My guest today is Max Koh (@heymaxkoh). Max is a private investor from Singapore with a background in marketing.
In this conversation, we cover how marketing and investing intertwine, some interesting ways to research a company, and the lessons he’s learned along the way.
I hope you enjoy my conversation with Max Koh.
[00:00:31] – [First question] – Max’s background
[00:10:06] – Lessons from Marketing applicable to Investing?
[00:13:10] – Customer psychology and what to look for
[00:16:22] – Max’s idea generation process
[00:18:24] – Max’s most painful investing lesson
[00:26:20] – Investments that Max avoids
[00:28:23] – Interesting and alternative research methods
[00:30:33] – What makes an interesting founder?
[00:36:11] – The secret to growing Max’s Twitter account
[00:39:53] – Max’s favourite books?
[00:44:09] – Most unvalued life experience?
[00:48:06] – Plans for the future?
Connect with Max:
Follow Max on Twitter: https://twitter.com/heymaxkoh
Connect with Max on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maxkohgo/
Max’s Newsletter: https://maxkoh.substack.com/
- Nick Sleep Letters
- The Investment Checklist by Michael Shearn
- How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
- The Education of a Value Investor by Guy Spier
Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favourite podcast platform.
Kalani Scarrott (00:31): So my guest today is Max Koh. Max is a private investor from Singapore with a background and history in marketing. So for today’s conversation, we cover how marketing investing often intertwine, some interesting ways that he researches a company, and some lessons he’s learned along the way. So, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Max Koh. Max, thanks so much for being on today, but previous podcast guest, Eugene connected us, and he mentioned that you have a really interesting background. So before we get into investing in all the like, I’d love just to hear more about you and your background.
Max Koh (01:04): Got it. Yeah. Firstly, thank you for having me on Kalani. So I think, my background is something that it’s very different from the conventional investing path. Cause I’ve heard a few of your podcasts and normally standard podcasts, most people in the investing world, have an investing background, like they’ve always wanted to be investors since young, manage their own funds, what have you. Mine’s a little different. So I come from the marketing background. So, since young I’ve always had a passion for, I would say, speaking and marketing. So like the elements of persuasion. So when I was like a little boy, about 15 or 16, I came across like, as cheesy and as trite as it sounds, I came across like videos of Tony Robbins speaking on stage, you know, Tony Robbins, right? So that was the first time in my life.
I was like, whoa, like you can be a speaker on stage, make people laugh, tell stories and make such good money. And I was like, okay, I wanna do that. So I went and did a marketing rabbit hole, became a marketer and a speaker. So that’s how I built my chops in speaking, because I was teaching people in marketing. And then of course through my seminars and talks, through a company that I’m with, so I don’t run my own business, it’s through like a seminar company here based in Singapore, where I’m based from and then gave me a platform to start speaking. And then through there, that was how I kind of, I would say accumulated my first pot of gold, which is I was able to save my first, six figures through my work and my employment and as a speaker and as a middle level manager in a small medium business in Singapore.
And then from there, the questions start coming. I mean that is, oh no, the bank account interest rates in Singapore, I believe in the whole world are crap. I’m never gonna grow my income, my wealth, what have you, and so I was thinking to myself, okay, I gotta do something to kind- to try and make it grow. And believe it or not, I didn’t consider investing at the start because, since young I’ve never really felt that was the path for me. I’ve always loved stuff that have a bit more action, a bit more kind of, excitement to it. So after having my first six figures saved up, along the way back then as well, I was already exploring things like believe it or not forex trading, price action, looking at charts, technical analysis, what have you, futures trading, commodities trading.
And, I didn’t lose much money, but I didn’t make much money as well. But it was fun because, some backstory, I love playing poker so, I guess trading has a bit of that essence of poker there where the risk, reward is being managed. And then you kind of write the trend, like kinda like the flop, the river. If you have a good hand, you go all in kind of stuff like that. So, that was me for like about two years or so, and then obviously no results, from my trading and more short term price action. And it’s only about three years ago that I kinda had this, just, I was just brought to a corner. I’ve tried almost everything. So I just kind of gave like the condensed version of the story, but like I tried, like forex didn’t work, futures didn’t work, even I wanted to invest in a property in Singapore, but even I didn’t go through because, I was just so afraid of getting my money stuck there, because I think, you know, property, its pretty much its quite easily quit right. So almost all other options were exhausted and just out of pure desperation i was like okay only thing I havent yet tried is investing. I mean I’ve heard about Warren Buffet since young, who hasn’t right? But I just didn’t wanna do it cos I’ve always had this fear that I couldnt read a tonne of reports and i’ve got to pour through all the statements and I was afraid of that and then just out of pure desperation having exhausted all other options, i thought crap lets just try investing, and so i started learning courses and seminars on that in 2019, early 2019, so yep was about three years, here’s the funny thing, after i started attending courses, I think i got really lucky aswell, I learned from the right people at the very beginning because i started attending courses on like Grove investing at the very beginning. theres this well known Investor here is Singapore called Kelvin Seetoh, that’s the guy I first learned from, I believe he’s quite popular on twitter, infact if you can do interview with him, this guy is my mentor. And so after coming across his course and learning about growth investing, I was pretty mind blown, because some back stories that, I’m a big nerd, I think you can tell through the camera, I think, the viewers or the listeners won’t see it, but i’m a big nerd in the sense that since young due to Tony Robbins and all that stuff that I was exposed to, I’m a big Orbacollecy self help junkie, so you know what that means right? It means you attend seminars I read a tonne of books and i’ve just loved reading and it’s only when I transfer to invest again, I was taught how to read the end report and look at finacial statements,
I was like, I don’t know that I can swear, but I was like, “holy shit”. Like this is amazing. Like cause I was always fearful on the surface of like having to read a lot. But then when I actually read it, I was like, oh, this ties into my personality of that love and hunger for reading because I’m the kind of person who has, since young, I’ve always loved to just read and learn and grind the self help junkie like I mentioned. And so because of that, when I first learned how to read any reports, I was like, okay, this is such an amazing outlet. Since young I’ve always loved reading, but I could never really transform that into like a money making avenue. Right. And then when I learned how to like really analyze financial statements, understand about the business, the 10K’s, the 10Q’s, the business section, read the S-1’s, what have you.
