July 5, 2022 – On today’s podcast we welcome special guest, Covey founder and CEO Brooker Belcourt. Covey is an analyst-owned community created to find and reward the next top money managers.
On the show, Brooker discusses:
- His experience as an analyst at Coatue Management and some lessons learned
- Key insights from working at Citadel and how multi-manager hedge funds differ
- A deep dive into the Covey platform and how it can generate alpha for investors
- His best investment idea over the next 10 years
- And more
Welcome investors to The Absolute Return Podcast. Your source for stock market analysis, global macro musings and hedge fund investment strategies, your hosts, Julian Klymochko, and Michael Kesslering aim to bring you the knowledge and analysis you need to become a more intelligent and wealthier investor. This episode is brought to you by Accelerate Financial Technologies. Accelerate because performance matters. Find out more at accelerateshares.com.
Julian Klymochko: Pleased to have Brooker of Covey on the show today, all the way from beautiful New York. I believe you’re out in Tribeca. I can see out of your window. It looks awesome there today. How are you doing?
Brooker Belcourt: I’m doing great. I’m really happy to be here. Love the content you guys are putting out and happy to be a part of it.
Julian Klymochko: Yeah, happy to have you on the show today, you have a super cool background. Spent some time, some of the largest hedge funds out there. Now doing your own thing with Covey prior to getting into that, I did want to get a rundown of your experience, your career trajectory. You spent time both on the sell side and the buy side. Can you start us off by walking us through your more than 10-year stint on Wall Street?
Brooker Belcourt: Yeah, for sure. So, you know, the easiest way is probably to start you where I am now and then work my way backwards. Right now, I’m the founder of Covey. Covey’s a community of investment analysts created to find and reward the best analysts so that anyone can copy them, and we can all generate more money. And so how I got here? Spent the last seven years as an analyst at hedge funds at Coatue, a Tiger Cub and Citadel. And before that, I was in investment banking at Goldman Sachs in New York. And prior to that, I actually grew up in Canada. So spent the first 20 or so years of my life in Canada.
Julian Klymochko: Okay, great. And so, starting as an investment banking analyst in M&A, like so many people do myself and Mike included, what did you gather from that experience? I know it’s still a very in demand starting point for many kids or many university men and women looking to break into Wall Street. How was that experience for you?
Brooker Belcourt: So, to give more context on it, I started there September 2008 and I was working in the financial institutions group at Goldman Sachs. And so that’s when the world was blowing up and it was chaos. It was a very different experience. It made me a little bit jaded about the efficiencies of the markets. And my first year was spent figuring out how much bailouts each bank needed. And so, they were living off the bailouts, that’s all we cared about. So not so much M&A or our LBOs was just trying to get these banks out of the problems. And so that was my experience. And then after that, it was much more in the FinTech side. And I was lucky to start on FinTech in the early days when it was really just MasterCard as the only play in it. So, it was there for Visa going public and then Vantive, and as the industry grew, I kept following that industry.
Julian Klymochko: And that experience at Goldman Sachs set you off into this trajectory where you left the sell side to go to the buy side. One of the firms that you are at was Coatue, who’s a big tech investor. What are some learnings that you took from Coatue? One of the largest tech focused hedge funds out there.
Brooker Belcourt: Okay, so Coatue is this amazing shop. It’s probably somewhere between fifty and a hundred billion in AUM. It’s totally tech focused and it’s a single manager. So, it’s one person making all the decisions and their style, I would say is, they try to find massive addressable markets that are growing really fast. And then they invest in the number one or number two player in that market. And what they try to do is, find some sort of proprietary data that allows them to say this market is growing faster than other people believe, or this person is number one because of these metrics or their margins are going to go higher because of these calls we’ve had. And that allows them to then supersize the position. You know, it was fascinating working there, Philippe who runs the place. He graduates from MIT. He is a tech lover, and he completely buys into the innovative disruptor thesis and so much so that yes, he’s super adoptive and he changes his mind about these companies based on the data, but he also runs his business that way, in that, you know, he was one of the early leaders to get into VC from being a hedge fund focused, purely on liquids. He jumped into VC, which at the time was, was a really scary call. And I think, his belief in this innovative disruption that he sees in all his companies and taking that and actually doing it in his own company was really cool to watch. So, it was really impressive to see him.
