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This page is written for new stockpicking funds who will be starting small. Quite a few highly successful investment firms bootstrapped themselves starting with <$20 million of AUM and a lean budget, before they scaled over time. See Illuminating the Garden Path for examples.
I will continue to add to this over time, and suggestions are welcome - you can submit by clicking the grey button below. Anything that resonates with me, I will include.
This is not advice, because 1) I have never started a fund myself and am not qualified to give advice and 2) investing is too complicated for one-size-fits-all advice that would apply to every strategy and every person everywhere.
This is simply designed to be food for thought for newly formed stockpicking firms who want to achieve amazing returns over a long period of time. The closest thing I have to advice is the simple observation that amazing results come from aiming high, being patient in building your firm, ignoring conventional wisdom, and being content being quirky. The world around you, from service providers to LPs, will try to move you back towards the mainstream - your job is to resist the pressure!
I have made sure to include content here about the difficulties of starting a fund and getting it to sustainable scale. I want to highlight what is possible, but I don't want to give an unrealistic picture of the work and challenges involved.
RV Capital Emerging Manager Meeting
RV Capital has an annual emerging manager forum, videos from which can be found below. I have been an attendee and found the quality of the content and attendees to be very high. If you can make the trip to Engelberg, Switzerland, it is very worthwhile to learn from current and former emerging managers alike.
I was invited to do a fireside chat with Rob Vinall at his 2022 Emerging Manager Meeting. Please see the link below to learn more about me, MITIMCo, and our learnings from working with emerging managers.
Host Tilman Versch has interesting interviews with under the radar investment managers, such as Rob Vinall. Many of these are (or were, but successfully grew) small, sometimes single-person shops.
Tilman has also created an excellent community called Good Investing Plus, which primarily targets Europe-based investors. If you are based in Europe, and are passionate about investing but early on in your career, I think the Good Investing Plus community could be very interesting for you. Tilman looks to be helpful in cultivating young investment talent, helping people in his community find investing jobs and launch investment businesses at the right time.
Longtime friend of both me and MITIMCo, John Mihaljevic of MOI Global, puts on an annual conference that seems to help both current and aspiring emerging managers
Pretty much all the Paul Graham essays are excellent, but this one in particular struck a chord with me and seemed relevant to the emerging manager topic. Determination is a key success factor (though far from the only one) in which emerging managers seem to succeed, and some aspects of it can be learned (discipline and ambition).
I especially enjoyed this paragraph - particularly if you are reading this and you are early in your career, make sure you are around ambitious people, and go to extra lengths to set your sights high:
And fortunately ambition seems to be quite malleable; there's a lot you can do to increase it. Most people don't know how ambitious to be, especially when they're young. They don't know what's hard, or what they're capable of. And this problem is exacerbated by having few peers. Ambitious people are rare, so if everyone is mixed together randomly, as they tend to be early in people's lives, then the ambitious ones won't have many ambitious peers. When you take people like this and put them together with other ambitious people, they bloom like dying plants given water. Probably most ambitious people are starved for the sort of encouragement they'd get from ambitious peers, whatever their age.
Here is a delightful excerpt from the MIT undergraduate admissions office, which I think emerging managers could also take to heart - if you re-frame your "marketing" as becoming the best version of yourself not just because you want to raise capital, but because you want to grow and perform even though people will turn you down, that is much more positive.
Look: we admit less than 10% of applicants. If you set your goal as being admitted to MIT, you are likely to be disappointed. If, however, you set your goals as learning a lot, developing a better sense of yourself, and being a positive influence on those around you, then you can succeed on your own terms and also be a better applicant to MIT.
You can think about this approach to preparing for college as applying sideways: one that encourages students to focus on becoming their best self, with the knowledge that it will also help them be a better applicant to colleges that are a good fit for them.
I thought this interview with Phil Ordway, Elliot Turner, and John MIhaljevic was a great resource on the topic of what it is like to be an emerging manager, and sharing lessons learned. https://twiii.podbean.com/e/on-being-an-emerging-manager-experiences-lessons-learned-success-factors/
Some points that resonated based on my experience talking to 100s of "EMs," often starting from zero, are below.
However, perhaps the most important high-level takeaway here is that being an emerging manager can be very challenging for a long period of time until the flywheel starts to take off.
1) Elliot on advantages of being an outsider and being able to be different: "As time has gone by I've viewed my outsider approach to the industry, the fact that I wasn't brought up in the industry and brought my own unique perspective, as huge distinct advantages."
2) Phil on the value of LP quality: "a bad LP is going to outpunch a good LP in a fight. Avoiding bad LPs is really important."
