1. Talk to a diverse audience: We live in a world of specialization, in almost every aspect of life, and that trend comes with mixed blessings. On the plus side, we now have experts who have spent their entire lives delving into an extraordinarily narrow slice of a discipline, often at the expense of the rest of that discipline. On the minus side, this expertise creates tunnel vision, where these experts often lose the forest for the trees. To make things worse, we have created workplaces, where these specialists often interact only with each other, making their isolation almost complete. I am lucky that I am able to interact with people with very different backgrounds (bankers, VCs, founders, CFOs, regulators), from different geographies and with very different perspectives, through my teaching and writing, and my suggestion is that you hang out less with people who think just like you do (often because they have the same training and credentials) and more with people who do not.
2. Transparency over opacity: You have all heard the old saying about economists (and market gurus) needing three hands, because they constantly seem to have two of them busy, with their “on the one hand, and the other” prevarications about the future, that leave listeners confused about what they are predicting. I start with my valuation classes with the motto that I would rather be transparently wrong than opaquely right. Consequently, when I value companies, I try to take a stand on value, and be open about process, data and mechanics, so that anyone can not only replicate what I did, but also find their own points of disagreement, and reflect those changes in their own assessed values. I am also well aware of the risk that by putting out valuation details, I will be proven wrong in the future, but I like the accountability that comes with disclosure. In commenting on my Zomato valuation, some of you pointed to how wrong I have been in valuing Uber and Tesla in the past, and while that is fair game, I have made peace (really) with my mistakes.
3. Listen to those who disagree with you: I try to listen to those who disagree with me on any forum, whether it be social media or snail mail, for a very selfish reason. On every company that I value, I know that there are people out there who know more than I do about some aspect of the company (its products, market or competition) that I am valuing, and I can learn from them. With Zomato, for instance, I have learned about online food delivery and restaurants in India in the two weeks since I posted my Zomato valuation. I have some understanding of why Zomato Pro has not caught on as quickly as the company thought it would, why some of you prefer Swiggy, and even what you like to order from restaurants. (Biryani seems to a much bigger draw, for Indian diners, than it was in the days that I was growing up in India.)
4. Be willing to change: The three most freeing words in investing and valuation are “I was wrong”, and I would be lying if I said they comes easily to me. That said, I find it easier to say those words now that I have had practice, and while some view this as an admission of weakness, saying it releases you to tell a better, and sometimes different, story. Bill Gurley’s critique of my narrow definitions of total market in my first Uber valuation significantly changed not only my valuation of that company, but has played a role in how I estimate total market size and value sharing economy companies.