It was like, I got bitten by the investing book, if that’s what you call it. And then I was just merely obsessed. And then since then, till now, uh, can’t stop reading annual reports or S-1 prospectuses, what have you. And so that was how I discovered that. Holy shit like this investing thing actually fits my personality. And it actually gives me an outlet to read and learn about the world and yet still make pretty good money. So I think to kind of end off my long winded story is that, there’s this quote that I came across just last year, after coming across, Nick Sleep’s letters. Right? So he has this quote at the beginning of his letter before, he was introducing the whole letter before he went into the breakdown of the year by year. He said that investing is one of those rare fields where as a capital allocator, you can just get paid really good money just to learn and to think about the goal.
And when I read that I was so inspired because that really resonated with what I really felt and he was able to word it in such a beautiful way. So yeah, that’s how I got bitten by the investing bug. And then from Kelvin Seetoh from there, I, he started me on the path of Growth investing, which is investing in, companies with growth. So I was very fortunate. I didnt spend much time in any of that deep value seeker, but I did a bit of that when I was exploring, but, thankfully at the very beginning of the journey, the right mentors, the right framework. And then I went down the whole rabbit hole of Motley fool and like reading investor letters, John Huber, Fred Lu, a whole bunch of well known investors Buffet definitely, all his transcripts of the annual meetings. And just that got me started.
And I think the biggest, I would say learning journey was actually last year during COVID. I think we all know what happened to the whole wide world. Everyone was on what we call lockdown or shelter in place. And so for most people, I know it’s a very unfortunate, it’s very unpleasant experience to be tied down at home. But I would say that four months of being stuck at home, I think was like March, April, May that period last year 2020 was like a period of Renaissance for me. Right. so, because you can’t go out and my job because I do a lot of speaking and seminars, I used to have to travel at least once a month. So that was the only time I was stuck at home reading and reading. And I, it may sound like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not, I felt so happy.
And blissful every day, cause after work, cos it’s all working from home right . After work ends, you didn’t need to travel. I would, my work starts at 10:00 AM. It will end about 7:00, 8:00 PM. And then from 8:00 PM to like 12:00 AM, I would just guess what, read the whole way through go to bed next day, wake up, do a bit of exercise, start work and then do the same thing for four months on end. And now looking back because right now the world has kind of opened up. So I’m required to travel to the office once in a while. But that period of just because you can’t go out, you can’t meet your friends was the best learning that you really accelerated my growth as an investor and made me learn so much in that period. So yeah, that’s my journey.
Kalani Scarrott (09:56): No that’s perfect, and taking the positive out of a bad situation. That’s awesome. But it’s funny how investing was probably your last option and it’s ended up being the best option.
Max Koh (10:05): Yeah, exactly.
Kalani Scarrott (10:06): Is there any lessons applicable for marketing, do you think? Like was there any transfers or were you starting from scratch when you started investing, do you reckon?
Max Koh (10:12): Um, I would say yes there is. And that’s why I think that we are invest is pretty different. So I think the, what I, the one big thing I learned as a marketer in my marketing background, is the importance of psychology, right? So psychology, not just in terms of the consumer psychology. So we can talk about that in a while, which is the way I analyze a business has a lot to do with the qualitative site. I like to look at the consumer psychology, but I think bigger aspect behind that is the personal psychology, which is the psychology of the investor. Cause I mean marketing you learn a lot about psychology. And so what has transferred over is the way I invest. I place a lot of emphasis on my psychology. So just to share some weird, habits of mind, that will seem outright, just ridiculous.
for example, on the weekdays, I never ever check stock prices. Unless the market is in like deep, deep rate, then I just go into buy because then I can’t resist, but I never ever check stock prices. And the reason being that I feel that every time you check a stock price on the weekdays, it’s kind of like a call to action for you to need to go and do some something, optimize something that may or may not be the best for your long term portfolio returns. So I don’t check stock prices to the point where if I have friends, when you go for dinner and if I I’m close with them and they tell me something like, Hey max, do you know, this stock, has kinda had this price or dropped by this amount, I’ll get pissed off. I’m like, no, don’t tell me about that.
You’re gonna mess with my ownership mentality mindset. So, that psychology, I believe a lot in trying to protect myself and have an environment that doesn’t mess my mind as one. Um, secondly, is that another thing I learned from the marketing, area, and that is like the way I look at a business, I’m trying to adopt the ownership mentality and similar to what I learned in marketing, right? Like, everything is all about how you kind of persuade people, how you persuade yourself. So, as which means that the words that you use can affect a prospect in the marketing worlds. Similarly, the words that I use will affect myself. So, um, also borderline ridiculous probably gonna get laughed at. When I speak to friends, of course it’s a podcast. I have to use these terms. When I speak to friends in my normal daily life, you will never ever hear me using the word stock.
