It's the last week of the month, which means it's time for Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner to take a dip into the Rule Breaker Investing mailbag.
In this month's letters: A Marine's Foolish investing journey from the Middle East to California; one longtime Fool's beautifully written 20 lessons hard-earned over 20 years of investing Foolishly; one question about software-as-a-service that's getting outsourced to a deep dive on Industry Focus: Tech next week; some thoughtful takes on the "As hire As" adage that we recently shared; a correction regarding some off-the-cuff fractional shares advice; and more.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on June 27, 2018.
David Gardner: Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing! I'm David Gardner. A pleasure to have you joined with me. This is the final week of the month of June 2018, and therefore, yes, it is your Rule Breaker Investing mailbag.
The aim of this show is the same every week: to educate, to amuse, and to enrich. We've always said at The Motley Fool, since we first put that phrase on our AOL site -- yep, pre-web, back in the day -- educate, amuse, enrich. We've always said, never two without the third, never just one without the other two. When The Motley Fool is at its best, we're doing all three at the same time. I try to do that every week. Sometimes I succeed, perhaps, and no doubt sometimes I fail. I'll try to do well at this week.
It is your Rule Breaker Investing mailbag. I have a few guests queued up, as I always like to have friends join me to answer some of your wonderful questions. I have at least one dramatic reading I'll be performing toward the end. We have a very Motley array of questions about investing and business. Without further ado, I think we should get started.
I've taken, in recent months, to having an opening section called my Hot Takes section. Sure enough, generally reacting to tweets or short things. We're going to lead off with some hot takes this month.
The first one I'd like to lead off with is from @EMinFocus on Twitter. That's Patrick Befuma. Patrick wrote, @DavidGFool -- which is who I am on Twitter -- "As my wife chants 'come on spiffy pop,' watching the stock Restoration Hardware," or now, these days, RH, and that is the ticker symbol, as well, "this afternoon, her first-ever investment. Thank you for the RBI podcasts, which were finally able to convince her of the joy and power of the stock market, and we have started saving much, much more because of it."
If there's my favorite tweet that I got all month, Patrick, I think it might be yours. Why? First of all, I'm delighted to know that we have electrified investing for you and your wife and your family and those connected with you. I'm hoping that, through our work at The Motley Fool, and certainly this podcast, that we're doing the best job we can, not just to help the world invest better, which is how we put The Motley Fool's purpose to our employees -- to help the world invest better -- but, really, to get the whole world investing. That's a very exciting expression from you. I also love, of course, that she knows what a spiffy pop is. I love that RH has been such a monster winner. I'll be mentioning it a little bit later this podcast.
But, finally, the dynamic that you mentioned at the very end of that tweet is one that I think is powerful and I want to double underline it. That is that once we get a taste of the benefits of investing, once we taste that fruit, my hope is -- and I think it's true for many of us, and I can see it's true for you all -- that it makes you want to save more.
I think an investing world is a world inspired by the benefits of investing. What happens in that world that I hope that we're all living into? It's a saving world, because you realize, "I want to save more, because we'll do much better when dollars multiply themselves through the stock market than if we just spend it on an extra pack of bubblegum, or maybe an extra pack of baseball cards along with that chewing gum." Do people buy baseball cards? No doubt that they do. Things have probably gone digital. I'm a little bit behind in that aspect of our pop culture these days. Anyway, what a great tweet. Loved it, Patrick! Thank you very much!
Another hot take, this one comes from Mabel Nunez @TeachMeToInvest. That's a good Twitter handle. Mabel writes, "This week's episode @RBIPodcast," it was that extra, "featuring Mr. Rogers is a strong buy. Watched his shows for the first time in the 90s when I moved the states and didn't know any English. I, too, was one of his 'indirect students' :)"
Take some time to listen today, if you haven't yet. Thank you for that, Mabel. In fact, having seen the movie now, Won't You Be My Neighbor, it's clear that a lot of people did learn English in part just from Mr. Rogers' kids, for whom English wasn't their first language. It's great to hear from one of them. Mabel, keep up your good work!
Also, Emily Binder wrote in @EmilyBinder. "Great nuggets in this episode." Quoting Fred Rogers, "People love to know that they have something in them that is of value." Emily says, "Simple, but powerful statement. Carnegie-esque, actually. Useful in parenting, friendship, negotiation, every human interaction." Thank you, @EmilyBinder!
By the way, if you missed that Mr. Rogers episode, it is the June 9th Rule Breaker Extra. It's a 28-minute original interview that my brother Tom and I conducted with Mr. Rogers just a few months before he retired.
One more hot take for you before we move to the hottest of takes, which is just on deck -- and my producer, Rick Engdahl, will be joining me very shortly. Just one more, and this is from [Scottie Gryder], who's @Willie1Mo on Twitter. He had an #IBeatMatt. He obviously enjoyed the Market Cap Game Show this past month. He enjoyed it so much -- I love this -- he includes an image in his tweet of his scorecard, scoring each of the companies, the market caps, how Matt voted, and how he voted.
I love that. I love to think that the Market Cap Game Show is starting to get its own scoring sheet, much like going to a ball game this summer, buying a program, and scoring along with the game. So, thank you @Willie1Mo!
Alright. We've been ducking this issue for quite a while, but Rule Breakers ourselves, we ultimately can't break the rules for long enough, we have to follow some of the rules we've set forward. This final hot take is a look at your opinion of the glass-breaking sound that has opened up pretty much every Rule Breaker podcast since the dawn of Rule Breaker Investing.
Rick Engdahl, my producer Rick, you and I decided that we wanted to put this one to a vote, a vote of the people. We wanted to listen to the vox populi, because some people find that highly, is it fair to say, disruptive? Potentially distracting? Even upsetting? The sound at the start of this podcast, a little bit too much for them? Others, no doubt, have grown inured, maybe loved it from the start. Rick, I want to welcome you in!
Rick Engdahl: I'm happy to be here!
Gardner: Rick, you put a poll out on Twitter. What are the results right now, in terms of how people feel about the glass-breaking sound at the start of this podcast?
Engdahl: The results so far are very close. It's 52-48 in favor of keeping the glass-breaking sound.