Julian Klymochko: Yeah, it’s an interesting point. Being at Coatue was, in fact, one of the first doing private market investing within the hedge fund structure, which now is somewhat normalized. But back then, it was definitely an innovative idea. Now working at sort of a one man show, so to speak at Coatue with Philippe, then transitioning to Citadel, which is basically the complete opposite. Sure, you have Ken Griffin at the top, but Citadel widely diversified in terms of portfolio managers. So called pod shop, having a tremendous amount of various strategies, basically running the gamut of all sorts of alternative investment strategies, largely focused on market neutral. But how was that experience at a very large firm, but taking a tremendously different approach to investing?
Brooker Belcourt: Yes, the idea you phrased it really well. So, Coatue, single manager. Citadel multi-manager, you could have a hundred people making idea decisions and so much more complex to run. And I think what I saw at Citadel that was amazing is their software. It is incredible. So, they have all the PMs using one consistent software, even the analyst, which is what I was when I was there. We’re entering our ideas into this software and there is a huge level of accountability. You know, it’s the closest thing I’ve seen to transparent meritocracy, where if you are doing well, they will start allocating you more resources, you’ll have better access to data. You’ll be able to spend more on data, you’ll be able to hire more people. And then if you start doing really well, they’ll start ramping you up with capital and it is purely based on how your ideas are performing.
And so, they’ll grow your team based on your performance. And that’s amazing, obviously there’s the flip side to that where if you’re not doing well, you start getting resources, cut. You start getting AUM cut. And if you really can’t bring it back after that point, you’ll lose your job. And so, they’re really focused on meritocracy for the sake of the LPs. And it’s all about the LPs and we’re going to create a harsher culture for the sense of the LPs. So, there’s a lot of really cool takeaways from both those shops. And I’ve been trying to build those into Covey. I love that the software at Citadel and I love the transparent meritocracy. I think that’s awesome. I think you can make it a little bit more fun, but it was really cool to experience that level.
Michael Kesslering: So, you mentioned those really key structural differences. Can you talk a little bit as well about really the main analytical skill sets that you were building at the two different shops and how they would differ, I guess, in your approaches at the two different places?
Brooker Belcourt: Yeah, for sure. So single manager, you will reflect the style of the manager. And so that was Philippe style, which as I mentioned before, big TAM, number one player, and you would be looking for data to support your thesis and they do long/short, but they really have 10 or so longs and those barely change. And so, you’re not spending that much time looking at different longs. Those will stay, you know, it’s going to be net Netflix, or you can look at their filings right now, Facebook and just amazing businesses. Whereas at Citadel, there’s a significantly higher turnover. And as an analyst, you have more say in the longs. And so, you can be at a lot of different businesses. Maybe you’re only there for the quarter. You’re trying to find some data to be able to back up a thesis on a quarterly play, and then you’re out. And so, you know, you’re turning over your book four times a year, at least, whereas Coatue is much less turnover.
Julian Klymochko: Now, I’m sure you’re influenced by both models. And from that, you kind of establish your own investing style. Now, with respect to how you are allocating your own capital, how would you describe it?
Brooker Belcourt: So, I took away the Coatue style because you know, that is what I was brought up on. And I really fell for that style, which is find these huge addressable markets. Maybe it’s payments, this isn’t very complicated. It’s payments, it’s mobile, it’s fast internet. And then you see these themes coming out and you go, and you find the number one business in each of those themes. And I’ve started to do that, unfortunately, you know, or fortunately I’ve been building Covey at the same time. And so, it’s distracted me a little bit, in Covey, seen a lot of other analysts and we’re open to anyone. A lot of analysts have their portfolios on Covey. And so, you can see their performance and I’ve found that, I used to think I was great, but when I’m comped against hundreds of analysts, I am not that great.
And so, what I really want to do these days is try to find a return stream or an idea feed of an amazing analyst and allocate my money to those amazing analysts because there’s people out there who can do a much better job than I can. And I think for a while, those ideas lived inside hedge funds or places that were out of reach for the average investor. And so, I’m, hopefully I can get access to that idea feeds soon and not have to burn so much time and lose money by investing in my own ideas.
