I typically do not read much about the CEOs of tech startups. A big reason is that I live in the Silicon Valley and most CEOs are building the company with an exit strategy. So there isn’t much to learn from them.
Although this piece on Brian Chesky and how he has learned to run AirBNB is a superb read. It is full of leadership lessons that will take years to get, if you are lucky to have a chance to experience it. As Munger says the best way to learn is to learn from other’s mistakes. This article will give you key leadership approaches that even a MBA program won’t be able to teach. A great read for anyone that is in leadership positions or interested in it.
Sanjay Bakshi is a professor and value investor in India. He has a huge online fan base and his online teachings are some of the best I’ve seen. A passionate value investor who has an amazing story about his struggle to build a investing business.
He recently did a presentation in which he talked about the importance of investing along-side great leaders. Intelligent Fanatics is a great read for anyone interested in making superb returns in investing. Also, it gives you a glimpse into the huge untapped potential in the Indian stock market.
I’ve been quite on the blog for a long time, so an update was called for. This year I’ve cut back on the number of holdings I have. I wanted to focus more on my best ideas instead of spread thin and hold multiple ideas that were a small position size. I haven’t found much new stuff to invest in but there has been one new idea that I have been buying up recently.
– BAC Warrants: I sold out of this position with good, not great, returns. I got 94% return over 3 years. Although there is still lot more upside to the shares and warrants, once the interest rates get increased, I think it won’t be a huge winner. Infact, if I looked at other holdings in the same period I could have made better returns by re-investing the capital from BAC to other holdings.
– ID Systems: I sold out of this position. The main rational was there are much better opportunities elsewhere. I think the company has finally turned around and the revenues will start increasing. But the upside is not that huge compared to other holdings.
– Ackroo (AKR): I built a large position in this company in 2015. The company is going through a transition and is poised for a huge upside. The new CEO has fixed the cost structure, created a new go-to strategy, executed well on the strategy, and has now started to build on M&A strategy. I think the company needs to show positive EBIDTA and cash flow, which will happen by year end. Once these two metrics work out then the company can execute on the M&A strategy and grow the business rapidly.
I currently only have 3 major holdings, there is 1 another position but it accounts for less than 1% of the capital. Xpel, Ackroo, and Sevcon will be the key drivers in how well I do in 2015 and going forward. I think all 3 are poised for huge numbers this year. The returns will be dependent on when the market realizes the value in these 3 companies. But I’m confident they will do exceptionally well in executing their strategy to grow business and increase value in 2015.
Lee Kuan Yew, the great leader of Singapore, recently passed away. He not only lead Singapore from the time it became independent from Malaysia, but he also was one of the sharpest minds about world politics. His views and advice was thought after not only in Asia but in the Western hemisphere. His practical approach to some of the most complicated issues helped put Singapore on the map and make it one of the top economies in the world.
I highly recommend people read any and all books about Lee Kuan Yew. I highly recommend From Third World to First, in which he discusses his many policy decisions.
After a absurdly strong 2013, the market had another great year. The S&P500 index gained 11.39%. Our portfolio returned 46.61%. Since 2009, the market has returned 16.74% compared to our 25.30% annually compounded rate.
The outperformance was largely due to our focus on positions that were initially not discovered by the industry but slowly started getting more eyeballs. In general, we have started to look at companies where we have an edge. Given my small capital base, it has made it clear that I have a huge advantage where the market is not looking. This is in smaller cap companies and companies that are going through transformations.
Although 2014 was a good year, I think we should be able to beat the market given our current portfolio and be able to beat the market at a wide margin. I wouldn’t be surprised if 2015 results in similar returns as 2014. Although we are having a hard time finding new ideas, so once our current holdings work out it will be tougher to deploy the cash elsewhere.
One of the changes I made going into 2013 was fixing two of my big mistakes: being too lazy w/ my position and not focusing on “why”.
In the past I had fallen in love w/ my holdings. My biggest mistake was Goldgroup Mining. Even though I had friends bring up the negatives for the company, I was blind to my position. I kept a closed eye to any analysis of the company that was negative. I was too lazy to act even though it was clear the company had large debt issues and need to constant capital. Another mistake was Dolan Company. Where the negatives of the company’s revenue stream was discussed regularly in the conference calls. Although I heard these issues, I was blinded by the love of my holding.
The second mistake was never asking “why” I’m finding this company for a bargain. Why is the company so cheap, if my thesis is correct. This is also where I’ve realized my edge lies. For example, when I bought BAC Warrants it was clear why it was cheap. The market hated the legal issues and was too scared by the potential large payoffs. So the edge lied in looking past these issues and seeing the legal settlements had always been done for pennies on the dollars. Also the brand had huge cash generating potential once these one-time issues were resolved and the interest rates increased. Similarly, in 2013 I bought XPEL. This was a micro cap where not many were looking at. The company’s shares were extremely illiquid, many days going through no trades. Although the company was generating good cash flow, had a dominant position w/ its software, the brand was growing, and the industry was growing rapidly. There were huge tail winds for this company’s product. In both these situations, asking “why” gave me a valid reason where I could benefit on buying the shares and waiting for the market to come around.