Gardner: That's remarkable, just how split the vote is.
Engdahl: I actually misspoke. It's not keeping the glass-breaking sound, it's keeping the Rule-Breaking sound.
Gardner: Ah, yes. The way that you put it, Rick -- I know you're in the pro, "Let's keep the glass-breaking sound" camp -- you said it's not glass breaking in a previous podcast. You said it's the sound of rules being broken.
Engdahl: That's definitely what it's there to do. It's an audio metaphor for ... [laughs]
Gardner: Everything that we stand for.
Engdahl: Everything we stand for, yes.
Gardner: Whether people like it, apparently, or not. [laughs] Rick, you pulled a couple of tweets that you've enjoyed, people tweeting out there about this. Do you want to share, maybe, a couple?
Engdahl: Sure. There were a lot of tweets on the subject, in addition to just people voting on the poll. Here's one from Mike Steel @OtherMikeSteel, he says, "No more breaking glass! I listen while driving and I hate the distracting sound effect." Well, I don't want to distract somebody while they're driving, so that one is kind of important, I guess.
Here's one. "Emphatic vote against breaking glass sound. I often listen to RBI podcasts on a run, including today. Too loud and jarring on the earbuds. Usually takes a moment in the driveway to skip past the crash. Great show otherwise." This one is from [@PFoolHeart]. "Rule-Breaking doesn't really happen with a crash anyway, does it? It kind of sneaks in through the backdoor." Well, sometimes, I suppose that's true.
Gardner: So, you've presented a couple of viewpoints that don't like the glass so much. Were there some sentiments in favor? Some passionate statements in favor?
Engdahl: Sure. One who disagrees with me -- "As Rick said, it's not a breaking glass sound, but the breaking of rules sound. But, with that in mind, I think there might be other sounds, such as a ref's whistle or the buzzer from Taboo, that could better convey the idea of breaking rules." That's possible, it's possible. [@DSchore] says, "In some cultures, the breaking of glass is considered good luck, so that's another good reason to keep it."
Gardner: Oh, yeah, like slamming your glass down at a Jewish wedding.
Engdahl: This one might be best here, from @JFlag1991. "Things are going a little too good for Rule Breakers right now to make such a change. Keep the glass smash!"
Gardner: [laughs] OK. To bring this one to a conclusion, and some thoughts going forward. Rick, you and I have had some heated discussions -- and no doubt, over alcohol, many a late night, we find ourselves haunted by this, preoccupied by this. But I think you and I have decided that we're going to keep the glass. But ...
Engdahl: But, I think, maybe we'll bring the volume down a little bit for people.
Gardner: Alright, so you're going to remaster our opener.
Engdahl: But I also will be keeping my ears open for other sound effects. I have to say that when I first put that together, I did try a lot of different breaking sounds. There was breaking of wood, there was breaking of light bulbs and stuff. That was the only thing that really sounded like a shattering sound. Breaking of wood just sounds like [crack]. Without the visual to go with it, it didn't sound like breaking.
Gardner: I understand. Glass is very distinctive, and at least half of us agree that it's great. Maybe the other half will appreciate a little reduction in a remastered opener for this podcast in the future. Rick, when can you commit to our listeners to have that remaster in place?
Engdahl: Well, if it didn't sound any different at the beginning of this episode, then by the next time, the next episode comes around, it will at least be lower volume. And maybe I'll start mixing it up. I'll throw different sounds in for different shows, in the future. I'm not promising, but maybe.
Gardner: Excellent. Alright, that is the Hot Takes section for this Rule Breaker Investing mailbag. Thank you, Rick Engdahl! Thank you all for your tweets! We always enjoy them.
Rule Breaker Investing mailbag item No. 1. This one comes from Lewis Miller. "David, I'm a longtime Fool from back in the 90s, and regular RBI podcast listener." Thank you, Lewis! "In the last few years or so, as well as Tom and some of the other Fool services, you have recommended several software-as-a-service," or SaaS, I think a lot of people may know that acronym, even buzzword, if you will, these days, "companies. In my memory, Salesforce," CRM is the ticker symbol, and that's a Rule Breaker recommendation for the last ten years or so, "was the first such business model when it went public in the early 2000s. But recently, there's been an explosion of SaaS companies."
Lewis goes on. "There's been platform-as-a-service, data-as-a-service, transportation-as-a-service, AI-as-a-service." I heard somebody the other day, by the way, talking about games-as-a-service. If you think about something like World of Warcraft, or what Grand Theft Auto has done in recent years, which is just keep sending you more content from your initial buy, you're still playing the game four years later with constantly new stuff. Games-as-a-service. So, x-as-a-service, "a business model," says Lewis Miller, "that's maybe here to stay. What they all seem to have in common: two things. The cloud and a subscription revenue source.
"I wonder if you could devote some time on a future RBI podcast to discussing, from an investing perspective, both the pros and the cons of the SaaS model, and how you differentiate among them in selecting which ones to recommend. Do you see SaaS as a market sector with many sub-sector winners, or a few giant winners taking all? Perhaps you could do a five-company sampler, etc. Thanks, David, for all you and Tom and The Motley Fool team do to educate, amuse, and enrich. Lewis Miller."
Well, I thought about this for about a minute, and then I thought, you know, I think there's a better podcast at The Motley Fool to really nail that. My friend, Dylan Lewis -- Dylan, welcome!
Dylan Lewis: Nice to be here!
Gardner: It's a delight to have you. Dylan, I know your voice because you are, on Fridays, doing Motley Fool Industry Focus. You're doing the Tech segment every Friday.
Lewis: Can I say how flattering it is for you to think that I am more suited to answer this question? [laughs]
Gardner: You absolutely are -- at least in this sense, I'll say, Dylan. I mean, I do have some stock picks, I'm sure you do, too, some of these in your portfolio. We've done well with a lot of them. But, the reason that I thought of you right away is, I think what Lewis is asking for is a deeper dive. And that's what I love about the Industry Focus podcast. I listen to you and your four compatriots, a different industry from Monday through Friday. I've really enjoyed that. I'll drive home in my car and listen to you guys. I was thinking, because you do deep dives with your podcast. Dylan, you and I were talking about it, you've looked at some SaaS companies recently.
