Author Archives: SMS

Influential Reads – July 2019

I continue to be shut out on books.  I’m reading Principles by Ray Dalio which I’m enjoying – just not moving through it very quickly.

Updated stats through July:

Saved ArticlesBooks
JanuaryN/A2
February901
March390
April630
May393
June630
July790
Total3736

New feature – in order to add perspective to each article, I’m adding a quote for context.

Here are my most influential reads – in no particular order:

  1. Sunday Firesides: I Have Kids – “The commute to work kind of sucks . . . but how awesome that you have a job.”
  2. A Decade of Low Interest Rates Is Changing Everything (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-23/a-decade-of-low-interest-rates-is-changing-everything) – “The 30-year Treasury bond, a favored debt security, yields about 2.5%—compared with an average 6.5% since the 1970s.”
  3. I Tried Emailing Like A CEO And Quite Frankly, It Made My Life Better – “So is the boss email also a power move, a way of asserting dominance? I doubt many bosses sit staring at their employees’ emails trying to figure out what “ok” really meant.”
  4. Want to cut your work hours in half? Create an A/B schedule – “So I tell my clients, they need to put on one hat–one role–at a time, and adopt an A/B schedule.”
  5. One Thing That Great Leaders Understand – “Leadership is about assembling a group of talented people who all want to work for your team and are motivated to work together.”
  6. Your First Thought Is Rarely Your Best Thought: Lessons on Thinking – “Shane, most people don’t actually think. They just take their first thought and go.”
  7. Smarter, Not Harder: How to Succeed at Work – “Incredibly successful people focus their time on just a few priorities and obsess over doing things right. This is simple but not easy.”
  8. Why We Struggle to Make Time for Solitude – “To do this, we have to stop letting the uncertainty rule our lives. It can be with us, a constant companion, and we can learn to be comfortable with it and even love it as it is. But it doesn’t have to drive us.”
  9. This Is How To Have A Long Awesome Life: 7 Secrets From Research – “All of the old folks say it before they eat. It means ‘Eat until you are 80 percent full.’”
  10. How to Do Great Things – “You need to strive for excellence. This isn’t as easy as it sounds but it as an essential feature of doing great work.”

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.

Influential Reads – June 2019

Well, that was fast – 2019 is half way over. I continue to start to read non-fiction books that I really want to read, but get bogged down in them, as they feel like work. The key is probably somewhere in the Motivation Over Discipline article below…

Updated stats through June:

Saved ArticlesBooks
JanuaryN/A2
February901
March390
April630
May393
June630
Total2946

Here are my most influential reads – in no particular order:

  1. Jell-O Could Be the Secret to Stronger Bones and Tendons
  2. Goodbye, Chrome: Google’s web browser has become spy software
  3. Interest Rate Chasing in Your Savings Account – A Wealth of Common Sense
  4. How active listening can improve your work (and love) life
  5. How to Have More Focused Hours in Your Day
  6. GMO’s Montier on the rise of the dual economy
  7. Twelve Principles
  8. Book review: The Power of Less
  9. Motivation Over Discipline
  10. Execution is Everything

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.

Influential Reads – May 2019

An improved month of reading (sort of) with a caveat.  I turned to some old favorites (Carl Hiaasen) to lighten the mood and get back into reading some books – which is really the area where I should probably be allocating more reading time.

Updated stats through May:

Saved ArticlesBooks
JanuaryN/A2
February901
March390
April630
May393

Here are my most influential reads – in no particular order:

  1. Strategy vs. Tactics: What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter?
  2. Risk, Uncertainty and Ignorance in Investing and Business – Lessons from Richard Zeckhauser
  3. Lessons from Scott Belsky’s Book “The Messy Middle”
  4. The Errors That I Don’t See – Of Dollars And Data
  5. Does Norway Have the Answer to Excess in Youth Sports?
  6. Walmart is becoming a Technology Company
  7. The professor who beat the roulette table
  8. The Best Advice You’ve Ever Received (and Are Willing to Pass On)
  9. Jeff Bezos: Big Things Start Small
  10. Uber’s Rocky IPO, What Went Wrong, The Perils of Private

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.

Influential Reads – April 2019

What happened to April?

