How I work (part 1): 10 methods to my madness

How I work (part 1): 10 methods to my madness
29 May 2020

Since I relaunched Undervalued-Shares.com, readers have regularly asked me about my work – perhaps this included yourself?

Maybe you want to learn a few tricks that you can incorporate in your own work.

Or you'd simply like to take a look at my office, just like people enjoying peeking into airline cockpits, restaurant kitchens, or artist studios.

You could also be one of the younger readers who have emailed me to get a bit of mentoring about where to go in life (the youngest reader to ask me for such advice was 16).

Given that I receive such requests regularly, I decided to write a three-part series that answers all of these questions (and then some).

If you always wanted to know the good, the bad, and the ugly of my work, then enter at your own peril.

Exposing the inner workings

Publishing this series is a bit risky for me.

You'll get to hear about my past, my current work, and my plans. It'll be warts and all.

Parts of it will be a bit painful for me, and I mean this literally. To let you learn from my mistakes, I need to dig out the most painful lessons of my life, write them down in detail, and then irreversibly spill them across the Internet.

However, I believe there is significant value in such exercises.

Radical transparency and authenticity are the only way for any media channel to truly connect with its audience and to find out what people want to hear about.

If you wanted anything else, you'd currently be watching the approved narrative of corporate mainstream media, instead of surfing the Internet and reading one guy's blog. Mainstream media, as more and more people realise, is the opposite of authenticity. That's one of the many reasons why most of them have been going downhill for many years.

On the other hand, never before has there been such widespread interest in individuals who set up their own channel and lay bare all they have. Whether that's in blogs, VLOGs, podcasts, books or other forms of media that the content creator has full control over.

There is something in it for me, too. Writing has a cathartic effect. Presumably, after writing down some of these painful lessons, I'll be sleeping more soundly at night.

With all that said, I have planned this series to have three parts:

Part 1: 10 methods to my madness (= today's issue)

I let you take a look into what makes me get up in the morning, why I publish this blog, and what benefits I reap through my writing. This part is probably only of interest to some of you, but a good number of readers have specifically requested this kind of information. It's your chance to get to know me a bit better on a different level.

Part 2: The 10 worst mistakes of my investing career

My aim for the second part is to help you avoid some of the mistakes that I've made. This part will tie in more directly with the investment themes of Undervalued-Shares.com.

Part 3: 10 pieces of advice to younger investors

I believe that young people who reach out and ask for support should get it. I have had an increasing number of such enquiries and figured it's easier for future requests if there was an article that I can point to. In the past, I have had several interns and mentees – which makes me believe that I have something to offer that younger people find useful.

With this overview, you can pick and choose which parts are of (most) interest to you.

Here is part 1 for you to dive right in. What's driving me, why do I write this blog, how do I do it, and what lessons, inspirations, and conclusions could you draw from it for yourself?

1. Writing energises me

I could rationalise my writing in a lot of ways:

  • Building my personal brand.
  • Adding to my CV.
  • Keeping my mind active.
  • Publishing useful content that makes the world a better place.
  • Bla bla bla.

However, none of these reasons would ever help anyone build and grow a successful website.

You need a LOT of content to build and grow a website like Undervalued-Shares.com. If it was merely a job or chore for you, you'd never get there. Readers will sense if your heart isn't in your writing.

Ultimately, the main reason why I write is that it energises me.

When I wake up in the morning, the thought of being able to sit down for another session of writing gets me going.

Putting pen to paper – illustratively speaking – charges me up.

Each time I hit "publish", I am excited like a child at Christmas. To me, giving away content feels like receiving something. I love putting new content the way of my readers, and hearing all the feedback I get (positive and negative).

It's as simple as that. No other reasons were needed.

People often tell me: "It's amazing how much you write!"

That's very flattering. The truth is, though, that I simply cannot help myself. It just comes out.

Swen's workplace

My kitchen desk is my office, and each book pile represents one upcoming article or report. I hunted down an unusually big (3.50m * 1.20m / 11.5 ft * 3.6 ft) antique dining table to have sufficient workspace.

2. Publishing allows me to test my theses

Anyone who publishes anything exposes themselves to public judgment and, potentially, ridicule.

If what you publish isn't any good, you'll be sure to hear about it from your readers. Your website metrics will also tell a dire story because people will stop following you.

I have some of the smartest people in the world among my readers.

By putting my views and opinions online, I put them to the ultimate test.

Will those of my readers who happen to be experts in the relevant fields tear my investment theses apart?