Julian Klymochko: It seems like the founding of Covey was similar to what you experienced working at some of these large hedge funds in terms of meritocracy and allocating capital to the best ideas, proven out through the numbers. Now what inspired you to start the company?
Brooker Belcourt: So, I built Covey for myself. I had dreams of running my own fund one day, I’m sure a lot of your listeners do. And I know you guys already are doing that successfully, which is great. But I had dreams of launching my own fund, but when you dig into it, it costs a hundred or so maybe even $300,000 to launch your own fund. And I really didn’t want to commit that, but I wanted an easy way to start building a track record and sharing that track record with others. So, I build Covey where you can enter any trades. We post those trades to a blockchain. So that way they’re immutable and their time stamp. And so, someone can look at my track record and say, that actually did happen. These things exist on a blockchain and they’re out there. And then I also added hedge fund level performance metrics to it. So, I had this track record with really good data, and I was able to share that with a lot of people. And so that helped me on my journey to raise a fund. And then, you know, before I even got towards raising a fund, there was a lot of other people who were interested in using Covey. Students really liked it to prepare for getting a job in investing. They also liked it using it in their investment clubs. And then some recruiters started to use Covey to find access to this talent. And then we had hedge funds wanting to use Covey to keep accountabilities for all their analysts. So, there was all these use cases coming about. And then we started looking at the data and there was some really, really good analysts on Covey. And I think the value of our community really sits in having all these ideas, but then having a transparent meritocracy where we get to rank all the analysts and see who’s the best. And those people are just doing phenomenal. You know, they’re up 20% this year and this idea feed that I really want to get access to. And I think we’re going to focus on that on getting that return stream more accessible to everyone.
Julian Klymochko: And so, in terms of the function of the platform, I assume, long and short equity, or does it incorporate different asset classes, say to log into Covey, where would I start?
Brooker Belcourt: Yeah, so basically how Covey works is, it’s a virtual portfolio. Anyone can dive in, create an account and enter in equities, ETFs and cryptocurrencies, really simple to use. You take Facebook and enter a position, percent like, like 15%. So, modeling this after some of the software I use at the larger hedge funds, and then we start tracking your performance metrics. And the cool thing is, every month we give out rewards, so real money, and all you have to do is enter the trades in and you’re competing for these rewards. So, we have this community that has real track records. It’s totally free to join and you’re competing. And so, you’re seeing where you stack up. It’s almost like playing cards for the first time with an open hand and seeing how others are doing and every month it resets. And so, you’re in the competition again, and we pay out tokens of cryptocurrency to the best performing analysts based on an algorithm that we created as a community to find the best.
Michael Kesslering: In terms of who’s using the platform. Do you have any insight into that? Like, are you seeing some buy siders kind of moonlighting using this, or I guess another idea would be investment banking analysts such as yourself, you know, over a decade ago that are doing this on the side and then using it to then recruit at hedge funds and things of that nature? Is that what you’re seeing in terms of the supply side?
Brooker Belcourt: Yes, I think you know that, at first, it’s anyone who’s passionate about investing. There’s certain of us that when we wake up in the morning, we check the stocks you know, at 4:00 PM, we’re checking the stocks again, and we love talking about it. We come on podcasts to talk about it. We talk about it, dinner conversations, it’s incessant. And we live and read this stuff. So, definitely that would be the one common thing. Some people are hobbyists. They have other job like software developers. Some people are on the buy side and maybe they’re in the sector like fixed income. And they want to get a little bit of exposure to equities, ETS, and crypto, and want to practice a little bit before jumping in. And you know, the one thing that unites them is they love it, and they love talking about it and they want to get better at it.
A lot of people believe, or they’re using Covey to test out a strategy that they may want to launch a fund on later. And so, it’s a great place to learn and see how you stack up against others. And we have all these different metrics. So, you get to learn about sortino or sharp, or you draw down. All these cool things and then you’re competing, and you don’t have to put any skin in the game, but you’re getting rewards. It’s pretty cool from that perspective, but yeah, it’s a total range of people. It’s hard to put them in any box.
Michael Kesslering: Something that I saw in your roadmap was the alpha algorithm. Can you speak a little bit to that on, on what exactly that is?