Lewis: That's what I love about the Industry Focus format -- we have the flexibility to be a little bit wonkier with some of our discussions. This is the perfect kind of question for us. Folks that don't like SaaS might want to skip that one, but it's going to get answered.
We have touched on some SaaS companies somewhat recently. If you go back to the April 23rd episode, we talked a little bit about Paylocity and AppFolio, two SaaS businesses that are followed by a decent number of Fools. We have not done the dedicated, "This is what SaaS is, this is why it's important, here's what the space looks like," so I think this is a great question. Like I said, July 6th, we'll hit it.
Gardner: Awesome! So, on July 6th, the Industry Focus: Tech. That's Friday, July 6th. That's a couple of days after Independence Day, next week.
Lewis: We still do it, even with the holiday.
Gardner: That's awesome! So, Lewis Miller, our pal, Dylan Lewis, is going to take his show and look at SaaS and answer some of the questions for you.
No doubt, Dylan, as you mentioned, you've already started that conversation with Industry Focus: Tech, because these are big, relevant companies. But the reason that I particularly appreciate that you're taking on this mantle -- and I'll be looking forward to listening on July 6th -- is that I actually don't form up things as, like, SaaS companies. As an investor, I'm not sitting there going, "I like SaaS. What are all the SaaS companies? Let me screen for them or filter down from them."
For better or for worse, I'm a bottoms-up investor. I just flip over stones. I come across colorful, interestingly shaped stones, and I flip them over and look at them. And, oh, that one happens to be a SaaS. So, I actually don't have an industry focus, per say. That's why I so appreciate the work that you do.
Lewis: That's one of the fun things about this, and these conversations that we have with listeners and people that follow The Fool. Everyone seems to arrive at stock ideas differently. Some people identify a hot trend and they want to see what the companies are in that space. Someone starts using a product, and then they realize the whole space is there. We get to benefit from getting tipped off from all these things.
Gardner: Awesome. Dylan, before I let you go, anything else you want to mention?
Lewis: Yeah. He mentioned that he's a longtime Fool follower. We are coming up on our 25th anniversary, as I'm sure you are keenly aware of. [laughs]
Gardner: I am aware. The Motley Fool started business 25 years ago, this summer.
Lewis: We're going to be celebrating that beginning Friday of this week. We're going to be posting a lot of things that would indulge people that like The Fool's past. If you're interested in seeing some old pictures, some old magazine covers, things like that from the 90s, 2000s --
Gardner: Both Gardners with more hair, for example. Still not that much, but more. [laughs]
Lewis: [laughs] I'll let you make that joke. If you go to our Facebook account, if you go to our Twitter account, you can find all of that there, and we'll be doing that all week.
Gardner: Awesome. Dylan, thanks a lot! Keep up the great work!
Lewis: Awesome. Thanks, David!
Gardner: Alright. Rule Breaker mailbag item No. 2. This one came in from Arlo Randall by email. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Arlo, I'm truncating this a little bit, but you were talking about the benefit of having a scorecard. We have a lot of scorecards at fool.com. You were talking about how interesting and fun it would be to look at some of those scorecards and opine about them and see some of the more popular scorecards on the site.
I can totally understand how that would be fun. In a way, when we look at scorecards, we're giving you or me a peek into how other people are investing. Of course, anybody who has a scorecard stored on our site, we don't take any peeks into that, and we wouldn't give anybody else peeks into that.
One scorecard you called out, which I thought was a lot of fun, was David's Biggest Losers. You're sharing a scorecard that you made on our site. What you did, Arlo, is that you listened to our podcast on January 5th of 2017 -- about a year and a half ago. At the start of every year, I lead off each year with a look at my biggest losers from the year before. Arlo, in his wisdom -- or, in this case, I'll go with his Foolishness -- he decided, "Let me actually track those five biggest losers from 2016."
You wrote, Arlo, the rationale would be, "I listened to the Biggest Losers podcast and then bought all five of the stocks after. I really like your philosophy of not adding to losers, but since I did not own any of them, I decided to buy them because of your comment that they were all still active recommendations, and you thought they could turn around."
Those five were: Restoration Hardware, RH; Juno Therapeutics, JUNO; FireEye, FEYE; GoPro, GPRO; and Celldex Therapeutics, CLDX. Here's how those five have done in the scorecard that you've created, Arlo, from worst to best. Let's go in reverse order. Celldex, minus 85%. Yep, it got even worse for that tiny biotech company. GoPro, down 28% from that date. FireEye, up 51% from that date. It's about to get even better. Juno Therapeutics, up 331% and bought out -- which was not a bad 18-month return. Finally, RH, Restoration Hardware, up 429%.
Arlo goes on. "This may be a bad example to highlight, since buying losers is generally not good practice to encourage," and not something we do on this podcast, "but," Arlo goes on to conclude, "this was a fun scorecard to share." Well, I'm glad that you took the time to share that.
You can create a scorecard on our site and many other sites. You could even just do it in Evernote or in an Excel spreadsheet. I think everybody who's a Motley Fool Rule Breaker knows that I love scoring. I think we should all be scoring. I want people to score me. I'm going to score you. I love what you did, Arlo. Thanks a lot for sharing that.
What a bounce-back it was for those companies. It makes you want to look back at our list from this January. This is not a five-stock sampler. These are not stocks that I'm actively saying, "I think these are awesome." I'm actually going over my worst picks from the years before. They do all still remain active recommendations, though, so perhaps there is something to these turnarounds. It only takes one 300% spike or so to wipe out a whole bunch of losers. Anyway, thank you, Arlo!
Rule Breaker mailbag item No. 3, this is from Phil Kuni. Phil said, "I wrote you a note back in 2016 on LinkedIn while I was on a deployment with the Marine Corps that I thought you'd enjoy. I decided to send it again because I listen to you weekly on your Rule Breakers podcast and know you enjoy getting notes from listeners and members."
