Netflix cease and desist email Stranger Things

Netflix’s Brilliant Handling of Unauthorised “Stranger Things”-inspired Pop-up Bar

I’d like to make a quick post highlighting Netflix’s brilliant email that the company’s lawyers sent out to fans who had decided to set up a pop-up bar called the The Upside Down, named after the alternate realm in the show, Stranger Things.

The fans who had set up the bar hadn’t asked for permission regarding the usage of the name, and the company decided to send a cease and desist email to them. Not very different to what any large corporation would do right?

Not exactly. The way they handled it was an absolute masterclass in public relations.

Here’s the email they sent out to the owners:

What I’d like to most point out is that the owners of the pop-up bar completely understood the company’s perspective and agreed to closing it down and all of this was done without the need for hostility from either side.

I wish more people resolved conflict in this way. Keeping things lighthearted even when you’re talking about something you dislike, can lead to co-operation from the other side without creating too much of a fuss.

Approaching any kind of confrontation with hostility will usually lead to the other party getting on the defensive, which severely inhibits conflict resolution.

The way Netflix approached the issue was exemplary and I believe that people can really learn something from this.



Book Review: I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi

Rating: 8/10

Look, I get it – unless you’re like me and have some kind of weird obsession with optimising your finances, you’d probably be hard pressed to think of a topic more boring than personal finance, and I don’t blame you. It’s dry and tedious and no one really cares very much to spend time dealing with it.

This is precisely is why it’s all the more important that you set up everything to be completely automatic, so you can devote as little time as possible to it. What most people lack when it comes to personal finance is having a system that works. Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich (Let’s call it IWT because I can’t be bothered typing that out over and over) is all about that: Creating a system that works on autopilot and allows you the freedom to worry about more important stuff, like selecting a new Netflix show to watch now that you’re done binging on House of Cards and watched Friends for the ten thousandth time.

If I had to recommend one personal finance book to anyone, it would be IWT. Hands-down, the best, no-nonsense, practical book on getting your finances in order. The best part? It doesn’t bore you to death.

It’s not about simply cutting back and living in the most bare-bones way possible.

It’s about conscious spending and living a sustainable lifestyle that’s suited to what you love doing the most, and my favourite part: Setting your finances on autopilot.

I’ve actually managed to negotiate my way out of bank fees because of this book. I followed the exact script that Ramit provides in the book, and voila! The representative on the other end of the call went:

“Sure, not a problem. I’ll just remove those fees and refund your account. Was there anything else I can help you with?”

And I (grinning widely) thanked him, hung up and thought, man, this book works. Honestly, people need to know this stuff. It’s simple, actionable and in just a couple of days, you can have your financial situation turned on its head.

  • Takes you through getting out of debt
  • Making your finances work on autopilot
  • Make saving money a breeze
  • Navigate the gatekeepers and get the most out of your bank
  • Negotiate your way to the best deals
  • Cut down on unnecessary interest payments
  • Earning more as opposed to cutting back
  • Succinct approach to investing and getting a better return than most managed funds
  • Big decisions (why houses are a terrible investment, the true cost of marriage – in a way you’ve never thought of before)

If you’re expecting a dry, text-book style regurgitation, you couldn’t be more wrong. Sethi’s style is entertaining, light, brutally honest, and yet very informative. Something I really liked was that his advice was actionable and he provided tons of links to all sorts of useful tools and resources.

If you haven’t read this book, you will not regret getting through it. The lessons are extremely valuable and will serve you very well. It’s a small investment that will provide you with returns well and above its cost.

Full disclosure, the link above is an Amazon affiliate link, and whatever I make goes to supporting this blog, so if you do make a purchase, thank you very much! If you can’t see the image above, it might be because of an ad-blocker that you might be running.


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How to fix the education system

Education Reform: Preventing the Rise of Drones and Clones

Our current education system excels at churning out millions of homogenous, disenchanted drones every year. Isn’t it odd that students, regardless of ability or interests, are placed into the exact same system, where they are each force-fed an identical curriculum?