Like I like to use the word business. So it sounds like stupid. Like when I ask my friend, Hey, did you check out this business? Like you can just say, ‘hey did you check out the Facebook stock, I would go like big one and say ‘do you check out this business’? Instead of saying like, I bought a stock, I would say, ‘hey, you know what I have a participation in this business’, which sounds stupid. but I just wanna be able to cue my mind to speak like an owner, because of my long term investing philosophy. So, that’s another thing I learned from another thing that I carried over that is, the languaging that I use affects my belief systems. And so I tie in a lot of my investing style with the mental, what we call the meta aspect of it. so hopefully that answers the question.
Kalani Scarrott (13:10): So you spoke a little about investor psychology. Could you talk maybe about customer psychology and what you look for and then maybe what maybe you pick up the other people don’t do you reckon?
Max Koh (13:18): Yeah, so, um, the customer psychology thing is as usual because of my marketing background, but to also I think give full credit where it’s due. There were actually a few investors I learned from that really firmed up or helped me to develop this site of my investing style. And that is, I placed a lot of emphasis on, customer love and assessing whether customers really like a product or service. In other words what we call the value proposition. So, back then, in my early days in marketing, we always taught to think in terms of stuff like USP or what’s a unique value proposition or stuff like that. So a few investors that really honed that into me, was actually two people. Number one, is this investor known as John Huber? I’m sure you’ve heard of him Saber capital.
So he has amazing letters, his block, I believe, like his block, which is Saber capital as well. Like, he shares a lot about, back then over the years yes, he has like particles on like Apple and back then when John Huber was buying. So he’s a believer in buying like a bit of the safer businesses, but he still believes that these big businesses can still make alpha. And back then when he bought Apple, it was where the market was selling off Apple because the numbers of the iPhone sales were doing terrible. So it seems like Apple’s only relying on the iphone and the iPhone was starting to go down or stagnate. So that’s why the stock got sold off. I believe it was in, mid 2018 about there. And so was it 2019? Is that right? I think it’s mid-2018.
And then he started buying Apple back then first he said that apple, a lot of people back then, they only saw Apple as a consumer tech, like a company that just sells phones or hardware. But if you actually look at it closely, Apple is actually a brand, which we all now know and we all know that today. but Apple’s actually a brand and when you look at the consumer psychology, the love for the phones, the long queues ah queues outside the Apple store before a new phone is launched that, allowed him to see Apple for what it really is and allowed him to take a huge position in Apple. And of course, today the market is obviously corrected that mistake and he has, made quite a fair bit of alpha from that position. So that’s one, another investor that I learned a lot from is actually this, I would say, I think he’s retired.
His name is called Allen Mecham right. So he, I think, Allen Mecham, I believe he runs this fund known as like Arlington value, Arlington value. So same thing it’s from him that I learn how to analyze a company based on, um, the consumer psychology. Like whether people love it, whether customers want to come back over and over again. So I think based off this, it’s probably no surprise that most of the companies that I analyze or invest, in the consumer space, because I can look at reviews. A lot of my new diligence is, I love it because I get to watch YouTube videos of people reviewing products, which I can’t do for like B2B business. Right. and so that’s how I invest. And that’s how I form my initial, I would say philosophy based on consumer habits and psychology.
Kalani Scarrott (16:22): For idea generation one interesting maybe point, when I’ve interviewed Singaporian investors, they’re much more willing to invest abroad cause obviously Singapore is so small. Yeah. So when it comes to idea generation, how do you, is it just reviews? what are you looking for?
Max Koh (16:35): So you mean like how do I find possible businesses to invest? Is that right?
Kalani Scarrott (16:39): Yeah. Especially when, sometimes you don’t have boots on the ground compared to say someone in Silicon valley.
Max Koh (16:44): So I think the simplest answer, which we all know it’s actually Twitter , so Twitter is a freaking fire hose, right? Like it’s also a place where you can watch fights and eat popcorn and see how debates play out. But yeah, I get a lot of the ideas through there by following, or I would say curating my Twitter feed. You have great investors that bring up ideas and who constantly argue, debate, fight. What have you about ideas? So it gives me multiple, perspectives. I’m also subscribed to, I would say the Motley Fool and I’m also part of the investing community in Singapore. So that gives me, the idea of flow. Um, also maybe you might be wondering, like, do I use any screens? no, I don’t use any screens in my earlier days. Yes. I would filter for okay
like revenue growth, how many percent, and then it cannot have a PE or PS ratio or like, the enterprise value to sales ratio. What have you all these numbers, but then I realized, or maybe I suck at it that was useless, cause it will always either bring up the value traps or it would bring up businesses that are great, but it just fills all the valuation metrics because it’s at nosebleed valuations. Right. So I realized that, I should, I’m doing, I’m doing the wrong way. I should be focusing first and foremost on the business idea and quality only then provoke valuation. So, I would, i wish to give like a textbook formula where I put in Aand then I get out B and C, but I don’t have that. It’s a mixture of, serendipity luck randomness and just being on Twitter all day as an excuse. But that gets, investment ideas. Yep.
