I’ve always liked Tony Robbins, so when I heard he had a new financial book coming out, I was intrigued. Robbins’ doesn’t have a traditional financial background, but he did write Money: Master the Game, which I enjoyed, and also has access to some of the brightest financial minds in the world. He admits that this access is what has made him so successful financially in the opening chapter of his latest book, The Holy Grail of Investing, which comes out today.
The good news is that I was able to get my hands on an early copy of The Holy Grail of Investing. The bad news is that this is where the good news ends. Long story short, the book is a 330 page glorified sales pitch for CAZ investments, a firm founded by the book’s co-author, Christopher Zook, where Robbins is also a minority shareholder. I don’t think I’ve read a book in my life that was less about the content of the book and more about trying to promote the author’s products. Let’s take a look to see why.
Investing for Me, But Not for Thee
Robbins opens his book by attributing his financial success to having access to the best investments, which he argues are typically found in private markets. He provides further evidence of this by claiming that other titans of industry, such as Robert F. Smith and David Sacks, are financially successful for the exact same reason. As he states:
These individuals play the money game at the highest possible level. Yet they play the game with an edge. The edge of access! Their status and professional networks provide them with extraordinary access to unique investments that, frankly, 99.9 percent of people won’t typically have access to.
Hmmm. This seems odd. If 99.9% of people don’t have access to these investments, why would Robbins spend time telling us (retail investors) about them? Don’t worry, this question will be answered in a moment.
Robbins argues that private investments are so important not only because they can outperform public investments, but because they tend to be uncorrelated with traditional financial markets. And, as Ray Dalio (Robbin’s friend) suggests, it is these uncorrelated investments that are the “Holy Grail” of investing. From Robbins:
According to Dalio, the Holy Grail is a portfolio of eight to twelve uncorrelated (or non-correlated) investments, which together, will dramatically reduce risk without sacrificing returns.
But, which investments are uncorrelated with traditional financial markets? Robbins provides these seven:
- GP Stakes. Ownership interests that General Partners hold in their own Private Equity or Venture Capital management firms, rather than in the companies or funds they manage. These stakes represent a share of the firm’s future profit streams, including management fees and carried interest.
- Pro Sports Ownership. Involves direct ownership stakes in professional sports teams, which can include related assets like stadiums, broadcasting rights, and merchandising.
- Private Credit. Private arrangements for extending credit that are negotiated directly between the lender and borrower, outside of the traditional banking system or public markets.
- Energy. Investment in companies or assets within the energy sector, which can include traditional oil and gas, renewable energy sources, and the infrastructure supporting energy production and distribution.
- Venture Capital. Equity investments in early-stage, high-growth potential startups and companies.
- Real Estate. Direct ownership or financial interest in residential or commercial real estate properties.
- Secondaries. Transactions involving the purchase and sale of existing investments in private companies or funds from one investor to another, typically on a secondary market.
Okay, so let me get this straight. According to Robbins, I need to own a set of uncorrelated investments like private credit, sports teams, etc. However, these uncorrelated investments are only found in private markets, which I, as a retail investor, don’t have access to. So what do I do?
This is where Robbins, being as charitable as he is, provides a solution—CAZ investments, a firm where he is a minority shareholder and that also happens to provide access to all of these exclusive asset classes. Are you kidding me? Robbins is basically saying that if you want to be financially successful, you have to go through him. He is the gatekeeper to the Holy Grail of investing.
This is how chapters 2-9, which cover the seven asset classes listed above, are written. First, Robbins talks about how amazing the asset class is, then at the end he throws in a URL directing readers to learn more. Unfortunately, all of these URLs redirect to the CAZ investments homepage! What’s even funnier is that every URL is distinct, but they all go to the same web location.
Think about that. Robbins and Zook spent all this time writing this book to offload their private investments onto their readers, only to be too lazy to create a specific landing page for each asset class they were pitching. They didn’t create a special landing page for investing in Private Credit. They didn’t create one for GP Stakes or for Pro Sports Ownership either. No. All of the URLs simply redirect to the CAZ homepage. Considering how much resources they have, it’s so damn lazy.
But what makes the book worse is that it’s sloppy in places too. For example, in Chapter 4 on Private Credit there is a chart on page 55 which shows the lowest 5-Year annualized performance for a variety of asset classes from 1995-2022. The best performing asset class among those shown was Private Credit, which returned about 4% per year during its worst 5-year period from 1995-2022. Robbins and Zook argue that this is why Private Credit is so amazing—it makes money even in the bad times. No problem there.
However, what they overlooked was that the worst performing asset class on the chart was Venture Capital with a negative 18% annualized return over five years. This was 3x worse than the S&P 500’s performance over this time period (negative 6% annualized for five years). Nevertheless, Robbins and Zook have an entire chapter (Chapter 7) dedicated to investing in Venture Capital. If your thesis is that you should own private investments, I shouldn’t be able to use one of your own charts to make the opposing argument in favor of public investments.
Nevertheless, I’m not here to argue about the validity of what Robbins and Zook are stating. No, I primarily take issue with how they stated them. The book is elitist and out of touch. For example, in Chapter 2 on GP Stakes, Robbins is practically bragging about how amazing the 2 and 20 fee structure (2% management fee, 20% performance fee) is because of how much revenue it generates for GPs.
Umm, what? Aren’t you going to be charging similar kinds of fees to your investors when they come to buy sports teams and other private investments from your firm? It’s like Robbins and Zook are saying the quiet part out loud. The whole book reads like a private memo Robbins would send to his rich buddies, but somehow he ended up publishing it for the masses.
Just imagine if in my book I told you that the key to building wealth was “the continual purchase of income-producing assets,” but then I said that the only way to buy those income-producing assets was through my firm? You would think I was crazy, but this is exactly what Robbins does throughout the first part of his book.
And in the second part of his book, Robbins interviews his rich friends, all 12 of whom are men. I understand that the financial space is male dominated so we shouldn’t expect anything close to a 50/50 split in representation, but this is Tony Robbins we are talking about here. He has one of the biggest networks in the world and you’re telling me he couldn’t find a single woman to interview who’s crushing it in the private asset space?
Come on. The whole book reeks of “exclusive rich guy club” and the lack of female representation makes it so much worse.
Then again, maybe I only have myself to blame for expecting this book to be like Robbins’ other books. As the legal disclosure at the beginning of the book states (emphasis mine):
Tony Robbins is a minority passive shareholder of CAZ Investments, an SEC registered investment advisor (RIA). Mr. Robbins does not have an active role in the company. However, as shareholders, Mr. Robbins and Mr. Zook have a financial incentive to promote and direct business to CAZ investments.
When people show you who they are, believe them.
Unfortunately, the only thing that Tony Robbins showed me is that the holy grail of investing isn’t in the investments, it’s in selling them.
Thank you for reading.
This is post 385. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering: https://github.com/nmaggiulli/of-dollars-and-data