In my previous post on this topic, “Universities Kill Your Passion“, I discussed some of the causes of this issue, but this time I’d like to focus on discussing some possible solutions to the problem. There’s no point complaining if you’re not willing to make any changes, so let’s get started.

Possible Improvements to the Education System

I have a number of suggestions that could either be implemented individually or collectively and still be effective. Below is a summary of my ideas on education reform, with detail to follow:

  • Personalised learning pace
  • Students need to know the “why” of what they’re learning
  • Application based approach to 10x understanding
  • Autonomous learning
    • use the internet as a resource
  • Incorporating the arts

Personalised Learning Pace

Imagine for a moment that by law, we were all expected to wear standardised clothing. Every single one of us, regardless of size and height, required to wear a size medium. That would be quite absurd, wouldn’t it? Yet we do exactly this with education. A one-size-fits-all approach that’s expected to work for every individual.

Allowing students to progress at their own pace enables them to maximise their potential. For students who are able to grasp concepts quickly, the standard pace can be very frustrating. On the flip side, for those who require additional time, the standard pace can hamper their ability to understand increasingly advanced concepts, as they would have fallen behind in the basics.

Allowing each student to dictate their own pace allows the quick learners to excel and capitalise on their strengths, while the slower learners are able to catch up and even surpass the rest without the pressure of an unsustainable pace.

There are of course counter-arguments that could be made.

For instance, if you allow a child to study at their own pace, they would slack off. This is true, but then again, isn’t that also true of the current system? Students slack off all the time. I would know, I was a master procrastinator myself. I think it’s a separate issue, and one that needs to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Students Need to Know the “Why” of What They’re Learning

I’m sure many students have at some point looked at their algebra and wondered when any of it would ever become useful to them. I have certainly done this, not just with math, but with pretty much every subject I’ve ever studied.

I actually touched on this topic in my aforementioned post, regarding how I enjoyed learning when I had a purpose for learning the material. I strongly believe that if students understand why they needed to know something, they would be much more interested in learning and absorbing it.

For example, most students are forced to memorise the multiplication tables. As an 8 year-old at the time, this was an exercise in futility. I (along with most others, I suspect) had no idea why I was being forced to memorise the most boring possible combination of numbers.

I started thinking about this when I was learning the concept of exponential functions in high school. If I had simply been shown that I could use that exact formula to calculate compound interest and find out how much money I needed to become a millionaire in the future, I would have been far more interested in the application of the formula, because now I would understand why or how I could actually use this formula, rather than just knowing it in order to pass the final exam. Instead, the formula was presented to me, I calculated a bunch of random numbers and got the right answer (sometimes). Only, I had no clue what the answer signified.

This simple step appears to be almost non-existent in the education system. It’s almost as if no one actually cares whether or not you understand the true purpose of what you’re learning, as long as you can get to the right answer eventually.

After some reflection, I realised that all my favourite teachers were the ones who took just a couple of additional minutes to explain or demonstrate the “why” behind what we were learning.

That made all the difference in the world.

Application Based Approach to 10x Understanding

This ties in with the previous point about knowing the “why”. If students are given assignments in which they have to apply what they have learned, it would enhance understanding tenfold.

For example, I did a basic course on a programming language a couple of years ago. Initially, the module had been structured in a way that we had to learn all the bits of code and it’s functions, but we would never apply any of it. As you can imagine, this was terribly boring and I quickly gave up.

When they updated the module, they would teach us a part of the code and immediately apply it to an mock-up web page. As the module progressed, we added more and more to the web page until it was fully functional. This time, I had a tangible, finished product, and could see where all the seemingly separate bits of code had come together to form one complete page.

I think many subjects can be redesigned to work this way. Applying what you learn helps you remember and understand it.

Autonomous Learning

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, so I will just briefly touch on it. I notice that students learn best when they are allowed and encouraged to learn things on their own. Guided learning is not always necessary. In fact, most of the things I have learned have been purely out of my own curiosity. Isn’t that how learning should be?

The problem is, curiosity is stamped out of us in school. On many occasions, a student would ask a question and the teacher would reply, don’t worry, that’s not relevant for the exam. We are trained to excel at examinations, instead of being actively encouraged to learn and discover.