Kalani Scarrott (18:24): And in terms of, in investing lessons, maybe a painful one, I know you’ve mentioned Peloton before and we’ve chatted about. Could you talk a little bit about that and what you learned from that?
Max Koh (18:31): That. Yeah. Got it. So, I think I’ll give a bit of backstory first regarding why I invested so that there’s some context cause otherwise if I just go straight for the mistake, then it wouldn’t make sense. So I first chanced upon Peloton, early last year around May, May 2020 that was the Renaissance time I was chatting about. So a lot of time to read annual reports, watch videos. What have you. And I came across Peloton forgot someone on Twitter, shared it probably. And just to give some background myself, I’m a gym junkie so I think now you can see the kind of similarities. So I like to invest in companies where I actually, understand the product and I have certain levels of, knowledge of the industry. So in my case, I understand fitness working out. I’ve been doing it for the last 10 years consistently.
So I know the psychology or the psyche of someone who works out. So Peloton was on my radar. So the reason I started investing and it was because of mainly two reasons, number one was the customer love for the product. So as usual, my new diligence process or scuttlebut what we call it, would involve watching a lot of videos going to Twitter and checking out customers who buy the products or type in the keyword and variations of the keyword with certain phrases like, OMG Peloton, or like, ‘got Peloton’, ‘full Peloton’ to see whether like things are sold or what have you. So varies of that. And so I would do all these research on forums, Facebook groups, which Peloton is a big one. And I know I’ve noticed that people are so in love and you know, like I think the only time I see a word, like the word is called cult, being used on a product it’s, it’s only two companies that I’m aware of.
Number one is Apple, number two is Tesla, right? So Tesla and it’s Tesla bulls number three was Peloton. They had the same amount of raving, fanatical Culticism what have you, around the product. So I’ll just give you an example. like I see put the YouTube aside, look at their Facebook group and it’s a free Facebook group. So anyone listening can just go join it. Um, you see people who like I’ll give an example after their mother passed away after their kids, for some unfortunate reason, maybe died in a fire whatsoever. They will put a photo of their loved ones, their kids, or their husband or their, their mom,they died from cancer, whatever on the Facebook group and say, Hey guys, today, I’m gonna write at 5:00 AM with this and that instructor, blah, blah, blah, please send me the love.
So I see so much love from the customer, for the product, and yet so much of their life is linked paloton. So yeah, is really such a community web there’s such I big call of spiritual, I dunno whether that’s the best but links with the product in terms of them getting happiness from there. So that kind of made me feel, okay this is really quite interesting. And the second thing to put, because all these are very qualitative to put the numbers, to match the qualitative stuff. They have a net promoter score of close to 90. I think that’s pretty much unheard of. So it’s, these numbers that I look at and then of course back then when I invested the Google trends was increasing because of COVID everyone stuck at home, I started taking an initial position and started building the position along the way.
So I think we all know how paloton did last year in 2020 phenomenal. So, very lucky I, sized the position Okay. So everything was meant to be a nice, perfect ending, until I think so we are gonna talk about mistakes, right? So that was why I started to enter the position, in end of 2020 last year December, so it’s about one year ago. Um, they acquired this company known as Precor. So Precor is a, company that’s very big in the states that sells exercise parts. And I know Precor because, like I mentioned, I’ve been in a gym for my whole last 10 years and Precor is a very well known exercise company that sells treadmills, exercise bikes, what have you, all these machines and equipment they acquired Precor. So in my mind, I was like, so that was when the overly optimistic signs started getting, the better of me like, okay, pelotons already dominating.
They have such huge customer love in the consumer space, with Precor they are plans at, they announce back then was to go into the B2B space. So to sell like treadmill, to hotels, commercial stuff to, even like to companies and officers, what have you. So in my mind, I was really painting all those rosy pictures. Okay. They own the consumer space. They’re gonna dominate the B2B space. We’re gonna take over the world. And that was the point where the mistakes came in because, um, I went in heavy to give the better phrase. I backed up the truck in December and I totally threw valuations up. So before that, when I entered my position from mid last year, all the way to December, I was still pretty disciplined, but in December, the whole logic just threw out and I just backed up the truck.
Then of course, that kind of pushed up my whole average price. And then of course, earlier I think two months, it last month, the, I think the business, crashed stock crash by 50% due to the business execution issues. And then, there was obviously a painful, thing for me because I have a pretty concentrated portfolio mainly because, I like to invest only companies that understand. So I don’t have a big circle of competence. Right. So it’s because of that, I took a hit on that. And so that was a painful lesson and people asked me “Max, looking back, what’s the lesson here?” I would love to say, you know Kalani I love to say, my mistake was that, I, kind of, miscalculated the company. It was not a good product after all, all my evaluations were off, but actually that’s not true because I did a lot of heavy research on the financials, the modeling, the evaluations, but the big mistake here, unfortunately, or fortunately is actually not the business it’s in my position sizing.
Yeah. So, because my sizing was discipline all the way until year end, where I overly sized it and it went up all the way, the average price was pushed up because if I asked myself, Hey, Max, what if I sized that position? Well as well, would the stock price still crash? Yes, I could have seen it coming. It would still have crashed, but I would have been able to at least get up at like a breakeven price, cause my average price was close to like 50 bucks back then, 50, 60 bucks. So I wouldn’t have lost much or maybe slight, slight loss or a break even. But when I, or just to give some context, um, when I entered heavy in December, the stock price was at an all time high. I mean, I wouldn’t know, that’s the all time high back then of like 160 bucks and as well speaking right now, it’s I think 40 bucks. So yeah. You know how it went. So that was really my biggest lesson. So I keep asking myself, Max, where did the mistake go? And I keep thinking, I wish I could say it’s the business evaluations, but it wasn’t, it’s actually just in my position, suddenly me losing my buying discipline and till today, honestly, I’m still at myself, but we live and learn. Yeah.
