Last week I had the opportunity to attend the first Capital Camp hosted by Brent Beshore and Patrick O’Shaughnessy in Columbia, Missouri. Over the course of three days, we listened to speakers from all corners of the investment landscape, ate delicious food, experienced some (incredibly) unique activities, and just had a fantastic time. It truly was an amazing experience and I really feel honored to have been included. We had to sign an NDA as a prerequisite to our participation, so I can’t go into too many details about the presentations themselves, but I did want to list a few of my big takeaways from the experience alongside some of the book recommendations that seemed to be a part of almost every conversation.
The Value of Going Niche
A common theme that shone through a lot of the presentations during camp was that there is a lot of value in going niche. Many of the presenters were working in under-explored niches within the investment world and this willingness to go against the grain had compelling results. Going niche allows you to be a standout within a smaller pool. If there is an interesting opportunity in the space you are playing in, competition will inevitably flow in, but by being at the forefront of the trend, you will be among a handful of go-to people in the space. There is A LOT of value in being “The _______ Guy”. If you are among someone’s first couple of calls when they are in a very specific industry or if they are looking for a never-before-created financial product, you are going to be able to capture a lot of value.
The Ugly Premium
Similar to the above, there seems to be a premium placed on work that requires one to get their hands a little dirty. A willingness to go down into the weeds and tolerate extreme complexity or uncertainty can be a true differentiator when competitors are more than happy to stick to harvesting low-hanging fruit. Being a pathfinder in difficult or unexplored terrain is rarely easy, but the results can be truly spectacular if you develop a reputation for handling ugly situations with effectiveness and grace. People are also all too willing to overlook diamonds covered in a few layers of dirt. If you do the digging, you will have them all to yourself.
The Power of Place
I believe that the decision to host Capital Camp in Columbia, Missouri was absolutely key to the event’s overwhelming success. Place is a powerful consideration for any event or gathering and its effects should not be overlooked. By having this event in Columbia, Brent and Patrick immediately differentiated it from the plethora of other investor conferences that occur every year. They were able to build a completely differentiated ethos that was pervasive throughout the entire event and which led to a much more memorable experience than if it had been hosted somewhere like New York. I also think the location served as a strong tool for self-selection. Hosting a AAA investor conference in the middle of Missouri self-selected for people with a wide variety of interests who were open to new things and not too good for small-town America. By design or by accident, I think the location of the event was an incredibly powerful Asshole-Filter.
Interesting People Lead to Interesting Results
As awesome as the presentations, food, and activities were, they paled in comparison to the joy of simply interacting with the other attendees. I am a big believer in the idea that any time that you can get interesting and intellectually curious people together in a single place, something positive will inevitably happen. I know I wasn’t the only one that felt completely out of my depth at times, but the humility and curiosity of the other attendees ensured that I never once felt out of place. I can honestly say this was the first investor event I have ever been to where people were genuinely more interested in learning about you and what you did than they were interested in telling you about themselves. I don’t believe this was an accident, and I am sure both the location and the interesting/expansive variety of Patrick’s podcast both played their part in attracting high-achieving, yet humble, people with intellectual curiosity as varied as it was deep.
The Books of Capital Camp 2019
Interesting people from all over the world attended the first Capital Camp. Every conversation was different from the last. The one constant is that I left almost all of them with a new book on my reading list.
Here are all of the books that were recommended to me throughout the course of the week:
Ok, I am cheating a little bit on this one. Loonshots was actually the recommendation that I gave everyone who shared a recommendation with me! The book describes how to foster innovative thinking inside of organizations and explores what separates nimble, innovative organizations from slow, political ones. This is by far one of the most entertaining “business” books I have ever read and one that I am sure I will refer back to for some time to come
Michael Mauboussin was one of the presenters at Capital Camp and I am not exaggerating when I say that his was one of the most interesting and thought-provoking sections of the whole camp. Two of his books were highly recommended and many attendees talked about how influential his writings have been on them
Essay highlighting some of the findings from the books
Tim Ferris has an interesting heuristic about focusing on reading stories that have been around over 100 years. Chances are if they are still being talked about, there is something of value in there. Few names have persisted as long as Rockefeller’s and his biography was recommended by an attendee who makes sure to read it every couple of years
Systems thinking was a topic that came up in multiple presentations and conversations at Capital Camp. It is one of the topics I am most looking forward to learning more about!
This book is probably the one that has been recommended to me most even from before and after camp. I have had it sitting in my kindle for some time now, but it has vaulted to the top of my list based on some of its recent recommendations
The only fiction book that was recommended to me at camp. I love reading fiction and always make sure to be simultaneously reading one fiction and one non-fiction book at any given time. Not only is fiction generally more entertaining but I truly believe that imagination is a muscle that needs to be exercised just like any other. Reading fiction books is a great way to do just that.
Search Funds and Permanent Capital Private Equity were two of the asset classes with the most buzz around camp. This recommendation (and the next two as well) are what I was provided when I asked where a novice should start learning about these asset classes
This was the first book from this list that I picked up after camp and I can happily report that I am thoroughly enjoying it (and I am not just saying that since Brent hosted!) You can tell that it is written to be a reference guide to sellers, but it has been enjoyable and insightful to me as an investor as well!
In addition to the books above, I also received recommendations for a few other mediums:
Another shout-out to the Adventures team. Brent and Co. are the leaders in the Permanent Capital Private Equity world and they have put out a huge number of thoughtful pieces about the space on their website.
I was told that reading whatever Matt Levine writes is basically the equivalent to an MBA. I subscribed to his newsletter not long after…
I listened to this episode earlier this week and it was a fascinating discussion about the dangers of an over-reliance on metrics without using one’s judgment. I really appreciated Muller’s thoughts on the subject and thought they sync up nicely with my previous post on venture capital due diligence
This recommendation was definitely a little bit different than the others. I was told not to listen to it while driving since laughing so hard on the road would be unsafe!
Just as Sam Hinkie closed out the show at camp, the recommendation to read his resignation letter from the Philadelphia 76er’s closes out my list. Sam’s presentation was one of the more interesting and entertaining presentations I have ever seen and this letter gives a fantastic window into how he views the world.
Thanks again to Patrick and Brent for hosting such a fascinating and fun investor event!
Can’t wait till next year!