The thought of getting one of my articles or research reports *entirely* wrong terrifies me. It forces me to spend more time researching and preparing my theses, and as a result, it brings out the best in me (besides making me sweat).

For years, I have been recommending to friends and colleagues to set up a blog or personal website. No matter what field you operate in, forcing yourself to up your game by publishing on the Internet is one of the best ways to sharpen your skills.

Investing is one of the world's most competitive industries. I want to be successful in investing, and testing my investment theses by putting them out to thousands of well-informed readers will ultimately help me achieve my aim.

3. Each article helps me grow my network

Speaking of readers, I am a big believer in Woody Allen's old saying:

"Turning up is 80% of success."

Throughout my entire career, I have noticed again and again that it truly is down to who you know. Or, at the very least, knowing the right people makes it a lot easier to get ahead in life. A while ago, I published an article elsewhere about how to broaden and manage your network.

One way to widen your network is to attend lots of social functions and cocktail parties.

The other way is to publish content online and make useful people come your way. The Internet is like a global 24/7 cocktail party.

During the short 17 months since I relaunched Undervalued-Shares.com, my network has grown considerably. Even though I am probably only in regular direct contact with 1-2% of my readers, I have already gained many valuable professional contacts (and made new friends, too).

Besides contacts, you also need a bit of luck in your life.

In my case, luck can involve a reader contacting me with a good investment idea that I end up using, or a reader helping me to find some hard-to-get information about a company.

By operating this website, I make it easier for luck to find me.

Which, in turn, benefits all my readers. It's a virtuous feedback loop.

4. My life revolves around systems, not goals

One of the most surefire ways to become more successful in investing is to take a look at a LOT of investment cases.

By publishing a weekly column as well as regular research reports, I force myself to continuously look for new opportunities.

The Weekly Dispatches, in particular, are helpful in that regard. Because of the (weekly) pressure to produce something that my readers will find interesting and useful, I continuously have to learn about new subjects and look at ideas that otherwise I would never have looked at.

It goes back to the old saying "Don't pursue goals; instead, set up a system."

A system is something you do regularly. If you are doing something weekly or monthly, it's a system. If you are waiting to achieve something at some point in the future, it's a goal.

If my New Year's resolution was to look at 52 new ideas and subjects, I'd never get there, or I would end up cutting corners. Goals are easily forgotten, postponed, or altered. Statistically speaking, by 17 January of each new year, most resolutions/goals have already gone out the window.

Once you have set up a system, it becomes much easier to succeed.

My system is straightforward:

  • Every week, I need to deliver some valuable investment-related content to the readers of my Weekly Dispatches. I've publicly committed to them, so there is no way out for me.
  • 10 times a year, I need to deliver a truly compelling and exciting investment thesis to my website's Members. Ditto, it's my obligation to deliver.

It's a system that is easy to stick to because it involves realistic goals that are broken down into smaller steps. I never think about a year-end goal; instead, I think about fulfilling the current week's or month's deliverables. It's not difficult to find a bit of time each week to research one idea or subject. You just need to prioritise it.

Over the course of the year, it adds up to a considerable body of work.

By turning goals into an ongoing routine, I set myself up for success. And in this regard, too, my readers are being taken along for the ride.

Content plan

My approach to work is probably less high-tech than you think. E.g., my "content planning" is a sheet of paper where I put down ideas that I have decided to write about. This is the sheet I started at year-end 2019, and it keeps getting updated. (I had to blur a few pending articles.)

5. The more you know, the more you can know

I have a theory about compounding knowledge.

It's a subject I wrote about on the occasion of my 44th birthday, in an article called "44 things I know because I am now 44".

Financial capital compounds over the years, and it eventually produces exponential returns. Have you ever considered that the very same thing happens with knowledge?

As I put it in my article:

"Learning Years" aren’t linear; instead, they compound. Most people base their perception of age on linear counting. I have started to base it on Learning Years, i.e., you should account for the fact that as we get older, we accumulate knowledge ever faster. As the saying goes, the more you know, the faster you learn.  

Our knowledge accumulating exponentially (unless you vegetate in front of Netflix) makes for some powerful arithmetic as you get older. It really does work like that, e.g., older entrepreneurs have a five-time (!) higher chance of success as a result of all the knowledge they were able to accumulate earlier in life."

As you will have gathered from the previous points, I use Undervalued-Shares.com to force myself to continually learn about new stuff.

