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Dumb Questions

Sep. 18, 2020 9:57 AM ETAlphabet Inc. (GOOG), GOOGL8 Comments
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Hedge Fund Manager, Value, Event Driven, Special Situations

Seeking Alpha Analyst Since 2011


  • A SPAC frenzy floods my in box.
  • Here's how I cope.
  • Ideas for sorting out questions.

Asking the right questions. How to ask the right questions to break… | by Tyson Damman | Perficient Digital LabsActually, there is such thing

And here is how I sort them out. By way of background, I have invested in special purpose acquisition corps (SPACs) for a long time and recently interest in my sleepy little corner of the investment word is, at least temporarily, exploding. Great. But this comes with a flood of several hundred inbound questions per day. I get several new questions in the time it takes to answer any one of them. I love the topic and am eager to be helpful and relevant. However, my time and energy are finite, so here’s how I triage my ability to answer.

Partners and members

Here’s how I think about my hedge fund’s limited partners: it is their information just as it is their money. If they have questions, I answer them first. They have bought and paid for my time to use how they see fit. They can ask whatever they like about whatever they like whenever they like. I work for them; I don’t judge. My view of Sifting the World members is largely the same. Once I’ve executed my investing ideas, I share them on StW and take all questions. I don’t always have StW open, so ask members to tag me on chat and to use e-mail for quick responses. For the most part, I’m pretty quick, even if my answer to many questions is “I don’t know”.

Relevant strangers

Once I have dealt with all of my partners and members, I go on to dealing with strangers. After I invest for my hedge fund and discuss ideas with my value investing community, I share some of them with the public. If someone has a relevant question, I try to answer it. Information that I share publicly has to meet three criteria – as far as I know, it has to be true and correct, it has to be interesting to the reader, and it has to be strategic to my partnership. If it fails to meet all three, I ignore or deflect. I already share more ideas than any other hedge fund manager I know, so feel pretty content with not sharing more than I do. I am always grateful when someone is able to stay on point. A mark of a good conversation in person or online is if it really goes somewhere – starting at the beginning and reaching an end with iterative layers of depth so that each subsequent interaction takes into account each previous one and builds on the accumulated knowledge to reach a point closer to the truth. It seeks the truth above vindicating prior opinions. The best conversations are indifferent to justifying or smashing those opinions. I make such conversations a priority because I get to pick the topic and relevant questions – even (perhaps especially) hostile ones – make my analysis better. Also, the people who are capable of focusing their minds on relevant topics also seem to be the people who subsequently choose to become limited partners and StW members.

Local knowledge

Fiction overstates the importance of virtuosity. The term “genius” is overused with cringy regularity for even the most mundane accomplishments. Sure, in certain fields such as music and theoretical maths, there really are virtuoso geniuses. But for most commercial fields, most of the winners are those with an edge in local knowledge. For one example, I was cornered at a conference by an Indian generic pharma tycoon who wanted to know about US Fed policy. I gave it my best, but rather suspected that nothing I could share about monetary policy would really help him at all. I turned the conversation to his firm asking,

What would happen if I opened up a competitor across the street from you?

A belly laugh erupted and with twinkling eyes he gently explained that it would be literally impossible. He knows the regulators and they wouldn’t even give me a permit for the real estate across the street from him. And getting the permit to open for business? I am unlikely to live that long. He’s the guy. Every niche in every market has the guy – who knows what his market actually is and how to flourish in it. If you’re that guy in your field, then please feel free to bring up the topic of your local knowledge. I will offer what I can, knowing that I’m getting the best of any conversation with someone rich in local knowledge. Oh, and these people, too, often end up as limited partners and StW members.

Saving time

Like everyone else, my resources are limited. My life is far more limited by hours than dollars, so I have to protect that time. Once I’ve responded to people who are paid up, on point, or know what they’re talking about, there is still a long list of remaining inquiries from... others. I don’t work for them and they are unlikely to hire me. They change the subject and change it to a subject that they know nothing about, by their own admission or by the evidence. They are strangers offering me an unpaid homework assignment in a subject of their choosing but not offering any help. Weirdly, they seem to hold the view that because I offer some ideas for free, they are owed all of my ideas for free.

If you too get such questions, we should both ignore them. If it isn’t worth their time to first read a press release and all relevant SEC filings, then it isn’t worth you time to do it for them. Just direct people asking you what a company’s ticker symbol is to the popular search engine Google (GOOG) (GOOGL). It wastes your time and does them no favors to answer. If someone were actually incapable of finding out the answer himself, then he hardly should be investing money on the basis of that due diligence. The quantity and quality of freely available information is the best part of modernity. In a few minutes, you can get a Harvard Law education on SPAC basics, for example. This allows curious people to learn all the basic mechanics and then ask informed questions about the incremental parts that someone is actually working on. Don’t let a stranger substitute your work for their basic understanding of a new topic. If they simply want free labor, decline.


If you work for someone, act like it. Conversely, if you don’t work for someone, then don’t act like you do (even when many strangers act far bossier than my actual bosses/LPs). Sort them out by what matters. When it comes to investing, two things matter: capital and ideas. If they are potential sources of capital, they matter. Wine and dine them or at least reply to them. If they are potential sources of ideas, they also matter. Idea sources should be relevant to a thesis of yours or change the subject to something where they have local knowledge. Ignore the rest. Helpfully, many of the rest will positively identify themselves as lacking capital or ideas and therefore not worth your time; take their word for it and refocus on the questioners and questions that matter.

Seeking Alpha's Disclosure: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. No recommendation or advice is being given as to whether any investment is suitable for a particular investor. Any views or opinions expressed above may not reflect those of Seeking Alpha as a whole. Seeking Alpha is not a licensed securities dealer, broker or US investment adviser or investment bank. Our analysts are third party authors that include both professional investors and individual investors who may not be licensed or certified by any institute or regulatory body.

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