There are fundamental differences in the way investors and entrepreneurs think about the world of investment. Delve into the workings of an entrepreneurial mindset and leave with some precious insights and investment ideas.
Open any dictionary and look up for the definition of investor and this is more or less what you will find: “a person that puts money into financial schemes, property, etc. with the expectation of a future financial return or profit”. “Put money and expect”. That has always sounded to me like an easy job. OK, you need money and investment opportunities, but every day, financial markets provide exciting stories, compelling opportunities, and promises of returns to those who study and examine them. And this is regardless of the size of the investor’s portfolio and level of expertise. Of course, the job of an investor is not that easy, as not all investments deliver returns (at least positive ones!). A successful investor is one who is capable of analysing investments, form sound expectations of future returns and assume its decisions. However, my point is that this job is all about expectations. Put money and expect.
What happens on the other side of the markets, before you put your money and while you expect, is however, a completely different reality.
Whenever I find myself carried away by the sirens of markets, I like to remind myself of this quote from Paul Bouchey that I read once in a financial magazine: “Most advisers and investors forget that the capital markets were not created to provide them returns. The capital markets were created to give money to businesses and entrepreneurs to drive the economy and to offload risk onto investors. And it does a wonderful job at that.”
There is a rich source of lessons to be learn here.
Investors focus on the aims, entrepreneurs on the trajectory.
As investors we tend to focus on one of the aims, which is the company’s growth (which in turn should ensure potential profits to us). It is also one of the goals of the entrepreneurs but not the only one. For businesses, growth is not all about future return, it is first and foremost a journey made of strategic choices. Strategic choices that have a lot of consequences at different points in time for the company, its employees, its customers, the markets it covers and the environment it operates in. Investors and entrepreneurs also think on different time scales. Investor expectations are often bounded in time while entrepreneurs are thinking longer term. An investment is an agreement reached at one point in time between investors and businesses but their underlying or long-term interests may not be fully aligned. If you need proof of this, I would encourage you to join a shareholder meeting once in your lifetime.
An interesting fact is that these disconnects have encouraged the emergence of funding alternatives for companies: Business angels, private equity, P2P (crowd funding, crowd giving, crowd lending) there is today a greater focus on the convergence of investor and entrepreneur interests, on the face of it at least.
What should be the takeaway here for aspiring investors? Before calibrating your expectations, try to gain a holistic picture of the company and its potential trajectory. Understanding the business owners’ past decisions and future vision is critical. Many great investors such as Warren Buffet have put the relationship with company management at the centre of their investment philosophy.
Before sharing potential returns, you share risks.
When you invest, your money literally embarks on the company’s journey and you become one of the first risk-bearers alongside the entrepreneurs. That’s why risk is such a central notion in finance. You accept the risks and uncertainties associated with an investment in the hope that you will be rewarded. Assessing the risks of an investment is not an easy task but it is an important one. There are the “known” risks and the “unknown” risks. And more often than not, it is the latter that will jeopardize your investments and cast doubt on your investment strategy.
One of the hardest parts of investing is not actually making the decision to invest, it is what follows. We make a decision to invest and we form an expectation at some point in time, and from that point in time this expectation will be challenged every day by reality. The investment can drop significantly in value one day on the back of bad news, or its price can jump all of a sudden without explanations. It is also possible that nothing happens for a long period of time. So, our assumptions and nerves get constantly tested by the market, by peers, etc. While we expect, many things can happen.
There are ways to mitigate the discrepancy between our expectations and the events that unfold, or at least to deal with our gut reactions. But risks are inevitable. Financial markets were precisely created to transfer risks from entrepreneur to investors.
You also share responsibilities.
Put money and expect. Even if everything goes as planned and your money gets returned with additional profit, you may not have enjoyed the experience throughout.
Driving businesses and economies sometimes implies that entrepreneurs must make difficult decisions, or at least decisions that are not necessarily aligned with your set of values. And as an investor, you might indirectly put additional pressure for these decisions to be taken (as not honouring the financial expectations of investors sometimes have more consequences for companies than firing employees). Not to mention the scandals that can occur. It does not feel great to see a company you believed in, and you are associated with, makes newspaper headlines for the wrong reasons.
There is a big focus nowadays on responsible investing, transparency, corporate responsibility, etc. While this could potentially lead to a better financial world, some argue it comes at the detriment of potential returns. We will leave this debate for another day. The point is more that you should invest in business that are aligned with your values (be it ethical, familial, religious, philosophical, etc.) and a fortiori if these values are important to you.
After all, your money has some implications.
Investing is much more than to put money and expect. Whether you want it or not, when investing, you bet on a business, share its risks and responsibilities. While it can feel overwhelming, there is also something exciting about it: your investments, even the smallest, can help drive the economy.
That’s why it is important when you invest to bridge that gap, to go on the other side of the markets and to think as an entrepreneur to form better expectations. If you don’t know where to start, here is a simple exercise I like to do when considering an investment: try to picture where a single dollar you could put would go before coming back to you. If you don’t like the journey, save your dollars for the next investment opportunity!