Here was that note that Phil wrote back in 2016. "David, I wanted to send a sincere thanks to all at The Motley Fool who make investing fun, accessible and rewarding on behalf of a handful of Marines currently deployed to the Middle East. Listening to your podcasts and reading articles from fool.com have been a great way to take a mental break while working long hours in a high-stress environment. I've been sharing Foolish advice I've picked up with the Marines while we have down time. Most of them have limited investment experience and are just starting to think about where to put their hard-earned savings. The resources that The Motley Fool provides have been a catalyst for learning about investing and personal finance.
Some of them have opened brokerage accounts and have purchased their very first shares of individual stocks. It's been fun watching them get excited about investing and talk about owning a part of a business. It's even more encouraging that they have taken the first steps to building wealth over time by buying and holding good companies."
This next list of three companies that Phil called out two years ago among his fellow Marines makes me really happy. The next sentence said, "Tesla, Activision, and Netflix have been some of the most popular picks." This is my own insert, of course -- check out the returns of those companies as a small portfolio over the last two years.
Phil went on, "I wanted to share this with you and thank you for being an inspiration for a few Marines in the desert. We have four and a half months left before we head back to the States, and I'll do my best to keep them on track. Fool on! Your friend, Stock Advisor member, CAPS intern, and fellow Alexandrian, Phil Kuni."
Phil, it's great to hear from you again. In fact, I dropped Phil a note back and I said, "Hey, I think we'd all like to hear an update. How are things going since then?" Phil took the time to reply just a couple of weeks ago with this. "David, since my last note to you, the Marines and I safely returned from deployment back to Camp Pendleton, California.
Conversations about investing might seem out of place on a Marine Corps deployment to the Middle East, but on a nine-month deployment, there's not a lot you don't talk about. Additionally, many service members take advantage of the time apart from their daily lives back home to set personal goals for self-improvement, whether they be financial, fitness, or educational.
I'd also argue some of the qualities Marines are known for make them more predisposed to a Foolish investing philosophy. They have discipline and courage to withstand short-term market fluctuations. They have a knack for self-reflection and self-improvement and are eager to learn from their mistakes. Finally, they like keeping score, and don't like being short-changed if they could do better."
Phil concludes, "I left active duty last summer and I'm finishing my first year of an MBA program. I've been very fortunate to have both the opportunity to pursue lifelong financial education and the encouragement of people like my dad and The Motley Fool community to keep at it. Thanks again for all you do to make investing accessible and fun for ordinary people looking for extraordinary results, sometimes in extraordinary places. Semper Fool, Phil."
I think I'll leave that beautiful exchange right there.
As I mentioned, my friend Eric recently celebrated his 20th Fooliversary. He took the time to reflect back on those years of his life and the lessons that he learned about investing and himself over the course of that time. I think this is such a deeply beautiful note, and also one that packs so much insight that I insist -- and Eric has given me permission -- to share it here with you. So, let's get started. Settle in, Fools, here we go.
It starts this way. "Hello, Fools! Today is my 20th Fooliversary, for which I wanted to share my Foolish journey in 20 lessons learned from 20 years of Fool.
The Beginning. 20 years ago, a simple conversation proved to be a pivotal moment in my and my parent's lives, but we would not fully recognize its import for another 15 years. My colleague Sandra and I were chatting on that day of June 22nd, 1998, about some of the brand-new revolutionary web-based companies such as eBay and Amazon.
"Our conversation briefly skirted toward investing because I'd mentioned that my grandmother, who was then 93, had again gifted $10,000 of her Mobil stock to each of her heirs. She had purchased these shares back in the 1940s and 50s when she and my grandfather lived and worked in Colombia and Venezuela during the early days of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea oil boom.
Sandra excitedly asked if I knew about The Motley Fool. Having never heard of it, she then spoke with enthusiasm that it teaches individual investors how to invest in the stock market. Intrigued, I looked into it. When I returned home, I signed up. Soon afterwards, I met David and Tom at the Bethesda, Maryland Barnes & Noble bookstore, which I believe has recently closed. Did you hear the teardrop fall?" Eric wrote. "After their fun and informative spiel, I waited in line to buy their book and had them sign it. I so enjoyed those guys and their goofy jester caps. I've enjoyed each time I've gotten to meet them since.
But now, the real beginning. Parents, please take notes. It actually began long before, as I've alluded to, because my grandparents on both sides of my family began investing in the 1940s. I watched my dad analyze companies and charts in our dining room when I was growing up. My parents and my mom's parents -- the ones in the oil business -- would talk around the family table about the businesses in which they owned stock. So, I was comfortable with business and the stock market.
Here come the early lessons. There are three of them. There's an obvious point here, with two more subtle ones. No. 1: I grew up around individuals owning stocks and holding onto them for their lifetime. No. 2: My family spoke more about the businesses they owned than of the movement of the stock prices, though the latter was always fun to follow. No. 3: Never once did they speak about selling their long-term, core holdings. The concept was simply absent."
Next section, entitled, "My First Tuition Payment: Black Monday, 19th October 1987. Oddly enough, even though I grew up with the stock market, I didn't have a clue how to invest with my corporate benefits after landing my first full-time job. Those were a mystery to me and seemed irrelevant at age 25. At the advice of an HR rep, I maximized my 401(k) savings and put it into a safe money market fund. He encouraged us new hires to revisit, after a few months, how we allocated the funds.
Unfortunately, I never thought about it again until six years later, when an also-young colleague implored me to move the funds into Peter Lynch's Magellan fund, showing me the data backing his own choice. I happily did so, unaware of the collision of that strategy with my goal of using the 401(k) to buy my first townhouse -- which, back then, you could do, penalty-free.
My time horizon was way too short to be in the stock market, but neither of us recognized that at the time. Six months later, Black Monday hit. We watched our 401(k)s fall 25% at the opening bell and slide another 25% over the next few months. Adding insult to injury, the IRS changed the rules, reinstating the customary 10% penalty for a first house, tuition or major medical.
I was so angry I could hardly sit still. There goes my house, up in flames! Yet, instead of bailing out of the stock market at those horrible lows, I chose instead to win by hanging in there. That's what my family always had done through many recessions, so I was confident it would recover in time, as it always had. Lo and behold, my 401(k) fully recovered 12 months later, helped along by my continued contributions throughout the storm. Best of all, these contributions made a killing that year.
