Book review: Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi

What better time to find another book to read then a rainy Midsummer Day? I’ve finally started to properly dig through my backlog of books to read (and trust me, the list is very long) and Never Eat Alone is considered a classic in the realm of networking.

nevereatalone

 

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, one relationship at a time. (First published 2005, new edition 2014.)

This book is considered an all-encompassing guide to networking and creating relationships that will help you advance your career and create opportunities in your life that you’d otherwise not have access to.

Main idea

The book is built on the idea that it is impossible to succeed in modern life without being good at networking. And the problem is that most people aren’t good at networking and find it uncomfortable to forge new relationships. The book breaks networking down into components starting from preparation to benefits and follow-up, peppering the whole text with dozens of examples from the author’s personal experience throughout his career.

Networking as a trainable skill?

I’ve always been fascinated by networking since it’s both been highly necessary for myself and something that’s still challenging. It’s taken me time to get over some fears associated with creating new contacts and that’s markedly improved my ability to make new acquaintances and friends. Without having read the book I’ve been using many strategies that the book describes to successfully meet new people and business partners.

For a lot of people though, just mentioning the term networking causes them to break out in a cold sweat. Many people equate networking to schmoozing or buttering someone up, neither of which have a particularly positive aura about them. This book however focuses on networking from the point of view that to gain benefit from networking you must focus on how you can help others before trying to get benefit for yourself. Nowadays the trick isn’t creating a monopoly of knowledge and connections for yourself but your focus should be linking together people who are in need to pay forward goodwill.

Ideas to pay attention to

Never eat alone – as the title implies, a good business lunch or a coffee meeting is a great way to meet new people and keep in touch with others even when you’re short on time otherwise. I utilise this heavily due to my schedule and tend to meet at least three people every week in connection to various projects and partnerships. Even when I don’t have much time, I can always find time for a lunch meeting.

Dinner parties – the book and I agree on one worry, why are dinner parties dying out? In my group of friends I’ve become the de facto organiser for such events. I’ve actually created kind of traditional events outside of things such as birthdays and people are always excited to come and see both old friends and make new ones. I can see why this is a big responsibility, but please, organise more dinner parties (and invite me 😉 ).

Fringe contacts – the idea is that a lot of information that actually ends up helping you comes from people who aren’t your closest friends but your acquaintances instead. The problem being that people who are your closest friends are generally in very similar information circles, so to gain access to truly new information you have to expand your circle of contacts.

Follow-up is important – this is something I’ve tried to do but it takes effort. I do see the inherent value in this, and I encourage others to do this as well. The idea being that when you meet someone for whatever reason you actually follow-up with an e-mail or a phone call to reiterate deals made or ideas discussed. It makes people feel good because they’re remembered and you get to keep a better log of things you’ve agreed to.

In the end it’s about making friends – while the word of networking has been ruined to an extent then it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t something that’s about quickly getting some benefit from a person and then never looking back (though sadly for some it is), it’s about creating and maintaining genuine contacts and friendships that enrich your life and that of your contacts.

Who should read this book?

Along with How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie), this book is probably all you really need to know about efficient relationships. While Carnegie’s book (I re-read that every couple of years) is more focused on more intimate relationships and helps you just become better at communicating then this book is more focused on creating an actual plan of how to manage your relationships. While that might sound a bit cold then once your network of people starts getting big it’s an actual necessity.

I recommend this book to anyone who needs other people’s help in their work. Having a large network of people is invaluable when it comes to career advancement (it is who you know that lets you show what you know). The book also lets you actually avoid many mistakes that people tend to make when they try to access new people. For example I get a fair bit of e-mails from people asking for help who could greatly benefit from reading this book (I’ll start recommending it actually!).

Networking in modern times isn’t something that’s optional. Whether or not you’re doing it unawares or in a focused manner you can’t step out of the game, and the more you wish to develop your career the more help you are going to need from your contacts. Read the book and good luck networking!

First look into Mintos

I attended the Mintos investors’ press conference today which was aimed at introducing themselves and their future plans to Estonian investors. It was a nice cosy event and I managed to ask as many questions as pretty much the rest of the audience combined, but I came away with a pretty good impression of their future plans.

mintos

What is Mintos?

