Tuesday, August 16, 2016

So You Want To Start A Hedge Fund By Ted Seides Book Review

Ted Seides has written an instrumental book that assuredly is applicable to a large portion of our readers: So You Want To Start A Hedge Fund: Lessons For Managers and Allocators.

Seides is the former President and co-CIO of Protégé Partners, which specialized in seeding and investing in hedge funds.  Prior to that, he worked under David Swensen in the Yale University Investment Office.   

The book greets potential fund managers with an assault of reality, but also a roadmap to success.  True investors love to learn from the mistakes of others, and that's where this book excels.

Seides profiles various funds but instead of doing a deep dive on the manager, he isolates which factors contributed to either the success or failure of the fund and outlines them as lessons for both a prospective manager and prospective allocator.  This dual-viewpoint focus allows the reader to learn from the perspective of differing lenses, offering a glimpse inside the thought process of those sitting opposite them at the sales table.

At the end of each chapter, there's a brief summary of "Lessons For Managers" as well as "Lessons For Allocators" directly targeted at each audience, which are incredibly useful.  People short on time could merely skip to the end of each chapter to quickly digest the lesson.  But pay heed: the context provided in each chapter paints a picture as to *why* that lesson was learned, which is the crux of learning from successes / mistakes of others to begin with.  

While the vast majority of chapters are aimed at the manager crowd, there's also a separate chapter dedicated to investing in start-up hedge funds.  Allocators get a lucid look at how to spot potential developing red flags as well as a tidy list comprised of traits and intricacies that can lead to manager success.

The book highlights lessons learned from funds such as:  Eton Park Capital, Senator Investment Group, Tourbillon Capital, Whitebox Advisors, Scion Capital, Brenner West Partners, Sabretooth Capital, and Signpost Capital.  Many other funds are also featured under pseudonyms, but the lessons remain the same.

Examples Of Lessons Learned In The Book 

Here's a brief sample: one manager left a pedigree fund and launched his own firm.  His stock picks performed well and assets under management rose.  The manager tried to establish a positive, collaborative culture.  He allowed analysts to source and research ideas.  While he ultimately made the buy/sell decisions, the performance of analyst picks lagged the manager's considerably.

Seides' lesson for managers?  "Put your destiny in your own hands."  The manager had good intentions of building a collaborative environment, but performance suffered because of it.  He then let analysts go and added more hierarchy to the investment process.  In an industry where performance is constantly under a microscope, one mistake can cost a fund its entire existence.

One other quick example from the book: a manager started a fund and instead of getting invested in a rising market, tried to wait and time the market for better value.  His performance lagged initially, investors never really took an interest, and eventually the fund closed down.

Seides articulated the lesson as follows: "When getting started, don't let perfect be the enemy of good."  He adds, "Even if a new fund starts slowly and preserves capital better than others in a tough tape, it must demonstrate the ability to then turn and make money for its clients before prospects will get interested.  Getting one market call correct is difficult enough; getting two right consecutively requires twice as much luck." 

While we highlighted two mistakes as examples, the book also offers a myriad of success stories that outline how various funds attracted capital, built their brand, refined their strategy, and more.

While some might say that the title is perhaps slightly corny, consider this:  So You Want To Start A Hedge Fund has already been endorsed by numerous prominent hedge fund managers themselves.  Bill Ackman (Pershing Square), Scott Bessent (Key Square Group, ex-Soros Fund), Jason Karp (Tourbillon), and Jonathan Auerbach (Hound Partners) all praise the book.   

It also includes a Foreword by Steve Galbraith (ex-Maverick Capital, Herring Creek Capital).

Who should read this book?  

There are two types of people especially who will benefit from reading: those that have even the slightest desire to manage their own fund (obviously) and allocators who invest (or are looking to start investing) in hedge funds.  There are hardly any books on the topic of how to select hedge funds and what to look for, so anyone even remotely interested in that subject would benefit immensely (high net worth investors, nascent family offices, financial advisors, aspiring fund-of-funds, etc).

How long is the book?  

This is a perfect fit for those who believe that time is our most valuable asset.  It's an incredibly swift read at only 195 pages (with pages that are much smaller than normal).  You can easily finish it in 2-3 hours or one sitting.  This is a huge asset when you consider just how much practical advice is distilled.  In other words, it gets straight to the point.

What this book is not

It's not a step-by-step list of how to setup a fund.  So if you're expecting that, you'll be disappointed (there's plenty of other resources out there on that subject).  This is not a guide on legal structures, service providers, prime brokers, infrastructure, etc. 

Final Word

Simply put, So You Want To Start A Hedge Fund offers a very high insights-gleaned to time-spent ratio.  If you have any desire whatsoever to start your own fund, read this book.  If you have any desire to invest in hedge funds whatsoever, read this book.  Given the high stakes involved in the industry, it's probably not hyperbolic to say that the lessons learned could potentially help make (or save) millions.