Going forward, I’ve decided to focus on two type of investments: ignored companies and companies going through transformations. XPEL is a great example of “ignored companies.” ID Systems is a company going through a transformation w/ the co-founder coming in fix operations. For the most part, I’m finding more of these ignored companies. Although when we do find companies going through transformations we are buying a huge position.
A quick analysis of some of my current holdings:
XPEL: This is once an ignored company that is finally getting eyeballs. Once this company gets uplisted so funds can buy, the stock will have an unique situation. The insiders own over 40% of the shares and you have early investors owning around 10-20%. So the float is very small for funds to build a position.
The company’s revenues are growing rapidly and there is still huge growth. The international market is starting to get to a good size and I believe the international revenues will eclipse the US revenues. The company’s owned stores make huge cash and as the company builds more of these we will see large cash increases. The company’s growing cash balance will make the balance sheet a weapon, as M&A will pick up. I expect the company to spend lot more on international M&A than US M&A.
ID Systems: This is a company that has been going through a transformation w/ the co-founded stepping in to be CEO. The company is expected to finally be EPS positive in 2015. Also they have a very good operating leverage where additional revenue growth will have big impact on cash and earnings. I think 2015 will be very good for the company, as revenue will increase and company will be profitable. Also, this company is going to be a cash machine with little need for capital.
Sevcon: This is a company that is ignored by many. There is little trading volume, w/ Gabelli owning over 50% of diluted shares. Also the company has huge operating leverage, so cash generation won’t show until you see revenue hitting the income statement. Although, if you look at the prior year financials you can see the company has spent quite a bit on R&D. The fruits of the R&D are close to hitting the financials. We recently saw some fruits of it with the first sales deal for the China JV and a large $50 million contract w/ a Tier One Chinese auto manufacturer. Also, the majority ownership by shareholder friendly fund will ensure that the poor management team doesn’t waste time or shareholder capital.
I haven’t found many new ideas to add to the portfolio. I have made some changes in late 2014, most of them haven’t been large positions.
I sold out of 1347 Property Insurance and Kingsway Financials. I sold out of 1347 right after the news came out that they pulled out their application for the Florida market. The company’s decision not to pursue the opportunity in Florida was a big change in how I had envisioned the investment thesis working out. As for Kingsway Financials, I found other opportunities where I think the odds are better for me.
I bought a position in Sevcon. This is an obscure company that is not followed by many. Although there has been a major change with Gabelli Funds owning a majority of the shares and Ryan Morris as the Gabelli elected activist on the Board. The company is going through a transformation with Gabelli leading the investment into R&D. The company has a JV with a large Chinese manufacturer that should boost revenue. Signs so far show that the company’s transformation is going well and we are starting to see new sales coming our way.
I have also bought 3 other positions that I will leave undisclosed for now.
ACHI came out with its 2012 and 2013 financial restatements on Dec 30th. This was a huge milestone for a company. The financial revenue numbers weren’t a major concern for me. What I was interested in was the cash position, customers, and what the future projections are. On the cash balance, it was a huge let down. The company spend $70M on the restatements. This is an absurd amount of money that was wasted. Taro Pharma, one of prior investments, had to do restatements after Sun Pharma took over. I think Sun Pharma spent less than 35M on the restatements.
As for the customers, it was good to hear that the customers haven’t left the company. They lost 2 customers and one of them resigned with the company via different contract terms.
The future projections look good. The company expects 2014 to be slow, although they did see things pick up in late 2014. Also, for 2015 the company is expecting growth.
I sold out of my shares a few days after the restatement. The company’s future looks good. The industry it is in, will see a huge demand for their service. Also, now with the restatements done the company can focus on operations. But my initial investment thesis was the restatement would be good for investor perspective. The uncertainty would be gone and the strong cash balance would be verified against audited financial statements. This didn’t work out as planned, uncertainty was gone but the drop in cash balance was unexpected.
This was another special situation case in which the investment didn’t work out for me. We have sold the shares and are sitting on the cash for now. Although this had a negative return for us, our 2014 returns were good enough to eat the loss.
ACHI won’t be meeting its unofficial deadline of middle December to get the restated financials. Although the company now has a Dec 30th deadline and a conference call scheduled to discuss the restated financials. In investing you know that companies will struggle to meet deadlines. The question is about whether the company is making progress and if the value still exists. ACHI’s management is doing all the right things for the company’s future. The delay in the restatement is not a big issue. Now we have a specific deadline and a conference call. I would expect the conference call to be a guide as to where the management is planning to take the company in the future.