I think the application based approach can help to some extent. Allowing students to work on projects that encourage self-learning would be very beneficial, as the student would have to understand the subject matter thoroughly in order to apply it. The application of that knowledge is extremely important, as it cements what he or she has learned, and helps that understand why what they are learning is useful.

Incorporating the Arts

The arts are simply not given enough recognition in the academic world. However, I believe that a truly well-rounded mind can be developed through the creative process. Learning a musical instrument, dance, painting, or anything else that frees the imagination and allows for creativity is essential to the human mind.

It enables a student to develop excellent discipline through practice, allows them to express themselves, teaches them to think without constraints, and naturally encourages experimentation, all without the rigidity of traditional academia. It enhances the human mind and greatly improves focus, which in turn result in improved academic performance.

An intriguing study funded by the Dana foundation and summarised by Dr Michael Gazzaniga of the University of California, Santa Barbara, suggests that studying the performing arts — dance, music and acting — actually improves one’s ability to learn anything else. Collating several studies, the researchers found that performing arts generated much higher levels of motivation than other subjects. These enhanced levels of motivation made students aware of their own ability to focus and concentrate on improvement. Later, even if they gave up the arts, they could apply their new-found talent for concentration to learning anything new.

Robert Twigger

Below are some resources that demonstrate how art has been integrated into the curriculum.

Cross-Training: Arts and Academics Are Inseparable

Leading to Change / Academics and the Arts

Collectively implemented, I think there’s a good chance that these suggestions would actually increase a student’s interest in learning, which is the main objective. Leave a comment below or send me an email, I’d love to hear what you think!

How to Invest Money - Micro investing with acorns app

“Set It and Forget It” with Micro Investing

Update: Acorns Australia is now called Raiz.

Investing your money can seem daunting at first, but it really doesn’t have to be too difficult or complicated, nor do you have to worry about deciphering copious amounts of boring financial jargon.

In fact, with today’s technology, you can pretty much adopt a “set it and forget it” strategy, where your investments are completely automated, and you don’t have to worry about the intricacies of stock-picking.

Introducing Acorns – An Easy-to-Use Micro Investment App

If you’d like to get your feet wet with investing, I recommend Acorns (which I personally use), a micro investment app that has blown up in popularity since it was first released in 2012. There are a variety of apps on the market that allow you to do this, but Acorns is currently the largest and most popular company in this space.

The company markets itself by saying that it invests the change from your daily purchases, but since you have moi to explain it for you, I’ll give you a quick run-down on the process.

How Acorns Works:

  • The app connects to your bank account and tracks your expenses.
  • Every time you spend on something with a debit/credit card, it automatically rounds the amount up to the nearest dollar and invests the difference.
    • If you were to spend $12.70 on a meal, Acorns will deduct $0.30 from your account and invest it on your behalf.
  • You can also set recurring investments of $5 for example, to be invested into the market at your selected intervals, whether it’s weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, etc.
  • You could choose to make a one-off lump-sum investment of any amount.

Note that the minimum amount that you can invest is $5. So every time you spend on something, the rounded amounts are held until they add up to $5, upon which Acorns will then invest that amount into the market.

Long-Term Strategy, and Instant Diversification

It’s important to remember that it’s unlikely you’re going to make quick and large gains with micro investing. This is a long-term investment strategy, and works best if you can hold on to it for at least a couple of years.

The great thing about Acorns is that you are automatically diversifying your portfolio as Acorns splits up the money you invest into ETFs that comprise of various indices.

For example, in Australia, Acorns invests your money into Asian, Australian, European and American-based ETFs. In this way, your money is being diversified across a number of markets, which considerably lowers your risk.

The Benefit of Using Acorns:

  • It has a user-friendly interface
  • You can start investing with just $5; perfect for students and those who do not have a large disposable income or do not want to risk too much money at the initial stages.
  • Allows you to completely automate your investments
  • You can still apply theories like Dollar-Cost-Averaging (I explain this term below)
  • Allows you to withdraw your money at any time
  • It’s completely free if you sign up with a student email!