Kalani Scarrott (25:27): So yeah, position sizing. And do you think psychology plays a little bit in that as well? Getting a bit excited maybe? Or how do you, how do you combat that in the future then? Do you reckon?
Max Koh (25:34): Yeah, so I don’t have the perfect answer cause I’ve always been a more optimistic, fully driven person. So I like to see the good side of things. So, I don’t have an answer as to how to combat that, because I did ask myself this question that you asked me, right Kalani, because my normal research process, I also write a thesis. So the normal conventional argument would be, Hey, when you write something out, it forces you to look at your ideas. So when they acquired Precor I also wrote out the thesis. So I was like, how could I have avoided it? I can’t really find a solution, I don’t have the best answer to that question unfortunately, it’s just me and my weakness right now. It’s just, hopefully this awareness just makes me a bit more intentional in the future.
Kalani Scarrott (26:20): Yeah. Fair enough. And so we’ve talked about how you find investments and what you enjoy, but to do the flip side, is there anything you totally avoid? Will not touch? Like what’s the opposite of a good investment for you?
Max Koh (26:29): Yeah. Um, I would say it’s the typical cause given my small circle of competence, it’s the very usual biotech pharmaceuticals. Those are things that I avoid, but I think to kind of flip the question around, it’s more like, and I first learned this from this investor that I have a lot of respect for. His name is called Bruce Greenwald. So he’s a professor at a Columbia business school. I think previously was, I think he stopped teaching there. He used to teach value investing for a long time and he had this concept that’s called specialization and mostly, always say, oh yeah, that’s nothing new it circle of competence, but no, not really. so his philosophy is that you should only invest in businesses that not only are they within your circle of competence, but you know them so well, it’s kind of like a specialization.
So he gave a few examples. You can find this on YouTube, there’s alot of YouTube videos on this topic on a specialization. He gave the example when back then Buffet. , Buffet used to buy, stuff like, you know, banks, financials, consumer durables and stuff like that. But he gave the argument which maybe it may not be accurate today because that video was recorded a long time back in that, Buffet made his best, even though he had Buffet has a stellar track record, but Buffet, despite his stellar track record, he made best, investment results from the businesses that he understood the best, which were mainly banks and, consumer durables, of course today things might have changed cause he bought snowflake. What have you but my point is, when I first read that I was like, oh, that is so true. So, to answer your question in a slightly different way. I don’t intentionally think of businesses to avoid, but I think of it. I intentionally think of businesses that I know really, really well. So in my case, because it’s marketing e-commerce, I think it’s no surprise that my portfolio consists many of companies in e-commerce in, digital advertising and of course, fitness.
Kalani Scarrott (28:23): To maybe come back to a point you mentioned earlier about your research process and I really enjoyed how you said on Twitter, you were searching specific phrases and what not. Is there any other strange research processes that you do? Like I’m always interested in how people do things differently, I guess?
Max Koh (28:37): Uh, yes. There is. So let me just, that’s a very good question. You’re gonna make me share the world how weird I am, but yes. So believe it or not. Um, a lot of people, even though I keep talking about quality, um, the first thing that I do whenever I start to get curious in a company is I will actually watch interviews of the founder and yeah, most people say, yeah, big, but nothing strange about that, you gotta know the management, but here’s a bit different. What I like to look for or like kind of, at least for now, my current investing style, it might evolve in the future is I like to find a founder that can impress me only if it impresses me, then I start the research process. So for example, Peloton, it was John Foley, which is the founder after seeing his story of getting rejected it by hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of VCs eventually starting at Peloton.
I was in awe of how much grit and resilience that guy has. To give some, a bit of clarity so last year, a company that I was in love with, which thankfully I don’t own now, was actually Zoom. So a lot of people say yeah, Zoom. I mean, nothing like nothing special. Obviously you can see the growth is going up, but no, I didn’t invest because of the growth I invested mainly because the founder, Eric Yuan was extremely passionate about his business and he was even replying to customer emails himself. So I always use people, maybe it’s because of my marketing background. So it’s always psychology. I always use people as a starting point. Only if I like the founder and the story excites me, then I go do the financial models, build the, build the numbers and the quantitative stuff, and then start looking at the customer views. So I always start with the founder, which is a bit different from my guess how most people start, this my guess is most people will either use the annual report or build a model first , and stuff like that. So, yeah, that’s another way that I research.
Kalani Scarrott (30:33): Yeah. So I think probably the next logical question is what makes an interesting founder, like, is it the passion, what are you looking for in a founder?
Max Koh (30:40): Yeah, too give full credit as well. I first kind, so initially, because when I was a lot newer, it was just stories that excite me. But in the last one and a half years, I learned from this investor, his name is called Michael Shearn. I believe he’s quite popular. He has this book known as the Investment checklist, but I recommend that people watch his video interview with, I believe it was Tom Gardner, the co-founder of Motley Fool. Where he shares his research process. So this guy is a heavily founder based investor. He’s always looking for founders. And that gave me a nice framework to kind of flesh up my thought process into a more, I would say tangible framework. So mainly three things I look for in founders when I wanna invest number one, I must learn something from their interviews or their earnings transcripts.