Mintos is at first glance just an ordinary (Latvian) social lending platform that offers investors the chance to invest into secured (real estate & car) loans. What is more though, is that Mintos is essentially a marketplace for other loan originators to gather capital, which essentially offers small scale loan originators an alternative to the bond market.

For example, currently they are partnered to an Estonian company called Mogo, which does car loans – so they give out the loan to the borrower, and then it gets sent to the marketplace for investors to “buy” a piece of the principal. This means that Mogo doesn’t have to give out bonds or take out bank loans to increase capital while Mintos gets to make a mint (ha!) off providing marketplace services that enable that.

Introduction

Mintos had clearly taken the event seriously, having their CEO, CFO and the local Mogo representative there. While obviously Riga isn’t a long distance away to come to Tallinn, it still shows some care that they bothered to send their A-game. (Though when it comes to start-ups then everyone has to know how to market!)

The introduction which lasted about 20 minutes was an expected general overview of their concept and reasons for starting the company. Reasons being similar to other such sites – banks have not adjusted to the needs of modern markets, people’s deposits sit on bank accounts earning zero interest, banks are not very open to giving out loans and increases in the popularity of sharing economy are obviously bleeding into the field of finance as well.

Mintos has positioned itself as a secured loan provider. In Latvia they offer real estate loans and in Estonia they are partnered with Mogo for car loans but they are hoping to expand both geographically and in terms of loan products and finding other loan originators to partner with.

Currently an investor can start investing from 10€, they’re hoping to hit 2mil in outgoing loans this month (since sums are bigger than in Bondora for example where the maximum loan amount is 10K). The 1500+ investors (from 27 different countries) currently on platform have on average invested 2000€ (about 500€ on average in Estonia), most investors have about 40 loans in their portfolio and in the first 4 months they have paid out 30 000€ in interest, making the current net return 13%. Apparently Estonians tend to invest more through companies which implies at a more sophisticated strategy and better knowledge of the market which is likely due to our active competition in this sector.

The Mogo representative also commented on the benefits of this cooperation deal for them. Essentially as a credit provider for them its difficult to raise extra capital. The traditional ways of growth would be either bank loans or bonds, which are both time, labour and money extensive processes, making it much easier for them to use Mintos as a marketplace to save themselves the trouble of raising a round of additional capital.

Q & A

The questions and answers section was pretty interesting, and the summaries here are based on my notes, so take them with a grain of salt.

Growth potential in Estonia?

Clearly there is market competition for both investors and the borrowers. They don’t see themselves competing with classical asset classes for the investors’ money, which I found interesting. Also, they see that for the end consumer (loan client) there isn’t much of a difference in terms of getting a loan from them, so the competition there is much fiercer, which means in addition to all the portals in Estonia banks come into play as well. (No numbers were given, which I kind of understand, but which investors really want to hear.)

Loan to value & value assessment

Currently the real estate loans Mintos provides to Latvians are set at around 40% LTV on average. They have an independent real estate assessment partner who does the assessing (the biggest in Latvia).  They rely on that, but also run what they called a “sanity check” to look over the objects. The deals are signed in the presence of a notary, meaning less chance of any kind of fraud.

What was much more interesting to me personally was the way the value of cars is assessed by Mogo. Essentially they have 4 people working on it, and since for them speed is relevant they essentially look up equivalent prices for similar cars (make, model, year, equipment) off Auto24 and look at a median price based on that. They try to balance the repayment schedule in a way that keeps the LTV balanced throughout the contract, since cars mostly constantly lose value.

The concern of another recession hitting was also brought up, and the answer was as expected – hopefully principal payments have already reduced the total sum of the loan enough to cope with a potential price drop, and if no then in case of recovery they go after the income of the borrower the same as other sites do in case of unsecured credit.