Even after just one and a half years of operating this website in its new set-up, I feel that my knowledge of stuff that is happening in the world has increased dramatically.

I dare not even think about how this effect will feel once I have done this for five, ten, or more years!

Luckily, I have a pretty big head underneath my hat. There should be plenty of space left on my biological hard drive.

6. You learn the most from your public failures

This point is an extension of point 2, but it does deserve its own mentioning.

Who wouldn't agree that it is from our failures that we learn the most?

To which I would add that it is from your PUBLIC failures that you truly learn the most.

By putting my investment theses onto the web for a global audience to look at, I force myself to be very aware and self-conscious about the cases that didn't work out.

When things go badly wrong, I need to explain why. Operating Undervalued-Shares.com makes me carry out a post mortem on each such case. I can't simply ignore a mistake or sweep it under the rug.

Needless to say, that helps me, too, learn much more from my failures.

It's a bit painful in the short run but pays enormous dividends longer term.

7. I make $$$s off subscription fees

I am entirely unapologetic about it. I do enjoy earning subscription fees from my website.

When I launched Undervalued-Shares.com, colleagues, professional contacts and friends thought I was mad to dedicate a significant amount of work to a website that I charge just USD 49 for.

Most similar websites charge 10 to 20 times as much.

I had just left a reasonably well-paid position as CEO of a reasonably well-respected company, to build a website where an annual subscription costs USD 49. One friend put the knife right in: "Oh, I had thought your next project would be a step up!"

Little did they know, though.

Most investment websites are limited in their potential reach. They focus on stocks in a particular sector or country, or they publish their content in a language other than English.

I spent six months thinking through how I wanted my relaunched website to be, and what it would take to turn it into an unusual success story. I also contemplated rather intensely about building a model that I could leave mostly unchanged for five, ten and even 20 years.

In the end, I concluded the following:

  • I always want my readers to feel that they receive more than what they pay for. Overdelivering to your clients is so much more fun than underdelivering. Even during difficult times (such as the current coronavirus crisis), I'd want my readers to feel that they have gotten their money's worth. That's the foundation on which all other planning was done.
  • I want my content to be relevant and available to everyone, everywhere. Instead of limiting myself to a specific country, sector, or target group of readers, I want Undervalued-Shares.com to appeal to the hundreds of millions of private investors scattered around the globe. As I like to say, even students in emerging markets can afford to subscribe to the site. And for everybody else who just wants to learn or be entertained, there are the free Weekly Dispatches which are often more in-depth than paid-for content on other sites.
  • By combining the previous two steps, I want to build up a size audience that makes the website lucrative through reader loyalty (compounding!) and sheer user numbers (economies of scale!).

It's early days, but it's been going well.

Two thirds of all my readers have opted to join the paid-for Membership scheme.

A website that converts two thirds of its non-paying readers into paying ones is almost unheard of. This ratio is insane, and some people don't believe me that it's true.

I had an unusual strategy: publishing long-form content rather than bite-sized articles. Had I asked a "marketing expert" about publishing research reports that are 30 to 100 pages in length, they would have said: "No one wants to read that much." Never mind, my lengthy reports have proven very popular indeed - doing things differently is already paying off.

The money that I make off subscription fees allows me to invest further in building the website. By paying a fee, my readers ultimately also invest – their money helps me to improve and expand the service that I offer.

8. Writing increases my influence in the world

As mentioned in point 2, I have an awe-inspiring impressive array of readers. As I like put it, they range from high school student to self-made billionaire – and anything in between.

Needless to say, I keep an eye on my subscription list. It's not like I could easily spot all stand-out cases, but some names simply stick out for one reason or another. In the case of others, I happen to know because they come over and introduce themselves – by sending me an email.

One reader once joked that surely, Vladimir Putin's people would have gotten hold of my seminal December 2018 report on Gazprom and taken it as an instruction manual.

In that particular case, I had to disagree. The report was prescient because I had good sources in Russia. Few things are secret-secret, and for most upcoming developments you can find early indicators if you know where to look or have the right contacts.

But my reader's point was a valid one. It does help to put your opinion out there. Once enough people read it – and assuming some of the "right" people read it – your writing contributes to creating a different version of reality.

9. I get to leave my lane and build entirely new skills

I am a big believer in building multiple "talent stacks" - complementary skills that make you unique to the market.

The concept of talent stacks was popularised by Scott Adams, the creator of the globally-known comic strip, Dilbert.

