Earlier this month, Warren Buffett, net worth $73.8bn, and Charles Munger, $1.4bn, met Berkshire Hathaway investors and shared some of their wisdom.
“We avoided tech stocks because we felt we had no advantage there and other people did. And I think that’s a good idea not to play where the other people are better,” said Munger.
“But you know if you ask me in retrospect what was our worst mistake…I think we were smart enough to figure out Google.”
The skill that a venture capitalist needs is to be able to pick out the winning idea early. But how do you do this? Is it a skill that can be learned? His answer is yes and that it takes practice
Why was this? Because its insurance company Geico was getting lots of business from people clicking on Google ads. Given the prices it was paying, the sums should have added up, said Buffett.
A similar story was shared a couple of days later by Fred Wilson, the New York venture capitalist, in a blog called Seeing Through the Fog.
The skill that a venture capitalist needs is to be able to pick out the winning idea early. But how do you do this? Is it a skill that can be learned? His answer is yes and that it takes practice. He had to learn how to do it and this is how:
First, focus on a sector and dedicate yourself to it so you understand the dynamics, economics and unique characteristics of doing business in the sector.
Second, have a thesis before you invest, such as an idea of what people will be doing in the future and investing where they will be spending money.
Third, avoid the noise by filtering out things that are not relevant to your idea of what the future looks like. Wear blinders and don’t fall for hype and bluster.
Fourth, get your hands dirty by using what you are investing in, wherever possible, and as soon as possible so you have a head start in understanding what will work.
Fifth, read everything that is written on emerging sectors, especially by pundits and observers that you trust. Find them and follow them.
In Wilson’s case, when new things came along like the internet in 1993, social media in 2003, mobile in 2007 and blockchain in 2011 it was always like mist at first. “But amazing business opportunities will emerge from that mist and those entrepreneurs who jump into the right ones will be rewarded greatly,” writes Wilson.
“It takes a prepared mind to do that and you have to do the work before the opportunities start emerging.”
The challenge for convenience retailers is that consumers have become addicted to the “seamless user-centric experience” of the digital age. They shop without taking their eyes off their screens.
The products and services that led to profits 10 years ago are becoming commoditised. The future is in selling other things, especially things where you can add local value. Fresh and food to go are top of everyone’s list of opportunities. But for many local retailers this is an area they abdicate to the chain stores because they have no expertise there. Or believe their customers are different. They may be right but have they done the work?
“I had plenty of ways to ask questions and educate myself,” Buffet said about Google. “But I blew it.”
As a local retailer are you asking the right questions and educating yourself?