Bert Mouler has been developing algorithmic trading systems since 2010. He is the principal researcher at Profluent Capital and the chief designer of the intelligent portfolio management software they use to manage funds.
He received three undergraduate degrees from UC Santa Barbara and continued to complete his Master's, with highest honors in bioinformatics, at The Johns Hopkins University. He is currently pursuing the Georgia Tech OMSCS degree. Bert is involved in a variety of technology start-ups, as well as AI and machine learning projects around the world.
Today, I’m thrilled to talk to Bert Mouler about his habits and routines.
What are the most important habits in your life and why?
I would say that the most important habits in my life are goal setting and reading. Most people intrinsically have what it takes to succeed (there’s nothing biological that will prevent them from doing so), but unfortunately, they lack a framework for achievement. I set goals for the week, the month, the quarter, the year, all the way into old age. Of course, many people would say that it is impossible to know what will happen so far into the future, but that’s the exact reason for setting goals!
The goals themselves have to be, in my experience, just out of reach given your current pace of progress. This way, you are always striving to improve yourself and your business. They also have to be general enough to allow some leeway due to the randomness inherent in life, but at the same time quantifiable, so that you can objectively measure your success (or lack thereof). Most people overestimate what they can do in a short period of time and underestimate what can be achieved in a long period of time. Goal setting helps to even that bias out.
As far as reading goes, I don’t think there are many successful individuals out there that don’t read. What always amazes me is that most people have all of these questions about life, business, their environment, etc., but they never pick up a book and read about those topics. Most of the questions that we have have been answered before–as the old saying goes, there’s nothing new under the sun.
Of course, there are also topics like AI and machine learning (and other modern technologies), which are growing at an ever-increasing pace. To keep up, you absolutely have to keep reading and researching. From a business perspective, there is a ton of money lying on the floor, you just have to go and pick it up. To do that, you have to know where it is–that’s where the books come in.
How do you set goals and manage time?
I use post-its for my short-term goals. I like to keep them on my bathroom mirror and on my monitor. What’s great about writing goals down is that you are essentially making a promise to yourself to attempt whatever it is you have written down. That’s a strong motivator in my experience.
Long-term goals are stored in Evernote and tied to reminders for when they’re due.
How are you modeling your life?
I think that the classical model of the “American Dream,” where you go to college and earn your degree, work at some company for 40 years, and then retire somewhere on the savings that you’ve accumulated in the process, is broken. It seems like most people my age are drowning in student debt and large firms aren’t as stable as they appeared to be previously. Look at the retail space right now, Amazon has obliterated the retail sector.
A better model, in my opinion, is to start earning money the second you can and save as much of it as possible as early as possible. As a young graduate, you can’t possibly be needing to spend more than $30k a year on living expenses (for example). In this case, you can calculate exactly how much you need to save for that $30k to be rolling in as passive income (from real estate investments, for example). This way, you can actually reach “retirement” much earlier than in the “American dream” model. Let’s say you need $30k to live and you can make 5% a year investing (which is a reasonable figure, in my opinion, and can be achieved with minimal risk). That means that you’ll need to save about $600K. If you save the majority of what you earn, you can hit that number much earlier than you think. I know many people that have started online businesses out of their home that make $100K+ per year–it’s more than doable and doesn’t require any formal education. Basically, with this model, you can make it to the point where your passive income eclipses your expenses by the time you turn 30–a much better outcome than potentially retiring at 65.
Can you describe your work process and thinking behind it?
I try to automate as much of my work as possible. Humans are notoriously terrible at just about everything. We forget, make mistakes, get tired. Computers don’t do any of that. That’s why I chose to go into the algorithmic trading business. In general, I rank my opportunities by potential reward vs. time spent and work down that list in a continuous manner.
What do you eat for breakfast?
Eggs and bacon. Mainly because it’s easy and low carb.
How do you train your body and mind?
I lift weights and run on the treadmill. I also walk my dog, Dexter, for a couple of hours a day while listening to audiobooks. In fact, one of the key contributors to my success, in my opinion, is the fact that I run on the treadmill and watch MOOC videos, sped up 1.5-3x. This means that after I go to the gym in the morning for an hour, I’ve already done more than most people do in a week. 45 minutes of lecture, sped up 2x, watched 5x a week is equivalent to 10 university lectures a week, or about 500 lectures a year (I do take a vacation sometimes). 500 lectures a year! Think about that. How many lectures made up your degree? And all of this is done while at the gym. That is a HUGE edge.
How do you meet and connect with people?
Because I work in front of the computer for extensive periods of time, I mainly use social media to connect with people, but there’s nothing like face-to-face contact. So, conferences are a must, as well as just going out to your local bar at meeting people. You never know who will turn up. Always remember–6 degrees of separation.
What are your sleeping rituals?
This really depends on where I am at the moment. Some places, like China and Russia, are significantly more polluted than others, increasing my sleep requirements. In San Francisco, my home base, I usually wake up at 8 AM, work through my schedule and then sleep from around 4 PM to 7 PM. Then, I work until about 3 AM and go to sleep again. I work with people all across the globe and this type of schedule really helps me optimize my time.
What are your investing habits?
I could write a book about this and probably will at some point, but in general, I mentioned them previously. Spend as little as possible until you reach the point where your passive income investments bring in more money than you spend. From there, increase your lifestyle a bit every year, but keep saving the majority of your earnings. This way, even in economic downturns, you’ll be able to increase your spending and have an improved lifestyle.
What books, people, experiences shaped your thinking?
I have a huge list of books that I recommend to people. Here are some of the top picks:
- The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow
- NLP: The New Technology of Achievement by NLP Comprehensive and Steve Andreas
- The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie