This article originally ran on Sept. 28, 2004. It has been updated.
I've spent a good portion of the past several months obsessing over how to find the ultimate growth stock. And it's not because I'm neurotic -- don't believe a word of what my co-workers say about me. It's just been part of my job.
In September, we launched a new newsletter service, David Gardner's Motley Fool Rule Breakers, with the intention of offering the very best growth opportunities for investors. I'm proud to say that in the last two months that service has quickly developed into the place to be for anyone seeking growth stock ideas.
Time to win again
It's about time, too. Despite the post-election bounce, my portfolio has been in the tank, along with the overall market. What can I say? I was far too complacent over the summer. I went to the beach. I finally started painting my house. I did nothing but watch baseball for weeks on end. And now the cold snap of fall has finally roused me from my doldrums.
But while my portfolio was languishing, the top 100 stock performers this year have been averaging a whopping 197%. I may have matched the market, but I've lost big to today's biggest winners.
Well, it's time to get up and shake off the dust. It's time to get hungry again. It's time to win.
Are you with me?
Well, good. I'm glad. Because I'm ready to start breaking all the rules, and a little rebellion loves company. You and I don't have to settle for mediocre returns.
Swing for the fences
The search for the ultimate growth stock is not for the thin-skinned. Nor is it for next month's mortgage payment or your 15-year-old's college fund -- or any money you can't afford to lose.
It's for the adventuresome, sure. You don't have to be the Everest-climbing type. But you have to be ready to take on more risk, because you know that's how you'll get the best returns in the universe.
Speculating with a small portion of your portfolio can be the most fun you can have with your discount broker. We all want to find the next Taser
You think finding the ultimate growth stock is hard? Try the emotional roller coaster of being a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan -- or dare I say, a World Champion Red Sox fan? Boy, I'm still not used to saying that.
My favorite slugger is Mr. Clutch, the Sox's David Ortiz, who not only single-handedly beat the Yankees twice in a row during the American League Championship Series, but clubbed 41 home runs during the regular season (tied for second in the league this year behind teammate and World Series MVP Manny Ramirez). He's also struck out a hefty 133 times. But would I ever tell Ortiz to shorten his swing and start swatting singles?
No way. Because the payoff -- 139 runs batted (also second in the league) -- is worth far more than what his strikeouts cost us.
So, too, should it be when you're searching for the ultimate growth stock. You have to be prepared to strike out and then get over it. You might whiff four out of five times. But, oh, that fifth at bat, when you finally get a hold of it and see it sailing over the fence -- there's nothing like it. One home run can make up for 10 strikeouts -- tenfold. So, step up to the plate, my friends, and get ready to swing for the fences.
Work with a master
Fine, you say. But you hit .210 in little league and don't even think you can round the bases now. And your portfolio has been below the Mendoza line since Cisco
Well, I have an answer for you: Work under the tutelage of a master.
Of course, that's easier said than done. Buffett, Lynch, Graham, Fisher, etc. I've read all those guys, but I can't say that any of them has even written or said anything directly to me. I haven't had the opportunity to work with any of them. I have, however, worked side by side with David Gardner -- and now, with Motley Fool Rule Breakers, you can, too.
Let me tell you a few things about David. First off, he's a kind and generous soul. (OK, he might have had me arrested in early 1998 when I literally stalked him and his brother Tom at one of their book signings, like a groupie at a J.Lo concert.) Through their writings, these two Fool co-founders had turned me on to investing more than anyone I'd ever encountered. It was life changing. Yet I've always played the skeptic. I had to see them in person to see if they were the real deal.
After 30 minutes of listening to them, I was begging for a job. And well, because they felt a personal security detail was just too extravagant an expense for a fledgling company, they hired me and still haven't been able to find a polite way to show me the door.
Learn from my mistakes
My skepticism remained for years, however. I mostly kept my mouth shut, because I knew David was smarter than me -- a lot smarter than me -- but I thought some of his stock picks would simply never, ever pan out.
