I love reading books. However, if I go too fast and read through too many books, I have trouble remembering what I learned. Also, I want to avoid chasing the “number of books” I have read. It doesn’t mean anything.
That’s why I really liked the idea by Rolf Dobelli of reading each book a second time, right after finishing it for the first time.
I started doing that and I really like it. The learning is much deeper. I discover things I didn’t catch for the first time. And it slows down the process of chasing the “next book”. All positive and healthy effects.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” — Maimonides
I love microlending. Here’s how it works: You give an entrepreneur in a developing country a loan for his business, e.g. to buy a water irrigation system for his field. This increases his productivity, with in turn increases his income. He repays the loan, and you recycle the money into the next project. This maximizes the impact of your funds, as you can re-lend the same dollar over and over again.
In 2007 I started lending on Kiva and have made over 100 loans there. I also invited 5 friends who made an additional 150 loans. (If you’d like to sign up, here is my invitation link.)
Back in the day, the process was very manual, as there was no auto-relending function (now there is). Also, Kiva works with intermediaries, which increases the lending costs for borrowers.
No middleman: Zidisha is a direct person-to-person community with no intermediaries
Lower cost: No middleman means lower interest rates for the borrowers (instead of the global average of 40%, to under 10%)
Auto-relending: 100% automated process (Kiva now has this feature as well). Zidisha claims that $50 in funds will fund $750 worth of loan projects in five years.
Impact accounts receive growth credits, so they grow
I have chosen an Impact Investment account with Zidisha. That means that a portion of the 5% service fee paid by all Zidisha borrowers is credited as growth credits, so that the value of my funds grow over time. The downside is that I cannot withdraw any funds, which is not important to me.
So far I have uploaded $1,024, which have funded $1,993 worth of loans. I have received $31.08 in growth credits, and have lost $2.47 in currency exchanges losses. All of my loan losses have been refunded by the Zidisha Members Loan Fund, so I currently have 0% in repayment losses.
To date, Zidisha has lent $16 million to over 233,000 projects. In comparison, Kiva has made $1.3 billion worth of loans so far.
Key learnings from Zidisha:
Log in every few months and use the “Receive Advance Repayment” link for all loans that have substantial delays. You will receive a full refund for those loans. I was able to recover more than $800 of late payments that way, which now should accelerate my lending cycle.
Make sure that the “Early Repayment” checkbox is activated in your preferences. With that you will receive an early repayment from the Zidisha Members Loan Fund whenever one of my loans falls 60 days past due. It seems that this automates the “Receive Advance Repayment” mentioned above.
Zidisha has a great “refer-a-friend” program. Each friend gets a free $25 credit which can be used for a first loan. Use this link to receive a free $25 credit.
Suggestions for improvements:
I’d like to set a maximum limit per loan. E.g. 5% of total fund value. This would increase diversification and reduce my risk. I had one loan which made up more than 70% of my total lending value, which is not exactly my idea of risk management.
I’d like to set a minimum value for “on-time repayments”, e.g. 90%. I just saw that a new loan has been made to someone with just 32% on-time repayments. I don’t feel comfortable with such borrowers.
Despite these shortcomings I can fully recommend Zidisha. The customer service has been great and the ability to refund delayed loans gives me peace of mind to never have substantial losses.
The style of investing that speaks most to me is value investing, as practiced by Warren Buffett and Benjamin Graham. I’m often asked: “What is value investing exactly?”
Here is my understanding of the core principles:
Have more purchasing power in the future The goal of all investing is laying out money today, so that you can enjoy more purchasing power in the future. The principle is: Instead of eating the seeds, plant them, so one day, you will have plenty more to enjoy.
Investing vs. Speculation The goal is to be an “investor” and not a “speculator”. Here is the definition by Benjamin Graham: “An investment operation is one which, upon thorough analysis promises safety of principle and an adequate return. Operations not meeting these requirements are speculative.” (The Intelligent Investor)
A stock is a partial ownership of a business A stock is not just an abstract ticker symbol with a constantly moving price. It is a partial ownership of a business. So no matter whether you are buying 0.000001%, 10% or 100% of a business, the decision process should be quite similar. You have to know what the whole business is worth, so that you can determine what each share of the business is worth.
Mr. Market is here to serve you, not to guide you Treat the market as your manic-depressive business partner called “Mr. Market“. He is emotional, euphoric, moody, and often irrational. Every day, he quotes you a new price for his shares. You can reject him every day, and the next day he always comes back with a new price. You can never know what price he will offer next and you don’t know why he offers you the price that he does. Your job is to simply listen to him every day, and only buy if when he offers you a low price. As opposed to “market timing”, this is “market pricing”. You simply recognize a good deal when you hear one, but can never know when it happens.
