A few roles in the equity market and their corresponding existential questions

By , March 25, 2014 7:04 pm

In my short equity career I’ve experienced 6 roles, to each the most important question is:

  1. The Academic: what is it and what should its fair price be?
  2. The Corporate finance manager: how do I manage the firm’s money?
  3. The Funds manager: which ones to buy and how will I exit?
  4. The Investment banker: how do I best underwrite this security?
  5. The Mid-term investor: if I buy at this price what will this year’s profit be?
  6. The Speculator: what will its price be after 3 days?

Each is vastly different from the rest.

As one grows incrementally (assets under management, time in the industry, age, position), the risk of confusing the role being assumed grows factorially.

Image source: Dilbert

Flappy Bird through the eyes of a financier

By , February 15, 2014 7:01 pm

Since I believe Flappy Bird is a Black Swan case, I tried not to give an opinion about the game. What’s more I don’t think I’m qualified to give comments on mobile games since I had never coded a proper game (besides projects for my bachelor).

But an investor recently asked me about Flappy Bird and I felt I had to give an opinion anyhow. Attracting investment is my job, after all.

So here it is, Flappy Bird through the eyes of an investment person.

Is it easy to create a game like Flappy Bird?

No, Dong Nguyen claimed he coded the game singly-handedly in 3 days. But we never got to see the conceptual process behind the games he creates.

Is it easy to create mobile games?

No. It took Rovio close to a decade of resilience before Angry Birds.

Mobile games are very hard to make because

  1. All gameplay, visual, audio need to be better than good.
  2. Technical constraint: mobile phone resources cannot afford being wasted by unoptimized code.
  3. Fragmentation of Android: there are so many models with different screen sizes it is very hard to make games or apps that work on all models.
  4. The battle to the top of the app store: it is a Big Head, only a few top games attract 95% attention. Marketing to reach the top is costly and uncertain.

Why is Flappy Bird so successful?

Luck, a typical Black Swan case. But besides luck let me give you the best explanation I can think of in one diagram.

Besides, Dong Nguyen already explained his secrets on his Twitter.

What about marketing?

I personally believe Dong Nguyen’s story that no pre-burst marketing was involved. It was all viral via influencers and peer recommendation.

Why aren’t clones successful?

Clones are only successful if they are local clones: local language, local community. All Facebook and Twitter clones are dead except Chinese clones. Mobile games are nothing local.

But why can’t people just play the clones now that Flappy Bird is dead?

I guess I have to blame authenticity and originality. Everyone talks about Flappy Bird, if you play a clone, you may fear being judged.

Secondly, it is hard to replicate every exact detail of the game. Horizontal spacing, vertical spacing, movement, arc, the algorithm of sewer generation, haptic response. One tiny subtle difference and the whole experience is altered. It is just not the same.

Vietnam Dong joins Big Mac Index

By , February 12, 2014 12:50 pm

More on Economist

What the case of Flappy Bird means to me, personally

By , February 12, 2014 10:56 am


The case is a validation of the notion that success is stochastic, or in other word more random than we want to believe.

Procint for success, believed by many, is not as random. It takes decades of resilience, self-improvement and blind hope.


The opposite, unfortunately, is not true. Years of hard work and wishful thinking don’t necessarily guarantee success.


In my humbly short career of investment management, I’ve lost count of the times being humiliated by entrepreneurs. But this fanatical case of bootstrap is doubtlessly a prodigious insult.


The worlds beyond Blizzard, Square-Enix, Valve and EA is a vast uncharted and barbaric universe.


Nobody can really be certain about j-u-s-t a KPI. Right, the analyst is left alone in the jungle again, helpless.

Vietnam stock market after Tet 2014: products and players

By , February 4, 2014 5:46 am

It’s not only cash flow, but structural changes are coming about: corporate bonds, open-ended funds, more ETF, reduced constraints on foreign ownership.

Regulators have variety of tools they case use to support the market. It’s just the matter of time.

Local funds are betting on riskier assets including pennies, low liquidity stocks.

My concern is fundamentals in the long run. What’s in there in the economy to support a sustainable rally?

Saddleback Leather marketing

By , February 3, 2014 6:02 pm

  1. Focus & reinforceingly repetitive on its selling point: durability due to leather quality, even to the level of RDF
  2. Consistency of message
  3. Personal (Dave’s POV), narrative (Dave’s stories), questionably authentic
  4. Online presence on influential sources e.g. styleforum.net
  5. Easy to navigate website
  6. Detailed videos on YouTube
  7. Free bags to influencers
  8. Contests: photo upload
  9. Utilize WoM

The only backlash I found was on Reddit.

Before Lunar New Year 2014

By , January 29, 2014 3:09 am

Easing restriction on foreign ownership by expanding room for foreign investors did provide liquidity for the market.

My concern is the fundamentals of growth – economic efficiency and productivity – show no sign of improving.

This year, earning announcements fall right on Tet so they will come after Tet. I wouldn’t follow the usual pattern in previous years, and resort to alpha instead.

I’m bearish on the long run after foreign investors have done their shopping of cheap assets.

What are other tactics regulators can do to nudge the stock market?

Chọn sách theo mục đích

By , January 25, 2014 10:08 am

Những sách không phải giáo trình và hư cấu được tôi xếp vào 4 nhóm:

θ. Nhóm được nhà báo viết. Ví dụ những quyển đoạt giải Pulitzer. Nhóm này có 2 tính chất chính là biên niên sử sự kiện (chronicle of events) và kể chuyện (narrative) nên dễ đọc cho người không chuyên. Ít phân tích chuyên sâu vì đó không phải việc của họ.
Tôi đọc cho những mảng không có gì liên quan đến công việc ví dụ lịch sử Nam Mỹ, thiên văn học…
Ngoại lệ, có một số quyển nhìn có vẻ chuyên môn như xếp vào loại kể chuyện, ví dụ bộ của Michael Lewis.