Lessons from Black Monday. Here are three more lessons that emerged from the ashes of Black Monday." Again, we're working toward 20 lessons, so here we go. "No. 4: I held all of my 401(k) mutual fund during that ferocious decline, which made 2008 and 2009 feel like a leisurely stroll downhill. No. 5: I kept adding to my 401(k) Magellan fund position as the market collapsed and recovered, making my best returns by far with those contributions. No. 6: I learned about time horizons. Keep any funds you will need within the next three to five years out of the stock market and in cash or its equivalent."
The next chapter, entitled, "My Second Tuition Payment -- .boom to .bust, 2001. The stock market was booming with .com enthusiasm by the time I discovered The Motley Fool. I soon became fully invested, and like everyone else, began making impressive gains -- so impressive that I quit my day job in August 2000 to put full time into analyzing companies and posting what I learned on The Fool's discussion boards.
Of particular interest me was answering the question of why failed small-caps had failed. The answer was and remains debt. They're not big enough to withstand a shock to their finances when they carry debt. The Motley Fool liked my analysis of Foolish Eight Small Caps enough to invite me to become a plank holder of their new Soapbox service, where Fools like me could publish our reports for sale.
Like so many, I was convinced that the internet revolution would sweepingly change business and society. That belief sustained our acceptance of the absurdly high stock market valuations. I was so confident, in fact, that I went on margin, despite the warnings of The Fool itself. It was a heady time, and we all know it ended very poorly for nearly everyone, including Fool HQ. Many were laid off, Soapbox was closed up, and my finances were obliterated.
While we were correct in our belief of the internet revolution, we were disastrously wrong about the timeline and in who would capture the value created. We believed the transformation would be completed within three years, when the reality was more like ten years, and it's still under way. More crushingly, however, was our belief that shareholders would capture most of the value. The reality is that customers captured most of it, and they continue to do so to this day. That's not so bad, really, as every one of us is an internet customer.
".bomb lessons," Eric wrote, "these may have been my hardest-earned lessons at all." Here we go, No. 7-12. "No. 7: Keep your day job, as you may simply be lucky, not smart, and luck runs out. No. 8: Keep all your contacts from your day job if you do quit, as you may need them again one day. Fortunately, I was good about this one. No. 9: Understand the hype cycle. Euphoria is the worst time to buy, while despair is the best time to buy. No. 10: Learn how to value hyper-growth companies. Forget earnings and EBITDA. Focus on sales, operating cash flow, and the ever-intangible visionary leadership. No. 11: Ask, who will capture the value created by a novel technology? If it's not the companies you're invested in -- perhaps it's the customer -- then you will lose money. No. 12: Don't use margin. That was the leverage that ultimately crushed me. Let me repeat that: don't use margin."
The next chapter, "Applying the Education -- Boldly Stepping Forth in 2008." Eric goes on, "For two years, I was out of the workforce, during which I worked on a book with a best friend, never published but invaluable to us, and helped out a failing start-up. It failed, but gave me invaluable insights and lessons in start-ups.
When the last of the money ran out, I went back to work on my mom's birthday in October 2003 -- best birthday present ever, yes? -- to rebuild my finances and help another best friend, who was a single mom with a daughter heading off to college and a son in high school. Except for my new 401(k), I stayed out of the stock market as I again began saving for the down payment on a house.
Five years later, in 2008, the bottom once again fell out of the stock market, but this time, I was prepared. By November 2008, the economy and market had gotten so bleak that I took it as a sign from above to forget about my house and go all-in to the stock market, using Rule Breakers, Stock Advisor, and Hidden Gems as my initial guides.
For the next four and a half years, I lived frugally and shoved every dime I could into the stock market. I joined Duke Street -- now Motley Fool ONE -- and explored every service they had until, after several years, I understood the strategy that suited my own temperament and life situation. I now buy companies with superior business economics, visionary leadership, strong and preferably multiple growth opportunities, and disciplined risk management, then hold them for years, if not forever, as my grandparents did. By following The Motley Fool's extraordinary strategy and education, my first Amazon position -- bought 18th November 2008 -- is a 44-bagger. My first Netflix position -- bought 18th May 2009 -- is a 75-bagger."
Here come lessons No. 13-17. "This is what I wish I had been doing from the outset -- lessons for the long journey. No. 13: Live frugally. Do you really need all the stuff? A simpler life helps you discover and focus on what's truly important to you. No. 14: Invest the savings. It's so much fun reading about what to buy next and then buying it. Knowing I was successfully attaining my financial goals gave me a sense of growing independence and freedom. No. 15: The Motley Fool's philosophy of buying quality companies with bright futures and holding them for the long-term through even difficult volatility has proven itself, over the past 15 years, in so many Foolish portfolios. No. 16: Discover your own strategy and adapt it to meet your current circumstance as you migrate through life's phases. No. 17: Market declines are buying opportunities. Welcome them. It is so much fun watching your returns skyrocket over the years as the market recovers and recommences its ascent."
Now to early retirement and more Motley Fool time. Eric went on, "By the time I was laid off in May 2013 at age 57, I was both eligible for early retirement and financially in a position to do so, as long as I continued living somewhat frugally. I wasn't penny-pinching, but I was doing things like driving a now-20-year-old car, so I could do more interesting things, such as travel to Alaska, snowshoe Mount Hood in Oregon, visit family and friends around the country, and finally, buying that house near Portland, Oregon.
After retiring, I again became more actively involved in The Fool community. The Motley Fool later picked a bunch of us for their new Farm Team. I began as a ticker guide for GoPro, unfortunately not one of my better stock picks," as has been often talked about on this podcast, "then slowly added coverage for several other companies. Many Motley Fool ONE members have thoroughly enjoyed attending The Fool member conferences at HQ and around the country. The presentations have been invaluable. Meeting so many Fools, employees and members alike, is a true highlight, as everyone becomes a real, tangible person.
Investment lesson No. 18: Getting involved with The Motley Fool community really ups your own investment game, and it makes your Motley Fool experience so much more fun and engaging. Start with a simple introduction or question on the discussion boards. I lurked for four months before asking a very basic question. It's deadly snowballed from there. The hardest part is making that first post, but it gets so much easier after that, and the rewards, both financial and social, are immense.