Here’s What I Recommend Doing

  • Once you have your account approved (usually takes a couple of days), you should set up recurring investments of a small amount that you can afford.
  • This allows you to take advantage of Dollar-Cost-Averaging, and also builds up your investment portfolio over time, leaving you with a chunk of money at the end of the year.
  • Setting up the recurring investments is easy, and once you’ve done that, your investments are completely automatic!

To learn more about Acorns, you can check out their website, or if you sign up with my referral link, Acorns rewards both you and I with $2.50 debited into our accounts. For the month of September, that bonus has been doubled to $5.

I also found an article on Investopedia that you might be interested in. It explains How Acorns Works and Makes Money.

Quick Dive:

Dollar-Cost-Averaging (DCA)

The term I used earlier, Dollar-Cost-Averaging, is a technique that investors use to average out their buying price. DCA involves investing a fixed amount of money, e.g. $25 a month, every month.

This allows you to average your cost, as you buy more shares when the market dips, and buy less shares when the market rises. Over time, your buying price will lie somewhere in the middle. The reason for doing this is because it is hard to time your investment.

For example, if you invest $100 in January, you have no idea what the market will do over the next few months. If could end up moving down and back up again (meaning you’ve lost precious buying opportunities as the market took a dip).

On the other hand, the market could continue on a long-term uptrend, and sure, your initial investment of $100 did grow, but you could have caught the upward trend by investing more money over time.

The idea of investing used to be this perplexing concept that seemed very far out of reach for the average person. The concentration of power was evident in Wall Street, monolithic banks, brokerage firms, and upscale investment houses. To make matters worse, placing trades used to be inconvenient and slow, and you needed to already be relatively well-off, as the capital requirements to get into the game were high.

Lucky for us however, the investment landscape is drastically changing. Investing is now more accessible than ever before with the advent of micro investing, discount brokers and regulatory changes to the system, which have significantly reduced costs for individual investors.

For the sake of transparency, this is not a paid endorsement, Acorns is an app that I genuinely like and think would be useful to you. I do however, benefit from sign-ups using my referral link, and it also gives you the same sign-up bonus of $2.50, or the promotional $5 for the month of September 2017 [Win-win for us both! ;)].

As always, drop me a line by sending me an email using the Contact page or leave a comment!


Specialists vs Generalists, The Polymath Ideal

A Jack of All Trades or a Master of One: Specialists vs Generalists

The common saying, “jack of all trades, master of none”, seems to imply that specialisation is superior compared to dabbling in numerous fields. It’s incomplete however, and the actual quote conveys a different meaning:

“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”.

A capitalist society reveres the specialist; the more specialised you are, the more valued and respected you become, eventually leading to better remuneration. That being said, specialisation certainly has its place – there are countless specialists who have made significant contributions due to their in-depth knowledge in that specific area. In the medical field, for example, specialists are virtually a necessity as the field is simply too broad for individual mastery.

Benefits of being a specialist:

  • They are able to charge higher rates
  • They have in-depth knowledge of the subject matter
  • They can allocate all of their attention and focus on one field
  • They are regarded as experts in the field, and can act as consultants

The Case for the Generalist

Polymathy is severely underrated, especially in a capitalist economy that  idolises specialisation. I am certainly not against capitalism (we will get into this discussion in an upcoming post), but I do think that this is one of the drawbacks of the system.

If you are competent in a number or fields, you are essentially equipping yourself with a variety of resources and tools. Knowledge can be transferrable, and even applicable across disciplines – an advantage polymaths are able to capitalise on.

Benefits of being a polymath:

  • Talent in various fields
  • Able to apply knowledge gained in one field to another field
  • Ability to make connections easily
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Well rounded
  • Development in multiple areas
  • Able to apply skills in a variety of situations
  • Understand systems thinking or how concepts are interrelated
  • Yeah, this list is a lot longer than the benefits of being a specialist, I’m biased

Polymaths are able to draw upon their knowledge from multiple sources, enabling them to see and make connections that a specialist would not be able to. Innovation is often a result of combining ideas, and extending your areas of knowledge often assists in the process.

