Peter Brandt – CEO, Factor LLC

Peter Brandt entered the commodity trading business in 1976 with ContiCommodity Services, a division of Continental Grain Company. From his start in the commodity industry, Peter’s goal was to trade proprietary funds; however, he first needed to learn the business. From 1976 through 1979, Peter handled large institutional accounts for Conti, including Campbell Soup Company, Oro Wheat, Godiva Chocolate, Swanson Foods, Homestake Mining, and others.

In 1980, Peter founded Factor Trading Co., Inc. In his capacity as CEO, Peter was primarily engaged in trading proprietary capital. Factor Trading also produced market research and managed the trading activities of several large institutional clients. Among Peter’s institutional trading clients was Commodities Corporation (“CC”) of Princeton, New Jersey, at the time one of the world’s largest trading houses.

In May 1995, Peter retired from full-time involvement in the commodity business to pursue not-for-profit interests. He remained inactive from the commodity trading business until January 2007 when he, once again, began trading proprietary capital.

In 2011, John Wiley and Sons published Peter’s book, Diary of a Professional Commodity Trader. The book became Amazon’s #1 ranked book on trading for 27 weeks. His first book, Trading Commodity Futures with Classical Chart Patterns, was published in 1990, and is considered a classic by many traders. In 2011, Peter was named among the 30 most influential persons in the world of finance by Barry Ritholtz’ website, The Big Picture.

1. How do you define success?
The old saying about beauty being in the eye of the beholder applies to the measurement of success in my business. My business is market speculation. I am a gambler. The most obvious answer would deal with how much money I might make, or worded in a slightly different way, what my rate-of-return will be. I get all kinds of traders who come to me wanting to work for my company, claiming huge rates-of-return. So what! ROR is not a very good measure of trading success. I dismiss out of hand young traders who tout their rate of return. ROR is meaningless.

In my own opinion, the best statistical measure of a trader’s success is the “gain-to-pain” ratio. GtPR is calculated by adding the monthly rates of return and dividing the figure by the absolute value of the sum of the negative monthly rates of return. Thus, success must be measured by comparing upside profitability to downside volatility. A GtPR above 1.0 is good, above 1.5 is excellent, and above 2.0 is world class if it covers many years. The best traders in the world have GtPRs of 2.0 and above.

By the way, the investment industry is consumed by the Sharpe ratio, which in my opinion is worthless because it penalizes upside volatility. A trader wants upside volatility—it is downside volatility that is unwanted. There is yet another measure of success that is important to me. As a discretionary trader, I constantly battle the emotional pulls of the market. Over a period of time, I can grade myself by comparing how I have traded versus how I should have traded. Experienced discretionary traders instinctively know when they are making a questionable trade. There have been years with low net profits during which I have been very proud of my trading activity. There have also been highly profitable years during which I traded like an idiot. So, I am very critical with myself and have developed a number of metrics to grade myself.

2. What is the key to success?
Again, success is relative, so the question is highly loaded. For me, success is simple. I trade long-duration classical chart patterns. In any given year, I can look back and identify in hindsight the best 10 to 20 examples of classical charting. Three questions follow:

1. First, what proportion of these “best dressed” patterns did I trade?

2. Second, how well did I trade them (following my rules on sizing and entering and exiting trades properly)?

3. Third, how many trades did I execute on patterns that in hindsight were inferior from a classical charting perspective?

I know exactly what I want in a trade, and I know how I should trade the setups I get. The key to success is improving my patience and discipline. This is a never-ending process for a discretionary trader.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
Absolutely not. In fact, I had a Plan B in case I did not make it as a trader. I did not know if I was going to be successful. I only knew what my game plan was. I did not know if my game plan would work though. It takes three to five years for a trader to make enough mistakes to learn how to correctly trade in a manner that fits their personality and capitalization. Most traders do not make it out of this trial period. In a sense, then, it takes three to five years for traders, if they are honest with themselves, to anticipate their chance for eventual success.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Adversity is a way of life for a trader. There are good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, good months and bad months, and yes, even bad years. I have had a few negative years. There are two things that can push a trader forward during adversity. The first is solid risk and money management that can contain a drawdown to under 20% of assets. Traders who go through losing periods of 30% or more of their assets will eventually tap out.