Updated stats through April:

Saved ArticlesBooks
JanuaryN/A2
February901
March390
April630

Here are my most influential reads from April – in no particular order:

  1. The difference between a snafu, a shitshow, and a clusterfuck
  2. The Importance of Working With “A”Players
  3. Hustle As Strategy
  4. From Sloth to Zwift Star: Kevin Bouchard-Hall Embraces Riding Inside
  5. The Praise Paradox
  6. How Subscription Business Models are Changing Business and Investing (the Microeconomics of Subscriptions
  7. How The Patient Investor Sees the World More Clearly
  8. Getting Ahead By Being Inefficient
  9. Great Leaders Are Thoughtful and Deliberate, Not Impulsive and Reactive
  10. Perspective | ‘I want out of this body’: I can’t move, talk or breathe on my own. But I’m still in there thinking, remembering my old life

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.

Love, The Renters

We recently moved from the Cleveland area to Columbus.  We had lived in the Cleveland area for about seven years and somewhat reluctantly purchased a house during that period.  Mostly because we couldn’t find another rental house that met our needs for a reasonable price.

Note: Now that I’ve managed and paid for a full kitchen remodel and an entire exterior basement excavation, as well as paid egregious realtor fees, my definition of a  “reasonable price” has evolved.

The Columbus move was performed in fairly short order.  So we decided to rent for a number of reasons, including we were not that familiar with the area and purchasing a house would be one more complexity.

We found a single family house for rent by a couple where the husband has been working in Chicago and the wife was going to join him for a year.  Their youngest child had just graduated from a nearby college.

It’s a really nice situation.  Very nice house. Lovely neighborhood with lots of kids.  Good schools (although that’s the topic of another post). Walkable to a neat, historic downtown area.  Nearby parks and bike trails. Central to lots of things and within an acceptable commuting radius for me. (Neighbor cycles and owns a sprinter van – at my station in life – this is my definition of a friend with benefits)

Plus, renting right now is one less thing to worry about.  I’ve got enough responsibilities at work and at home. Mrs. SFTE is fine too – probably better than me –  mostly on the basis of Columbus, Ohio is likely not a forever place for us. And a home is a possession that ties you down.

However.

An interesting pattern has emerged.  We’ve become “The Renters.” That’s how we’re introduced around the neighborhood.  

Mrs. SFTE picked up on it first.  She would grumble, we have a last name, it’s the SFTE’s

It’s an interesting sociological study.  Apparently, not owning a house, is enough of a fact pattern to define us.  Or maybe said differently, owning a house in our current neighborhood seems to be a major part of the self-identity of our neighbors.

It’s fine.  We’re taking it in stride.  

Lowering Your Property Value One Month at a Time

I’m going to have t-shirts made next.

P.S. Given the changes the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act brought to deductions for state and local taxes, this might of actually been a financially beneficial move for us, although inadvertent. We didn’t have any mortgage interest expense. Ask me about my definition of “renting” money.

Influential Reads – March 2019

March 2019

Rough month for reading.  I’ve had some work stuff going on that’s seriously reduced both my time to read and my desire to read.

Updated stats through March:

Saved ArticlesBooks
JanuaryN/A2
February901
March390

Here are my most influential reads from March – in no particular order:

  1. Heads I Win, Tails You Lose
  2. Seriously, stop throwing away your old clothes
  3. Finding the Right Mix of Visionaries and Optimizers
  4. Not Caring: A Unique and Powerful Skill
  5. Why Wall Street is betting on business software
  6. The lawyers who took on Big Tobacco are aiming at Realtors and their 6% fee
  7. The Deep Uncertainty of Meaningful Work
  8. The Aggregation of Marginal Gains
  9. 45 Steps to Success
  10. How the Tech Giants Make Their Billions

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.

How I Read

In this highly anticipated post (sarcasm), I wanted to talk about how I read.  But before I dive into that, I should talk a little bit about the goal here.

I read (outside of work) mostly to broaden or deepen my perspective.

Most of my reading falls into two categories that each have a little bit different flavor:

  1. Newspaper & Magazine Articles
  2. Books

For newspaper and magazine articles, I generally read on my laptop.  I’ve not converted to any type of e-reader, although I’ve read some reasons why those can work well, especially for annotating and highlighting.  There are a few publications to which I subscribe: Barron’s & Stratechery (Christmas Present). The rest of these sources are either blogs, newspaper, or magazine articles that I’ve found useful and track through Feedly.  Email digests just don’t work for me.

Side note:  I almost gave up my Barron’s subscription this year, but was “salvaged” by an astute customer service rep.

Books have been a challenge lately.  My eyes have been bigger than my stomach.  My pile of “want to read” books keep expanding.  But I keep choosing books that seem to turn into too much work and I get bogged down.  My current solution has been to focus on things I really want to read and ensure I alternate a heavier read, followed by a lighter read.  We’ll see how this turns out; my goal is to read 15 books this year. Holy crap, 113 books! Can I count my daughter’s bed time stories?