Margin of safety Always have a margin of safety, as a buffer for errors and unforeseen situations. The principle is simple: If you are building a bridge that is supposed to support 20 tons of weight, you don’t build it for 21 tons. You build it for 40 tons, to have plenty of margin. The same is true for value investors: they try to be very conservative in their calculations. They don’t buy a stock because they think it’s 6% undervalued. They demand 50%.
Buy one dollar for 50 cents To summarize, and to quote Warren Buffett: “All investing is value investing.” In fact, Warren Buffett or Charlie Munger don’t even call themselves value investors. They simply master these principles. The goal is to find something worth one dollar and buy it for 50 cents. And even if your assessment was wrong and it turns out to be worth only 50 cents, you at least didn’t lose any money, thanks to your wide margin of safety.
Results By applying these principles, Warren Buffett has grown his net worth from $10,000 when he was 19 years old to more than $80 billion today, compounding at an average rate of more than 20 percent per year for more than 60 years straight.
If you’ve invested $1,000 into Warren Buffett’s publicly traded holding company Berkshire Hathaway in 1965, you would currently have $4.3 million.
So these principles are not just theory, they are achieving wonderful results.
A friend recently brought up this topic: He is regularly reading to his partner in the evening, and they are both enjoying it very much. I told him that my partner and I have discovered the same thing.
Pick something that interests you both. It’s wonderful quality time. You are near each other. You learn something, or entertain each other. You have the opportunity to discuss the topic. And you can perfectly wind down and then go to bed.
How I have made this into a habit:
1. After my Downtime kicks in, I brush my teeth and prepare myself for bed 2. I have added a daily “Reading time” calendar entry from 21:00-22:00
Our current topic is Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. We love this topic and are taking a deep dive by reading everything we can.
A friend recently suggested to use the “Downtime” feature in the iPhone’s Screen Time settings.
When enabled, all your apps are blocked, except for the ones on your “Always Allowed” list.
How to enable “Downtime”: 1. Go to Settings 2. Go to Screen Time 3. Go to Downtime 4. Enable Downtime and customize settings 5. Go back to Screen Time 6. Go to Always Allowed and choose apps you want at all times
My personal downtime is from 20:45 to 06:00. From then on I only allow Audible, Podcasts, Calendar, and some other utilities. Everything else is blocked.
My expectations weren’t very high, and I was positively surprised. I really like this feature. Especially that all notifications and badges are hidden.
Also, in “emergencies”, it’s very easy to allow an additional 15 minutes for a particular app. I like the “opt in” aspect of it. There is a hurdle, but you can get your thing done if you really need to.
I enjoyed the recent TEDxBasel 2019. Here are my notes:
Choose your priorities Make health and happiness your main priority. Who would enjoy success or wealth without being healthy or happy?
Tips from a Michelin-starred chef Use a cooking apron. It will transform your mindset and you’ll feel like a chef. Try cooking with tea. Use lots of nuts. Always use salt, even for sweet dishes.
The benefits of walking Martin Vosseler is a physician and walked more than 40’000 km in his life, and he continues to walk 3000 km per year. Some of the benefits he experienced: it keeps you healthy; you connect with Earth and the Universe; you meet a lot of people; you experience a lot of love and generosity; it’s a very sustainable and earth-compatible mode of travel. It reminds me of my Just Walk habit I started a few years ago.
It took me 11 years after becoming a Warren Buffett enthusiast to finally attend my first Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. Here are my notes and my guide for first-time attenders.
Key Learnings from 2019 Meeting
Write down your thesis Before you buy a stock, write down: “I’m buying this company for [insert market cap, e.g. $500 billion], because…” If you can’t answer this question, don’t buy the company. Remember: A stock is not a piece of paper, it’s a part ownership of a business.
Broad vs. narrow circle of competence You need to find what you can understand. There is much more competition today than when Buffett started. It’s always a good strategy to specialize. Read as much you can. Figure out what you are good at. You need an edge. Be smart in spots and try to stay around those spots. Having one edge is enough.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) Don’t spend time creating ESG committees and writing long reports. Simply do the right thing. Example: Berkshire Hathaway’s utility is on a path to soon produce 100% renewable energy in Iowa.
