A Shout-Out on the Web
Investing groupies make Facebook pages a virtual Omaha
Warren Buffett has never been known for his love of technology. In The Warren Buffett Way, Robert Hagstrom describes how limited the 76-year-old executive's online activities are: "He buys books, reads the Wall Street Journal, and plays bridge."
But while Buffett has pretty much ignored the Internet, the Internet has certainly not ignored him. Scads of investing sites, forums, and blogs around the globe lionize Buffett's legendary investing prowess and the success of Berkshire Hathaway, the investment holding company he runs. Members of online communities like Silicon Investor, with its Buffett-loving constituency, pore over his shareholder letters, discuss Berkshire's numbers, and scrutinize the latest transactions.
The vast majority of this virtual community is just what you'd expectmiddle-aged, affluent, male, and "very serious about their fundamental analysis," says Silicon Investor CEO Bob Zumbrunnen. Yet online "Buffettologists" come in many shapes and sizes. They are indeed mostly well educatedbut many are surprisingly young, populating MySpace and especially Facebook pages on Buffett with adulation befitting a king.
Global chat. Take Shai Dardashti, 23, for instance. Dardashti graduated from the University of Maryland in 2006 and has aggressively formed a network of value investors across the globe. Using the Internet, he converses with young investors in places like India and France and encourages students and recent grads to journey to Berkshire Hathaway events in Omaha. (He's been there four times.) For Dardashti, Facebookfrom groups as staid as "Warren Buffett Fanclub" to ones as juvenile as "I met WARREN BUFFETT and you didn't...nana nana boo boo!"serves as ground zero for "long-lost investment peers" in their 20s.
One of those peers, Andreas Bomann-Larsena 25-year-old investment banker in Norwayhas made it into Dardashti's massive spreadsheet of investing contacts and found similar camaraderie via the Internet. Much like other wired Buffett lovers, Bomann-Larsen was preternaturally drawn to investing, beginning at the ripe age of 14. At first, he day-traded with mild success in some of the hottest and most volatile industries, but the 2000 tech bust caught up with him and wiped out much of his earnings. He has since converted to a more fundamental, value-investing strategy, one gleaned from close study of Buffett's moves. He says it has been going "quite well" for the past seven years.
Bomann-Larsen's own Facebook group, featuring a picture of actor Michael Douglas in his anti-Buffett Gordon Gekko role from Wall Street, began as an outlet for him and his friends to profess their investing interests and has since become an accidental success. It has allowed the entrepreneur to trade tips, book suggestions, and classic Buffett quotes with fellow investors, mostly in the United States. The group hasn't transformed the young trader's core portfolio, but as with Dardashti, it has put him in touch with throngs of like-minded contemporaries.
The Internet has become the virtual, year-round alternative to the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting. Investors schmooze and network, but mostly they find comfort in knowing they're not alone. Despite the constant contact and fancy bells and whistles found online, value-investment portfoliosincluding those of young money managersare still filled with unsexy industries like seafood products, tin cans, and oil service. Ultimately, the Internet is just another handy tool for smart investors, and even Buffett, with all his folksy, low-tech wisdom, could appreciate that.
This story appears in the August 6, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.