Dairy Queen is a chain of soft serve ice cream and fast food restaurants with over $2 Billion in annual revenue and founded in 1940. Nebraska Furniture Mart is the largest home furnishing store in North America selling furniture, flooring, appliances and electronics founded in 1937. Benjamin Moore is a premium paint company with a global presence in over 30 countries and founded in 1883. Brooks is an American running company that designs and markets high-performance men's and women's running shoes, apparel and accessories in more than 60 countries worldwide and founded in 1914. See's Candies is an American manufacturer and distributor of candy and chocolate founded by Mary See in California in 1921.
This weekend, while attending the annual meeting of Berkshire Hathaway Inc in Omaha, Nebraska, I learned that all the above companies and more were 100% owned by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway. As the 10th largest employer in the United States with over 316,000 employees, Berkshire Hathaway currently have an all-time high share price of $250,000/share and the capital allocation has been run by a team of 25 people in their headquarters in Omaha, NE. Sitting through the annual shareholder meeting, I learned a few things from the Oracle of Omaha that I feel are very applicable for startups.
1. It is important to have a good cofounder
It would not too much to view Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger as the best cofounders in recent business history. If Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett were only friends, their 56 years together would be only admirable. But because the two Omaha natives also formed one of the world's most enduring and successful business partnerships, their journey to the stage of the CenturyLink Center Omaha has been remarkable as well. Today, Munger marvels at Buffett: "Warren's a lot more able than I am, and very disciplined." Buffett, in turn, praises Munger as "both smarter and wiser." In building a fast-growing technology company, it is very important to have a trusted cofounder who will challenge you, push you, and motivate you to become better everyday. That is how Buffet and Munger makes each other better and was able to build the business empire they have today.
2. The attitude of partnership
Warren Buffet said, "To our shareholders, we hope you visualize yourself as a part owner of a business that you expect to stay with indefinitely, much as you might if you owned a farm or apartment house in partnership with members of your family." At the annual shareholder meeting this weekend, I saw the unique attitude of shareholders who felt that they were co-venturers who have entrusted their trusts to Berkshire Hathaway, and who embrace the partnership concept of the company. For a startup, it is important to cultivate the concept of partnership among its team, customers, and investors. If a company is able to imbue its key stakeholders with the attitude of partnership, that will result in a long-term and collaborative relationship.
3. The importance of investing in the long-term
It is very common today in the startup world to think about the next few days, or weeks. However, truly successful businesses are built in the long-term and so-called overnight successes have been in the making for long periods of time. Buffet thinks of Berkshire as being a non-managing partner in companies they invest in like Coca-Cola or GEICO, in which they measure their success by the long-term progress of the companies rather than by the month-to-month movements of their stocks. Similarly, they hope the same for their shareholders, who believe in the long-term partnership concept. As a matter of fact, the annual percentage turnover in Berkshire's shares is a fraction of that occurring in the stocks of other major American corporations
4. Focus on cash flows and fundamentals
One of the surprising concept today in Silicon Valley is to prioritize growth over everything else, including cash flows. If you look at the end goal of any business, it is to generate cash flows and create value for its investors and stakeholders. However, many companies in Silicon Valley today do not focus on cash flows or generating any form of revenue or profits at all. There are truly successful companies including Instagram and Facebook who have been able to build of community of users, before monetizing via advertisements, however, this is not a viable model for most businesses, and startups have to start to think early on how they will be generating profits and revenues.
5. Be accurate in reporting facts, integrity starts from within
"We also believe candor benefits us as managers: The CEO who misleads others in public may eventually mislead himself in private. At Berkshire you will find no "big bath" accounting maneuvers or restructurings nor any "smoothing" of quarterly or annual results. We will always tell you how many strokes we have taken on each hole and never play around with the scorecard." As Buffet shared, integrity is a very important hallmark and culture of any company. Many startups today start to over-promise or smooth profits or sales from an early stage, in an attempt to raise the next round of funding or to achieve the next milestone. However, in the long-term, it is extremely important to hold true to your values.
This weekend in Omaha has been eye-opening and very enriching for me. As Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger has held themselves to continually learning even at the age of 87 and 93, I have been inspired by their humble attitude, forthright attitude, and visionary decisions, to keep on building effective daily habits in the long term. I believe that a lot of the values and principles that the Buffet and Munger team has instilled in Berkshire Hathaway is very applicable for startups, and I hope that this article will help to provide an initial step towards that.
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