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Some of the best early-stage startup investors share a common trait that should be a lesson for Silicon Valley

A parade of inflatable unicorns walk along Santa Monica Blvd. at the West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval.
Investors are holding back a wave of pre-IPO startups last valued at lofty price tags during the pandemic era.Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

Hello! I have a tough time keeping up with the latest fashion, to put it mildly. So this rundown of what's in and out regarding pant trends was helpful, albeit a bit overwhelming. (Where does one get metallic pants?)

In today's big story, we're looking at the best investors when it comes to early-stage companies.

What's on deck:

But first, we've got some unicorn hunters.


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The big story

Picking winners

Caterina Fake, Cindi Bi, and Suleman Ali
Caterina Fake, Cindi Bi, and Suleman Ali

Investing can be a crapshoot, especially when it comes to early-stage companies.

It's one thing to back a company with years of financial statements and proven products. It's another to give money to a couple of founders with an idea and not much else.

Such a high degree of difficulty means angel investing can often be a numbers game. Seed as many smart ideas as you can stomach. With any luck, one will return enough to cover the losses from the rest (and then some).

But for a select group, successfully investing in young companies is the norm. TRAC, a San Francisco-based early-stage venture firm, set out to find these investors, dubbing them "SuperForecasters."

The group of 287 investors helps inform TRAC's investing model, which predicts startups likely to grow to become unicorns (a valuation above $1 billion).

After highlighting 30 startups TRAC's model predicts will take off, the venture firm took things a step further, sharing with Business Insider the names of 30 SuperForecasters.

The investors, profiled by BI's Ben Bergman, Samantha Stokes, Rebecca Torrence, and Leena Rao, have an incredible track record for early-stage investing. SuperForecasters make a profit on two-thirds of their bets, and 20% of their investments return over 10X, Joseph Aaron, one of TRAC's cofounders, told BI.

Piggy banks
Tanja Ivanova/Getty Images

Plenty of the traits SuperForecasters share are fascinating.

Many didn't go to business school — sorry, bankers — and they tend to steer clear of solo founders.

But the characteristic that stood out to me the most was that multiple SuperForecasters rarely, if ever, co-invest in the same startups.

(The irony of this revelation coming from a model that partially relies on tracking SuperForecasters bets isn't lost on me.)

Silicon Valley can be known to have a herd mentality, especially when it comes to venture investors.

Getting backing from a high-profile investor can often do more for your valuation than a breakthrough product. It represents validation in a world full of uncertainty.

And yet, some of the best early-stage investors have proven to have far better success going out on their own.

Maybe there's a lesson for the rest of the industry: Come to your own conclusions and theories instead of trying to catch the next wave with everyone else.


3 things in markets

jim chanos elon musk
Jim Chanos and Elon Musk.Reuters and Getty Images
  1. Jim Chanos still has a bone to pick with Elon Musk. The famous short-seller, who has consistently bet against Tesla, said Musk was being "outrageous" for requesting more control at the EV maker. But Chanos isn't the only one raising concerns, as Wedbush's Dan Ives wrote Musk's comments created a "firestorm" for Tesla.

  2. Goldman Sachs isn't sweating the economy. The bank is taking a more optimistic view of economic growth in 2024 compared to the rest of the Street. Goldman sees US GDP growth of 2%, and only a 20% chance of a recession, figures that are well below consensus estimates. Here's why it's so bullish.

  3. And Goldman's not the only one feeling good these days. More than 81% of individual investors believe the Dow will end this year higher than last year, according to Yale's One-Year Confidence Index. Main Street hasn't felt this good about stocks since March 2007... right before the financial crisis.


3 things in tech

Tim Cook in an Apple store
Brittany Hosea-Small/Getty Images
  1. Apple just ended Samsung's 12-year run as the top smartphone seller in the world. Shipment data shows that Apple reached the top position last year. The iPhone maker's win comes amid tough business in the US and China.

  2. Microsoft CEO says the company wants stability at OpenAI — not a board seat. While at Davos, Satya Nadella said he's "not interested" in a board seat at ChatGPT's parent company. Meanwhile, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman is at the conference trying to show leaders his plan to prevent tools like ChatGPT from interfering with elections.

  3. Leaked memo: Google is laying off hundreds more employees. The search giant is laying off swaths of employees in its ad-sales team. Philipp Schindler, Google's chief business officer, announced the job cuts in a memo obtained by BI.


3 things in business

Graphic of woman taking a picture of a for sale sign in front of a house, with a couple looking at the house and embracing
Getty Images; Alyssa Powell/BI
  1. You can't talk about the housing shortage — or runaway home prices — without boomers on the brain. As the generation ages, its vast real-estate portfolio poses a question: What happens when boomers die?

  2. Airlines are experiencing some turbulence. Boeing's quality-control process and company culture are under scrutiny after multiple airlines have found issues with its 737 Max 9 jets. Meanwhile, Spirit Airlines stock nosedived after a judge blocked JetBlue's proposed takeover.

  3. We still don't know if the NFL's first streaming playoff game was a success. The Chiefs-Dolphins game was primarily streamed on NBC's Peacock. NBC says it was a success, citing viewership and internet usage numbers. But we don't know how many people paid for Peacock so they could watch the game.


In other news


What's happening today

  • GLAAD Awards nominees will be announced today. The awards celebrate "fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the LGBTQ community and the issues that affect their lives in the media."

  • Samsung's annual Galaxy Unpacked product launch event is today. The company is expected to announce products that include AI capabilities.

  • Happy birthday, Michelle Obama! Betty White, Steve Harvey, Muhammad Ali, Benjamin Franklin, Al Capone, and Calvin Harris were also born on this day.

  • Earnings today: Charles Schwab and other companies.


For your bookmarks

Decreasing ultra-processed foods

Woman in a grocery store
Getty Images

A nutritionist shared how he's cut down on eating convenient, ultra-processed food. They've been linked with many health issues, so he figured out some tips to cut down on them.


The Insider Today team: Dan DeFrancesco, deputy editor and anchor, in New York City. Diamond Naga Siu, senior reporter, in San Diego. Hallam Bullock, editor, in London. Jordan Parker Erb, editor, in New York. Hayley Hudson, director, in Edinburgh. Lisa Ryan, executive editor, in New York.

Read the original article on Business Insider