A Big Announcement: Going Pro.
This announcement has been a while in the making. I started my substack writing journey in August 2020, and I am excited to take it to the next level. I would love for you to be a part of it by becoming a subscriber who supports more detailed work.
Let me tell you about the journey so far, what I have planned, and what it all means for you.
My journey so far.
After my divorce, I picked up a new hobby. On Saturday morning, I would pack a stack of notepads, a sandwich, a USB stick. And I made my way to the New York Public Library. Specifically the SIBL building, across from the Empire State Building and a block away from J.P. Morgan’s amazing private library. There I started browsing through microfilms, newspaper databases, and old books. I can’t remember exactly why I started doing it. Maybe I was looking for some insight, some piece of forgotten advice that would help me find my way out of what Dan McMurtrie calls the “doom loop.”
Early on, I went down a list of “famous investors” and dug up whatever I could find. I tried to get as close as I could to the moments when they had to make decisions, when they faced uncertainty, or when they articulated their process. I started with one-off articles like the first profile of George Soros I could find from 1975. I got a glimpse of Stanley Druckenmilller as young manager and later saw him hop on the tech bandwagon in 2000. I found out that Ben Graham had wanted to buy IBM stock and learned about Ed Thorp’s method of “getting rich slow.” And I read about how Paul Tudor Jones shorted the Japanese bubble in old Barron’s roundtables. With a combination of articles and books, I could piece together Soros’s transformational personal crisis of 1981. (You can find many of my Twitter threads here.)
From that basic list I progressed to canvassing the footnotes of financial history books. That’s when I started to really appreciate well-researched industry books with tons of footnotes (at one point I tried to find nearly every article referenced in More Money than God).
What I loved about the work was that it got me relatively close to the “action.” I could watch managers such as Julian Robertson and Robert Wilson react to the 1987 crash “live” by reading their quotes soon after the event (I will have to re-write that piece and publish it here one day). When Genius Failed provided me with a sweeping account of the LTCM saga. But reading articles that were published when the drama unfolded got me closer to the chaos and uncertainty of that moment. The only thing better would be “oral history” interviews with people who lived through those events (something to be explored in the future).
I could tell from the response on Twitter that there was some interest among enthusiasts. But I couldn’t imagine it being more than an odd hobby. I was working at firms with strict compliance and it was clear that writing about financial topics under my own name was not going to be allowed. I experimented with a few essays, but it remained an niche interest. Many articles remained on my hard drive, waiting to for their essence to be extracted.
Why I write (it has been a life saver).
As many of you know, last year was bumpy for me. After ten years in banking, family offices, and consulting, my journey ended with getting fired from a hedge fund. It was the catalyst that allowed me to choose a new path and let go of the salt.
Writing has been therapeutic for me. I took a first writing class in 2019 which helped me work my way through some painful memories and patterns. I took it to another level this year, processing events like my divorce and the dumb decisions I make when thinking with a scarcity mindset. It has helped me a lot and I thank you all for reading and reaching out!
My favorite stories to date have been Reginald Lewis, the black dealmaker who bootstrapped his way to a billion-dollar buyout, the parallels between George Soros and Steve Jobs, Den Fujita who brought McDonald’s to Japan by building a restaurant in 39 hours, Paul Tudor Jones shorting real and imagined bubbles, the college friends who built a trading empire called Susquehanna, and Barry Diller’s road trip to the future.
Connecting the fragments into longer form pieces felt natural. It felt like something I had to do because those stories would otherwise be lost and vanish. My research has opened my eyes to how much context of the investment and business world is lost. For example, there is no archive of fund letters or annual reports that allows us to go back decades, quarter by quarter, and see markets through the eyes of practitioners - be it investors or operators. It’s one reason why Buffett’s letters are so uniquely valuable.
I believe I can offer my own contribution by exploring the stories and characters of the “money game” of investing and business. I cherish the game’s paradoxical nature: the wisdom and the absurdity, the grand designs and the fever dreams. I get a kick out of finding nuggets that add nuance and texture to the story. And I love piecing together what would otherwise be forgotten or reduced to a soundbite.
I am very excited to commit to this and take it to the next level. Along the way, I will continue to share my own story (to date, a Constanza-style odyssey), my observations on life and markets, and what I learn as my life unfolds.
To quote Steven Pressfield’s War of Art:
“The word amateur comes form the Latin root meaning ‘to love.’ The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation. The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.”
