status-quo and opt for self-reliance in the world of the unknown. The equivalent of enormous natural resources available to our fore-fathers is today’s networks and distribution systems of products and information. 40 acres and a mule is now 40 gigabytes and a stool. America will plow forward despite the lack of automatic liquidity from financial markets.

The current reality requires we deal with many significant market imbalances.

Consider the trillion dollar plus imbalances:

1) Supply and Demand for residential real estate (inning 6?)

2) Supply and Demand for commercial real estate (inning 1)

3) Supply and demand for corporate credit facilities (inning 7)

4) Government expenditure and revenue (inning 3)

Consider the $100 billion dollar plus imbalances:

  1. American Automotive manufacturing capacity and demand
  2. City and State government expenditure and revenue
  3. AIG Portfolio assets and liabilities
  4. Major Banks and Insurance company assets and liabilities – Goldman, Morgan, BOA, Merrill,
  5. Foreign governments expenditure and revenue

These imbalances will take years to level out. If real estate pricing follows the example of the 20th century, land prices paid in the 20’s were not seen again until the 1950’s. For reasons beyond explanation, today’s lenders believe they are better off to foreclose than make loan modifications that will enable productive use of the assets involved. It is tantamount to the debtor’s prison of centuries past when if a man could not pay his debts he would be locked in jail where he could never pay his debts and his family was left completely dependent on society for their support. Lenders will likely sell these properties for far less than the current debtors-in-possession would be willing to pay, expanding the imbalance of supply and demand. My sources indicate that current foreclosure recoveries are roughly 25% of mortgage balances. The truth hurts doesn’t it?

The financial market Tsunami of 2008 resulted from the issues we pointed out in January of 2004 in our pre-blogosphere article “Its about time”. The implosion of the markets resulted from significant irrational pricing of risk. The resulting wave has hit us, and now we are dealing with the ebb tide that is ripping every industry off its moorings. Successfully navigating the ebb tide will require a combination of innovation and careful risk management – not risk avoidance, but management.

What then is an investor to do? Faced with insurmountable declines in all leveraged asset prices, extremely low yields on risk free assets, and doubtful veracity in many financial instruments, is it any wonder so many are holding on to their cash? Is there any asset class that can generate positive returns with any probability?

The short term “wave action” will require steady hands at the helm and active investment management is clearly the favorable style. Serious due diligence combined with sensitive analysis of cash flows and growth opportunities will result in solid investment returns for the informed investor over the next several years. Embracing the notion of 40 gigabytes and a stool will be hard for many, but the future of capital growth is in identifying the beneficiaries of the network age and plying them with capital. The future is about information and its abundance not about legacy businesses of construction, manufacturing, and print media.

5 years ago there was literally no access to the leaders of the venture capital industry, titans who spawned Amazon, Google, and a host of other household names. Today these investment managers are readily available through secondary purchases of their funds from many of the largest portfolios in the world. New capital is generally unavailable for any team desiring to fund innovations and work with entrepreneurs. The hottest investment market is healthcare, where revenues are peaking and profitability is suspect. High returns have always resulted from where investment dollars are least likely to go. Our recommendations in 2004 provided significant returns through the Tsunami of 2008 - proxy graphs are included at the end of the article.

The havoc wreaked in the last year stems from misguided loyalty to pure capitalism, NOT capitalism with moral restraint. It is interesting to note that leading corporations are finding that by aligning their brands with socially important (and popular) causes actually improves employee productivity. The moral values of brands are actually a differentiating factor hence the popularity of being green and sustainable. The rise of Social Capitalism as an industry is remarkable and I think here to stay. As the world discovers Google Chairman Eric Schmidt is correct that “the right way to run human systems is transparency,” invalid and conflicted value propositions will diminish, and our global citizens will be better off. Just a little late, but isn't that human nature?

In the meantime investors need to “pay attention to the tension” and carefully consider the incredible spread of potential outcomes we face. Owning secure knowable cash flows needs to be a priority for every portfolio and balance it with thoughtful research and investment in innovation based businesses. I expect in 2014 you will be very glad you did.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

TED Conferences Go Local

The TED Conferences that started in 1984 in California have gone global and digital in a major way. For those of you unaware of TED, I encourage you to check out These “annual conferences in Long Beach and Oxford bring together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).”

The TED organization is big, but what’s bigger is their following. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Its mission of showcasing “Ideas Worth Spreading” resonates across the globe. In the last year or so they have started to promote shorter local conferences and the response is amazing. These conferences called TEDx “local name” are springing up all over the world and most notably are non-profit, non-commercial events.

I am participating with a group to host a conference in Atlanta called TEDx Peachtree. You can learn all about it at It takes place December 4 and will be held at SCAD, who has generously offered their event space for the day. The attendance is limited and tickets are available through an application process on the TEDx Peachtree website.