There are a couple areas that I think could be better.  

One, is throughput of higher quality content.  This includes a shift to more books and less articles.  This also includes making the input funnel more efficient at screening out lower quality reads.  I have found that I read the “news” as a distraction (or procrastination method) and generally don’t take much away from it.  

The other issue is that in pursuit of good content, you end up down a rabbit hole of links.  Oohh, look, a shiny thing. Wait, Patagonia is having sale. Oohh, look, another shiny thing. You’re right, I wouldn’t have believed that happened unless it was caught on video…

Two, is ensuring that I truly absorb the information.  With so much information blowing by me on a daily basis, it is pretty easy to only superficially digest things.  Sorry babe, yes I am listening now. So this involves taking better notes, reviewing notes, and filing good stuff away in an accessible way for later reference.  I could definitely use some help here.

Side note: I purchased the book, How To Read A Book, and it’s still in my “want to read” pile. Fail.

Ok, enough about that, here’s how I read today.

For internet based reading:

  1. Feedly – Aggregation
  2. Evernote – Reading & Reviewing
  3. Evernote – Classification & Reference

As I said earlier, I mostly use Feedly to aggregate and scan content.  The only real exceptions to this would be Bloomberg, Barron’s, and Stratechery.  Those I go direct.

My Feedly setup looks like this:

If you know me, you will be surprised to see that I have setup a series of folders based loosely on content topic.  I will add and remove sources periodically. The Debatable folder is for new content that I’m unsure about. A few of these sources are really digests themselves, but that’s ok. I risk missing some content but get the benefit of someone else doing the initial screen.

The goal here is to scan this once a day and identify things I would like to read.  Wait, no reading yet. That’s right. I try to separate the identification of interesting reads from the actual reading.  One, this is just generally more efficient to review all my feeds to see what’s out there in one sitting. Two, it prevents you from going down the rabbit hole.  Three, I find the buffer actually helps me prioritize as sometimes something that seems super interesting turns out to lose its luster with a bit of time.

Here’s where I made a recent change.  I used to mark ‘Read Later” in Feedly.  However, this doesn’t work for content not in Feedly.  So for that content, I was saving to Evernote. However, this was creating two piles of “Read Later” items.  So, I stopped saving in Feedly and now save all “Read Later” items to Evernote.

So that’s it for Feedly.  It’s really just my early stage pipeline.

Most my reading takes place in Evernote.  Recently, I installed the desktop version (I’m a PC).  Here’s what that looks like:

In a surprising turn of events, I have set up a series of folders.

The Read Me folder is where all new articles go.  Pro Tip: In your Evernote browser extension, set the default folder to always be this folder.  I also prefer the Simplified article format for most things as it removes a lot of the distractions.  Wait, Patagonia is having a sale…

Side note: Listen to Me is for podcasts.  I’m not a big consumer of these. I try. It’s not my preferred format.

Read Me is where I spend my time. When I have time to read, I choose from the articles saved here. No searching for content. Already filtered and somewhat prioritized.

Evernote allows me to highlight and add commentary.  The only thing I wish, is that I could actually add comments sort of like marking up a Word document, so I could actually just search my comments later.  I’ve not figured out a way to do this.

Currently, there are 152 articles in that folder.  More than I can get through in a month, without adding any more.  I could use a system for kicking stuff out of here. Seems that if I’ve not read an article after a certain point, I must have lost interest.  I’m sorry A better way to understand internal rate of return, you sounded very interesting and ambitious when I read your title, but that was two years ago.

My thought is a date based approach (maybe 90 or 180 days), but since I just migrated all my Feedly Read Later stuff into this folder (messing with the timestamps), that’s not going to work for while.

Once I read an article, it goes into the Monthly Review List folder.  At the end of the month, I scan my notes and file into an appropriate folder.

Pro Tip: Make sure you synch at least a few offline folders to your Evernote app on your phone, so you scan while in flight.  That’s a great setting to go back and look through old topics.

Books are another topic.  I do like my paper-based books.  Despite some hesitation, I’ve started highlighting and writing notes in the margins.  This isn’t really helping with accessibility later, so it’s something I need to think about.

Influential Reads – February 2019

February 2019

I’ve still not gotten around to writing about my process for collecting, filtering (Feedly), reading, saving (Evernote) and reviewing my reading list.  I actually made a tweak to the process in February that simplified a step and started using the desktop version of Evernote. More to come…

I’m realizing that I probably spend more time on “expiring information” (see Compounding Knowledge article below) than I should be, so I am evolving my system to focus on higher quality reading.  

