Over the past two weeks I’ve heard the word “contrarian” more times than I can count. Suddenly, to become a successful investor in any segment (angel, venture capital, public markets, debt markets) you have to be contrarian. The assertion that a “contrarian strategy” always wins seems to be in the air.
When I ask people what they mean by “contrarian”, I’m amazed at how often they define it as either as “actively investing” or “sitting on the sidelines.” Specifically, “there are too many people investing at this point – I’m going to take a contrarian approach and sit on the sidelines for a while.”
To me, contrarian means doing the opposite of everyone else. If everyone is buying, you are selling. If everyone is selling, you are buying. Our friends at Webster even give us an example:
“As an investor, he’s a contrarian, preferring to buy stocks when most people are selling.”
Now, to be fair, you can make the case that “not buying” when everyone else is buying is contrarian. But I have never thought about it that way. And, as the word contrarian enters the mainstream vernacular around entrepreneur / angel / VC land, I think it’s important to ponder what it really means, especially if the majority suddenly adopt a “contrarian strategy” which, by definition, ceases to be contrarian.
Do you remember the amazingly hilarious “We’re All Individuals” segment from Monty Python’s Life of Brian?