Matt Hall’s “Odds On” — Turning an Investor Chump Into an Evidence-Based Investment Champ

Matt Hall, Odds On Author“How did you find evidence-based investing?”

This is a question I often ask advisors. The answer usually involves a journey that begins with a broken brokerage-house gig before the fiduciary-minded find their financial footing in a finer place.

You’re probably all too familiar with such stories. Still, it can be challenging to share them with investors who struggle to understand the essential difference between financial business as usual, versus what YOU have to offer.

Fortunately, evidence-based advisor, and now author Matt Hall has just provided a new book to help you share this critical message. Due for release in early April, “Odds On: The Making of an Evidence-Based Investor” relates Matt’s journey from stock-picking chump to evidence-based investment champion. Your own tale may vary, but once investors hear it, it’s usually only a matter of time before those who understand what it can mean to them want to know how they can join our ranks.

Matt’s book can cue up that conversation for you. Or, if you’ve always wanted to successfully publish material about your own experiences, he offers some first-hand advice in our Q&A below. Enjoy.

Your new book, “Odds On: The Making of an Evidence-Based Investor” is about to hit the newsstand. What inspired you to write it?

It’s absurd how excited I am about it coming out April 12th! The feedback from the early reader group has blown me away and gets to the heart of why I did this – I want the message of our approach to stick! Remember the book Made to Stick by the Heath brothers? I’ve been haunted for years by the fact that not everyone embraces an evidence-based investment approach. In my experience many people give up on reading about how to improve their financial lives because of the wonky technical jargon. The question I knew I could answer – Can we bury the technical inside of stories? – allows the essential investment message to get through to a bigger audience.

How does “Odds On” differ from other books about evidence-based investing?

It’s a memoir and a manifesto wrapped in one. It’s not prescriptive. I intentionally leave out which funds to buy. The point is to affect an investor’s worldview without it feeling like too much effort. What also makes it different from other investing books is that it contains an approach to investing plus lessons I’ve learned about how to serve real people. I’m biased but I think this book is a catalyst in the advisor toolkit.

What’s with the title?

I’ve always liked it when industry people say about our approach that the math is figured out, it’s just a matter of accepting it. I think the odds of successful investing are pretty clear and I want readers to turn the odds on, turn them in their favor. You are doomed if you have high cost, speculative investments plus bad behavior. If you flip this, you have the odds on. I’m lucky to have had great mentors and teachers who turned me on, and the book is my attempt to share my experience and turn others on!

How can other evidence-based advisors make good use of you and/or your book to support their own practice development?

I did this in large part to help our movement. I’ve given away other authors books for many years as a way to market our approach. I know a lot of great advisors, and I want them to use my book as a more effective tool. If an advisor buys 200 books (at a cost of something like $15 per book on, I know they will have a huge return on investment. I would suggest writing a handwritten note to the prospective client and say something like: “This book is similar to parts of my own story and I know you’ll like it…I’ll follow up in two weeks to get your take. It’ll only take you 4-6 hours to read and I know you’ll find it worthwhile.” 

One person I asked to write an endorsement for the book sent my firm a message saying, “Not only will I endorse this book but I want to work with your firm as a client.” We’d had no prior talks with this person about our approach. We’re talking about a brilliant person and there was enough in the book to keep his attention, but not so much jargon that he gave up. The message stuck!

What did you enjoy the most about creating the book?

I like taking on projects that push my boundaries. Sometimes you’re tired, sometimes you’re annoyed, and sometimes you just don’t know how to say what you want to say. I thought I was a good communicator but this process will sharpen your abilities. I also love the impact it is having on others, even before it has come out. I heard from a proofreader with the publisher that the book changed her life. Her email blew me away because I’ve never met her and never will, but we intersected for a moment through the book. This kind of thing feeds me and makes me feel like the work and effort is valued.

What was the most challenging hurdle and the biggest surprise?

The most challenging part is being vulnerable. I talk about being diagnosed with leukemia and what I learned from my doctors and how these lessons apply to working with clients. It’s hard to share this information with the public and yet I knew I had to include the stories because they’ve made our firm and me better.

The biggest surprise is people seem to connect with different elements in the book. I’m very strategic and purposeful, and yet I didn’t expect readers to love certain aspects of the book. People seem to love the mentor theme that runs through my story and they tell me about their mentors in their life. That’s been cool. I’ve also been surprised by how much my 8-year-old daughter thinks of me now that I’ve written a book. We’ll be in a crowded restaurant and she’ll say, “Hey Daddy, just think that none of these people know that you’re about to be a famous book writer.” So cute.

I noticed you created an author website to go along with the book. Tell us a little about the inspiration behind that and how that’s helped so far.

I really needed a place to capture all the communications we’ll be sending out and a spot for special tools we’ll offer people on our newsletter. We’ll have an increasing number of communications coming out to those who are interested. We are pre-selling 3,000 books and the first printing is only 3,500 copies. I’m hopeful the book will take off this year and the web site will be a place for us to capture it all.

What is your advice for other advisors who are thinking of writing a book of their own?

Think about whether it is something you really want to do and then, if you commit, go all in. It’s a huge commitment and was fun when I could focus, but very difficult when I was distracted. A great tip I got from several friends and editors is to write or dictate, but don’t polish. You can hire others for that. Get it out of your head and into the document. This means don’t worry about punctuation, capitalization, etc. Just let it flow! If an advisor wants to know more about my process and who I worked with, I’m happy to pass on what I learned.

If you were starting the book from scratch today, what might you do differently?

I would move faster. It took me two years and I know it could have been done in less time, but I spent a lot of time thinking, stewing, and listening to the perspectives of other authors, editors, publishers, et al.

What is the greatest compliment you’ve received so far? What’s been the most helpful critique?

Having David Booth of Dimensional Fund Advisors agree to endorse the book is the biggest compliment. When I went to Austin recently, I swung by Dimensional’s headquarters and both Dave Butler and David Booth could not have been more supportive. My wife was with me and having sections of the book quoted to her while I stood by was beyond my original dreams.

The most helpful critique probably came from my editing team. I had a unique partnership with two writer/editors who live in Maine. We’ve never met in person and yet I feel very connected to them. Our first in-person meeting will likely be at my book launch party in April. My friend Carl Richards introduced me to them and it was probably the most helpful connection in the whole process.

Editor’s note: I didn’t ask, but Matt also wanted to talk about our own long-standing friendship. Since he insists, here’s from one rare bird to another …

Wendy and I used to work together at Buckingham Asset Management. Much of my experience there is documented in the book. In those days, Wendy was responsible for most of Buckingham’s content. She is a rare bird and someone I’ve admired for years. When I see her name in my inbox, it makes me happy because I know I’m in for a thoughtful, witty and often hilarious message. Wendy’s work helps me communicate more clearly, and communication is ultimately the key element in putting the Odds On the investors’ side.