The Future Performance of Berkshire Hathaway “Berkshire Hathaway won’t be the biggest compounder by a long shot. But it will and continue to be a very safe way to make decent returns for a long time.” — Warren Buffett
Keep trying things “If you keep doing enough things, some of them will work out.” — Warren Buffett
Figure out what works “Figure out what works, and go do it.” — Charlie Munger
How to attend / Guide for First-Timers
This guide by The Investors Podcast (TIP) is a great starting point. But there are a lot of additional details to figure out. Here is my guide for first-timers:
When to plan the trip? Next years meeting will take place on May 2, 2020. It’s advisable to plan the trip as soon as possible, optimally as early as October or November. I planned my trip in January and it was already quite difficult to find reasonably priced hotels (I was still lucky though, see below).
Credentials / Tickets You don’t need to be a shareholder to get tickets, and there aren’t any further controls once you have tickets. The easiest way is to order them on eBay directly from Berkshire Hathaway (brka_b is their user name) and send them to your hotel address. If you are a shareholder, then simply print out a recent broker statement, bring a matching ID/passport and pick them up at the CHI Health Center on Friday before the meeting at the “Will Call”. You can pick up as many as 4 credentials, so not all of your friends need to stand in line.
Accommodation / Hotels I highly recommend staying in Council Bluffs, right across the river in Iowa. I booked in January and was lucky to find a decent hotel for just $55 per night. It only takes 10 minutes to go Downtown and the traffic was always very smooth, because you take the freeway most of the way. If you are on a low budget or like to stay with locals, you might also consider Couchsurfing. If budget is not an issue, then you might stay near the Old Market area, so you have everything in walking distance.
Rental Car / Parking A rental car is highly recommended, and only costs around $30 per day. The alternative is using Uber/Lyft, but this can get quite expensive if you want to see many things. I never had parking problems, even in Downtown. Mostly you have parking meters which cost $1.25 per hour (payable with credit card or cash). I downloaded the “ParkOmaha App” which made the process even easier. (If you don’t mind walking 10-15 minutes, you can park for free on the bridge next to the Durham Museum. That’s what I did most days. But don’t tell others ;)
Join a WhatsApp / Telegram group One of the best things I did was to join WhatsApp / Telegram groups. That way I always knew what’s going on and was never alone. We ended up being a group of 4-5 people that did most things together. One group I found on the TIP Forum, and the other through Guy Spier’s mailing list. I’m pretty sure there are others as well.
How to prepare for the meeting If you want to stand in line very early, I recommend to buy a $10 camping chair from Walmart. I did and it was a very good investment. Some Chinese people also brought blankets to lie on the ground, but I’d say this is optional. Other than that no special preparations needed.
When to stand in line for the meeting There are multiple entrances. Mohnish Pabrai recommends to go to the South Entrance, so I did that. We were there at 3.00am, which guaranteed us excellent seats. I think 3.30am would have been fine as well. Most people come after 4.00am and the line will get very long after that. I was sitting in my chair and was even able to take a few naps, as did several Chinese people next to me. In fact, most of the very early people at the South Entrance were Chinese.
How to get great seats When you pass the security check at the South Entrance, take the stairs down one floor, then continue straight until you see the Lexus Club. Take any door to the left to enter the hall (the sectors are not separated, so you can move freely within the hall). If you feel lucky, you might go all the way down to the ground floor and try to get a front row seat. We didn’t do that. We chose Sectors 104 which offers a fantastic view.
Want to see Warren Buffett up close? After you have secured your seats around 7.15am, I recommend to go the the Exhibit Hall. Warren often takes a walk trough the hall before the meeting starts. The movie starts at 8.30am, so there is plenty of time to look for Warren. Don’t forget to go to the restroom before the event starts. The morning session is nonstop until noon.
Backpack / Security CHI Center’s clear bag policy doesn’t apply to the Berkshire Hathaway meeting. You can bring a backpack. Full bottles are not allowed (empty ones are okay).
Events / Meetups There are a lot of events and meetups, and the best way to stay up to date is to join a WhatsApp/Telegram group. I highly recommend doing the 5k on Sunday. It’s a very nice and quite short run. As we’re in the US I expected 5 miles, and was pleasantly surprised to see the finish line after just 5 km :) After that I went to Borsheims to play against ping pong champion Ariel Hsing, which was a lot of fun.
Restaurants I really liked Jams in the Old Market. They have great salads. I also liked the Old Chicago pizza place in the Old Market. On weekdays they have great lunch deals.
Other fun things The Hollywood Candy store was fun. That’s where Buffett and Gates made the Sweet Nostalgia video. You can easily spend one or two hours there. Don’t forget to have a strawberry milkshake!
Disclaimer: All the above information is based on my 2019 trip. Things might change in the future, so keep your eyes and ears open.