Other loan originators

Now, this is the part that is super fascinating to me, and which might give Mintos a chance to actually become a very big player in the world of social lending. They currently have only one partner, but they are apparently looking for more to utilize the marketplace to the maximum. They said that due diligence is done when looking for potential partners and they must have faith in the loan underwriting model of the partner. Clearly current aim is to expand to other Central and Eastern European countries since investors like investing close to home.

Where does the money come from?

Mintos has had a round of capical from venture capitalists, they have currently gathered 1 million from investors which will hopefully give them quite a long runway. The team currently has 15 people, so in theory they have time to expand. Less financing than expected is necessary to initially finance the loans since people are already utilizing autobidders which lessens the strain on their funds.

Profit model?

Since as all start-ups, Mintos’ model is clearly to gain traction and expand their market share quickly then they are running in the red. Essentially their money comes from three different sources at the moment – the 1% fee they take from the secondary market transactions, the interest earned on the 5% of every real estate loan that they keep in their portfolio (they never completely sell the loans) and the service fee that the partners pay for utilizing the marketplace. I did ask specifically about the expected timeline for actually starting to make a profit but they really didn’t want to give any specific numbers.

First impressions

While there were some things that bothered me a bit – the lack of specific numbers. While I understand that with such a quick growth based company long term plans are likely to be useless, then they must have something that they are assessing their growth based on.

In terms of the way they currently function I can definitely see the appeal of wanting to invest there since having secured credit especially in the current expectant and gloomy market situation is definitely likely to be less risky than completely unsecured credit such as Bondora or Omaraha or Moneyzen. Still, the trade-off is significantly lower returns, which one must take into account.

Also, in no way is this deal bad for them. For Mogo – instead of having to go through the trouble of raising capital or releasing bonds people are essentially providing them with capital for growth using Mintos as a marketplace. The risk here of course being that if the underwriting model and loan pricing is done badly either by Mintos or Mogo, then you might take a significant loss since the interest rates are low.

I’ll have to think about it a bit, but I might make a small investment to see how they are doing. They definitely have an interesting business model and from the investors side the fact that they function as a social lending business is far less important than the fact that they’re trying to build an international marketplaze that other loan originators could utilize, which is what has the true potential to take the market by storm.

 

 

 

My Bondora portfolio (2015, May)

This month in Bondora finally fulfilled a goal that I’ve been waiting for – for the first time ever interest earned from my portfolio was more than 100 euros. (102,24 to be exact!) Technically my social lending portfolio was over the 100€ marker last month already taking into account the small amount of money moving in Moneyzen, but it’s still a nice checkpoint.

Overall portfolio status

mayinvestments

As you can see, the value of overdue loans is climbing to impressive numbers. Currently they are at about 620 euros and while there was a relatively big bump at one point then at least there seems to be some kind of balancing happening. I am really pleased that Bondora managed to start giving some proper data about recovery and how it’s impacting your portfolio. While there is nothing particularly impressive going on, then you can still see some positive themes. This is after 2,5 years of investing.

mayrecovery

 

Returns

As I mentioned above, the interest returns were relatively nice this month, there was a nice bump compared to last month, and I’m hoping interest returns will not drop below 100€ anymore. My optimistic goal for this year was to finish by reaching 150€ in interest but that might be slightly too optimistic seeing as I’m reducing money invested into Bondora due to loan payments for the rental real estate and adding in SP500 into my portfolio in a more meaningful manner.

mayinterestearned

New loans

mayinvestmenttotal

Bondora even tried to fix this chart somewhat! It apparently no longer shows instantly cancelled loans, which is a step in the right direction, it’s once again a bit more useful, but only marginally. The climb is slowly going towards getting 400€ in invested + reinvested money but that goal might be postponed for a while.

In terms of loan groups the month was pretty dull. I didn’t have much time to hand pick any loans and I’m slowly still working on making the portfolio a bit more conservative. This is the basis of social lending – in times of growth higher risk loans bring a bigger return but in times of a market downfall more conservative loan notes are expected to do better. No one can predict when the next crisis will hit, but as I wrote before when talking about portfolio balance, it takes a while to get a portfolio like mine (about 800 loan pieces) to start changing directions. The overall loans for May ended up as follows:

newloansmay