Robert Twigger (a British poet, writer and explorer), in his essay “Master of Many Trades“, summarises:

The real master has no tools at all, only a limitless capacity to improvise with what is to hand. The more fields of knowledge you cover, the greater your resources for improvisation.

Famous Polymaths of the Past and Present

Widely considered the epitome of polymathy, Leonardo da Vinci clearly illustrates the point I made above. He was an influential artist, inventor, engineer, botanist, writer, and sculptor, among other things, and it can be argued that he was able to do this because he was able to apply his knowledge from one area into the next.

Other examples from the time include Galileo Galilei and Michelangelo, while modern day polymaths include Tim Ferriss and Elon Musk.

For some interesting further reading, head over to “What Happened to the Polymaths? Some Modern Examples of Homo Universalis and How to Emulate Great Thinkers“. The article poses some interesting theories as to why there appear to be fewer modern polymaths.

“Use It or Lose It”

I’d also like to highlight another point that Twigger makes, about the common misconception that it is essential for one to be naturally gifted in order to succeed in this endeavour:

The fact that I succeeded where others were failing also gave me an important key to the secret of learning. There was nothing special about me, but I worked at it and I got it. One reason many people shy away from polymathic activity is that they think they can’t learn new skills. I believe we all can — and at any age too — but only if we keep learning. ‘Use it or lose it’ is the watchword of brain plasticity.

The Overachieving Brain Surgeon

Consider this: Can a specialist also be a generalist?

Let’s look at a hypothetical brain surgeon for a second. This surgeon is an example of a specialist, but let’s assume that he or she is also a guitar virtuoso, has a decent grasp on poker and chess and happens to be an excellent swimmer. Would the surgeon be still be considered a specialist or would they now be a generalist?

Firstly, do the terms “specialist” and “generalist” only apply to attributes that are relevant to the job market? I have not found a definitive answer to this question anywhere else so far, but I’m going to say that they are not.

From my perspective, the debate about whether it is better to be a specialist or a generalist is quite irrelevant because they are not mutually exclusive. Why choose a side when you can have the best of both worlds?

What do you think? Would you rather choose a side, and if so why? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


How to Automate Your Savings

Solving the Avocado and Toast Conundrum

If you’ve found yourself spending too much, struggling to save for an upcoming expense (who knows, it could be a vacation!), or strapped for cash between pay cycles, don’t stress out. These are common troubles, and they’re easily remedied.

In today’s post I’ll show you how you can tackle all of these problems without using complicated budgets, expense tracking apps, monk-like levels of self-control or fancy financial tricks.

No More Avocado and Toast??

It’s become a running joke that millennials spend way too much on avo and toast (a blasphemous proposition, I know) and coffee. But rest assured, I would never prescribe that you cut down on the delicious breakfast, let alone the much needed morning pick-me-up.

Ramit Sethi (Brilliant and hilarious author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich) laments about how most finance “gurus” tell you to cut down on lattes to save money, but that’s precisely the wrong place you should be looking at if you’re trying to improve your finances.

The problem is, unless you’re a robot or have unnatural willpower, you will want to make small impulse purchases at times, but there is a way to ensure that you  can still do that without going overboard.

If you look up articles on how to increase your savings or cut down on expenditure you’ll find a wealth of information which all say pretty much the same thing. They’ll tell you to cut down on you small expenditures which apparently end up in big savings. They also advise keeping track of your expenditure using an app for example.

How many people do you know who actually stick to this? I’ve tried using an app to track every single expenditure but eventually I gave up because I kept forgetting to do it, and it was very bothersome. I eventually came up with a much simpler way to ensure that my savings were growing, while not having to worry about tracking every single dollar of expenditure.

There are a couple of ways of going about this, but I’ll show you my method and you can tweak it accordingly.

The Secret Sauce – Make Your Money Inaccessible

Or cumbersome and time consuming to access, at least.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Open an additional bank account

Keep your current bank account and open an additional one, preferably at a different bank if the interest rates are competitive. If not the same bank will do.

Another benefit of opening an account at a different bank is that you can avoid downloading the app that might come with it, which helps reduce the convenient access to that money.