Brooker Belcourt: That’s one of my favorite parts of the community. So, imagine you can create this community and you decide, I want to reward the best people on a monthly basis. The incentives that you would create, if you just looked at percent return would be, everyone would come in and just ramp up the leverage, like crazy, go a hundred X long, or a hundred long, a three X levered ETF, and they’d be blowing up. And so, it creates all these whole incentives. We know that it pays off to be a long-term investor. It’s generally accepted, but we really want this to have a monthly reward. And so, we wanted to balance that some way in an algorithm that reward people for long term thinking, but on a short-term basis. So, we got together as community and we’re constantly refining this.
And what we did was we created this alpha algorithm, which takes into account six metrics. And so, we look at performance, of course, total return and sharp ratio, but then we also look at idea quality. So, position hit rate. How many of your positions are up versus your total positions. Position slugging, which is your total gains on your winning position divided by your total losses on your losing position. It’s kind of like a VC metric. So maybe you’re not 60% hit rate. Maybe you’re 30% hit rate, but when you hit, it is huge. And so that’s the slugging metric. So, it captures a lot of different investing styles, and we use that and it’s more of a relative score, how you’re doing versus your group. And then we pay out based on your score. And you can see that very clearly on the site as to how you’re doing.
Julian Klymochko: So, I’ve had some experience with certain idea platforms. Was a long-term member of Value Investors Club which was one that has been around for a long time. There are others like SumZero. I was wondering like with respect to Covey, what are some ideas like, is there a specific style, like for example, value investors club was basically undervalued equities with some sort of catalyst, but is Covey, you know, a kind of mix of whatever works, longs and shorts, equities, crypto, you know, what can we expect?
Brooker Belcourt: It’s a great question. And we should talk about, there’s been a lot of versions of coming that have happened before, and I’m sure there’ll be more that come later. And, you know, we’re trying to be one that sticks around, but you’re right. There’s a lot of ones that have existed before that prone to a specific style. You know, what sets Covey apart is, we’re open to anyone, and we don’t really care about your style. We care about how well you’re doing on this alpha algorithm. The goal of Covey is to gain that alpha algorithm as much as you possibly can to be as high as you can in our monthly rewards. And so, we also want to give ownership back to our community. And so that’s a big differentiator. You would go onto these other platforms before you contribute your ideas like Quantopian, and it was uncertain how you would get the value back from those ideas. And we wanted to create a system where we gave the value back to our users. And so, we’re doing some really cool stuff with the blockchain. I know we only have 30 minutes, but that’s a fascinating routed hole to go down if we have time for it.
Julian Klymochko: Yes, we definitely do. So, one thing that I was really keen on learning about is, you know, you incorporate the cryptocurrency into the reward system, but also tracking of the trades on the blockchain. So, if you want to talk about crypto specifically with respect to Covey, and then on a more macro specific sector call, like, do you have any thoughts on Bitcoin, Ethereum? What are your thoughts there?
Brooker Belcourt: Yeah, so there’s a lot, a lot in that question. I’ll just focus on how we’re using the blockchain and the easiest way to think about it is, we need a way for our analysts to prove that they had those trades when they actually said they had those trades. And it’s really hard for someone to go and export their fidelity account or their E-Trade account to go and raise money. So, we needed to create an immutable track record that was time stamped. Blockchain is an amazing solve for that. So, everyone’s trades are automatically posted to the blockchain. They don’t have to do anything about that. And then we have analysts all over the world, some in Denmark, some in Ireland, some in Australia. And so how do you reward people on a monthly basis where they could have a bank account anywhere in the world? Using the existing payment rails it’s pretty much impossible. So, the only way you could actually reward people, almost anonymously is through cryptocurrency. And so, all they need is an Ethereum address, which you can generate in 10 minutes or 30 seconds if you know how to do it. And that way we can reward anyone anywhere in the world in about a minute. So, another great solve. And then that’s where we are today. And if you think about what blockchain allows you to do in the future is, we talked about this alpha algorithm. And we talked about having ownership in the community. And this alpha algorithm is definitely something very contentious about our community. It’s something that people are very opinionated on. How do you decide who is a great analyst, right? You guys probably spend a lot of your show figuring out how to make that decision.
