Investing in the Unknown and Unknowable

From Richard Zeckhauser at NBER:

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2205821

From David Ricardo making a fortune buying British government bonds on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo to Warren Buffett selling insurance to the California earthquake authority, the wisest investors have earned extraordinary returns by investing in the unknown and the unknowable (UU). But they have done so on a reasoned, sensible basis. This essay explains some of the central principles that such investors employ. It starts by discussing “ignorance,” a widespread situation in the real world of investing, where even the possible states of the world are not known. Traditional finance theory does not apply in UU situations. Strategic thinking, deducing what other investors might know or not, and assessing whether they might be deterred from investing, for example due to fiduciary requirements, frequently point the way to profitability. Most big investment payouts come when money is combined with complementary skills, such as knowing how to develop real estate or new technologies. Those who lack these skills can look for “sidecar” investments that allow them to put their money alongside that of people they know to be both capable and honest. The reader is asked to consider a number of such investments.

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adam

I work for True Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund with offices in Northern Virginia, San Francisco and Palo Alto. We partner with promising entrepreneurs at the earliest stages in the technology market providing hands-on management support to guide our portfolio companies through the challenges of early growth.