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Interview – Safal Niveshak’s Vishal Khandelwal – Part 1

If you are genuinely interested in learning about investing & have been doing self-study on the internet, then chances are that you would know Vishal very well.
Vishal Khandelwal is a value investor-cum-blogger who is on a mission to simplify Value Investing for everyone. He has more than a decade of experience in stock markets and has been kind enough to share his thoughts with me.
So without any further delay, I share Vishal’s story, thoughts and ideas about everything related to investing:
Question 1.

When and how did you get started in the stock market, and when did you feel that stock investing may be your true calling?
It’s a long story, but let me still start.
My indirect connection with the stock market started somewhere in the early 1990s when I was just around 13-14 years old. My father and uncles used to trade in stocks then, and had earned and lost a lot of money during the Harshad Mehta boom and bust.
My father used to read the financial sections newspapers with great interest and I remember him telling me then how important it was to read newspapers. As an obedient son, I started glancing through the financial pages of newspapers then, though I did not understand much of what was written (I still don’t!).
Anyways, after a quiet period after the Harshad Mehta scam burst in 1992 and the dotcom bubble started in late 1999, I don’t remember stocks being talked about a lot in my household.
As the bubble was building up and the markets were rising, I came to like the way CNBC anchors talked about stocks day in and day out and how smartly they predicted the next rise. That was the only channel that was on in my house, and that is all I saw. Though I did not know much about stocks even then, I surely came to know one very important fact about the stock market seeing what was happening around me.
This fact was that you could make a lot of quick money when there is euphoria in the stock market, and lose it all even quickly because each euphoria ends up in a crash.
I saw this in the early 1990s and then in the early 2000s, around me and within my family. So that was my first brush with the stock market, though indirectly.
Anyways, in 2001, I came to Mumbai to do my MBA. So you can say that this is when I came real close to the stock market. 😉
These two years at MBA were the most wasteful years for me as far as classroom education is concerned. I realized that, around me, everyone was running for the highest marks to be able to get the best jobs. In fact, we were asked to prepare for our placements from the very first semester of the Course, and what our professors did for the next two years was exactly that – cram into us whatever was written in books instead of how the real life worked.
Now, how did I know then that the reality was different from what the MBA profs were teaching us?
The books in my college’s library told me that. Whether it was Eliyahu Goldratt’s Goal, or Jim Collins Good to Great, everything pointed at something different than what was written in my MBA textbooks.
This library was where I got seriously involved in reading. And this is where I first read Peter Lynch’s One Up on Wall Street and Robert Hagstrom’s The Warren Buffett Way. I don’t remember falling in love with these books or their ideas at that point of time, but they definitely got me interested in the business of stocks.
Now, this was around 2002-2003, and the Indian economy and the job market had not recovered fully post the dotcom crisis.
In fact, howsoever I aspired to get into a stock market job, somewhere in early 2003 I lost hope of getting any decent job after being rejected by the very few employers who attended my college’s placement season.
But as luck would have had it, this small, unknown company called Equitymaster came in search for candidates to my college for the position of “equity research analyst”. I managed to pass their interview process and got selected for the job.
I had not known this term “equity research analyst” earlier and neither did I know about my employer. But I still accepted the offer, which came at a salary that was almost what I would have earned in the role of a peon. “So much for an MBA degree, huh!” I told myself.
Apart from the fear of becoming an “educated-unemployed”, I also took up that job due to a promise I had made to my ‘would-be wife’ before joining my MBA that we would get married as soon as I got my job so that her family didn’t get her married off somewhere else. 🙂
As I try to connect the dots now, looking backward, the saying that there is a woman behind every man’s success has been true in my case. In fact, the woman in my life has not really been ‘behind’ me, but has walked besides me, holding my hand through the thick and thin that life has brought.
Well, I am not going to bore you today with my life story (let me keep it for some other day :-), but that first job – which was also my last – was the beginning of my love-hate relationship with the stock market.
Getting into an independent research company which Equitymaster was, was very fortunate for me.
You see, I am a firm believer in the fact that our “values” are the things that are most important in the way we live and work.
For example, if you value family, but you have to work 70-hour weeks in your job, you will surely feel internal stress and conflict. In the same way, if you value honesty, but you work in an environment where the incentives are designed to make you dishonest, you will gradually kill yourself out of stress.
So, the reason I find myself lucky to have accepted that job was that, and I realized this later, it matched perfectly with the key values I live my life by, which are – family, honesty, and freedom.
While I was working in the stock market, my job wasn’t stressful, and neither were the incentives misaligned given that it was an independent research company and not a brokerage hungry for commissions.
So, I was working mostly in the interest of my clients, and not that of mine, which is so unlike how the stock market industry generally operates.
That is where I formed the belief that it was possible to do honest work in the stock market. And that is one of the core reasons I love doing what I am doing now at Safal Niveshak.
Anyways, my job as an analyst typically involved reading annual reports, meeting managements, working on financial models, and writing research reports. I found all the three parts of my work exciting – reading, researching, and then writing. And that again is what gave me the confidence that I could do something of my own based on these aspects, which also gradually became my strengths.
Now it is another part that, after 2008 happened, I gradually lost the charm in being an analyst and doling out futuristic recommendations to investors.
I realized over a period of time that I was recommending stocks into the “unknown” – to real people with real-life savings, but those I knew nothing about – and just because they had paid in advance for that research.
So if there was a service that was supposed to recommend (either Buy, Sell or Hold) one stock per week to a paid subscriber, the research team was obligated to write that one report per week.
While we had a decent internal process of choosing stocks that helped us recommend some great stocks and avoid some really dud ones, just the velocity of recommendations created greater chances of making wrong (under-researched) recommendations.
In fact, by the time I was leaving my job, we were writing almost 100 reports a year (or around eight per month), a gigantic number for any small investor to digest!
What is more, as I said above, it was a “one-size-fits-all” kind of a philosophy, as the same stock recommendation was being bought and acted upon by a young executive, and a retiree.
So after 2008 happened and I got to know that stock market analysts is not the masters of the Universe as they claim to be, a deeper realization set in within me. I asked myself – “What if my “one-size-fits-all” recommendations have made the difference between a comfortable retirement and a miserable one?”
The answer pinched me hard, and laid the ground for my exit from the industry, which I had already started hating for the above-mentioned reasons.
Travelling every day with people, and travelling to a place that I detested (Nariman Point, the heart of the financial system in Mumbai, and also the heart of arrogance and greed) had really gotten over my senses. And that pushed me towards quitting my job, which I did in April 2011, exactly eight years after I had joined it.
So, that was to answer your question – in case you are still awake – when and how I got started in the stock market. The process was pretty long – 1992 to 2011 – and I was still a beginner.
Anyways, the seeds of what I am doing now, my liking for the ideas of investing legends like Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Philip Fisher, and Prof. Sanjay Bakshi, and my passion for educating small investors in their sensible ways of stock investing, were sowed sometime during the 2006-2008 period.
I am still not impressed when someone calls me a “stock market investor” because investing is not what gets me up each morning.
What excites me much more is the thought that each day connects me with so many new small investors whom I can help to change the way they invest, for the better. I have been extremely pained by how small investors have been taken for a ride over the years, and this is what I have set out to challenge.
Helping people move from -15% CAGR to +15% CAGR is a bigger goal in front for me than to earn 20% ROI on my own personal stock investments. So I can say that is my true calling, and not really investing my own money.
But then, I also love the entire process of being an investor. The very ideas of learning how various businesses work, what makes some of them great and most of them gruesome, and why managers and investors behave the way they do, hold great charm for me.


