Name: Sayer Martin
Title: President and CEO, Sagacious, Inc.; President and CFO, ToMyFace.com
Residence: West Des Moines, Iowa
Intro music: “Everlasting Light” by The Black Keys
Silicon Prairie News: Your new startup, ToMyFace, allows businesses to collect and analyze targeted feedback during and immediately after their interaction with customers. How have your experiences on either side of that business-customer relationship contributed to the formation of ToMyFace?
Sayer Martin: The idea was sparked when I spoke to an investment group a few months back. It was the first time I’d talked on that particular topic and wanted to get good feedback. I asked a couple attendees afterward, but was unable to reach everyone and didn’t have the contact information necessary to send a survey. I also realized that these folks weren’t likely to say “to my face” their unfettered opinion in that forum anyway. The problem is common, and ToMyFace.com is the solution.
SPN: After undertaking entrepreneurial ventures in fields like real estate and investment, what has surprised you most in your foray into tech entrepreneurship?
SM: The community! Anytime you learn something new it’s essential to have people surrounding you that not only can help but will also challenge you. The latter is extremely powerful. It’s a lot of fun, but make no mistake this is a driven group that wants to win at the end of the day. The abilities and work ethic I see in the tech community motivate me to set my own benchmarks very high. Hang around with smart, ambitious people and something good is bound to happen.
SPN: You’ve blogged about passing on what turned out to be successful tech stocks because of your dedication to value investing. What does it take for a tech stock to meet your criteria as a value investor?
SM: Evaluating a stock requires looking at both the business value and its price, which are distinct but often coincide. My mistakes have taught me to focus on the tremendous value of “real options,” essentially the ability of a business to enter, expand or develop new products in a market that would be tougher for a new competitor to enter than an adjacent, existing player. At a high level the company must have a competitive advantage — an operating position that is not easily copied. This helps them generate lots of cash, most of which isn’t needed in the core business. In tech, future economics are especially hard to predict and product lifecycles are notoriously short, so I want to see a major commitment to trying a lot of different ideas even if a fraction of them will pay off. Small bets, broadly placed — a venture-capital-like approach to R&D. Ultimately, the investment decision depends on the price.
SPN: As a student and close observer of Warren Buffett, what do you think the future holds for Berkshire Hathaway A.B. (that is, After Buffett)?
SM: The company will continue to thrive, albeit with returns much lower than in the past (a mathematical near-certainty given its size). Unlike most businesses that make serial acquisitions, Berkshire does not change the operations in any way afterwards. And they won’t sell it if Buffett turns out to have been wrong. This makes it a unique place for a business owner to sell his or her ‘baby’ and one that is nearly impossible to replicate, especially in a world where quarterly results regularly take precedence over long-term value. It will be a huge loss, of course, but the culture he’s built is as remarkable as the collection of businesses he’s assembled.
SPN: You have office space on “Silicon Sixth” but no horse in the startup swag race (for now, at least). So give us the unbiased startup style scoop — what are the three trendiest tech tees in Des Moines, and why?
SM: Well this is embarrassing! Rest assured we have a thoroughbred in the stable, almost ready for the track.
The three trendiest – among those that I have – are TableNabbr (simple and, frankly, fits best), StartupCity’s “Shut Up and Build It!” (it’s the perfect slogan amid lots of “ideas”) and the “John Wayne Dwolla Chain” (I grew up watching John Wayne movies with my Dad and this is the bling he was missing).
Credits: Photo of Martin by EllieJo Lafever.
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