Take America Online, for example, which he bought at a split-adjusted $0.46 in 1994. You've got mail? You've got trouble, I thought. I didn't think the company would survive its move to a fixed monthly pricing scheme, never mind go on to consume Time Warner, one of the world's largest, old-world media companies.
In all these cases, David's instincts were right, and mine were wrong. Dead wrong. He had encyclopedic knowledge of these companies, and he found things I missed. He had the fortitude to stick with his decisions, and during the life of our online Rule Breaker portfolio from August 1994 to February 2003, his returns outpaced the market by an average annual return of 11.3%. As of Nov. 9, 2004, his ongoing picks for Motley Fool Stock Advisor have returned an average of 46% vs. 16% for the S&P 500 since April 2002.
Have a vision
But most of all, as they say during the political season (now mercifully ended), David has "the vision thing."
That vision will be at the core of his new Rule Breakers service, and I can assure you that it will take you places you never thought you'd go in investing (I'm talking about great stock ideas -- get your head out of the cyber gutter).
No investing strategy is foolproof. David has had his share of losers over the years -- Excite@Home, 3Com, Krispy Kreme, to name just a few. When you're swinging for home runs, that's going to happen. The difference is David's intellectual interest does not end with a declining stock price. He learns from his mistakes, and you will, too, which in the end will only maximize your returns.
Investing is one of life's better intellectual pursuits, involving imagination, cunning, and strategy. If you don't learn something about the world around you throughout the course of your investing career, I doubt you'll make very much money.
Invest like a venture capitalist
If you had millions in seed money to invest in a number of start-up companies, how would you allocate it? That's the same question you should ask yourself when you're searching for growth stocks. Invest like a venture capitalist.
I'll tell you this. If I'm ever a venture capitalist (man, I'd really be somebody then), I'm not playing it safe. I'm spitting into the wind. I'm making big bets, like David and his team did when they bet on XM Satellite Radio
Be king of the world
But more than that, I am trying to find companies that have the potential to be world beaters. I'm using my imagination to find companies that do the same. Companies that dare to turn conventional wisdom on its head. That's why the Rule Breakers team is going to dive headfirst into new science and technology -- like nanotechnology and biotechnology -- and scour the market for the best and brightest early adopters that your investing dollar can buy.
The big winners I've mentioned in this column may be pretty diverse, but they have one thing in common: They have changed the world as we know it. Whether they produce lifesaving drugs or ship a lawnmower to your front door with the click of a mouse, few of us can imagine life without them now. And none of them have been around all that long.
When you're a venture capitalist, you want to be king of the world, and the only way to do that is to get in early on the best opportunities. So go ahead, aspire to dominate an industry -- or create your own industry. Start having your friends call you "VC" for short (just don't tell them why).
Don't go it alone
Searching for the ultimate growth stock can be a solitary quest, comprised of hours of lonely screening and research, but it doesn't have to be. I signed on here at The Motley Fool to be a part of a community of investors who would make me better. That community is at its very best on the new Rule Breakers website.
And David and his team will leave no one behind -- not even me -- as they interact with their subscribers in Rule Breakers' discussion forums, regular emails, and the newsletter itself. It'll be the closest thing you can get to a seat right here at Fool HQ.
So, I'm getting up off the mat. I'm not accepting my flat returns anymore. I'm taking the gloves off. I'm done being cowed by a bear market! I'm going to find the ultimate growth stock for my portfolio -- and with help, I don't even think it's going to be that difficult.
If you'd like to join me, feel free -- and do it for free. You can take a free trial to David Gardner's Rule Breakers newsletter service for 30 days. Get his first four stock picks right now. Find out what it's all about. If it's not for you, just cancel -- no hassles, no intrigue, and hopefully no more lethargic portfolios for either of us.
Bob Bobala is the editor-in-chief of The Motley Fool. Sadly, he owns none of the companies mentioned above, many of which have delivered killer returns for David Gardner's readers, most of whom have not sat 20 feet away from him for six years. The Fool is investors writing for investors.