So, we need to allow our community to own that algorithm. And so, our community votes on what is the latest version of the algorithm. And then we know that this community is going to have value in the future. And so, you know, we can talk about how great the performance of the top 10% of analysts are on Covey. It’s up almost over 20% this year to date when the market’s down 20%. So, it’s awesome, and so we want to get that value back to our community who are contributing the ideas. And the best way to do that is, through rewarding people in your own token. And so, you’ll see us launching tokens over the future that allow people to capture the value of the community that they’re inputting the ideas into.
Michael Kesslering: And I’m not sure because what you’ve been talking about is really interesting. And I feel like a step further and you describe this desires to be able to invest into those top managers. There’s another project that I’ve come across in the crypto space called index cooperative, where basically you’re able to put together pools of different crypto assets that anyone can do that, but then people can invest into those pools and earn a management fee. So, it’s effectively like putting together a fund. Now, outside of some of the regulatory concerns, is that an area where you would be looking to go in the future is pooled vehicles that everyone can invest in along with the community?
Brooker Belcourt: So, the future for Covey, what it will look like is really building this community right now. But once we get the community built out, it’s about creating an investment product that anyone who maybe doesn’t want to contribute ideas to Covey, but once they get access to this amazing return stream, where anyone can jump in and buy a feed of the best ideas and automatically invest $10,000 of cash. And so, we’ve been tracking our top 10% of analysts in a given month. So, let’s say we took a look at the top 10% of analysts in December and then invested them and then in January, you did that month in month out over 2022, you’d be up 20%. It’s an amazing return stream. We want to give people access to that. And, you know, we may not have that much data to prove this out, but we’re slowly building that out. But this phenomenon is very well understood when you think about the great investors tend to stay great, right. We invest in Warren Buffet this year because he is had such a great track record. This phenomenon exists across a lot of different hedge funds that the top 10% tend to stay in the top 10%. Ken growth at Citadel, he’s going to be at the top 10% next year, probably because he’s been with top 10% in the past, it’s been observed academically. The phenomenon is called performance persistence. It’s this really cool concept where same thing, if you go and you find the top 10% of investors in a given year and invest in them the next year, they’re going to outperform the market. And people have observed spreads that are significant versus just investing in a random mutual fund. And so, this phenomenon is out there. There’s really just no way to get access to have a transparent meritocracy, to get access to those idea feeds. So, we’ll create this community, then create an investible product around it and hopefully reward the community in a sufficient way that they keep contributing ideas.
Julian Klymochko: That would be a true meritocracy, similar to what you find at Citadel. And I like how you’ve kind of modeled it after that, but with far more accessibility. Now, going more into the longer term from some of these shorter-term trades, from your perspective, can you give us any top picks? One of your best ideas over the next 5 to 10 years?
Brooker Belcourt: I’m happy to chat about that. So, as I was saying before, I used to think I was a great investor. I track my portfolio on Covey. You can see my portfolio on there. If you go to covey.io, what I’ve realized is I am not consistently in the top 10%, as much as others. There are people on Covey who are just always in the top 10% of investors. And to a degree that, you know, we can actually predict next month’s top 10% of investors, 40% of the time. So, if it was totally random and we went to pick next month’s top 10%, we’d have a 10% shot. Obviously, we don’t think the market’s random, but we can predict them 40% of the time. So, there’s this stickiness when you’re great, you do tend to stay great. So rather than trying to give you what my ideas are, I think you would have a way better track record.
You’d have a way better chance of making money, way better returns. If I gave you the ideas of the top 10% of analysts in our community. So, I know this podcast is being recorded May 24th, it’ll be aired later, but this will always be available on covey.io. You can go and see the top analysts there and see what their latest portfolio is. When you hear this recording, what they are invested in now is, they are long, a little bit of the growth stocks, kind of slowly getting back into the growth stocks. And they’ve been away from them for a while. They’ve really taken a beating where we are today. They’re slowly getting into growth, slowly nibbling on crypto. Again, they are still long, the energy stocks and some emerging markets, which they’ve loved throughout the year and where they’re short is a lot of the indexes, the S&P, the NASDAQ, there are short gold treasuries as well. And so, it’s really interesting to see where they’re positioned. It’s not like it’s one thesis because it’s a collection of a lot of different people, but I think that their position for a little bit of a rebound. So, we’ll see how that works over the next month, when this airs.
