What I Learned About and From Mark Gomes

One of the great things I have found since starting this blog is that it is a great way to meet new people.   Most of the people I have met are quite interesting, have successful backgrounds, and have a high level of expertise in their respective areas.   Aside from the occasional troll, the vast majority of people that I have communicated with have been great, well-meaning people who simply want to exchange ideas and thoughts about MoviePass, retirement, investing or other topics that I touch on here and there.   Mark Gomes is one of the people I met through this blog.  Mark and I started exchanging thoughts and ideas around MoviePass several months ago.   And as some of the people who follow us know Mark and I did a debate online where we shared our respective opinions on MoviePass and HMNY.

Before doing the debate with Mark, we spoke at length about Mark’s background, about life, about our investing ideas and strategies.   We found that we shared more things in common than we differed.   I always find it interesting that more often than not, if you really try to understand a person and understand their personal journey, you will find that you can find many common threads that bind you.   I found that to be quite true with Mark, as we shared a story of early retirement, the desire to give back something to the world, we both feel very fortunate and blessed with where we are in life, and like any lifetime spent working, we had our share bumps bruises and battles along the way.

One bump that Mark has on his record is a dust-up with the SEC.   Specifically, Mark was served a cease and desist order based on what the SEC saw as a series of pump and dump trades.  Mark settled with the SEC, as part of the settlement he was barred from working in the financial industry for 5 years. (at least essentially barred – you can read the specifics in the filing).  I talked to Mark about this entire episode at length.   I wanted to make sure I was doing my DD before agreeing to do anything publicly together, so I wanted to get the full story from him about what had happened between him and the SEC.

Like any story, there are two sides to the Mark Gomes and SEC story.  Personally, I am not picking sides here, but I do believe that Mark’s side of the story stands up pretty well.   Let me explain a bit of Mark’s history and I will get into why I believe Mark deserves the benefit of the doubt, and further why I believe Mark is a very good analyst.

Mark’s history started out as a grunt at International Data Corporation (IDC) – Funny enough, Mark and I had similar grunt jobs, being essentially fax boys back in the old days when fax machines were considered expensive and essential equipment to running a business.  Mark was savvy and smart enough to start helping out doing research, learning what needed to be done, and eventually climbed his way up to being a very respected senior researcher for IDC and later AMR research.  His career working for those two respected companies lasted for 10 years, from 1994 to 2004. 

Mark then decided to break out on his own.  He has an entrepreneurial spirit, and he could see an opportunity to take his craft and make money providing research to various hedge funds utilizing his knowledge and contacts in the industry.   Mark started a company called Pipeline Data LLC and ran that from 2004 to 2009.  Mark then semi-retired, did some volunteer work.    He also kept busy doing some blogging on Seeking Alpha.

Then according to Mark’s story, he had a close friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.    Apparently, this friend did not have a lot of money, and Mark wanted to help her out.   Mark told me he would have gladly just written a check to his friend, but the couple he was trying to help had a lot of pride and did not wish to take any handout.   So Mark offered to do a partnership with his sick friend’s husband to create a new research firm.  Mark was going to do the research work and lead the analysts, and the friend was going to do the website and do promotion of selling the premium research.   Essentially the premium research was early access to Mark and other analysts calls on certain stocks.  The company was named PPT research.

Again, according to Mark, he discovered in 2014 that his partner (the sick friend’s husband) had done some nefarious selloff of the company’s assets without his knowledge or permission, he also found out that his partner had made some errors in clarity on disclosure that Mark felt was going to be bad for the company.   Mark, of course, felt burned by all of this and took steps to back away from the company and start shutting it down.

In 2015 the SEC started an investigation of PPT Research.   They alleged that PTT Research’s disclosures did not properly inform investors of their trading practices/intentions. They also alleged that PPT’s newsletter service was in actuality acting as an unregistered investment advisor (all investment advisors must be registered by law).  That investigation was ultimately narrowed down to determine whether Mark himself was releasing stock reports with the sole intent of scalping – pumping a stock’s price up to profit by immediately selling the shares at a higher price.

As part of the investigation, the SEC requested every article Mark had written and compared them to the nearly 5,000 trades he had made.  He was also hauled in for an 8-hour deposition at the SEC Miami office.  In total the SEC looked at approximately 400 different stocks were involved.   Mark’s attorney warned him that the SEC could seek millions in disgorgements and penalties, along with possible imprisonment in the event that Mark gave any false testimony or information during the investigation.  So Mark was motivated to prove his case! 