  • Set up auto-transfers

Next, and here’s where the magic happens, you set up an automatic transfer of a certain amount that will go out of your main account every month and directly into your secondary account. The key is to have the discipline not to use the secondary account unless it’s an absolute emergency.

That’s why I mentioned opening the secondary account at a different bank. Doing this makes it harder for you to transfer money to your main account, thus decreasing the likelihood of you ever using it for regular expenditure.

  • Make your secondary account harder to access

Make it hard to access those funds by declining a debit card, if you really don’t think you have the willpower necessary to do this. Alternatively, accept the debit card, and leave it at home.

By doing this, you won’t need to stick to a strict budget and sweat the small stuff.

If you have a budget of $1000 per month for example, automatically transferring $200 out of that account every month allows you to stop worrying about consciously saving money. Of course, being frugal is always a good thing, but this method is more about guaranteeing a set minimum amount of savings.

If you don’t see the money in your account (because it’s already been automatically transferred), you won’t miss it. It will also give you peace of mind, knowing that you are definitely going to have an emergency fund if life suddenly decided to perform a belly-flop on you.

Let’s go back to Ramit Sethi for a second. In his book “I Will Teach You to be Rich”, he talks about something very similar to what I’ve just described above. He mentions that worrying about small decisions like having a latte vs not having a latte just to save $3 is not the point. The big stuff is what is really important. Automating your savings allows you to spend knowing that you’ve already guaranteed your savings.

That’s all for this post, and as always, leave a comment or email me and let me know your thoughts! Also, if you have your own tips, I’d love to hear it, and possibly feature it in an upcoming post.

You can check out Ramit’s blog here. It’s a fantastic resource and a lot of his content is absolutely free.


How to Find a Mentor

Having Trouble Getting a Mentorship? – Create Your Own!

Having a mentor can be extremely beneficial for your progression in virtually any field. They can accelerate your learning curve exponentially, help you shape your ideas and empower you. Given all of these potential benefits, I thought it would be useful to have a mentor of my own, so I started making a shortlist of people whom I could pick to be my mentor.

Enter Tim Ferris – World Renowned Author, Angel Investor and Polymath. 

Throughout my early teens, I was already fascinated by the concepts of accelerated learning, self-optimisation, and getting unconventional results by utilising unconventional methods. I would always try and figure out the easiest and most effective way to get something done. No one does all of this, and more, better than Tim Ferriss. If you haven’t heard of Tim Ferriss, you should certainly do some research on him and I promise it won’t disappoint.

You can check out his blog:  

Why Tim Ferriss?

When I first read the Four Hour Work Week, I was mind-blown. I instantly knew who my ideal mentor would be. I’d found someone who shared the same passion for everything that I enjoyed doing, except he was on a completely different level, far beyond anything I had imagined.

The reason I picked Tim Ferriss was because he is, in fact, a polymath, and exactly what I aspire to be. Secondly, I noticed that Tim was also utilising the tools that I had learned about from elsewhere, however he was applying them in ways that I had never thought of, which I found to be extremely interesting. He also has a knack for asking very simple, yet powerful questions which get you thinking and questioning everything, which can lead to some very interesting results.

To elaborate on the previous point, Tim has dabbled in a diverse array of fields, including his own television show (The Tim Ferriss Experiment, in which Tim attempts to master a new skill within a week), judo, language learning, self-experimentation, accelerated learning, and angel investing, just to name a few. He has enjoyed tremendous success in almost all of these fields. He is the living embodiment of my goals, and that makes him an ideal mentor in my case.

(Side note: I think the phrase “living embodiment” is quite superfluous, and yet I seem to find myself using it relatively often)

If I could have Tim Ferriss as my mentor, I certainly would. However, If you don’t have access to someone whom you would really like to be your mentor, what can you do?

You create your own mentorship.

How the Self-Created Mentorship Works 

Since I didn’t have access to Tim Ferriss himself, I looked at everything I did have access to and started with that. I voraciously devoured all of his books and searched for all kinds of material which he had released over the years. When I discovered his podcast, I began to listen to that too (It’s called the Tim Ferriss Show).

