Focus Signal Year in Review
Or, What Have We Done Here?
The fact that asset management performance is tied to our calendar has always struck me as arbitrary. The calendar is based on the physics of the universe with which investments need not align.
It’s a bit like measuring stock performance from all time highs and lows. Possibly useful measures, but arbitrary nonetheless. Consider the duration of time a security spends at all time highs and lows. By their very nature, all time highs and lows are ephemeral. Yet we fixate on them.
Despite my ambivalence towards arbitrary standards, herein lies a year in review of my Substack, Focus Signal. It was actually launched in October, 2021. You’ll have to live with the fact that the year in review spans 15 months, which gives me an arbitrary sense of pleasure.
The point of Focus Signal is to document and share the building of Point Focal, a portfolio analytics business. The goal of portfolio analytics and fintech businesses is to reduce noise and increase signal. To that end 2022 was a year of progress.
Startup stopwatches count time to existential demise. So things never tend to move as quickly as you would like them to move. And the noise you suffer through is always more clear in hindsight. But if you attract enough signal you can keep going. And if you can keep going you can, well, keep going.
Signals, the Focus Signal micro-pod, reached twenty episodes in 2022. Looking back reminded me that nine episodes were recorded in 2021 and eleven were recorded in 2022. Already, not bounding this review to the calendar is helpful!
This spoken word micro-pod is an attempt to share the inner workings of building Point Focal. It has become a useful way to connect with you, the audience, and the feedback to the recordings has been wonderfully surprising.
As an introvert, there is something unnatural about communicating in this fashion. But I think this is also why I’m enjoying the medium. The fact that I can record the pod in isolated silence knowing it will reach you if, when, and where you want to be reached seems to bridge the space between introversion and extroversion.
Here are my favorite episodes:
Mostly because the part about Trial Silence epitomizes the defeatism inherent in startup rejection that must be overcome.
Mostly because as an amateur musician I am fascinated by how Rick Rubin’s approach to music production can translate to business, financial technology, and analytics.
Mostly because Ma said it made her proud of me. What else can one say, really?
Mostly because of an exchange with my wife, which went like this:
“Do you know Lex listens to your podcast?”
“Not really, no.”
“Well he does. And he asked me if I listen to it. Which of course I don’t. And then he said, ‘Well you should listen to it. And Mom, one episode was about ME.’”
The most popular episode:
Maybe because the highs and lows of daily life are a universal experience.
And the longest episode (for market structure nerds):
Because it was the longest episode, 34 minutes.
My goal in 2023 with the Signals pod is twofold. Make the experience more comfortable. And publish about two episodes per month.
Making it more comfortable means reducing production friction. It’s the answer to the Tim Ferris question, “What would this look like if it were easy?” When I figure it out, I’ll let you know. If it’s more comfortable, it will become a better experience for both of us.
Twice a month seems challenging and possible. It’s a cadence that should be useful to you and achieve what one audience member, a music producer, advises in the studio: leave them wanting more.
What twisted minds would want more of this, I don’t know. But I embrace you.
This approach also lets me continue to publish semi-spontaneously, which I believe is important. It’s true that Substacks grow faster when content is published on a routine schedule. But I prefer to publish when I have something worth publishing, rather than when an arbitrary period of time has elapsed.
It feels truer to me and better for you.
I’ve published six long-form Focus Signal posts. Mostly about the strategy and experience of building a portfolio analytics business. If you want to understand if you understand something, write about it. In a sense, these posts are a self-imposed challenge, shared publicly, to understand. And to error correct.
Reflecting on these posts, it’s the most recent three that I like most. This is encouraging because I’m hopeful the content is improving. I’m also fortunate to have some incredible data partners that make it fun to write about portfolio analytics.
Here are the last three posts:
Util is our answer to the client and regulatory demands forcing asset managers to understand portfolio impact. One reason we love Util is because whether one loves or hates ESG, Util is the answer. This is becoming more clear as Tesla, born from one of ESG’s greatest critics, Elon Musk, is starting to talk about impact. From Tesla’s latest Impact Report:
"As the world needs to strive for a substantial positive impact, we won’t be referring to ESG. Instead, we’ll talk about Impact.”
“Many ESG ratings evaluate: ‘Does this ESG issue impact the profitability of the company?’ We need a system that evaluates: ‘Does the growth of this company have a positive impact on the world?’”
Stories are noise. Story explanations are signal. This was fun to write because it chronicles a fun partnership. One that has been an education and holds great promise. Because market structure sentiment implications on portfolio management are profound.
An expansion on Signals episode 14: Zero to One to 1.1 where I tried to articulate why Rick Rubin’s approach to the creative process can be as useful in fintech production as it is in music production.
And the most popular:
Maybe because people like secrets. Especially when they’re hiding in plain sight. Or maybe because it’s a candid story of how Point Focal went from zero to one.
Our team often use these posts to answer questions from prospects and clients. How can ESG analytics be useful? Why should we care about market structure sentiment? How did you build off-exchange analytics?
Focus Signal has the answers.
These posts will come in the future as they have in the past. Semi-spontaneously, when they’re ready. But a general target is to produce more, higher quality long-form posts.
Signal, launched in September, is the newest section of Focus Signal. These are shorter, analytic posts. They are the portfolio analytics being produced by Point Focal. The output of Focus Signal.
These pieces are meant to connect macro strategy and experience to micro insight. It’s likely to resonate with the practitioners in the audience - traders, portfolio managers, and research analysts. But also with individuals who have some aspect of these institutional roles within themselves.
I published five Signal posts, mostly related to new market structure sentiment analytics - how to interpret them (Sentiment Ebb and Short Volume Flow), what they can tell us (Short Volume and Market Behaviors), and how they can be applied to asset management (Informing Portfolio Turnover and Stacking Portfolio Analytics).
I am particularly excited about the Signal section of Focus Signal. The expanding scope and quality of our data and our improving technology stack offers new opportunity to create uniquely valuable content.
The Signal section can evolve in many ways. And I don’t want to try to define it’s end state. Part of the larger Focus Signal experiment is to write the story from inside the story. This is how Signal will be written.
On the look and feel of Focus Signal. Point Focal is fortunate to be working with a world class go-to-market team. We have an entirely new brand and visual identity coming soon. I’m looking forward to making the new design consistent across Point Focal and Focus Signal.
You will see new icons, branding, and colors in Focus Signal soon. It should be an upgrade given the current look and feel was produced by me. I hope you like it and come to recognize it.
Lastly, I thought it might be interesting for you to know alongside whom you are subscribed. Here is an anonymously classified summary of the Focus Signal audience:
Stock Exchange Data Providers
Alternative Trading System Operators
SaaS Technology Providers
Future Point Focal Executives
The Truly Anonymous
Thank you all for following along. I am grateful you care about this content and I appreciate you being part of the story. Wishing you the best in 2023.
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