Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. It’s June and time for the MicroVision Annual Stockholder’s Meeting (more correctly the annual meeting of shareholders.) It is the time for the owners of the company to hear from the people they hired about how well the company is being run. As usual, it was more sales pitch than business critique. But I get ahead of myself. The ability to drop in and listen is a key advantage to investing locally. Every year I do this if I can. You can too. Corporations aren’t abstractions. They aren’t people, but people populate them; and people are the best way to learn about the company.
For those that want the details, head out to the MVIS boards on The Motley Fool, Investor Village, and Silicon Investor. I post the full notes there so comments and replies can benefit broader audiences.
I encourage people to attend the meetings when they are convenient. Just showing up is a learning experience, and great people watching. Drag out the stereotypes and watch the suits gather in one corner, the fashion plates trying to relax in tiny seats, folks in business casual that may be employees, and the motley crew of individual investors who can and do dress anyway they want. MicroVision’s meeting didn’t have any fashionistas. They tend to show up at companies like Microsoft or Starbucks and may be early investors who hung on long enough. Granted that is just the stereotype. Living around Seattle means getting comfortable with the idea that the guy in shorts might be a billionaire. It breaks down the class structure in some fun ways. But that’s another story or five.
A more useful exercise was watching the way people avoided or were attracted to the various groups. Sometimes the CEO is a star with a crowd gathered as soon as they walk in. Other times they are avoided by all except the other suits. There was a bit of both today. What I missed were the demos. Some companies can’t have demos. Biotechs aren’t going to hand around pathogens. But consumer electronics and retail firms can have fun. The Starbucks meetings were the best, back when this tea drinker owned a bit of SBUX. Free food, good music, and a fun atmosphere. Rising stock prices helped. MicroVision’s meetings have been fun as they’ve developed the technology. I’ve seen projectors that fit inside cell phones, eyewear displays that pre-date Google by years, videos drawn on my retina (really quite natural), innovative gaming guns, tiny cameras, and user interfaces that worked in air with the flick of a finger. Very cool. This year that didn’t happen, and that told me something. Whether I mis-interpret it is my own consequence, but it is an insight delivered for free and not filtered by Wall Street analysts and spin doctors.
Going to meetings is not for everyone. It can be dull. I’m naturally curious so I always learn something, even if it is in what they didn’t say. Today’s meeting didn’t have a financial report. Evidently they don’t think that’s necessary at a stockholder’s meeting. I wonder if they will finally produce one when they have good news, but not before.
It was a bit of a trudge. Get up at 4:45, thankfully catch a ride to the ferry with a friend at 5:30, jump onto the bus that doesn’t wait long, try to figure out what and how to pay, jump onto another bus that doesn’t wait long and do the same, walk in at 7:30 and early enough for the demos, sign in, and find that there will be no demos. The demos will be part of the 9:00 presentation. Hang out with other shareholders, because the demos and employees aren’t available and because I can learn more from investors than from managers, and finally settle into my favorite seat in the back of the room. Back there we can resort to high school and pass messages back and forth, but these messages are like the asides delivered by Stephen Colbert’s “The Word”. I didn’t get home until 3:00 because of a good lunch and a missed bus.
Without the demos, and with such a small company, the audience dispersed quickly; but not before business cards were traded and lunches arranged. Individual investing can be solitary and intimidating, but online discussion boards provide community, and meeting off-line provides confidence. Each investor can only know a bit, but collectively a group of investors can produce better insights and analyses than the major financial institutions; especially, because they tend to overlook small companies. Investing benefits from gaining advantage, and community is inexpensive, powerful, and can be enjoyable. Besides, the price is right.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget the goodies. At some meetings I’ve been given about $40 worth of freebies. Smart retailers know that shareholders are also customers and keeping the customers/owners happy is a good idea. MicroVision gave out pens. Well, it isn’t much. Someone else snagged most of the ones around me as he walked out, but I grabbed a couple extra for the first MVIS friends that I meet. It isn’t much, but at least for a while I suspect it is the closest we will get to a dividend.
Next week is the Dendreon meeting, and this year they are actually going to have it in Seattle, you know, where the company is based? DNDN’s trading at $6, down from $55, yet the treatment seems to work. This will be interesting.