My parents win, too. One of the most satisfying aspects of my journey with The Motley Fool is that I introduced Daddy to The Motley Fool. He, too, liked what he saw, began diversifying his and Momma's investments using Income Investor, greatly boosting their dividend yield while reducing their nearly exclusive exposure to the oil and gas industry. That was a most fortuitous shift, as the oil and gas industry nosedived a few years later in 2015. The transformation of their portfolio has wonderfully transformed their retirement years.
Lesson No. 19: Sharing is at the heart of Fooldom. Share your knowledge of investing with family and friends and encourage them to check out fool.com. It just might change their lives, as David and Tom changed our lives by reaching out to all of us Fools. There is no need to proselytize, simply let others know about your involvement with The Motley Fool when appropriate. If you see interest, gently encourage it. People often ask me what I've been doing since retirement. Well, let me tell you about my experiences with The Motley Fool ...
Finally, lesson No. 20, the 20th lesson for 20 years: Be grateful for your health and the opportunities it gives you for your prosperity, and the opportunities it gives you, and most of all, for those who love you and the meaning they give to your life. Then give it all forward, wrapped in kindness. My very best to all, Foolish Eric."
That was probably the longest read that I may ever perform on this podcast. In many ways, it expresses a journey that many of us have been on. Eric, like a lot of us, has lived through those last 20 years. Just think about the drama that any of us could have had going through 2000-2001, then 2008-2009, and then the tremendous run that the stock market has made in periods that weren't within those bear market years. The good news is, most of them have been bull market years.
I love the candid nature of Eric's expression, the mistakes that he's made. Each of those 20 lessons could be shared with a friend or family member. I took a lot away from that, as well, Eric.
As Dylan mentioned earlier in this podcast, it is The Motley Fool's 25th anniversary this month. I'm going to put that forward as a contribution toward honoring the 25 years of The Motley Fool -- in this case, through the eyes of one investor. But, I think for a lot of us, as longtime Fools, people who may have discovered the website 25 years ago, 20, ten, five years ago, we can relate to what Eric's saying. He helps us think aspirationally about what we'd like to become.
So, I want to thank Eric for that wonderful note, and for the kindness and patience for all of you listening.
Rule Breaker Investing mailbag Item No. 5, and this one is for the entrepreneurs out there. One of the things that we're always going to do on this podcast, beyond just talking about investing, or especially for our mailbag inspirational stories, is speak to the entrepreneurs, speak to professionals, people working for profit, not for profit, and think, how can we do what we do better?
I want to invite my friend, Mark Brooks. Mark, talk about working at The Motley Fool a long time -- Mark, how long have you been at The Fool?
Mark Brooks: 13 years last week.
Gardner: That's pretty awesome. I really thank you for 13 wonderful years together. Mark, what do you do at The Fool these days?
Brooks: Gosh, it's hard to describe. Management stuff. [laughs] I help make sure our priorities are set correctly, that we're resourcing projects that are important and not ones that aren't, and that we're getting the best investing advice in front of our members.
Gardner: To that end, you've been involved a fair amount over your 13 years in hiring and bringing people here into The Fool. A few weeks ago on the podcast, I used the old saw "As hire As while Bs hire Cs and Cs hire Ds."
Brooks: I'm familiar.
Gardner: What do you think of that line on its own? Agree, disagree? What are your thoughts?
Brooks: I think I agree. I think it's hard to hire up for people. So, yeah, I think there's some truth to the old saw there. There are exceptions both ways, obviously, but, yeah, I agree.
Gardner: I do, too. It's not like it's a unique Motley Fool point, this is an old saw, as we've established. But, if you believe in it and agree with it, it does have you thinking about, who are your A players at your company of whatever size and trying to make sure they're involved in the hiring. I think that you've been one of those A players who's helped us, and you've helped those around you to find the good people. And we have really good people here at the company.
Now, Sam wrote in in response. A couple of thoughtful questions. I'd love to hear your takes on a couple of things Sam said. Mark, he said, "Great podcast this week. Your point about As hiring As, Bs hiring Cs, Cs hiring Ds, an interesting one that spawned a couple of thoughts.
"No. 1," Sam said, "I believe there's a third reason why this happens that might even be the most important. It's that As are able to convince other As to work for them, and that the prospective employee wants to go to work for an A. I think in hiring, convincing someone great to work for you, and not somebody else, can be harder than simply finding a great person."
Brooks: Yeah, agree. Birds of a feather flock together. I think As tend to run in packs. I totally agree with Sam's point. The folks who are referrals at The Fool tend to be really great hires, generally speaking, especially when they come from our A players, from our high-performers. So, yeah.
Gardner: Awesome. "No. 2," Sam said, "this is a significant simplification of the talents and usefulness of employees. Of course, you realize this," he says. You and I agree. This is fairly reductionistic, to reduce people to letters and then say it all works this way.
Brooks: Sure, yeah.
Gardner: So, here's a whimsical question. I didn't have an answer to this. Mark, you're smarter than I am, so maybe you're ready for this. I know you're ad-libbing here. He said, "Also, how do the B employees ever get hired?" [laughs]
Brooks: Man, that's a really good question. I mentioned before that there are exceptions. Some of the most effective hiring processes we've had at The Fool are when we can work alongside someone before we bring them on. In a very condensed interview format, it can be very difficult even for As to determine who's an A vs. who is a B.
Gardner: Good point.
Brooks: A lot of times, it becomes very evident through the interview process, those sorts of things. One thing that we've started doing at The Fool is trying to get projects out there to prospective employees in the area in which they'd be working, and actually paying them to do it. On the tech side, we'll have an actual business problem that we need to solve, and we'll send it out to a prospective employees and say, "We're going to give you $500 to solve this problem. Please submit your response." It's not these theoretical coding questions, or anything like that. We're actually giving them a problem that we need to solve as a business and paying them to do it.
I have to tell you, $500 at the beginning of the interview process lost is a lot less expensive than hiring someone who continues to under-perform and we have to take action later. We've found that to be effective. Any chance you have to work alongside someone and see them in that element, working in that subject matter, leads to a much better hiring decision, I think.