Through a long process with the SEC, they narrowed down from the original list of near 400 stocks, down to 4 stocks that were still considered to be in question.   Mark’s lawyer argued that 99% of the trades in question were found to have no wrongdoing.   And that the remaining 4 stock trades in question could likely be explained by coincidence alone.   Mark shared with me that he could have mounted a very good defense for the remaining 4 stocks, and he felt he had documentation and a good case.  Mark explained the few trades in question to me, and I must say, he has the details, timestamps, and good reasoning for why he made the trades when he did, and how those actions did coincide with his research in a way that most traders would accept as ethical.  (Note – I am NOT a trader, I am a long-term buy and hold guy, I don’t trade daily news events, and I only buy a stock if I feel like I can stick with it for many years – so I can’t really speak for how heavy traders would feel about Mark’s work with 100% confidence and conviction)

Mark consulted with his lawyer and ultimately decided that it was a better decision for him to put the matter behind him, settle and pay the approximately $275,00 fine to the SEC.

The logic was that it could have cost him several times that amount to fight the battle in court.   And when fighting a branch of the US Government, you are battling an entity that has essentially unlimited resources to throw at you.

The SEC is like any government agency, they have a certain number of cases they have to get through, and they basically throw the book at you, and hope to settle.  They want their money, and they want to make it appear as if they are getting results.  So you are best to stay out of their crosshairs.   Mark learned a lesson on all of this.   And you will see how very careful Mark is on his disclosure statements if you look at his site or any of his material or research.

So like many stories – it helps to hear both sides.  With context, it seems obvious that it would not be at all wise to write off Mark as simply a pump and dump artist with a bad SEC record.   Mark does detailed research, he believes in his methodologies, and he has been schooled and trained by some of the best in the business.  I am confident that Mark is right on his trades more often than he is wrong.  Beyond that, Mark is a decent guy, and impressive in other areas of his life.  He is a world-class accomplished track and field athlete.  He made a dream comeback to win the 400 MeterTrack & Field Championship Masters event while shedding 50lbs in preparation for it.   And he holds the World Record in the event.

I have had the privilege to work with a lot of really smart and amazing people throughout my career.   And IMO Mark stacks right up well with these A Type personalities.   He is very intense, highly driven, and one of those people who you don’t just “turn off”.  They are always doing something, they don’t like to be bored, and their minds are always going.  That may have got Mark into some trouble – that intensity can do that to a person, when you are a fully charged one-man wrecking machine, you have to make sure those powers are used for good and not evil.  I think Mark took one on the chin with the SEC, and I have seen that kind of thing before.   It is not making an excuse for him, and I am sure Mark learned his lessons

I learned a few things from Mark and was reminded of a few things I already knew.  In my passion for Moviepass and the opportunity for HMNY, it would have been better for me to have slowed down and head some warning on the fears of dilution that Mark was banging his fist about.  I knew that the company was going to raise money through secondary offerings, but what I did not know was how wildly negative that market was going to react to those events.  I don’t blame Mark in any way for pointing out the risk of the ATM and the dilution.  And, I don’t believe either Mark or I have the power to materially move HMNY stock over the long term, or the short term.   What I do know, is Mark’s experience and his research told him that the dilution would spook Wall St.   He was right about that.    Mark has called the stock moves & trades of HMNY almost to a tee.   So much so, he is probably on the SEC’s short list of who to go harass over the unfortunate and huge declines that stock has suffered.   I don’t believe Mark has any insider knowledge at all, he was just calling things as he saw them, based on his experience, and his knowledge of Wall St.

I could have found a better entry point to this stock had I been more open to Mark’s viewpoints.

I remain a committed bull on MoviePass and HMNY.   But I sure as hell would rather have started my investment at $0.18!  At this point, I think Mark is wrong on his call to further short the stock.   I think the stock is basically priced to go out of business, and I don’t think that is going to happen.   This stock has been on death watch for a couple months now, but really shows no sign true sign of rolling over completely.

I am glad for having met Mark, and I hope we can continue to talk about stocks, stress test each other’s ideas, and keep doing what we both like to do.

I hope by reading this, you learn a bit more about Mark, and when you see people (trolls) bashing him, you think twice before dismissing his POV.

My hope is that Mark switches over to the bull side of HMNY soon, and we can ride this together to great gains!

Financial Freedom! Time to focus on it!

The original intention of my blog here was to talk about how to achieve and maintain financial freedom.    Many have found my blog because of my loud and proud bullish long stance on MoviePass and HMNY.  I have spent a ton of time on that particular topic and stock because I believe it offers a unique potentially once in a lifetime opportunity to quickly obtain a significant amount of wealth in a relatively short timeframe.  I continue to believe that is the case, but it is a risky bet, and it certainly is not a sure thing for achieving or maintaining financial freedom.

Financial Freedom means different things to different people.  To me it is not about flying around in a private jet, buying expensive luxury cars, diamonds, and other crazy things.   In fact, I don’t actually care about that stuff all that much, and most of that stuff buys more problems and headaches than it does happiness.  I will take you through my journey on a lot of the crazy things I bought over the years, and how I realized a lot of them were silly mistakes, that really just caused headaches.    Anyway, for me financial freedom is living a very comfortable life that includes a nice home, 2-3 nice enough cars, great vacations, a few nice toys,  and enough money that I can go out to dinner when I want, and drink a nice bottle of wine when I feel like it.

Most important to me,  I want to have my lifestyle without having to go to work every day for somebody else.   I like to get up whenever I want, got to bed when I feel like it, do whatever I want every day.  I am not lazy, in fact, I am far from it.  I love working,  I work on all kinds of things, investing, household projects, maintaining my toys, volunteering, etc.  However, I want to avoid working in a corporate office staring at a computer all day, or in meetings or doing stressful work for somebody else.   I want to avoid stressed out angy bosses, passive-aggressive – or just plain aggressive co-workers, that horrible smell of the office every single day – really I just want to avoid all of it, including the commute – no especially the commute to it every single damn day!  You know the drill, most people don’t really want to commute to a stressful job every day, and most people frankly hate their job, they go there because they have to, they need the money, they are likely in debt, have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and no line of sight to ever get out of the rat race.

The stats on job satisfaction in the US are nothing less than alarming,  In the most recent Gallup poll on the state of the American workplace, the stats show Americans are restless and would love to move on to something else.   Heres a few stats:

  • Of the country’s approximately 100 million full-time employees, 51 percent aren’t engaged at work — meaning they feel no real connection to their jobs, and thus they tend to do the bare minimum.
  • 16 percent are “actively disengaged” — they resent their jobs
  • Only 33% of employees are engaged in their job

There are thousands of articles, studies, polls that all point to the same conclusion.  The vast majority of America’s 100 Million workers hate their jobs,  they are stressed out, working more hours, and feeling like they are falling behind.  They wish they could do something else and would quit given the chance.   It is a sad state of affairs, and I am here to tell you, there is a way out of all of this.   It is called financial freedom, and it is wonderful.

There are a lot of different views on what it takes to achieve financial freedom, how much money you need, what level of lifestyle makes sense for you.  I have found that there are roughly  3 tiers of financial freedom that people generally accept, or desire.  In no particular order here are the tiers as I see them.

  • Living like a poor person, but realizing you are not poor.  
  • Living well – but not like a Rock Star
  • Living like a Rock Star

Living like a poor person is well covered by blogs like Mr. Money Mustache – this guy made a name for himself by living super frugal, and by his estimation, and compared to the world’s population, he does live very well.   He does all kinds of hardcore cost-saving measures, he drives older cars, rides his bike everywhere, pushes his own lawn mower, etc etc.   He budgets like a badass, and he has a big following.  He is inspirational, but truth be told, I could never live like this guy, it is just too hardcore for me.

Early Retirement Extreme is another great blog that does an inspiring job of making it while living on less.  This guy has a super popular post on how he and his wife live on $14K a year.  Great stuff, and lots of great advice here.  But again, I just can’t live like that.  Hell, the property tax on my home alone is around $6500 a year, so $14K a year, that is just not going to cut it for my plans.  But it can be done, people are doing it, and many of them are happy.  They are a lot happier than they were working their miserable jobs!

Living like a Rock Star – looks awesome, I am not talking about the fame or talent part, just the money part.  Unfortunately, though I think Notorious B.I.G. had it right – it really is- Mo Money Mo Problems.   Rockstar rich to me is defined by people who have enough money to own their own private jet.   I developed this view listening to Buffet, – Warren, not Jimmy.  Warren has often said that in America, the basic income can buy a life very similar to how he lives his life.  The big exception is that he can fly on a private jet, where ordinary Americans fly coach.   But in terms of everyday living, Buffet makes a good case, that the average American has access to the same things Buffet enjoys as part of his normal lifestyle.

People with Rock Star level money are simply not any happier than people who live well on an acceptable budget and stick with it.  You don’t need to look any further than the recent suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, that money and fame are no recipe for happiness.

I have learned that lesson in my life in spades, I worked around many very miserable multimillionaires while at Microsoft.   These were people who seemed to have it all, fancy houses, cars, nice families, “great jobs” and they were miserable.   They hated their jobs, or their spouses, or they were jealous of the guy or gal who was promoted ahead of them.  They were addicted to work, to the next big bonus or stock grant.  They were resentful, stressed out, and could never turn off the work.  They looked like they had it all, but none of it was under control.

So – don’t go for Rock Start level money.  A-it is unlikely you will ever achieve it anyway.  B- If you do ever get there, the chances are you will be miserable getting there, and when you arrive, you will realize, it was so not worth it!

Live well – not like a Rock Star  – This I think is the optimal lifestyle in which to live.   You want a nice home, in a nice and safe neighborhood.  If you have kids, you want them to have a good school to go to and to be able to help them get through college.  You want a decent car that is not embarrassing to drive.  You want to be able to go out to a decent meal and have a good bottle of wine once in a while.   You probably want a vacation or two each year,  and maybe a toy for a hobby.   You aren’t going to go all crazy buying stuff you don’t need.  But you also aren’t going to try and scrimp by living just above the poverty line in some clever way either.     This is where I want to help you get!

I have done it!   I achieved  “live well” financial freedom about 5 years ago.  Actually probably earlier than that, but I stopped being a corporate slave 5 years ago, and it has been nothing less than fantastic!

So with this blog, along with my posts on MoviePass, and a maybe a few other things.  I am now going to move to focus a bit more on how I think anybody can get to financial freedom, the steps I took, and how I maintain that freedom.

Now there is no beating around the bush here, it does take a serious stack of cash to get to financial freedom, and getting damn good income is a very important – actually essential- part of that plan.   I will be referring some to my book I am writing about my experiences at Microsoft as they relate directly to my experiences on how I generated enough income to get to financial freedom.   Listen, I am not that sharpest knife in the drawer, (you can see that when reading my posts – the bad grammar, spelling errors, etc) I am not the best looking guy you ever met either!  But one thing I figured out, was how to make money, and how to do it inside a big company.  How to climb the ladder, and how to squeeze every damn dime you can out of your working years.  My goal was to get as much as I could as fast as I could, so I could start enjoying my life on my terms.  I will step you through all that stuff.

The next step is keeping the money you have, and having that money work for you.  We will spend a lot of time on that.  I will tell you about the mistakes I made and saw others make, and try and help you avoid making the same mistakes.  I will also try and give some solid advice on how to keep your money train on the tracks.  And no – it’s NOT investing it ALL in Moviepass!!  🙂

I am also going to share my learning on what has made me truly happy in life, vs. things I thought would make me happy.   That has been a learning experience, and my view has evolved a lot over the years.  I don’t expect my views to align with everyone else, but I hope that some of the learning will be useful for some of the people who read this.

Now – I am going to bring this back to HMNY and MoviePass to close with.  I continue to believe a modest investment in HMNY could provide a young person with the rocket fuel they need to achieve financial independence early in life.   It is my sincerest wish that it works out that way.  Should the company fail, and not deliver the returns I expect, I still think there will be a valuable lesson for any investor here.  HMNY is one of the most complex, interesting, stock stories of this generation.  Everything they have done has been totally different than just about any company before them.

From the innovative business model to the completely unconventional way in which the company has raised capital, to the bizarre and interesting leaders, and the crazy intersection of technology, media, subscription and cinema businesses.  If you invest in this company, and really study and understand what you are invested in, you will have more education than any MBA could provide.   And it is that learning, and that experience, that will eventually help you achieve your own financial freedom, and set you on a path of what I hope will be a life of happiness.

Thanks for reading – and please come back as we tick through the topics together!