Side note: The Tim Ferriss Show basically involves Tim interviewing and deconstructing world-class performers from a variety of fields, and extracting the tools and tricks which we, the listeners, can put to use. I highly recommend the podcast, there’s an insane amount that I’ve learned from that alone. I’ve also recommended a couple of other podcasts, which you can check out: Podcast Picks of 2017: Productivity, Language, and Culture.

I also follow Tim’s progress through his blog, his Twitter page and of course, his podcast and try to make notes of all his titbits of knowledge that he imparts through all of the various channels.

Books, of course, are possibly one of my favourite ways to learn from my chosen mentor, because it distils all the information and leaves the reader with only the most useful and relevant content, which can be easily accessed and reviewed at leisure.

How to Create Your Own Mentorship Program

  • Find an individual/individuals whom you admire or aspire to emulate
  • Look for articles or books that they have published and read them. Write down questions and take copious notes
  • Search for other resources on your chosen mentor – read about their history and understand how and why they do what they do; it’s all about getting into their mindset and understanding how they work
  • Look for others’ work on them
    • Sometimes your mentor will not release their own material (Warren Buffett is a case in point). What you can do instead is to read books about them by other authors. These can be great because the author sometimes adds their own insight which can be very helpful.
  • Search for videos, interviews and other types of relevant content which can help you gain an insight into your mentor’s thought process
  • Finally, try connecting with your mentor. Some of them may have a Twitter account and you could try tweeting them. Hey, you could get lucky!

Now I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t anywhere near as great as having direct access to your mentor, but it’s the next best thing. I can honestly say that I’ve learned so much from all the different sources of information, even though I could not speak to my “mentors” directly.

I strongly encourage you to find someone whom you admire or would like to emulate, and embark on the journey yourself. It’s actually quite exciting to discover the information you require and try to search for all the answers by relying solely on yourself. It’s a challenge, but one that’s definitely worth it.

In fact, with this self-created mentorship program, you can have as many mentors as you want. Some of my other mentors include  Warren Buffett, Derek Sivers, John Mayer and many other incredible, talented individuals. There’s a wealth of knowledge that you can learn from your mentors, so go ahead and give it a shot!

A Guide to Exchange Traded Funds

A Guide to ETFs: The Quickest Way to Start Investing

Quick note: This post is about ETFs, but before we get to that, I go on for a while to introduce some important concepts in investing. If you’re new to this, you might hopefully find it interesting and useful.

Alternatively, you can skip down to the section titled “A Primer on Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)“. Let me know whether you enjoy this post and if you’d like to see more of these!

Let’s Talk About Risk, Bay-bee!

Many people shy away from investing their money because they’ve heard of how it can be very risky. First thing to note, investing is not gambling. Don’t get me wrong, there is a certain element of risk involved, but it’s calculated risk, and can be avoided to a certain extent.

High levels of risk-taking usually comes from not knowing what you’re doing, and taking advice from people who don’t have a solid grasp of how the stock market works. Don’t be like the proverbial Mr. Jones who lost all his money by placing uneducated bets on stocks based on neighbour Sam’s hot tip.

More people spend time painstakingly researching the kind of smartphone they buy than they would on performing the due diligence required when considering the purchase of shares. This exposes them to unnecessary risk, which can be greatly minimised by conducting the research and gaining a sound understanding of the company before making a decision.

Over the course of this series, you’ll find that in the finance world, risk has a slight but important distinction from our usual, everyday concept of risk. In financial parlance, risk is closer in meaning to “fluctuation” than exposure to danger.

The Market is More Predictable Over the Long-Term

One strategy which you can use to minimise risk is long-term investment. In the short-term (a period of five years or less as a rough guide), investments can be very risky as markets are volatile and unpredictable.

I’d like to draw your attention to the graph below (cheeky screenshot from Google), which depicts the movement of the S&P 500 index over the short-term period of a year.

As you can see, the market is quite temperamental and has a number of sharp dips throughout the time-frame. It is quite hard to predict where the market is headed. Compare this to the graph below, which depicts the S&P 500 since its inception.



From the graph above, you can see that although the market is volatile in the short term, over the long term the market always recovers and surpasses it’s previous peak. This makes long-term investment significantly less risky.