Question 2. 

Once you realised that investing was to play a major role in your life ahead, how did you begin to learn about the markets and investing in general?

While my learning process started on the job, when I was working as a stock market analyst, the real kick came in after I quit my job and gave a serious thought to my personal investing and what I had set out to do – help others become better investors.
So, when I realized this, I found some great companions in the literature of Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Ben Graham, and Prof. Sanjay Bakshi. I started reading and re-reading all the material that I could find on them, or written by them.
The thoughts on separating great businesses from the gruesome ones, I learned from Buffett (and the process is still on).
The belief in margin of safety came from Graham.
Munger told me how foolishly I often behave in my investing endeavours, and how I can minimize my behavioural mistakes.
And Prof. Bakshi taught me that all I learned from Buffett, Munger and Co., can be applied in the Indian context as well. Plus, I also learned a lot from him on the idea of being an effective teacher.
So, reading, re-reading, making notes, and sharing my thoughts with my tribe members on Safal Niveshak have been parts of my process of learning to become a better investor, and of course a better human being.
Of course, I have just started and there is a long way to go…a lot of things to learn…and a lot of things to teach.


Question 3. 

Explain you investment philosophy in 20 or lesser words.

That’s easy, as I recently did a post on Safal Niveshak asking readers to share their investment philosophy in less than 10 words. 🙂
Anyways, my personal investment philosophy is – Do the best. Expect the worst. Keep learning. Keep going.
This is the concise version of the 5 most important things I practice in my investing life –
1.      Do hard work;
2.      Have margin of safety;
3.      Read, read, read;
4.      Learn from my own and others’ mistakes; and
5.      Practice patience and perseverance.
To be continued…

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Brief Bio

Vishal Khandelwal has 11+ years experience as a stock market analyst and investor, and 3+ years as an investing coach. He is the founder of Safal Niveshak, a website dedicated to helping small investors become smart, independent, and successful in their stock market investing. Over the years, Vishal has trained 1,500+ individual investors in the art of investing sensibly in the stock market, through his Workshops and online investing courses.

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Written by Dev Ashish

Founder - Stable Investor Investing | Personal Finance | Financial Planning | Common Sense

6 comments

  1. thanx dev for the wonderful interview.. I m sure this interview series is going to very intresting one.. And tribesmen will learn new things about investing and Vishal. Woww!! waiting for the next part..

  2. having been an avid follower of SafalNiveshak, it was nice to see an article on Vishal in Stable Investor! And at long last came to know where he used to work and how he became an analyst!

    Thanks for the interesting read!

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