The second is to stick with sound trading principles, even when such principles are not working. Sound principles will eventually have a payoff if combined with solid risk management. Unsound principles are destined for failure. Sound trading practices would include not taking bets that are too large and trading a market in the direction of its trend.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
That I have absolutely no idea where any given market will go. I may think I know what a market is going to do, but in the final analysis, markets will do whatever they will do. A related lesson is that I must anticipate that my next trade will be a loss. This should be a trader’s default expectation.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Markets, markets, markets, pursuing my Christian faith beliefs, my family, and “geek” TV.

7. What makes a great leader?
Vision and self-confidence. The ability to see the sweat spot in an employee’s ability and exploit it (I mean this in the best way).

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
1) Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with yourself. You will be very good at certain things and very bad at certain things. Come to an early understanding of what you can do well.

2) If you are not graduating with a specialized professional skill (physician, engineer, etc.), your education is worthless. You have just bought time in your life, which is okay, but if you are a history major, a journalism major, an international business major, a philosophy major, etc., know that your future will be in some profession you cannot even imagine at the present time.

3) Do not go into the world thinking about all you can offer. The world has made it without you and will continue to make it with or without you. Instead, go into the world ready to be a student of the generation that has gone before you. Be a sponge.

4) Know that 10% of what you will learn will be truly beneficial to your future and 90% of what you learn will be worthless. Your job is to develop the discernment to recognize the 10% that will help you.

5) During your life, you will have two or three really great ideas. These great ideas, if pursued correctly, will bring you wealth in a fulfilling way. All other things you do will be just staying busy until the great ideas come.


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

Penny Herscher – Chairman, FirstRain

Penny Herscher leads FirstRain as Chairman with a passion for growing companies in new markets. Formerly as CEO, she has transformed FirstRain into the leading provider of solutions that find and transform high-value business web content into actionable intelligence for sales and marketing professionals around the globe.

Before FirstRain, Penny was CEO of Simplex Solutions, an electronic design automation company serving the global semiconductor industry. As CEO, Penny grew Simplex from just a few engineers to a profitable, high-growth software company. She led the company to a very successful IPO in 2001 and then through its sale to Cadence Design Systems in 2002. At Cadence, Penny was general manager of a major division and also chief marketing officer. From 1988 to 1996, Penny was an early employee and senior executive at Synopsys. She began her career in 1982 as an R&D Engineer with Texas Instruments and then Daisy Systems. She holds an M.A. in Mathematics from Cambridge University.

Penny serves on the boards of JDSU and Rambus. She is also active in the nonprofit world and serves on the board of directors for the Anita Borg Institute. She volunteers teaching business classes at Stanford Business School, the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, and Santa Clara University. She is also a speaker on leadership and career growth at various industry organizations.

1. How do you define success?
Achieving happiness while making a positive difference to the people around you.

2. What is the key to success?
To know what you want to make happen (in work or out of it) and then go after it. Don’t stop for anything or anyone.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I knew I had the chance to be successful, but I didn’t know if I could pull it off. I still worry about it every day. I’ll probably worry about it until the day I die.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Fear. Fear of disappointing my father. Fear of what people will think about me if I fail.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
To be truly interested in the well-being of other people. Life’s not easy for anyone and a little caring and kindness goes a long way.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Wandering around art galleries, gardens, and ancient ruins in Europe.

7. What makes a great leader?
The ability to inspire people to be greater as a group than they can be alone. It’s a combination of ideas, brains, beliefs, and charisma—and good old-fashioned guts.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Seek a path that you are totally passionate about. If you love what you do, you’ll be good at it. And if you want a great job, take a good look at tech—it’s the future.


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

Mitchel Rothschild – CEO, Vitals

Mitchel “Mitch” Rothschild brings two decades of entrepreneurial experience to his role as co-founder, chief perfectionist, and CEO of Vitals. Prompted by personal medical experience that could have turned out badly, Mitch helped found Vitals. Today, Vitals helps more than 150 million people annually make intelligent decisions about choosing the right healthcare provider. Combining deep data, millions of patient ratings and out-of-pocket cost calculation tools, Vitals allows patients to find the highest-quality, lowest-cost providers.

Prior to Vitals, Mitch founded Raspberry Red Marketing, Awards.com, NetWorks, Tuff Rhino, RUSS CandyBears and Time Warner Viewer’s Edge. He has also been involved in the rapid growth of Popcorn Indiana, Blue Moon Mexican Cafe, and IT’SUGAR.

1. How do you define success?
Accomplishing whatever you set out to do, with an inner sense of satisfaction that you’ve done it.