What do I mean by that? I mean like, so I give an example, like most earnings transcription, you look through, yes you learn something about the business or how it’s doing, but you seldom learn something. And he gave the example of he likes, I think he’s probably like a Tobi Lütke fan boy so am I. And so he gave the example and I went to read back. So he said that, good founders, you learn something from every earnings transcript and low and behold, it was true if you actually look at Shopify transcripts when Toby’s actually speaking, not only is he answering the questions that the analysts ask about the business, he’s actually teaching you something. For example, I give a more specific example. I believe it was sometime last year, I think it was quarter four or quarter 3, 2020, the earnings transcript by Shopify or the earnings call, some analysts ask them about, how is Shopify putting effort to ramp up their, Shopify shipping or their what we call the, kind of like, like Shopify, the delivery of the good Shopify is helping customers to also ask, sorry, Shopify fulfillment.
And his answer was, in business, this discusses resource is actually not, it’s actually not money. It’s actually attention. So it’s like might drop line, right? He goes on to show. So in Shopify, it’s actually placed a lot of emphasis on how we devote attention to different projects and then blah, blah, blah, forgot the actual, thing that he talked about. But yeah, just stuff that allows you to understand how he thinks. So you learn something from that. Number two which this one is such a mindblower for me when I first learned it from Michael Shearn, that is the best CEOs of the founders, they are actually solving-centric and not selling-centric, which was like, was such a amazing moment for me because, like it gave you a free moment ever. And it’s so true. I saw Michael shares that when you look at founders, you wanna ask yourself when they ask, when they’re answering the analyst questions or they’re doing an interview with a host, do they like, do they speak in language that try to solve problems for their customers?
Or are they speaking in languages of trying to upsell and trying to cross-sell or trying to sell something? And you notice a big difference. Of course I will name companies here, but there are some companies where you listen to earnings calls, it’s still a great business. But the CEO is just a bit more salesy. When the analyst ask questions, they will answer like, oh yes, not worry. We, we have another three products in a pipeline that we are ready to roll out to increase the average order value. What have you, whereas the great founders, which is mainly your, of course, I’m using extreme example to your Toby’s your Elons or your Reed Hastings what have you, when people analysts ask them questions about, what’s the market size of this product or the potential of the next, item in the pipeline. Yes, while they’ll also address the product, but the language will be very different.
They always, yeah. We have this blah, blah, blah item in the pipeline. And we are so excited because we know that it’s gonna be able to help more eCommerce sellers reduce friction in their checkout process what have you, so I’ll just give you an example there, but yeah. So the languaging is different, even though they could still be talking about the same thing. Yeah. So that’s, kind of solving-centric versus selling-centric. And then, the last one is I just like to look for founders that have a little bit of the weird way of what we call the idiosyncratic way of looking at the world. So I think a very known classic example, Steve Jobs, right. And his ability to just suck people in, but Elon Musk is another one. And so I won’t go too much into detail in this cause it’s a bit more intangible, but I like to look at different way of looking at the world.
So some examples would be, even though I don’t own these companies, but give me a lens to look at it. Example, Reed Hastings, right? Reed Hastings. What’s different about the way he looks at the wall, the way he builds the Netflix culture. Oh we are a sports team, not a family, his well known culture deck. So it’s a very different way of looking at the world. Tobi Lütke, same thing. We are here to actually, um the rebels. So that could be a marketing tagline to be honest, but like through his interviews, I realized that, oh, it’s actually not just a marketing tagline. This guy is that serious about it. He wants to be able to create a world where people are not relying on Amazon. And he’s dam serious about doing this. And if you actually follow his Twitter ‘Tobi Lütke’ , I believe last year when Shopify, or when COVID 19 hit, he made a tweet that went viral that he’s transitioning the whole Shopify into a complete remote workforce very early on. So all these different lenses of looking at the world, I like to have these kinds of weird founders, maybe cause I’m weird myself, that I find a bit interesting. Cause I realised that’s where the alpha, most alpha comes from because the market isn’t ready for it yet in the short term. So yeah, hopefully that answers the question.
Kalani Scarrott (36:11): No, that’s perfect answer. I love it. Maybe we’ll change lanes to finish up with, but you started to Twitter in may last year and you already have 10,000 followers. So what’s your secret source? Tell me everything cause I need to know.
Max Koh (36:22): Yeah. Sure. So to give, I think full disclosure on the timeline. So I started it in may last year because like that was the period where it was the Renaissance, like I mentioned. So I was just using Twitter, to learn about more about investing. When I transed upon the world of FinTwit, I was just blown away. But I didn’t really start using Twitter then, as in I didn’t really start posting anything because my usual start, I’m pretty low profile by nature. I don’t really like the limelight, what have you, since young I’ve just never really liked attention on me. And so I was an empty account zero followers. My whole profile was full of retweets because it’s private. So I just retweeted the stuff. So it’s kind of like a place for me to collect good tweets or good information about companies that I follow.
It was only in around August this year I was having a conversation with a few friends and a few mentors and I told them, Hey, I love investing so much. I don’t know whether you can relate to this right, Kalani I love it. I, I just eat breathe, live, sleep, analyzing companies. But whenever I talk to my close friends about it yeah, I mean they’re good friends. They can relate, they will encourage you, but I could never feel that level of intellectual connection, whatever you call it. And so I think the word to use was I was very intellectually lonely, deep down, and I’m not saying this to make myself sound smart or whatever, but it’s just, I couldn’t connect on the ideal level until my friend and my mentor just a mix, why not just go post stuff on Twitter? Like, and then are you serious?