β. Nhóm được viết kiểu trải nghiệm, dẫn dụ (anecdotal). Tôi đọc cho những mảng không phải chuyên môn nhưng nên biết.
Ví dụ tốt là Malcolm Gladwell, có nhiều ý hay nhưng thiếu sự công nhận khoa học.
Ví dụ không tốt là bộ sách quản trị của Spencer Johnson, đọc như truyện tranh thiếu niên shounen.

ω. Nhóm được công nhận khoa học (scientific validity) hoặc đã đút kết qua thực tế. Lĩnh vực chuyên môn thì chỉ đọc nhóm này.
Ví dụ hồi học software đọc The Mythical man-month, hồi học management đọc Peter Drucker, định bụng sẽ làm investment thì đọc Art of the Start.
Fooled by Randomness đã từng xếp vào semi-anecdotal nhưng khi Taleb ra Elements of Tail Risk and Fragility thì nó vào nhóm này. Fooled là quyển thượng gồm khẩu quyết, Fragility là quyển hạ gồm chiêu thức.

Ψ. Nhóm chưa đặt tên gồm 3 nhóm nhỏ: khoa học triết học, quan điểm – bình luận, và hồi ký. Nhóm này nếu không làm theo thì đọc kiểu "entertain a thought without accepting it". Ví dụ: Thus Spoke Zarathustra

ε Có nhiều sách không rơi vào 4 loại trên nhưng ít đọc không nhớ, chỉ nhớ cuốn cầu cơ Currency wars.

Hình minh họa: University of Sydney, đại học đẹp nhất nam bán cầu. Photo by Hai Nguyen.

On naming the Resume and application package

By , January 10, 2014 6:55 pm


The best way to have a Resume is to be good enough that employers will have to hunt you without asking for your Resume. Most of us mortals are not that good.

I wrote a guide on writing Resume when I was a college student. One thing I didn’t put in there: how to name the file.

This is how I name my Resume: Application-InvestmentManager-TaiTran-MyPhoneNumber-JobRef001.pdf

Why the pain?

1. The recruiter knows what the file is for without opening the file.

2. The recruiter can easily pick up the phone and call me without opening the file to find the contact. The only reason I don’t put my email address in the file name is the length.

3. It starts with an "A" and has a higher chance of being put somewhere closer to the top of the file list in the folder, assuming most folders are sorted alphabetically. Of course, AndyResume.doc would still beat my file, but I haven’t figured out how to push it further up without exsufflication.

4. No space. If the file is uploaded to the web or intranet, chance is that the spaces will be converted to "%20" on older browsers and my file name is messed up. No space.

5. No underscore, hyphen instead. I found that hot keys like Ctrl+arrow work on hyphen but skip underscore.

The best Resume file name I’ve received reads: Resume_Company Name_Position_FamilyName MiddleName GivenName.doc

The worst: Resume.doc

A typical recruiter may receive a thousand files named "Resume.doc" per day and I bet many "Resume.doc"‘s get overwritten by other files and no-one bothers whose is whose.

Another thing is the content of the file. My file has a Cover Letter, a two-page Resume and all relevant supporting documents, all put in sequence and converted to one PDF file. One. Single. File. Unless specified otherwise by the recruiter, of course. This makes sure no information gets lost in translation.

And why PDF? To minimize the chance the file format is jeopardized by the software installed on the recruiter’s machine, and to minimize the probability the file gets edited by someone else.

Many less experienced job hunters name their files this way:

Cover Letter – Name.doc, Resume – Name.doc

This wouldn’t work for recruiters because (1) the two files are supposed to be together but in the recruiter’s folder they will be separated by a million files like DennisResume.doc, MyPicture.jpg (nobody cares whose is "My" by the way) etc. (2) if your files have the slightest chance of getting lost in folders together with a billion desperate applications, they will.

Finally, if I have to send multiple files, I name my files like these:

01. InvestmentManager-TaiTran-MyPhoneNumber-Resume.pdf

02. InvestmentManager-TaiTran-MyPhoneNumber-MostRelevantSupportingDocument.pdf

03. InvestmentManager-TaiTran-MyPhoneNumber-SecondMostRelevantSupportingDocument.pdf

And put them in a folder named: Application-InvestmentManager-TaiTran-MyPhoneNumber-JobRef001

Then zip the folder to Application-InvestmentManager-TaiTran-MyPhoneNumber-JobRef001.zip

No rar.

I then make sure the zip file size is less than 10Mb.

Then I’ll do the following:

1. Email the zip file. The content of the email is a summary of my cover letter.

2. Upload the zip file to a file sharing service, get the download link, and email the link in case the recipient’s email system blocks heavy files, explaining why I’m doing that.

3. Upload the folder or single file to Google Docs and share them with the recipient.

4. Call the recipient to confirm receipt.

Again, why all the pain. Because I’m not good enough to hunt jobs underprepared.

From your experience, what could I have done better?

Image source: Dilbert

Why Facebook wanted to buy Snapchat

By , December 15, 2013 5:23 pm

We know Snapchat is popular among teens. We know Snapchat is mobile-centric, a weakness of the web-centric Facebook. We know Mark is paranoid about competition and wants to eliminate potentially big threats.

But where is the synergy?

Snapchat does not have a viable business model, but Facebook does. Facebook monetizes what its users share by selling targeted ads. Facebook does provide privacy, but that is not enough. If teens are aware that the information that they’re sharing will be removed shortly, they will share more. This is where Facebook can get its dirty hands on.


Is Facebook that obsessed with knowing what you share? Of course, when it also monitors what you write down on the browser and DON’T post.

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