De-teasing Gilder’s “Don’t buy 5G Stocks, Buy 15G Instead” pitch

Checking out George Gilder's latest "Gilder's Moonshots" pitch for 15G ("it's three times better than 5G!")

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, April 29, 2020

Today’s ad that we’re finally covering, after tons of requests, is for Gilder’s Moonshots, which is the latest publication launched in George Gilder’s return to newsletter world. Here’s the headline from the ad:

“‘Don’t invest in 5G stocks or even buy yourself a 5G smartphone… until you’ve heard about this chance to triple your gains on the same tech revolution…’— America’s #1 Futurist, George Gilder”

George Gilder was a well-known “futurist” and newsletter writer in the 1990s, and his Gilder Technology Report, which I think was published by Forbes, became one of the most visible cheerleaders of the dot-com bubble. Gilder has an admirable ability to assess trends and envision the future, though that hasn’t always meant that he’s right, or that he has made lots of money all the time — during that bubble, as he’ll now readily admit, he was focused more on the exciting “telecosm” ideas he was sharing and on the bright future than on the financials of those companies, and he almost went bankrupt when the stocks crashed and his newsletter subscriber base shriveled almost to nothing as the bubble popped… there was an interesting “where are they now” piece on him in the Wall Street Journal about 15 years ago, when he was still really digging out of that 2001 hole, and plenty of coverage of him after the crash (including a fun “Madness of King George” bit in Wired), but after that he disappeared from our part of the world for a bit, mostly writing books and seemingly more or less in retirement (he’s 80 years old now), until resurfacing with a new newsletter and beginning to rebuild a public profile last year.

He has been a lightning rod for controversy for decades, both in investing and on lots of social issues where he has been outspoken, and newsletter publishers LOVE that stuff — anyone who can inspire either love or hate comes in with a free marketing audience. There’s a reason that newsletter pundits so often cultivate that image of someone who goes against the grain, is hated, or stands out as a bit crazy — and it’s the same reason that professional athletes get outrageous tattoos or dye their hair wild colors: it gets attention, and the people who attract more attention make more money.

So Gilder has now partnered up with one of the divisions of Agora to get the newsletter going again under his “Gilder Press” name. He started with a bunch of free commentaries, as most newsletter folks do to build their brand awareness and mailing list, then launched a monthly newsletter at an entry-level price for a mass audience, and now we’re seeing a push for the real publisher money train with an “upgrade” newsletter at a dramatically higher price — essentially following the “upgrade you until it hurts” model that most newsletter publishers have perfected (start with a free sub, upgrade you to a $99 basic newsletter, then pummel you with ads until you succumb to the $5,000 newsletter or a “lifetime” offer). This particular ad is for Gilder’s Moonshots, sold for “half price” at $2,500 a year (no refunds or trial period, so if it doesn’t match the advertised hype you’re left with the tepid guarantee, “if you don’t earn 1,000% on something, and you’re disappointed enough to call and complain, we’ll give you another year free!”).

The ad starts with getting us all hot and bothered about how brilliant Gilder was in his soothsaying — we hear about many of the products and trends he envisioned, and with a bit of “what if” imagining that could have gotten you rich if you connected those trends to a particular public company early on (though they don’t say that Gilder actually made those recommendations… which means he didn’t, they’re always very clear about claiming past success but murky about showing “backtested” or “could have” possibilities):

“Ronald Reagan quoted George more than any living author… and bought copies of his book to give to every member of his cabinet.

“In the decades since, anybody listening to George’s uncanny forecasts has had the chance to rake in tech gains of 4,132%… 3,781%… 3,453%… and 4,234%.

“Soon after he predicted today’s smartphone — a full 14 years early — anybody who owned Apple could have picked up a 34,250% gain.

“When he called the rise of streaming TV, you could have picked up another 31,706% return on company that appeared years later — Netflix.

“Today, however, this visionary is here to talk about what he’s convinced could be his biggest — and most controversial — stock market revelation yet.”

In general, it strikes me we should take Gilder’s “big picture” future prognostications seriously, he clearly has a knack for imagining the extrapolation of technology developments into the future, and the adoption of those new technologies… but not jump immediately into believing that the stocks he likes will always be super-profitable or become the best way to invest in those future developments. He’s been talking for a couple years now about how blockchain will be the structure of the next internet, and how that will fuel the disintegration of the power players (Alphabet, Amazon, etc. — his highest-profile recent book was Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy, published about two years ago), and that might be true, dominant leaders have certainly been “disrupted” out of existence in the past… but those companies are certainly chugging along nicely right now.

And don’t get too sucked in by the many charts in Gilder’s latest “presentation” that claim 4,000%+ gains if you sold his recommendations at “peak gain” in 2000 or 2001 — after all, by all accounts he didn’t sell those recommendations anywhere near those bubble peaks, or tell his subscribers to sell. (They are honest about this in the ad, saying things like “These are just examples, of course, not pulled from your newsletter track record” … but, of course, our eyes are greedily drawn to the charts of 34,000% gains on Apple, and we begin imagining ourselves swan-diving into Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin).

But that’s just my sentiment going in… let’s see what he’s actually talking up in his ad… which, as with so many newsletter pitches, takes the form of an “urgent presentation” with Gilder being interviewed by Laissez Faire publisher Doug Hill and analyst Bob Byrne.

“George will show you why — even as the mainstream pours into overhyped so-called “5G” stocks like Samsung, Apple and T-Mobile — “15G” could be the real shortcut to wealth in this tech revolution.”

And this is largely a pitch to invest in smaller, more speculative stocks that are exposed to advancements in telecom and tech — they start buy putting up a straw man and saying that all the top lists of 5G stocks like Qualcomm, Apple, Samsung and the like might do OK with 5G, but the real gains will come from other ideas… more from Gilder:

“… if you’re only looking at household-name 5G stocks, you’ll miss out.

“That’s why I’m urging anybody who will listen to look at what I call ’15G’ stocks instead. They come with a little more risk, granted.

“And I wouldn’t want anybody to invest more than they’re comfortable losing.

“But if you really want to invest in the cutting edge, this is where you’ll find it. With the “15G” companies that nobody’s talking about… yet.”

So we’re looking for little fellas here… more from the ad:

“Even now, the top of the 5G market is crowded with the companies that still have a lot of their news priced in.

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“I’m talking about companies like Apple, Broadcom, American Tower, Crown Castle, Texas Instruments, T-Mobile, Qualcomm, Cisco, Verizon and Charter Communications. I doubt there’s a name in the bunch you haven’t heard.

“Even if you set out to buy just a single share in each of those 5G giants, it would set you back roughly $1,634. For just one share of each name.

“Meanwhile, the six ’15G’ companies I want to show you are different. They’re still off-radar. And their tech is so new, almost nobody’s talking about it yet.”

And yes, the “15G” term is just made up as a way to illustrate that he thinks they have “triple the potential” of the 5G stocks you’ve heard of… get it? Three times five is 15? I know, it’s as silly as the old pitches we saw for “801(k) plans” because they were “twice as good” as 401(k)’s, but apparently those shorthand illustrations still work… the questions here at Gumshoe HQ tend to pile up whenever a pundit (or his copywriter) invents a new term.

Interestingly, Gilder even gives us a little glimpse behind the curtain — he