Like Twitter, like who knew social media can hear this? I’m like, and they’re like, just give it a shot. So in early September I opened the account, I did it to all the past retweets and changed it over to the bookmark so I can still keep it. And then I started posting my ideas, my thought processes and the books that I read. So to be fair, that’s actually how I started, thats about three months back. Cause now isDecember right? Three months back and yeah, that’s how I kind of met Eugene and a few other local investors. And I think investors like yourself as well, Kalani, through the platform.
Kalani Scarrott (38:24): Yeah. And that’s the best bit about it. Isn’t it? Same thing. The people you meet along the way is just unreal. Exactly.
Max Koh (38:30): Oh right. I didn’t answer your question. Pardon me? I went on a tangent. You were asking for the secret source, right? Okay yeah, the secret source actually believe it or not. It’s actually not so much in me being like a really smart person what have you it’s actually in my notetaking process. So because other than you, there were a few people who actually DM me privately to ask, like, how do you build the account from zero to 10K in like two months, three months? And actually showed them like a screenshot or whatever. Um, I, because over the last three years of, like I mentioned I’m a reading junkie. So every time I read, I use a Kindle, I highlight the notes and I extract the highlights into a Google doc. So even before I came onto Twitter, I already had a Google doc of like, I think close to a thousand pages of notes, highlights from different articles, letters, fund manager, writeups in that Google doc that’s sorted by headings, which is the different chapters or the different types of investors.
And so what I’m doing on Twitter is just mainly if I’m thinking of something or I wanna recall something that I learned, I go back, I read that from my Google doc. And if in that moment it inspires me. I’ll just take the whole chunk, rephrase it in my own words. And I’ll just post it on twitter, so actually that makes it really easy. But actually, because I have that second brain, what have you of like a thousand words in Google doc? So that allows me to produce content pretty easily, but that’s the secret.
Kalani Scarrott (39:53): Yeah easily, but there’s a lot of back work involved to get to a thousand and pages. That’s unreal. So yeah, what are your favorite sources to maybe read or newsletters or books? Like what jumps to mind that you’d recommend?
Max Koh (40:04): Yeah, I think I’ll talk about maybe not investing, investing first, cause I think there’s quite a few similarities to it. So I think what really inspired me when I was a younger kid I kinda wanted to know, pursue a better life for myself to just show me down the rabbit hole of growing and development. The first book I ever read was ‘Unlimited Power’ by Tony Robbins, but that’s pretty old school and classic. So I won’t go there. A few books that have made a big impact on me was these two books. Number one, is this book known as I believe if I’m not getting wrong, ‘How I feel at everything and still succeeded’ it’s by this guy known as Scott Adams. Scott Adams is the creator of the Dilbert comic who’s he’s extremely pro-Trump, but I will not talk about that now, but he’s an amazing psychologist.
Right? And the biggest takeaway I got from that book was that two things, number one, losers, set goals, winners create systems. So he was basically saying that, you know, in life don’t just set a goal, but build a system to make the goal reality. But the even bigger takeaway I got from him was that in life you don’t just wanna go all in on one skill. So instead of trying to be the best at something, aim to build multiple skills and then combine that talent stack to make yourself unique in the workplace or your career. And that really worked out well for me in my career as a marketer, as a speaker. So that played a big role in my career that allowed me to build that income and that savings needed to then invest it and grow my wealth. And the second book that had a big impact on me was this book known as ‘So good, they can’t ignore you’.
It’s by this author known as Cal Newport. The essence of it is he covers this thing known as craftsmanship, which just Jacked with me a lot, like everything in life that you want to do, instead of focusing on the outcomes, focus on becoming your master at your craft, get really good because when you’re really good, the results, whether it’s autonomy, whether it’s wealth, it’s income, it’s attention, fame, what have you will all come naturally, but focus on the process. So he taught me the idea of learning, how to fall in love with boredom and just fall in love with the journey. So those things, I think form a foundational bedrock, even though, like I mentioned, it has nothing to do with investing, but those are the same core tenants that I take into everything that I do. So it is like investing.
I wanna grow as an investor. Okay. They in there build the craftmanship mentality of reading annual reports looking at transcripts build that I would say the skill set to be a good investor rather than focus on the returns, which is a lagging indicator. So that those are two books as for investing, I think it’s mainly three books. I recommend. Number one is ‘The Joys of Compounding by Gautam Baid. I believe this is everyone knows this right now. So I won’t spend too much time there. It’s just an amazing 500 page book, which sounds scary, but he’s able to distill all the best concepts from the best investors like Lynch, Buffet, Munger all into one. So that’s number one. That’s the first book, second book was actually this book known as ‘The Education of a Value Investor, which is by Gary Piper.