3) Elliot on writing: "Helps you clarify your thoughts, and once you get it out there you never know what life it takes on its own. If you write regularly, it gives a permanent resource people can look back on when they first meet you, and becomes the way they get to know you."
4) Elliot on LP quality: "I actually have this belief that with HNW clients the longer it takes them to come in, the better clients they are. The first people to make the decision, I think they could have been the first to leave. The slower someone gets to a decision the better."
5) John: "there are a lot of managers who are doing the same thing and there isn't enough differentiation. I think you have to think about, how are you going to be truly different. I think it is worth spending time talking to lots of our managers to realize, you're not that special, unless you really think about that and make that a focus."
On matching with the right LPs https://twitter.com/joelmcohen/status/1353002354036121600
A very impressive emerging manager shared this concept with me when he was narrating how he broke his way into the industry right out of college despite not having a traditional background.
I have seen this approach work both for people looking to get into the industry and for those managing small unconventional funds. Keep costs low so timing doesn’t matter and simply be so good they can’t ignore you.https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2008/02/01/the-steve-martin-method-a-master-comedians-advice-for-becoming-famous/
*Be so good they can’t ignore you!*
I saw that you are helping new managers learn from others. For whatever its worth, I thought I would pitch in few takeaways from my own experience:
This is ostensibly a marketing book, but we found deep insights for anyone looking to create a successful and differentiated value proposition. Some favorite quotes and insights:
“True differentiation…is rarely a function of well-roundedness; it is typically a function of lopsidedness. The same can be said for excellence.”
Part of the moat of being a “lopsided” brand is in the discipline in refusing to be pushed towards the center, to correct one’s weaknesses. Likewise with “lopsided” (I mean that in the best possible way!) investment firms.
“these idea brands don’t try to compete. That is key. They are more interested in separation than comparison…against a sea of homogeneity, true differences can be charismatic. For difference to be charismatic, it’s got to deviate AND it’s got to resonate.”
The following are some favorite quotes relevant to those aiming to build something great and enduring in the investment business
“Only by starting with a blank canvas can you paint a masterpiece” — Jim Collins
“Learn as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die tomorrow” — John Wooden
“make it a practice to keep on the lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully. Your idea has to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are working on” — Albert Einstein
“We shape our dwellings and then our dwellings shape us” — Winston Churchill
“Great leaders are competing, not with others, but with the idea of perfection itself. It does not matter how many sales records they have broken, how many competitors they have extinguished, or how many breathtaking products they have introduced — a greater, more perfect version of their success always beckons.” -Mike Moritz
“Play iterated games. All the returns in life, whether in wealth, relationships, or knowledge, come from compound interest” -Naval Ravikant
“Become the best in the world at what you do. Keep re-defining what you do until this is true” — Naval Ravikant
“For the simplicity that lies this side of complexity, I would not give a fig, but for the simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity, I would give my life.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
"You have to pay a price for your distinctiveness, and it’s worth it. The fairy tale version of “be yourself” is that all the pain stops as soon as you allow your distinctiveness to shine. That version is misleading. Being yourself is worth it, but don’t expect it to be easy or free. You’ll have to put energy into it continuously. " - Jeff Bezos, 2020 Amazon Shareholder Letter
Why there are so few 15–30 year amazing track records
Food for thought: Twitter thread on pacing and the learning process
Food for thought: on the value of writing great letters to your investors
Thoughts for people who reach out to MITIMCo as a potential partner
1/ A key message from us is that investment firms shouldn’t be afraid to be different and quirky. In order to generate amazing returns you almost *have to* make yourself un-investable to many people. Might as well embrace it!
2/ some things about our managers that many people find odd:
3/ some have literally no office and no employees
4/ some turn away investors who aren't a perfect fit, even when AUM is sub-scale
5/ some have extremely low portfolio turnover
6/ some openly trumpet the fact they can be down 25% in a month as a badge of honor
7/ some just have a handful of LPs
8/ some have no "marketing materials" at all and just send potential investors their letters
9/ some move their locations away from major financial centers to maximize focus and independent thinking
10/ some have concentrated positions in controversial stocks that turn off potential LPs
11/ some own just 5-6 stocks
12/ some have unique fee structures that focus on incentivizing the right long-term behavior from LPs and GPs
13/ What they tend to have in common is a total lack of interest in changing what they do, or how they do it, to make people more likely to invest
14/ if any of this sounds crazy to you...well that is exactly the point! It optimizes for compounding, not conventionality or style or broad appeal.