2. What is the key to success?
Persistence, shifting the methods you need to get to your goal as situations change, and the ability to recognize when you’ve gotten there. Luck, too.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
No, of course not. You try your best, are optimistic that you can accomplish it, have confidence that you can, but you can never be sure until it actually happens.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Eye on the goal, sense of perspective, and not letting the bad moments get you down.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It is far easier to get forgiveness than permission. It works in business, less so in marriage.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Keeping my brain and curiosity active with new and exciting things to do, and with friends and family.

7. What makes a great leader?
Clear sense of vision, clarity about how to get there, ability to inspire others to follow, and exuding a clear sense that no obstacle will stand in the way.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Decide what you really like to do with your work time, whether you prefer interacting with people, data, or things. Your first job may not get you there, but your third should.


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

Mike Albanese – CEO, Galore Media

Mike Albanese serves as the CEO of Galore Media: a talent driven media company for the creative and daring Gen Z girl. Previously, he served as president of Observer Media: the publisher of The New York Observer, Betabeat, VeryShortList, SCENE, and other digital and print titles. Prior to joining Observer Media, he was the publisher of SPIN Media, where he oversaw a 25-site digital network, and the sale of SPIN to Buzz Media (re-named SPIN Media). Mike is also an investor/advisor in Galore Media and other startups, including Chefsfeed, Topcoder, and Suitey.

1. How do you define success?
Creative and financial freedom.

2. What is the key to success?
If I had to make a laundry list, it would be a) always taking pride in work, b) knowing your strengths and weaknesses, c) challenging yourself and the people around you daily, and d) leading by example.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
Success is incredibly relative, and I really feel it’s more of a process rather than an end. Try to get better at something every day, treat people well, and the rest will take care of itself.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I don’t like failing or losing, so more times than not, it’s less of a conscious choice and more a reflex to push onward.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I learned at my first job, which was at a startup magazine in San Francisco, that there is no pre-ordained roadmap for businesses or people. Anything is possible, both positive and negative. It’s a simple insight (something I probably could have picked up in Philosophy 101 had I paid more attention), but a very powerful (and empowering) realization.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I am a photographer and also invest and advise in start-ups. I also love dinner and brunches with friends, and a good steam on weekends.

7. What makes a great leader?
A great leader is able to get different people, with different backgrounds and different individual goals, all driving toward the same place with passion and vigor. A great leader is able to attract great people, and hold everyone, including themselves, to account.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
When I started at The New York Observer, Jared (owner) shared with me his philosophy about being “long-term greedy.” That is good advice. Be patient in the near term, find opportunities where you can pick up experience, learn from great people, and be associated with something worthwhile. And when opportunities open up, seize them!


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

Mark Peter Davis – Managing Partner, Interplay Ventures

Mark Peter Davis is a venture capitalist, incubator, and author of The Fundraising Rules. He’s the founder of Interplay Ventures, a venture partner at High Peaks Venture Partners, and a co-founder of Kohort, DevSpark, Founder Shield, and Venwise. Prior to that, Mark was a venture capitalist at DFJ Gotham Ventures, where he invested in information technology companies. He has a B.A. in Economics from Duke University and an M.B.A. in Venture Finance from Columbia Business School.

1. How do you define success?
Obtaining happiness.

2. What is the key to success?
This is a difficult question, but I suspect it’s a mix of 1) understanding what dynamics make you happy, and then 2) pursuing a life structure that facilitates those dynamics.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I’m an optimist, so I always assumed I would be. “Assuming” and “knowing” are, however, very different things. While there were times when I doubted my assumptions, in general, with enough persistence, I expected a good outcome.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
When I was younger, I was motivated by achieving a goal. I aimed to overcome to reach an arbitrary destination. Now, I fight to continue doing what I enjoy most: innovating.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Difficult to pick the greatest, but here are a few things that have formed my approach to life and business: “The more you give, the more you get.” “Say what you’re going to do and do what you say.” “Nothing is business, and everything is business, if you’re in the right business.”

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Entrepreneurship is my hobby—and it also happens to be my job. I consider all of my time the same. I’m either working on one passion or another—just some other people would call it work. What I enjoy doing includes spending time with my family, starting companies, reading, playing Rockband, and writing.

7. What makes a great leader?
I’m not sure that I am one. If the question was, “What makes a great leader?,” then the answer is most definitely supporting the team in their effort to achieve a common goal.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Until you know what you want to do, obtain generalist skills. Once you know what you want to do, back into a plan to get there. Out-hustle anyone who tries to hold you down.


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.