Welcome to the world of investing in small companies. MicroVision’s Annual Meeting of Shareholders approaches yet again. That’s a good sign. That means they hadn’t gone out of business in the meantime. Seriously, the way I describe MicroVision is that the company has great potential and is usually on the verge of collapse (a synopsis). Investing in their stock, MVIS, has not been easy; yet seems to make sense based on the technology, the market, the business model, and their network. Tiny companies inspire enthusiasm, rely on high risk tolerances, and could dramatically benefit from actionable good news. Or they can go broke. Welcome to the world of investing in small companies.
Investing in small companies is properly called speculating, unless the company has years of solid and steady financial growth. Startups don’t have that. They have story. Story is a way to build without a foundation, or to at least draw the plans in the air. Interestingly, MicroVision’s technology may allow such images to be created; but not in something we can buy, yet. (What a holograhic iPhone might look like.) While owning MVIS is speculation, I’ll call it investing. The English language has enough trouble with the word speculating and its variants: spectacle, spectacular, speculation, and spectacles. There’s too much opportunity for mis-communication, especially with my non-English-speaking audience.
I’ve held MVIS stock for over a decade, and for over a decade the promise of success has been interpreted as being within a year or two, to the more recent six to nine months. I say interpreted because MicroVision has rarely communicated in a way where the communiques matched the shareholders’ inferences and the eventual reality. The company may have never violated any SEC rule, and has probably always worked within the Forward-Looking Statements disclaimer yet a quick read of any of the discussion boards suggests that more than enough shareholders feel that the promises were under-delivered.
Last year’s ASM seemed to be the turn-around year (check my notes) because certainly before the 2014 meeting there would be marvelous news. Technology and supply issues were resolved. The prime OEMs were lined up. Announcements were due. Finally, MicroVision’s life that’s been concealed by competitive pressures and restrictive NDAs would begin to be revealed.
A part of me felt that the 2014 ASM (of the 2013 year) must be far away because the only news had been of corporate collaborations instead of product launches, of press releases that mentioned MicroVision in the footnotes instead of the headlines. And then the Annual Report and proxy arrived in the mail. In about a month, MicroVision will host yet another Annual Meeting of Stockholders (which most shareholders replace with a previous acronym of ASM). This is the first year in many that won’t be held at a regional convention center, but at a hotel near the company. I suspect that this year will also dispense with the early opening for the demonstration room where shareholders could spend an hour with the technology, technical staff, and management to better understand the company they partly own.
Before this annual report joined my bulging box of previous annual reports, I read through it hunting for quantifiable and actionable information. Aside from the SEC required financial reports and the industry expectations I found little from which to evaluate the company. There are plenty of qualitative descriptives of the company, its technology, its partners, and its progress; but little of use in quantitative analyses. There was, however, a disappointment that was effectively a zero; which is quantifiable in a sense. “We also see potential for PicoP display technology in other areas, although we are not currently working with customers. PicoP display technology could be combined with other components and systems to be incorporated into a pair of glasses …” So ends any speculation on whether MicroVision was being considered for Google Glass, or any of the competitors to Google Glass, which is sad considering the large lead MicroVision had years ago in wearable displays.
While rummaging around with my stockpile of annual reports, I also pulled out the tangible results from previous ASMs. Pens, mostly. A USB drive that’s probably never been out of its sleeve. A notepad or two. One of the pens is actually one of my favorites. I wish I could buy more. It has a red LED near the tip for writing in the dark. Very handy for jotting notes that come to mind during movies or plays. (It’s a writer thing.) That’s the only pen that has more than MicroVision stamped on it. It was the commemorative pen for MicroVision’s first see-through wearable display, NOMAD. At least the pen still works. NOMAD, well, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that many don’t know about it, or Flic, or ROV; and that think MicroVision has yet to announce a product. Except maybe they know about the ShowWX (the grey rectangle), of which I have two. Maybe they’ll be collectables some day.
With the ASM less than a month away there is less than a month for the company to release news that not only satisfies management’s idea of impressive news but also the shareholders’ evidently higher standards. Within the last year there has been good news, but announcements that help the company succeed another year are a lower bar than announcements that the company has arrived technically, financially, and publicly.
A few friends owned shares of MVIS before I became a shareholder. They impress me with their foresight and patience. Too many friends bought MVIS after me and have seen their investments drastically diminish. There is a strong desire amongst a large portion of the US populace to find a way out of their financial situation. Working seven days a week isn’t creating enough income. Living frugally to the point of foregoing healthcare isn’t lowering expenses enough. Lottery tickets have odds of millions to one, and yet they are bought because they are a possibility of more than enough income at a very small expense. Investing in small disruptive companies like MicroVision provide the possibility of less than a jackpot for less of a risk for an intermediate price – and are especially attractive when the disruption if positive.
Optimists know that every day is a new opportunity. MicroVision’s management has described a production capability of hundreds of thousands of units in the second half of 2014. That’s probably millions of dollars of revenue, which is short of the tens of millions that are necessary for profitability. Sony’s products commonly are produced at the tens of millions of units level, and they’ve included MicroVision as a footnote; so maybe a successful Sony product will produce success for MicroVision and MVIS. There are other customers, and maybe MicroVision’s capacity can ramp up to support them all. One success can cascade nicely, especially with MicroVision’s business model. In 2015.
I’ll put the documents aside for a few weeks. Then I’ll try to find a bus route that takes me to the meeting. The gas and other commute fees are bad enough. At least the previous meetings were held by a transit center. Every morning I’ll check the news because despite the company’s reticence, and because of their temporary NDAs, I might wake up to news that exceeds management’s and shareholders’ expectations; and then the ASM will be more party than meeting. Just as I hoped for last year.