I’m also going to be posting my reading stats (I am no Brad Feld):

Saved ArticlesBooks
JanuaryN/A2
February901

Here are my most influential reads from February – in no particular order:

  1. Delta C.E.O. Ed Bastian: ‘Leadership Is Not a Popularity Contest’
  2. 3 Signs That Tell Me Its Time to Let An Employee Go
  3. How I’ve Made Email my Secret Weapon – I deleted all my folders in Outlook and can’t find sh*t
  4. We need to stop striving for work-life balance. Here’s why
  5. They Live!
  6. You Don’t Need Sports Drinks To Stay Hydrated
  7. Compounding Knowledge
  8. The Slipstream of Comfort
  9. The Online Gig Economy’s ‘Race to the Bottom’
  10. The 12 Signs a Cheap Stock Is a ‘Value Trap’

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.

Financial Model vs. Operating Model

One of the more valuable things that I think I contribute is that I’ve worked on both sides of the table.  I’ve been an operator for almost eight years now. Prior to that I spent about five years in financial advisory and investment management roles, and another four years in consulting.

This background gives me some perspective about the modus operandi of different stakeholders in a business.  

In my prior role, our original founder (President & CEO at the time) wasn’t quite sure about that.  He had an entrepreneurial background without a lot of exposure to private equity investors. Over time though, I think he came to realize that having someone on the team that thinks a lot like our backers is pretty useful.  My next two CEOs both had considerable experience with private equity investors, and I think my background was a big plus in their eyes. Simply “speaking the language” is certainly a confidence builder and can help bridge some divides.  

Which brings me to the point I want to make here.  I still see a fairly different approach to models. And due likely to some fundamental misunderstandings of how they’re going to be used.  

I recall my first close.  Our CFO at the time sent me the ledger output and asked me to run it through what we were using as the “operating model” at the time.  So, I dutifully did. I blew out the existing values and added the new values and proudly came back to him and showed him the results.

He asked, well how did that compare to the forecast?  Yes, the forecast I had deleted and not saved. I only made that mistake once, but it was a valuable lesson in the difference between a financial model and an operating model.  Having really only run financial models as an investment banker, the operating model was not something I understood..

A financial model is mostly static.  You build it. You add your inputs. You look at the result – mostly the full year numbers – maybe out a few years.  The full year numbers are the major output. You do some y/y comparisons. But the long term values are still the key output.

Many times the financial model may be simplified (all models are simplified to an extent) in a way that standardizes the inputs and outputs across different types of businesses.  And this makes sense. Sometimes customized “helper” tabs have more company specific drivers, but in may cases those are shoehorned into the model. This is all fine. It’s a short-term work around.  

The model might be an annual model, quarterly model, or sometimes monthly.  But anyone who has spent time forecasting knows that the resolution at a monthly level a few years out is gibberish.  The only thing I am 100% sure about in any of my forecasts, is that I am off. I just don’t know the direction and magnitude.

The financial model probably has a robust set of ratios and metrics.   All of these are useful to some businesses. But all are not useful to all businesses.  This is also fine, as the financial model generally is a one size fits most type of product.

An operating model is a living, breathing, evolving creation. It’s as much a thing as it is a process.  It’s very much customized to your businesses. And, you’re going to live with it a long time and update it a lot.  Monthly or maybe more frequently. My operating model in my last role had over ten years of monthly data and I had been evolving it over almost seven years.  

And the short-term comparisons are the key output.  Comparisons to prior year, prior month, forecast, and budget (not necessarily in that order).  

I’ve been working with the operating team of our investors to setup a new reporting package.  They are much closer to understanding an operating model than others. But they’re still missing some key points.

Budget was still dynamic.  They rolled December forward and my budgeted balance sheet and cash flow statement moved. No, paste values.  My budget never changes at this point.

And where’s the spot for my forecast?  And comparison forecast? Non-existent.  Forecast does not equal budget, not even in January.  I know more about my business at the beginning of January than I did when the budget was approved in mid-December.  I still find forecasting the month and comparing actuals to my forecast, the best way for me to see if I have a good handle on the dynamics of the business.  Even if no one else wants to see it, I do it for myself. The last CFO I worked for didn’t want to see a forecast. Red flag. To be fair, our CEO never really asked either. Red flag.

What about prior month?  My current business is pretty dynamic.  We’re growing fast. We’ve made a lot of changes.  My trend to last month is probably the best way for me to see something changing.

