“So you do everything yourself?”
Pretty much. Jumpspeed is what some would call a “proof of concept” micro-VC fund: a small initial fund where I’m trying to prove that I’ve identified a unique dealflow pipeline and that I have the skill and ability to pick and develop winners.
A very small fund means constrained resources so I’m the head of marketing, deal flow manager, analyst, in-house counsel (see Mom, I didn’t completely waste that Columbia law degree), head of IR, secretary, coffee-brewer, etc. And I make all the investment decisions myself. Sort of.
That’s because my “investment committee” is a dead baseball player.
I think a lot of people don’t notice that I have Ted Williams’ “The Science of Hitting” on my desk at work, or if they do notice, they don’t understand why it’s there. My copy is a worn original hardcover from 1970 that my good friend Mordecai Holtz bought for me on eBay. It’s positioned on my desk so that Ted is always looking right at me, with his bat cocked just over an infographic of a strike zone that Williams designed with artist Robert E. Cupp (the most famous of many amazing graphics Cupp created for the book, a 3-D replica of this odd chart of colored baseballs is displayed in the Baseball Hall of Fame).
Williams, who died in 2002, wanted to be known as, and arguably was, the most disciplined hitter in baseball history. The last player to hit .400 in a full season, he boiled down the art of smacking a baseball into a complex science (hence the name of his book). The graphic on the cover of my edition of The Science of Hitting (later reprints didn’t include the graphic on the cover) shows the strike zone divided into a matrix seven baseballs wide and eleven baseballs deep. Each baseball-sized space in the strike zone is assigned a number and color-coded.
Williams’ innovation, if you will, was that not all strikes are “good” strikes — the concept of the “sweet spot.” Many players have a “sweet spot” in the strike zone but Williams was religious about his. He calculated, for each of the seventy-seven baseball-sized quadrants of the strike zone, what average he believed he was likely to achieve if he hit pitches only in that exact quadrant. What resulted was a type of “heat map” — if he limited himself to swinging at pitches in the upper middle of the zone he would consistently hit around or over .400. Williams obsessively did so, and let all other pitches — many of them strikes — go by. (This, by the way, earned Williams the reputation of both a potential strikeout and a bad teammate; as opposed to other great “bad ball” hitters of the time like Yogi Berra, who could and would swing at anything to knock in a teammate, Williams would leave the bat on his shoulder until he got “the perfect pitch” even if it meant stranding a runner or taking a strikeout.)
I’m not the first investor to be inspired by Williams. Warren Buffett has famously cited Williams’ approach as a metaphor for his investment style.
“Ted Williams described in his book, “The Science of Hitting,” that the most important thing — for a hitter — is to wait for the right pitch….And that’s exactly the philosophy I have about investing… Wait for the right pitch, and… wait for the right deal. And it will come… It’s the key to investing.”
— Warren Buffett
Every investor has — or should have — a defined discipline, a “sweet spot.” Buffett has his. I have mine at Jumpspeed.
And the “investment committee” who watches over me and makes sure I adhere to my sweet spot? Mr. Williams himself. I keep him right there, on my desk, so that I feel his steady gaze as entrepreneurs are pitching me or as I’m pounding the Interwebs to research some new idea. I’ll point to his strike zone chart as I’m explaining to an entrepreneur that “it’s not you it’s me” — their idea is interesting but outside of my areas of expertise or focus.
It may sound cheesy, but sometimes when you’re all alone you can lose your focus, and this picture of a long-deceased baseball player has actually helped me focus and make some tough investment decisions, both for and against, over the past few years.
So while some may have felt that he wasn’t a great “team player” when he played, the Splendid Splinter is certainly a key part of my “team” today.