Here is how one website describes talent stacking:

"Dilbert appears in 2,000 newspapers across 65 countries and in 25 languages. Scott Adams has an impressive stack of talents of his own but, by his own admission, he says he’s not the best artist, he’s not the best writer, he’s not the most persuasive or even the funniest person he knows.  But, and it’s a big but, he’s good enough at all of them.  While Adams is not world-class at one single talent, when stacked together they gave him the ability to create a globally known comic like Dilbert."

There are many examples of successful people with a unique talent stack, such as the two most influential politicians in the US.

Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should not be where they are today.

One of them never previously held public office, but defeated 16 experienced candidates to win the most powerful elected position on earth – without as much as a trial run. That's after building a global real estate firm and presenting the first 14 seasons of a globally-copied reality TV show. How many other people, besides Donald Trump, can claim to have succeeded on a world-class level in three consecutive careers in three entirely different fields?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez worked as a bartender in Brooklyn before joining politics in her mid-20s. She not only became a Member of Congress at the age of just 28 but quickly turned herself into the single-most visible member of her party who does not hold a position outside of her congressional seat. Not every American will know Nancy Pelosi or Bernie Sanders, even though they have been in business since medieval times. But almost every American knows "AOC", even though she has only been around for less than three years. What are the odds?

Both are from opposite ends of the political spectrum, but both succeeded because they didn't stay in their designated lane. Instead, they veered off into totally different subjects and worked to accumulate a unique stack of talents. Had they asked an "expert" for advice instead of following their instincts, neither of them would be where they are today. I view both of them as extraordinarily inspiring (and would love to have AOC as a friend – does one of my readers happen to know her?).

I try to build my own talent stack by regularly writing about subjects that I know little (or even nothing) about. Undervalued-Shares.com is essentially a service that allows you to look over my shoulders while I learn new stuff.

In case you ever wondered why I put so much work into my website, this is part of the answer. I expect that the peak of my professional career will likely occur between the age of 60 and 70. For that period, I wanted to be well-prepared. I've now got another 15 years to prepare and learn ahead of reaching what I hope will be the most productive time of my life.

Rest assured, there is a lot more writing coming your way!

10. I get to imagine an incredible future world

I am an optimist by choice. When I look at the world in increments of five, ten and 20 years (as you can do once you have a certain life experience), I believe it will continue to improve. There'll be ups and downs along the way, of course.

It's now exactly 25 years since I got my first email address. It consisted of numbers rather than my name (anybody remember CompuServe?), and hardly any of my friends or professional contacts had one at the time. To think!

Another 25 years from now, we'll probably have made even bigger advances. I like to think about what they will be and how to benefit from them financially.

I believe humanity has great things in store for itself. If you aren't sure about this yet, you could do worse than to read Hans Rosling's book: "Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About The World - And Why Things Are Better Than You Think"

Undervalued-Shares.com allows me to improve my skills for recognising these trends and to develop an outlook based on long-term positivism. Hopefully, this optimism will rub off on a few other people. Optimism does influence other people more than anything else, and it helps to shape the future. That's another reason why over the years, I'd like to build up as large a readership as possible. It might make a tiny contribution to making the world a better place – which is one of the fuzzy motivations I already mentioned under point 1 (talk of closing the loop!).

Sark aerial

Living in a quiet place without too many distractions is conducive to my work.

Debrief

This article is, as I had promised/warned you, very different from my usual Weekly Dispatches.

As always, I love to hear from you. What did you think? Was this useful for you? Enjoyable? A total waste of your time?

Next Friday, part 2 of this series will come your way. I have not done as much as a draft list of the 10 points that it will cover, so I am slightly terrified. But I am optimistic that I'll persevere and create another useful article for you.

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Extra research report coming up – for Lifetime Members only

I'm hot on the heels of another, less liquid investment opportunity right now.

The company in question will be revealed in my latest research report – due out this Sunday (31 May).

It's one of two extra research reports per year that are only shared with my most dedicated readers: Undervalued-Shares.com Lifetime Members. Because these stocks are thinly traded, I need to limit them to a smaller number of readers.

Lifetime Members enjoy all the benefits of Annual Members (my 10 best investment ideas every year, 2 special reports, regular report updates, email alerts etc.), plus a couple of extras:

  • Priority booking of reader events and trips.
  • Special access, such as involvement in the content of my next book.
  • Investment opportunities that are not liquid enough for the general readership.

The last point will get my Lifetime Members two additional reports per year. Maybe three, if circumstances permit.

If you, too, would like to access Sunday's report, I recommend you sign up now.