Gardner: That's tremendous. I guess I would supplement by also saying to Sam, neither Mark nor I, nor anybody here at The Fool, walks around putting letters on everybody, saying, "As hire As and Bs hire Cs and Cs hire Ds." It's definitely an oversimplification. The way that Bs get hired in the first place is that sometimes Cs end up being Bs, and sometimes As turn out to be Bs. There are Bs everywhere, if you even want to use these letters.
Brooks: Bees! There are bees everywhere! [laughs]
Gardner: [laughs] Sam's last point, Mark, and then I'll let you go: "I'd like to expand this concept to companies as a whole," he writes. "A companies hire A employees. B companies hire C employees. C companies hire D employees. I believe this gets at a very underrated advantage that great 'overvalued' companies," we would call those Rule Breakers on this podcast, "have, which is that they have and are able to consistently hire great employees, sometimes even at below-market prices, because those people want to work on interesting challenges with awesome people.
"I think profound investing insight could be gleaned from talking to some college students at high-quality colleges and asking them where their most talented friends are working or want to work." Sam signs off with, "Fool on!" Mark, closing thoughts?
Brooks: Fool on, Sam! I think that's true. I think we may look back on the last five to ten years and see what has happened, in terms of talent coming out of universities, or directly out of high school, with Silicon Valley and the start-up culture. I think a lot of people will go off and try to solve interesting problems with companies that will rapidly become insolvent. Part of our job in Rule Breakers and in our other services is to suss out which is which. But, I think it would be interesting, and my hope for those young kids is that, even going to those companies that end up crashing, they learn valuable lessons about how to run a profitable business, etc.
I think it will be interesting to look back. I think Sam is largely right. I think, right now, you have a lot of companies, who will eventually be insolvent, who are hiring some really great talent. What those folks learn from that, and what they take to their next employer, I think, will be an interesting thing to look back.
Gardner: Awesome. Thank you, Mark. Similarly, Sam -- I said this to our summer interns this summer -- as you graduate, if you feel prepared and equipped and you want to take the risk, find the bleeding edges of technology across all industries, and just try to find yourself there.
At the age of 52, now, back when I was coming out of college, the internet was just starting. People used to use the phrase "internet time." The idea was, a single month at an internet company was worth a year if you went to work for, I don't know, General Electric or Bank of America. The idea of internet time, if you buy into that, suggests that your time is more valuably spent when you're innovating, even, Mark, if those companies seem to be going out of business, [laughs] which sometimes they will, I guess.
Brooks: Yep, true.
Gardner: Mark Brooks, thank you!
Brooks: Happy to be here! Thanks, David!
Gardner: To close, Rule Breaker Investing mailbag item No. 6. I welcome back my good friend, David Kretzmann.
David Kretzmann: Hey, David!
Gardner: How are you, David?
Kretzmann: I'm doing well!
Gardner: Excellent! We're going to eat a little crow here at the end of this podcast.
Kretzmann: Have to do it.
Gardner: Sometimes we do that. I eat crow on a fairly regular basis when I pick stocks like GoPro, which I have done in the past.
Kretzmann: Well, I'm the one who pitched it to you, David, so I think we can both eat crow on that.
Gardner: I don't remember that!
Kretzmann: You're too kind.
Gardner: As a bottom line, for Stock Advisor and Rule Breakers, since their inception, I'm always the guy who makes the final call, and when we screw up, I'm always going to take full responsibility, because it really is my final call. David, we're not even here to talk about GoPro. But, briefly, since we are, you may have pitched it. That was maybe in your first early months as a Fool.
Gardner: In fact, I remember waiting. It ran up from $40 to $80, and I finally said, "Let's buy it now." Watching it drop to $10 isn't fun from $40, but it's even less fun from $80.
Kretzmann: Our timing on that one was not ideal. Thankfully, we have plenty of other picks that more than make up for that loser.
Gardner: Thank you! This one comes from Christian Bellco. I'm not going to read the whole email, but I'm going to get the gist of it, and then we're going to talk about it briefly.
"Dear David," Christian starts, "thank you for taking the time to read my email today. I enjoy the podcast very much, listen back and forth driving to work every Thursday to get your feedback from a variety of different topics. While I learned a lot of things from the RBI podcast that I didn't know excite me, today I heard you speak about a topic that, for the first time, felt like a wrong response to a listener question."
Christian goes on. "It was in response to the Dave story you told during the May mailbag." That was one month ago this week, I guess. "You and David Kretzmann were answering a gentleman's question, who was also named Dave," we were having fun with that, "about how he was so excited to have saved $500 in a brokerage account, was looking for advice on stocks to buy. You and David spoke about types of stocks, etc. But on the fractional shares piece, you all stated that options like ShareBuilder or Stockpile could be a good option for him to get started investing with fractional shares, even though the writer already stated he opened a Fidelity account."
Christian goes on, "I myself am a current Capital One ShareBuilder investor, but as of January this year, this part of Capital One was purchased by E*Trade and is in the process of transitioning all holdings to E*Trade later this year. In fact, here's an article written by The Motley Fool on this. They have no plans to continue with the fractional share program after the merger. David K," although I'll throw in David G here, as well, "should have mentioned you can only buy fractional shares on a specific day of the week and time when Capital One can fill the order.
The second point was about moving out of the account that the listener, Dave, had already set up and was excited to get investing in. It sounded on the podcast like, since he didn't set up the account under the right brokerage, the advice was to change brokerages and use their benefits instead. While this may seem easy to seasoned investors," Christian writes, "a newer investor may find this off-putting and less enthusiastic about maybe becoming an investor. It would have been more helpful to talk about other opportunities with Fidelity, or reach out to give advice on how he could use the Fidelity site for his goals more effectively, creating watchlists, etc.
"I felt that this advice, in conclusion, would have better served Dave's questions, and hope that next time you're doing a mailbag, you'll consider all the best options for newer investors, and do some more research, rather than just go off the cuff with some suggestions going forward. Thank you for taking the time to read my email and Fool on!" says Christian. All right, David.
Kretzmann: What are we going to do about this?