Julian Klymochko: Interesting to hear about the short positions, some hedges short of certificates of confiscation as I call them in addition to the barbarous relic. So, love those calls, and we’ll see if they are right on some of those growth stocks. Boy, have they beaten and pounded and we’re recording this on the day in which believe Snap is down roughly a 40% off a quarter that wasn’t so great. Now, Brooker, prior to letting you go. since your career has been so wide spanning, I mean, starting at the sales side, Goldman Sachs, buy side Citadel, Coatue, other firms. Now on the startup side of things you know, FinTech, Covey. Do you have any advice for those looking to break into Wall Street or entrepreneurship for that matter?
Brooker Belcourt: Yeah, happy to provide that. I think the best way, if I was to talk to someone directly coming out of school or wanting to change careers and getting to investing, and it’s a bit selfish, but obviously you use covey.io, test out investing, start building a track record, start practicing without risking any real money. Don’t do this in your Fidelity account or E-Trade account, go to covey.io, start building a track record, start learning the metrics. See if you like this, see if you’re coming back to the site. If this is something you’re passionate about, if you are passionate, you’ll notice you start to do better and better over time. Then you start building an actually pretty good track record. And then once you have that, maybe a few months of the track record, and you can actually talk through your ideas and why you did well, or even why you did poorly, then go and get a list of the funds, hedge funds or investment shops, the list of them from about a 100 to 500.
And so not the top hundred. And the reason I say that is, because once you get down to the smaller hedge funds or the smaller mutual funds, they really don’t have a recruiting department. So, they do want to hire you, but they simply don’t have enough people that are going out to different schools to find you. And so, there’s a huge push to be more broad across different schools. Like we get calls from recruiters to try and use our platform to access our talent. We don’t have the time to build that infrastructure now, but we’ll get there. So, this is more on you. So, build this track record, reach out to about 50 or a 100 of these smaller funds. And you would be shocked at the receptivity that the person whose part-time job is in recruiting will have to someone who’s reached out to them saying, I love investing, here’s my track record, here’s my best ideas. Can I talk to you more? And they would love that. You’re doing their job for them. They’ll talk to you. And if you reach out to enough of them with a decent track record, you will get an interview. And then if maybe you don’t get the job there, but they’ll introduce you to someone else and will lead somewhere. It’s an effective strategy, and we’ve seen people on Covey do this. And I’ve seen people at hedge funds do this strategy as well. And I’m always shocked as to how well it works, and that’s the best advice.
Julian Klymochko: Yeah, some words of wisdom there. And I always agree with the idea to focus on something that you’re passionate about. I always like to say that it’s got to be something that you do irrespective of how much money or capital you had. It’s got to be fun, right?
Brooker Belcourt: Yeah, we find there’s some people on Covey who just absolutely love it and absolutely love talking about stocks and those are the people who tend to do the best, because they live and breathe it. And I think that’s what really makes you a great investor. I’ve been trying for so long to find some attribute that is telling of a great analyst or a great investor. And there is nothing, it’s not what school you went to. It’s not where you’re from or your SAT score. It’s purely your track record. That’s all that matters. And I’m sure you guys have seen that as well. And so, as long as you have a good track record, you can weave a story in later about why you’re so great.
Julian Klymochko: [Laugh] true words have never been spoken. So, thank you very much, Brooker for coming on the podcast today. Awesome to hear about your experiences all on Wall Street, now in the startup space, wishing you the best of luck with Covey. Love the concept, true meritocracy, where ideas and performance really drive someone’s success. So, thank you for sharing that with us today. Wish you the best of luck.
Brooker Belcourt: Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, look forward to having your viewers join us on covey.io and compete in the next competition. And hopefully we can find the next great analyst.
Julian Klymochko: All right, there you go. You can win some crypto while you’re at it. Get paid for your ideas.
Brooker Belcourt: Yeah.
Julian Klymochko: All right. Thanks so much. Bye everybody.
Brooker Belcourt: Thank you.
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