Three Tools I Use in My Investment Process to Make it More Efficient
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Main Topic: Tools I Use in My Investment Process
In this episode of my podcast, I discuss some of the tools I use in my investment process, both online and offline. It's very important to continue to improve your investment process over time. Wring out every inefficiency, plug every hole, streamline and perfect each state.
The pursuit of efficiency is one that I have almost always engaged in. Not just in investing, but pretty much every aspect of my life. It's not for everyone, but I like it. If you wonder how I can run an asset management business, record a weekly podcast, run an ebay store, be working on a start up with a colleague, and still have a life, the answer is primarily the pursuit of efficiency.
For example, when I first started the podcast, the total time to write an episode, record, edit and publish the show notes would take about six - seven hours for a single episode. These days, I can do all of that in about four hours.
As I got better at each phase of the podcast, I found efficiencies that could be captured and still result in a quality product. It all adds up in the end to having more time.
I follow the same approach in my daily routine, seeking ways to capture efficiencies such as two-fors. Let's say I decide to wash some dishes. I don't just stand there and wash dishes, I put on a podcast that I will learn something from. That's a two-fer.
Leverage is another way to be efficient. I leverage off of investment research I am doing already by creating an episode of the podcast around what I am looking at, thinking about etc. I'm doing the work anyway, might as well piggyback on it by making it into an episode.
The investment process is really just a series of steps and gates. You have to take an idea step by step and push it through a series of gates to reach a conclusion about what to do with it.
As time has marched on, I have really worked to improve my investment process and make it more efficient. One of the newest tools in my arsenal is...Google Sheets.
Google Sheets is Google's answer to Microsoft Excel. Excel, as I'm sure you know, is a spreadsheet program and is best used for analysis of financials. Google Sheets differs from Excel in that it is online only, not a software program for download.
I've been moving more and more aspects of the things I do onto the Cloud. It appears to be much more efficient to reduce your reliance on hardware, which can break, and have all of your work on the Cloud where it will be automatically backed up across different servers. Anything on the cloud can be accessed from pretty much an computer. This means that your laptop can be run over by a truck, or your pc can fall into your pool and drown and yet you will have lost nothing.
With Google Sheets, since it is browser based, you can access your Sheets from any computer, regardless of operating system. It's no longer necessary to define if you are a "Mac guy, or a PC guy." At least when it comes to spreadsheets.
My first step into using Google Sheets was to move my watchlists onto Sheets. You see, Sheets has Google Finance functions built into them, so you can pull market data into your spreadsheet. My watchlists pull in the most recent price for each stock I am watching, and the price/earnings ratio. It's all automated and updates each time I open the watchlist.
The beauty is I can now access my watchlist from any computer, anytime. Even better Google Sheets is also an App! I downloaded the app (for free) and can now open my Sheets on my iPhone. This eliminated one hole in my investment process: when I am reading newspapers and magazines, I am usually away from my laptop. When I see a potential idea, I used to have to punch it into a stock ticker app, and then later transfer the ticker to my idea management system when I was next in front of my computer.
Now, with Google Sheets on my phone, I just open the Sheets app instead of the ticker app, and punch it right into my Idea Management System, which was the next piece of my investment process that I added to Sheets. I cut out a step, and even more so, I can record WHY I added the idea. The ticker app I was using previously had no note capability. Efficiency gained.
The next piece I added to Sheets was my Arbitrage spreadsheets. I check those more often than the other Sheets because I am often buying an arbitrage daily or at least weekly. The one issue with transferring spreadsheets onto Sheets is you have to redo all the calculations that existed in the spreadsheet. Keep that in mind when you set aside time to make the transfers, you may have to redo all the calculations. This is why I didn't just do a mass migration to Sheets in a single day.
What's also nice is that you can have separate workbooks which are open in separate tabs of your browser. Each workbook can have any number of tabs in it. So, the structure is much the same as Excel.
Once you have a Sheet created, you can create a shortcut to get to that Sheet and add it to your bookmarks and bookmark bar. That creates even more efficiency in opening the sheet. No longer do you have to search for your file, click on it, and wait for Excel to open to access it. With one click on the bookmark bar item, your Sheet opens and is ready to use. I will keep migrating my spreadsheets to Sheets until they are all on it.
The next tool that I have been using is Box.com. Box is a great example of using the cloud to distribute information. Box is unique in that you can create a sync folder that resides on your computer. You place any file into it, and it is synced to the Box.com folder, which can then be accessed by any computer. If the file is changed, Box syncs it up continously.
My operating partners and I use Box.com for all our business files. We could all have our computers run over, and lose nothing related to the business. The best part of using Box.com, however, isn't just the synching, its the ability to use online versions of Microsoft software. If you upload a Microsoft Word doc, for example, Box.com will allow you to open it up into an online version of Word and make changes to the document right there on the website. Same is true for Microsoft Excel, and I'm sure other file types, but I haven't tried others yet.
We used to use Dropbox, but they didn't have the online software options, so now everything is on Box.com and we migrated away from Dropbox and deleted it. Now, all of my company research files are on Box.com, as well as many documents related to value investing. Since they are all on Box, I can access them from any computer at any time. Even if the computer I am using doesn't have Microsoft software on it, I can still open the files in the online versions of the software through Box.
If you haven't started moving toward a "hardware light" model of computing, I strongly suggest you consider it. You'll sleep better at night and not have nightmares about data loss!
Evernote is the next tool use extensively. Evernote is a note taking program that is synced over the web. You download and install their software, so it's not asset light, but on the other had, the sync feature means that if your computer gets run over, you won't lose anything that was in Evernote.
Note taking is the key to not having to keep looping around as people forget what was said. Evernote is great for recording thoughts, conversations, to-do lists, learnings, examples, resources, and all kinds of information.
The way Evernote is organized makes it easy to create individual note groups for particular subjects. With one operating parter, we have notes that are grouped by brand. Business is additive, and business knowledge and intelligence is cumulative. You should work to capture as much of that knowledge and intelligence as possible and Evernote will help you do that.
Evernote is not just for text, you can also copy and paste in other types of files, including pictures. It's a very versatile tool and one that you should definitely check out.
Google Sheets, Box.com, and Evernote have dramatically changed my investment process for the better, made it more efficient, less chance of data loss, and created a higher level of organization than existed before I started losing these tools. Check these tools out for yourself and perhaps you will find them equally valuable.
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