Gardner: Well, I feel like part of the nature of Rule Breaker Investing, the podcast that I've been doing for almost three years now -- we started in July of 2015, in fact -- is, there is a little bit off the cuff. I have to admit, I'm not deeply knowledgeable across a lot of the topics that we'll cover. It's my pleasure to bring people onto the show who have some perspective about those things, who might know it better than I.
David, you are younger than I am. I remember you advising undergrads when you and I traveled together and spoke at university to start a Robinhood account a few years ago. I think that was excellent advice. I remembered that, so I was like, "Hey, let's have David come on and talk about this."
That was also my impression of how ShareBuilder works. But it sounds like we didn't quite get it. I think it's because part of the nature of this podcast is, we are kind of shooting from the hip and off the cuff a little bit. We do rely on smart people like Christian to come in and let us know if we blew it. I love to read notes like that, because that's going to help make us better going forward.
Kretzmann: Absolutely. I think that's one of the greatest benefits of The Fool community. We help each other get better. In this case, it certainly was my mistake, missing that E*Trade was buying that piece of Capital One, the brokerages that they have with ShareBuilder. That's just a piece of the ongoing consolidation that we're seeing with a lot of these brokerages out there.
While we're on the subject of brokerages -- two months in a row, love it -- one thing that your brother mentions a lot, and more and more frequently, is that everyone should be asking their brokerage for free commissions. Brokerages are finding it more and more difficult to differentiate themselves from each other. All of these brokerages, for the most part, offer similar features. If you're with someone like a Fidelity or a TD Ameritrade, might as well call them up or shoot them a note, and say, "Hey, I've been a loyal member," or maybe you're a brand-new member, "why not shoot me over ten or 100 free trades?" That's one way, if you're starting out, that you can keep your costs down.
Going back to our question last month with Dave, who had $500 in the Fidelity account, I would say, if you are getting started, there's nothing wrong with investing just $150 or $200 in a couple of stocks, just starting off there. You don't necessarily need to have a high amount set per stock to invest in. You don't necessarily need $500 or $1,000 per position. I actually prefer starting small and then following the story and adding over time. I think that fits, David, with your approach of adding to your winners over time.
You don't necessarily need to start big and add from there. I think, especially if you're starting out, start small, continue to add what you can to your account -- whether it's in Fidelity, Robinhood, Stockpile, whatever it might be -- and go from there.
Certainly, the objective that we had last month was not to discourage any new investor, but rather just go over some of the different options out there. But we could have done a better job -- me especially -- presenting it.
Gardner: I really appreciate Christian taking the time to write. I feel like we may have slightly mis-served our pal Dave. As fellow Daves, I think we have to have a Dave apology to Dave.
Kretzmann: Of course.
Gardner: We're sorry, Dave.
Kretzmann: Sorry, Dave.
Gardner: We're excited that you're investing. We definitely are all about -- and I think I've made it clear in this week's podcast -- getting people started investing.
Just a final thought about the off the cuff nature of podcasting -- certainly for a lot of our work at The Motley Fool, we take that deeply seriously. We have fact-checkers, multiple looks before we publish recommendations, our stock research. We take that all very seriously. But if you're a Motley Fool podcast listener, whether you enjoy Market Foolery, Motley Fool Money, Industry Focus -- which I highlighted this week -- or Motley Fool Answers, which is such a delight, with Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp, do know that, probably, the level of fact-checking across Motley Fool podcasts would be beneath the level that we expect of published research and other work on our site. I'm just glad to have friends like David Kretzmann, who are so knowledgeable and such great exemplars. David, how old are you these days?
Gardner: I wish every 25-year-old had started investing when you did or is listening to you now and getting started investing. That's a big part of this podcast, as well. It's my honor to have people like this, and often -- as I did with Mark Brooks earlier -- I'm taking him by the buttonhole and saying, "Would you join the podcast in about 15 minutes? I'd love to have you on!" So, there's not a lot of preparation we have. We're always shooting a little bit from the hip with our Motley Fool podcasts.
But, again, I really appreciate the note, Christian. My delight. Thank you, David, for joining me! Our delight to try to serve and try to up our game when we need to. We want to hear from you on that. So, thank you!
Alright, that's it for this week's mailbag! Thank you so much for June and June 2018, which was a lot of fun -- whether it was our Stock Stories with the Dan Pink cameo, our Market Cap Game Show with Matt Argersinger, or Six Investing Takeaways from the 2018 World Cup, which is what I did last week.
Let's talk about next week. For a lot of us Americans, this podcast will publish on Independence Day -- July 4th, 2018. We do have a fresh podcast for you next week. Rick and I will be taping that a couple of days early so that we can spend some time with our families, or maybe at the beach -- at least, in my case, the North Carolina Beach.
I want you to know it's going to be a fun podcast, because next week, I get to pick five stocks. It's going to be five stocks celebrating the 2018 World Cup, companies that I like for the next four years -- because that's how long we wait for the next Men's World Cup -- and companies inspired by the World Cup itself. Also, I'll be reviewing a five-stock sampler from two years ago, when Brexit occurred, so, the Brexit-inspired stock list. Stocky, stocky, stocky next week podcast.
In the meantime, thank you to my additional voices on this week's podcast: Rick Engdahl, my producer, Dylan Lewis, Mark Brooks, and David Kretzmann. Most of all, thank you to our listeners for suffering Fools gladly. See you next week! Fool on!
As always, people on this program may have interests in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. Learn more about Rule Breaker Investing at rbi.fool.com.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. David Gardner owns shares of ATVI, AMZN, FB, FEYE, NFLX, and TSLA. David Kretzmann owns shares of ATVI, AMZN, APPF, FB, FEYE, GPRO, NFLX, TSLA, and TWTR. Dylan Lewis owns shares of AMZN, FB, and TSLA. Mark Brooks owns shares of ATVI, AMZN, FB, NFLX, and TSLA. Rick Engdahl owns shares of ATVI, AMZN, FB, FEYE, NFLX, CRM, and TSLA. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends ATVI, AMZN, FB, GPRO, NFLX, CRM, TSLA, and TWTR. The Motley Fool owns shares of APPF. The Motley Fool recommends CLDX, EBAY, FEYE, and RH. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.