Rule Breaker. As long as I live, I'll never forget the day I first heard those two words.
It was Christmas 1999. I was killing time in parents' kitchen, catching up with an old pal on the phone. That summer, he'd tipped me to a local scientist back in Maryland who was boasting he could crack the human genome. There was an IPO. I bought in and forgot it.
What the heck is going on here?
Look, I know biotech was blowing up. Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN ) had doubled in a matter of months. Some of my smaller drug plays, companies like MedImmune and ImClone -- since bought out by AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN ) and Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY ) , respectively -- had done even better.
But this was something different. By New Year's, my genome stock was doubling every week. As it turns out, some guy named David Gardner had bought it for his online "Rule Breaker" portfolio. In December 1999, I had no idea what those two words meant, but I know now. This guy was moving the market.
You may have heard that Rule Breaker investing is back. But if you have preconceived notions, I warn you, it's probably not what you think. It's certainly not what I thought it was when I heard those two words in December 1999.
For one thing, it's not all tech
Yes, there was some technology in the original Rule Breaker portfolio. But as it turns out, while David Gardner loves to seek out disruptive technologies, what he and his "Rule Breaker" disciples were really after were disruptive businesses. I'll explain.
Herb Kelleher didn't invent the airline. He simply broke the mold by introducing a no-frills, low-cost structure, and by caring about his customers. So Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV ) is a Rule Breaker – or at least it was. Of course, you could pay similar compliments to JetBlue (Nasdaq: JBLU ) .
Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) didn't invent the computer. But it did redefine the way computers are sold -- there's the difference. In fact, David Gardner argues that low-tech Starbucks is the ultimate Breaker. Who better than Starbucks, he asks, sensed a need, met it, branded it, and then spread it like wildfire from coast to coast?
Hardly high tech, right? But you know what really made Starbucks a Rule Breaker in 1998? There was no precursor and no second fiddle. If you bought Starbucks along with David in 1998, congratulations: You're a Rule Breaker, too -- and you probably made a lot of money.
So what makes a Rule Breaker investor?
That's a good question. To find out, I caught up with David Gardner himself and asked him. His reply might surprise you: "It's an investor who can embrace the contrary nature of paying up for great growth stocks." This is an important point.
As Gardner points out, great growth companies rarely look "cheap," at least when measured by traditional valuation metrics. So you have to pay up. That can take guts, but Gardner argues that Rule Breakers is worth the gamble. Should you take his word for it? I would.
When David shuttered his real-money Rule Breaker portfolio, he'd managed a 20.1% annualized return. That was in mid-2003, after the bear market had run its course. Compare that with 9.1% for the S&P 500 and 7.3% for the Nasdaq over the same period. That kind of performance over 10 years made a legend of Peter Lynch, and rightfully so.
This stuff is not for everyone
Growth investing can get hairy, especially in markets like this. I learned that myself when the genome stocks blew up in 2000, and more recently when David and his team recommended another biotech, Encysive Pharmaceuticals, and were forced to sell it at a loss.
Then again, Vertex Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: VRTX ) is up 290% since David's team told us about it, while the team closed out its Myriad Genetics (Nasdaq: MYGN ) position for a quick 250% gain. That's pretty decent.
The trick, of course, lies in spotting opportunities like these and having the guts to buy when you do. It certainly helps to get your information (and support) from someone you can trust -- someone who does the legwork. In other words, from someone like David Gardner, not from some wahoo on the phone.
So, why not go straight to the source?
Listen, I know it's tough out there. That's why I want you to accept a 30-day free trial to David Gardner's Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter. That way, you can sample the complete service, and you won't have to spend a lot of money to see what David and his team of dedicated analysts are looking at now.
You can even read over all back issues and cherry-pick every active and past recommendation for free during your one-month trial. Of course, there's never any pressure to subscribe, and if you don't like what you see – or if it's just not for you -- you don't pay a cent.
I can't say you'll get rich quick if click the link below and check it out. But I can promise that you'll get some great ideas, hear about some remarkable new technologies, and that you have nothing to lose. A lot of smart folks are calling for a long-term tech rally. I'm one of them. If you think you're up to it and want to learn more about taking a free trial, click here.
This article was originally published Dec. 16, 2004. It has been updated.
Paul Elliott does not own shares of any companies mentioned. Starbucks is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Starbucks and Dell are Inside Value recommendations. Vertex is a Rule Breakers selection. Eli Lilly is a former Income Investor pick. You can view all the Rule Breakers picks with your free trial. The Motley Fool owns shares of Starbucks and has a disclosure policy.