And ideally on one page.  Keep it simple. I don’t need twelve tabs of every financial ratio you read about in a text book.  If I have to look up the ratio on investopedia, it’s not going to be useful to me on a monthly basis.

I want to peel the onion.  Provide a digestible snapshot.  This is not every line of the ledger.  This is not my expenses in three categories (G&A, S&M, R&D).  Usable. You will know it when you see it.

And, pop the important variances.  Easy to see. Depending on your business, this might be dollars, percent, or per unit.  But it probably isn’t all three. Pick the most important.

When I stepped into this role, the private equity team was running the operating model (I’m not sure they we’re running it like I mean, but they said they were).  For some reason they didn’t want to hand the model over right away.

One, if the PE team is running the operating model and the operating team isn’t asking for it, you’ve got a problem.  That’s abdication, imho.

Two, if the operating team doesn’t have an operating model, they’re steering using the rear view mirror.  Or using a financial model for the wrong purpose, so the feedback loop is going to be too long. Hand over the model.

When I didn’t get the model by week two, I went home that weekend and built my own.  I’m not doing my job without it.

Colorado Ski Trip

“This is no longer a vacation, it’s a quest.” – Clark Griswold

Copper Mountain, CO

Our neighbors invited us to go skiing in Colorado over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.  We hadn’t gotten out west to ski since 2016, when we did a week at Keystone.

It was a great trip.  Since we were traveling with friends, we did some things differently than if we had been planning the trip ourselves, but that generally turned out to be a good experience.

Downtown Frisco, CO

Frisco.  We didn’t stay at a resort, but instead stayed in Frisco.  This is a cool little ski town. We had more space, for less cost, and didn’t miss being at the resort.

Copper Mountain. We skied Copper Mountain, which we had never done.  Our friends had a connection on some discounted passes.  Really enjoyed the resort. Nice terrain with low key, family friendly vibe.

Airbnb.  This one will make me sound out of touch, but we had never used Airbnb.  Easy. No issues. Place was awesome.

Turo. We used Turo to rent a passenger van at a great rate.  There were no family trucksters available. Rate was great, but there were a few things less than convenient.  Pickup and drop off were in the general parking areas. Found the requirement to wash the vehicle yourself (or incur an additional charge) a bit inconvenient.  Found the requirement to vacuum out the vehicle entirely impractical, unless you dropped off all your gear at the airport and then went back out to find a car wash somewhere (Denver’s airport is not exactly close to anything).

Southwest. We flew Southwest.  I hadn’t flown Southwest since 2007, when I flew the airline on a business trip from St. Louis to Cleveland (I think) and was seated in this middle seat of a rearward facing row.  This trip was much more pleasant than the prior. With kiddos, you get some preference in boarding priority. And, ski gear flies free (one bag = ski bag + boot bag).

Day 1 – Friday.

First flight out put us on the ground in Colorado early.  After some delays getting through the tunnel, we managed to get checked in early and headed over to Copper for a few hours of skiing.  They had gotten about 3” overnight and 6” throughout the day, so conditions were fantastic.

We hit up Peppino’s Pizza since we hadn’t stopped for groceries yet and I would recommend it.

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Day 2 – Saturday.

Pancakes, Pancakes…

Our rental place was super well stocked.  They even had an electric griddle. Pancakes play an important part in our lives.

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Learning Experience

Breakfast and then off to ski.  Great day, although my daughter did learn some valuable lessons about tree wells.

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Day 3 – Sunday.

Good day.  A bit crowded due to the holiday weekend.  We found the Rendezvous Lift and the Wheeler Creek and Union Park runs, which were a lot of fun and kept us out of some of the longer lift lanes at the base.

The resort had put in a couple of new lifts but they were not operating at 100%, and combined with the crowds, were causing some longer lines.

Copper Mountain Resort, CO

Day 4 – Monday.

Yep, more skiing.

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Day 5 – Tuesday.

Trails in Frisco, CO

Our flight was later in the afternoon, but decided not to try to ski.  We did a short hike up to Rainbow Lake, which was accessible from some trails basically out the backdoor of our rental place.

Rainbow Lake
Red Rocks

We checked out and grabbed breakfast at Bread + Salt.  Highly recommended.

On our drive back down to Denver, we stopped by Red Rocks and Lookout Mountain.

So, all in all, great trip.  Add four more days of skiing to our season count.  We’re planning to be back in Colorado in mid-March.

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Be Back In March

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Credits:

This article was helpful in making a few panorama’s when Google Photos failed me.