What I took away from that was the importance of your environment. So Gary Piper likes to share that when he first became a fund manager, he moved his family all the way to Zurich and in a very like, um, quiet part of Zurich instead of New York, because he wanted to be away from all that noise. It’s a bit similar to Buffet being Omaha as compared to Wall street. So he was also the person that first taught me that I should never look at stock prices every day. And that’s why I learned from him. Third one is actually not a book, but I would say it can classify as a book due to its length. It’s actually ‘The Nomad Letters’ by Nick Sleep. I think any investor that really wants to understand ownership, mentality, and how do you actually hold something over the long term has to read Nick Sleep’s letters because I mean, we all know his main concentrated holdings are Birkshire, Cosco and Amazon back in the days. Right? So, um, I think that gave me a lot of, um, a lot of inspiration as to how I wanna have my own investing philosophy. How do I wanna pursue it? That gave me a lot of inspirational ideas, maybe
Kalani Scarrott (44:09): To move into my closing round of questions. What’s the most undervalued life experience that university students don’t give weight to? Like, what do you think is an underrated skill or an experience maybe that they should have?
Max Koh (44:18): I would say a skill that has served me really well, at least for my career, but I’m not sure how relevant this would be for slightly different career paths, is the ability to write to persuade. So when I was a lot younger, like I mentioned, due to my marketing background I spent, I think, years learning this skill known as copywriting. So I learned how to write to sell. So there were in copywriting greats back in the days like Gary Halbert, John Carlton, a few of these well known direct mail marketers that I learned from that gave me the props needed to be able to persuade people through my writing. And it’s so useful in a career and even outside a career in a business you’re building, like whether you’re writing a Twitter, post, a blog article, a landing page to sell an information product or a podcast, whatever, it’s always elements of how you write a headline.
What’s a bullet point, that really served me well. But that’s why I asked the question because I learned that while in university, but not in university, so my point I learned that when I was in my early twenties, which is I was in university, but I didn’t learn that from a university class. So I’m not sure whether that fully answers the question, but I think to kind of throw in a little of my own spin on that. I think a very underrated, I don’t know whether you call it a skill, but a very underrated, undervalued concept that most people should learn. And I think it’s extremely crucial for wealth building in the later years. And as trite as this sounds is the ability to save money. I know it sounds so stupid. Like okay, come on give me something better.
But I would say my investing returns and my results I would not be able to get to where I am and as much as I like to say, oh, I’m a great investor. I think honestly, my track records too short. It could just be luck, but I would not have been able to hit my level of wealth for financial freedom, if not for the big capital base I got through saving and looking back, I realised it was two lessons that I unintentionally picked up. Number one, live like a student sounds extremely lame, but even after I got out from university because I wasn’t yet married, I was still single. I live like a student, you eat simple, you really cut your expenses that builds the habit of constantly building up the nest, which will come in handy when you have investing skills to actually combine with it.
And then you see accelerated returns. Number two, and that’s something crucial. I think I unintentionally picked up as well. The circle of friends that you surround with matters a lot, and I’m not saying this from, who you surround yourself with will become your average standard. No, what I’m saying is the people you surround yourself with will affect your spending appetite, will affect what you deem as okay, or not okay. Because it either creates a new excessive levels of desire for lavishness excess or, uh, wealth. What have you, or it teaches you to be humble. So I was very, always very mindful of, even though, yes, I was also a pretty wild child would go to clubs and bars and in my younger days, but I would always have the internal compass that I wanna be very mindful if I spend too much time around people who either drive nice cars as a student who, go to bars and clubs every weekend, I’m gonna have my internal standards raised as to what’s an expected level of comfort. This means I’m gonna be wanna eating at nice, fine places, wanna buy cars as well. And that will affect my ability to save, which affect my ability to build wealth in the later years. So even till today, I think that’s what I’ve learned in university, just through observation. Those two things like saving in terms of who I hang out with has actually played a big role in my wealth accumulation, which I think is important to build when you’re in university.
Kalani Scarrott (48:06): In terms of you, like what plans or visions do you have for the next five, 10 years? I know sometimes goals, but you’re working in marketing now. Like yeah. What are you thinking about?
Max Koh (48:13): Yeah, okay. I have a terrible answer for this. I don’t really have a specific call. I know most investors want to have like, hey, I’m gonna hit my first 10 million, my first billion, whatever. I don’t have any of those. And it, same thing. So, sorry. I’m gonna totally butcher your question here, but it’s, it’s really because of the books that have a big influence of my life, that is I don’t really set goals. I focus more on habits and systems, so I’m very mindful of my daily routine. That’s why I put more effort into as compared to the goals. So stuff like reading, learning, exercise, what have you, all these things are crucial. And number two, it’s really down to craft my mentality. Anything that I wanna do, I wanna focus on getting great at the skill, whether it’s being great at analyzing businesses, whether it’s getting good at reading and report, what have you, I wanna focus on those inputs and get really good and learn to enjoy that. And then the results will come. So, unfortunately, I’m sorry Kalani, I don’t have any goals specifically for myself at this point.
Kalani Scarrott (49:11): That’s fine. Yeah, before we wrap up, anything you wanna plug, where can people find you?
Max Koh (49:15): Um, yeah, so nothing really much to plug ,cause I’m still working nine to five, right? So, I’m not like running my own fund, what have you, so you can find me on Twitter with my handle is @Heymaxkoh, I tweet about stuff that inspires me, my investing philosophies journey and just in general, even stuff, not related to investing, but just makes me really excited. I’ll just share it. So that’s about it. More than happy to chat DM and just, connect with like-minded investors and people.
Kalani Scarrott (49:44): Yeah. Max, thank you so much for being on. I’ve learned a tonne, I really appreciate your time and effort today. So cheers.
Max Koh (49:49): Thank you Kalani for having me.