Neil Shahrestani, Chief Investment Officer at Ikarian Capital

What inspired you to start Ikarian Capital?

I started my first company when I was 15. I took all the money I made and rolled it into the next company the following summer and saved as much money as I could. In my free time, I read every investing book I could, starting with The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham which is like the Bible for many investors. The plan was to read every book on investing that I could, invest my savings and build a life centered around investing in good and bad businesses. I lost money as a 16-year-old, and for lack of a better phrase it really pissed me off. It still bothers me to this day; I’m very competitive and that early failure has been one of the key driving forces in my life to this day.

Fast forward five or six years and now I am in medical school. In between patients I would sit in the coffee room and read Wall Street Journal and watch Bloomberg. I didn’t really know what I was reading half of the time but I still did it. That was my hint, I found my true passion. The science of medicine is great and I was great at that, but I always had an insatiable fascination with finance. That’s what I woke up thinking about.

Truthfully, that’s how it started. I was irritated with how my investments had gone as a teenager and I was determined to get better at investing.

How do you make money?

I find dislocations in value among stocks. Any stock has two values: it’s worth what I think it’s worth and it’s worth what you think it’s worth. Now sometimes we both agree it’s worth $10. Other times you think it’s worth $15 and I think it’s worth $5. In that space is the game theory of how we make money. We make money by figuring out why you think it’s worth $15 and I think it’s worth $5 and determining who is right… in my space that usually means analyzing drug trials and taking a view on whether a drug will succeed or fail in its clinical trial.

When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?

Honestly, no. My dad always said, “If you want to be a garbage man, that’s fine. Just be the best garbage man.” I’ve always put my all into everything I’ve done. I doubted the timing of the decision, sure. I left a recession proof career in medicine and went to the most recession sensitive career in the midst of the worst recession in recent history. But more than doubt on a given day, which is human, I have an unrelenting confidence in myself given I approach my endeavors with a ‘burn the ships’ mentality.

What do you think it is that makes you successful?

Living with passion and having a wife who is a true teammate. Having worked on Wall Street for over a decade, she understands this industry and what it takes to succeed. You can have passion all day long, but you will have ups and downs in what we do. Sometimes you make money and that’s great, and other times you lose money and feel like a buffoon. Either way, tenacity and determination give you the confidence to say, “No one is going to tell me no,” that and having a support system are integral to success.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

Launching a fund. A lot went into it and it was really the culmination of a lot of things in my life. Launching a fund was ultimately the result of a lot of hard work educating myself both in Med School and then later at Columbia, and then a lot more work on Wall Street to get to the point where people trust me with their money.

What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?

We’re very excited about the opportunities and innovation in our space. There’s a multitude of what I call “investable moments,” and the number of these pivotal moments for companies is higher than I have seen before in my career.  There were so many IPOs between 2011 and 2014 so now these companies have to show us real data. We’re very excited about the future.

What business books have inspired you?

The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham is a really good place to start. There are a lot of great books out there on investing but I made that one and Stock Market Wizards part of my DNA.

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