Both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates agree that “focus” is the single most important success factor.
Steve Jobs famously said: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”
I hope you find this idea as useful as I do. “Hell Yes, or No!”
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.