It's time to commit.
What I will write about.
This will continue to be an open and personal exploration of topics that interest me.
I have notebooks full of names and stories (and illegible scribbles) that I want to explore through my own unique lens. And I’m sure a lot more will pop up along the way. We have barely scratched the surface!
Steinbeck once wrote:
“The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. All those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”
That tension between the qualities we admire and the “produce” we covet is central to our own journey as we navigate life. It’s why I am attracted to these “histories of ambition.” By seeing the players for who they really are - ambitious and flawed people who strive and sacrifice in an effort to get ahead in the game - we can find ourselves in their struggles. It’s the opposite of reading soundbites from a list of billionaires. That polished and one-dimensional version of history, without context and character, which omits ambiguity, is useless to me.
I also want to explore topics in a more more thematic way by connecting stories.
The investor’s journey: we all struggle to learn and adapt. We have to decide when to abandon principles and when to stand firm. We have to separate real change from cyclical phenomena. This would be about exploring the pivots and journeys of people who changed and shifted between strategies, business models, asset classes, public and private markets, between being investors and operators.
Regime shifts: navigating wars, revolutions, collapse, chaos.
Going global: I would like to explore more stories outside the US. As the new decade dawns, we might have to re-learn lessons of great power competition, commodities, emerging markets, and global tension.
I also have this crazy idea of creating a massive stock market history chart with all the major market regimes and notable events. The key would to add another layer with the players, games, stories, and narratives prevalent at the time. To compare and contrast how people acted and interpreted events. To get a true feeling for who was active, how they rose, and when and why they fell. In other words: expect more stories and ideas that you won’t see elsewhere.
The following is a rough plan and will change as I learn more. I don’t recall where I read this, but I liked it: “be uncompromising on your goals, flexible on your tactics, and relentless in your execution.” I will try to keep that in mind.
Until now, I’ve published about once a week. I want to step up the cadence a bit. I’m aiming for a weekly personal note as well as an essay or profile.
There will be exclusive content for the paying subscribers who support my work: I target an in-depth piece every other week. As well as more personal content on a monthly basis. That could be a personal note that I’m more comfortable sharing in a small circle, it could be a Q&A/AMA, or notes on books I’m reading. Whatever is on my mind. I also want to poll premium subscribers about ideas I have.
I will continue to publish free content, both personal pieces and stories.
There are more ideas I want to explore, such as conversations with other smart people and open discussion threads. The idea of collecting oral history around significant events is also intriguing. But I have decided to postpone these new ideas until after my move.
These are the new subscription tiers:
Free: Totally cool. I will continue to write and publish for you. If the community ever gets big enough, I will look for a sponsor for these posts.
Premium ($12/month or $120 a year - remember, there is a discount this week): we will regularly explore in-depth stories together. I will occasionally ask for your opinion, share more personal observations, or answer your questions.
Founding Member: if you enjoy my writing (or Twitter) and have done well in life, this is how you could really support me. I can’t promise extra content. Only my heartfelt gratitude. If you want, I will add your name/nickname/Twitter handle to a “donor wall” on my About page.
Why should you subscribe?
First: it would mean the world to me! Mike “Nongaap” once said “the highest conviction decision in your life should be your willingness to bet on yourself” and that’s what I’m doing, finally. Your support makes this a sustainable venture.
The second reason is quite mundane. In the immortal words of Margin Call: “I’ll do it, John, but not because of your little speech. But because I need the money. Hard to believe after all these years. But I need the money.” Yep, still need the money.
I understand if you’re on the fence. I you feel you don’t know me well enough. I will continue to publish for free and hope I can convince you over time. This is not a car dealership. There is no hard sale. I’m just looking for a tribe of engaged and curious minds who want to learn and explore together.
If you can’t afford it because you’re under- or un-employed (I’ve been there) or you’re a journalist or student: reach out to me directly. I can look into comping a limited time subscription.
I know some of you work in geographies where this price point is prohibitive. I wish there was a better model. Unfortunately, the newsletter is much too small to make it sustainable through ads or sponsorships. I will continue to publish for free so don’t worry, we’ll still be in touch.
From time to time I will also make some of the write-ups available to market the newsletter. So, there will still be opportunities to read at least some of the premium content.
I am very excited to dive into this and see what it can become. I hope you are, too.
Until next time,
Frederik “Neckar” Gieschen