The market will generally continue the long-term upward trend as a result of inflation, rising income (especially in developing markets) and the growing population, in addition to other factors.

Think of investment as a long game, and not one in which quick profits are made.

Think of Investing in Terms of Purchasing the Entire Business

This next part ties in nicely with the concept of long-term investment. People who view investing as extremely risky usually think of the stock market as a very complicated lottery ticket. The idea is that you throw a stack of money at a company’s shares and hope that it rises in value. This is speculation, which is very high risk and not the same as investing.

Investing is quite literally the act of purchasing a portion of ownership in a company. Even though you may be starting out very small, it’s important to think of your investments as if you were purchasing the entire company or business.

This makes you ask important questions, such as, “Would I be willing to hold on to this business for at least 10 years?” or “Does this business make enough money to justify the asking price?”.

This will help you make far better decisions, and help you leave your emotions at the door.

I will get into more detail on this concept in a future post, but for now, let’s get back to ETFs.

A Primer on Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

Exchange Traded Funds or ETFs are simple to understand and extremely useful, especially to a new investor. Picking individual stocks can be very risky, as companies which seem very strong on paper can all of a sudden be wiped clean off the map (Looking at you, Lehman Brothers).

Applying the 80/20 rule to investing, the easiest and most effective way to start investing is to utilise ETFs, which although limited, can still provide you significantly higher returns compared to parking your money in a bank.

If you are new to investing, but would like to start with something relatively low-risk, ETFs are perfect. But first, what on earth is an ETF?

Think of it this way: If you combine a stock index (like the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the FTSE in London or the ASX 200 in Australia) and a regular stock which you can buy and sell, you would get an ETF.

Quick Dive

A stock market index is basically a weighted average of a set number of stocks. For example, the S&P 500 index in the U.S. is the weighted average of the 500 largest companies in the country.

An ETF basically tracks the movement of an underlying security. This just means that whenever the market moves up or down, the ETF follows in the same direction.

An ETF can be thought of as a basket containing a number of securities or shares. Imagine you had $10 with you, and the basket containing the securities you want costs $100. If you shared the total cost with others, you would be able to purchase the basket, and you would have a 10% ownership of all its contents. This is essentially how an ETF works.

I’ve included this YouTube video which does a pretty good job of explaining ETFs. I’m not in any way affiliated with Zions Direct, I just thought it was a helpful video.

Since individual stock picking can be risky, you can avoid the problem by buying the entire market. You could do this either by purchasing shares in every single company, or you could buy an ETF which tracks the market index, which is already an average of all the companies.

The Standard and Poor’s Depository Receipts (SPDR) is one such ETF that tracks the S&P 500 index. Since the ETF tracks the movement of the actual S&P 500, you’ve essentially diversified most of your risk by purchasing shares in all 500 companies. It’s important to note that when you buy an ETF, you don’t actually own shares in any of the companies. The shares that you own are simply the shares of the ETF itself.

The table below shows the average market return per year from 1900s to the present. If you had invested in and ETF which tracks the market, the following would be the returns that you would have received.

Decade Average Return Per Year
1900s 9.96%
1910s 4.20%
1920s 14.95%
1930s -0.63%
1940s 8.72%
1950s 19.28%
1960s 7.78%
1970s 5.82%
1980s 17.57%
1990s 18.17%
2000s 1.07%
2010-2013 16.74%
The table above can be found on this site.

Notice how for the most part, 10-year periods have provided positive returns.  This goes back to the concept of long-term investment. Keep in mind that the actual return would be lower once adjusted for inflation.

If you hop over to YCharts, you can see how the market has been doing annually over the past few years.

Doubling Your Money With ETFs

Considering that the average return (adjust for inflation) is 7% per year, you can expect to double your money roughly every 10 years. Not too shabby, I’d say!

In the upcoming posts, I’ll explain how you can actually start purchasing shares of ETFs and begin your investing journey. Beyond that, I’ll go into detail on individual stock picking, which can beat market returns and also happens to be the reason Warren Buffett became one of the richest people in the world.

If you have any questions about this, just drop them in the comments below or email me using the Contact page and I’ll try my best to help out!