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When everyone thinks you’re wrong

Sunset by Paolo Mastrogiacomo on 500px.com

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I was recently talking to my good friend Jeremiah Shamess about the current state of development land sales in Toronto (he does this for a living) and he said something to me that I found really interesting.

He said that because the market is so competitive, you can really only win development sites in one of two ways. Either you’re willing to spend the most money or you see something and have a vision that nobody else sees.

And it was this second piece that really stood out to me because it reminds me of one of my favorite investing frameworks.

Warren Buffet is famous for saying that you should be fearful when others are greedy and you should be greedy when others are fearful. And what I’m about to talk about is really that same core philosophy.

Here’s how venture capitalist Fred Wilson put it (reiterating something that Bill Gurley said):

I saw Bill Gurley say that you can only make money by being right about something that most people think is wrong. His logic was that you can’t make money by being wrong. And you can’t make money by being right about something everyone else knows. So you have to be right about something that most people think is wrong. I really like that framework.

But this doesn’t just apply to technology companies or stocks. It applies to city building, most industries, and probably most things in life if you think about it.

If all you’re doing are things that everyone else is doing, then how can you expect to outperform? You’re going to revert to the mean.

Take, for example, billionaire Dan Gilbert and Detroit. Not everyone believes that Detroit will come back. In fact, I suspect there are probably more people who think it won’t come back, than people who think it will. Otherwise, it would already be back.

But Gilbert is unquestionably long on Detroit (via Forbes):

As you’ve likely heard, over the past four years Gilbert has become one of Detroit’s single-largest commercial landowners, renovating the city with the energy and impact of a modern-day Robert Moses, albeit bankrolled with his own money. He’s purchased and updated more than 60 properties downtown, at a total cost of $1.3 billion. He moved his own employees into many of them–12,000 in all, including 6,500 new hires–and cajoled other companies such as Chrysler, Microsoft and Twitter to follow.

If/when Gilbert proves to be right about Detroit, then he will have been right about something that most people thought was wrong. And because of that, he will no doubt make a lot of money.

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