Three High Growth Companies That Swayed A Boring Investor

Anthony is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Thinking big can pay off.   High growth companies that grow to dominate a blue-skies space can be immensely profitable.   Personally, I’m more likely to invest in a stalwart than a high growth stock; a company with a solid, easy-to-understand business, a growing dividend, been around for at least a few decades, you get the idea.  High valuations give me nausea.  But reviewing my portfolio, the best gains in the last several years are not from the stalwarts, but instead from a couple high growth companies.  If the stalwarts were the keel, these high growers were the sail.  They had less solid fundamentals and higher volatility, but their potential was easy to understand.  Their annual reports were not sensationalistic, but instead quietly explained why were and would remain leaders in an industry-changing technology.  They spelled out the company’s advantages in terms that I could understand.  That being said, the companies needed to be profitable and not deep in debt.  That line I emotionally could not cross.

I stalked these companies for a while, waiting to either understand the business better over time, a better price point, or both.  Some targets took months or years to have a price stumble, and others never materialized.  It was like an investing stake-out:  sitting in my car, eating carryout dinners, watching a doorway that might never open.

One of the first fish reeled in was a great outperformer, but the lesson learned was not that I got it right.  I got lucky.  Navteq, the leading digital maps company, was beaten up after a couple earnings misses so I jumped in.  Digital maps!  How could it not be a home run?  When Nokia swallowed Navteq (and Leica did the same with a smaller competitor), I felt I’d been robbed of a multi-bagger.  Truth is, digital maps were commoditized by applications such as Google Maps quicker than I could have predicted, and the investment returns would like have been subpar if the Finns hadn’t taken it off my hands.

In the dwindling GPS space, Trimble (NASDAQ: TRMB) has a GPS technology that constitutes a defensible moat.  Its precision GPS, ancillary technologies, and specialized hardware are becoming must-have applications in heavy construction, agriculture, and mobile solutions.   Trimble’s valuation, numerous acquisitions, and liberal stock options have taken me a bit out of my usual comfort zone, but so far holding tight has proven a sound strategy.

Another high growth company is Stratsys, (NASDAQ: SSYS).  Their annual report made 3-D printing easy to understand as a business necessity, not in a science-fiction or story-stock way.   I liked how they targeted higher end side of the market (industrial prototypes rather than DIYers).  They listed their advantages, primarily in their printing materials, post-printing processing, and office-friendliness (you don’t have to put the printer in the basement for worker safety).  The founder was still the CEO, which I find a plus in these types of companies.  On the risk side, 3-D printing company valuations are now sky high, even after a recent drop.   They got low enough a couple years ago to make me a buyer.  I can’t watch all the volatility, so I’m putting the shares in a drawer for the next ten years.   

I’ve just started to build stake in a third company, iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT).  It has created robot platforms that can perform in unknown and changing environments, versus fixed robots such as the ones on assembly lines.  Their robots have years of real-world experience in the field.   A robot platform, be it a home vacuum or their recent medical robot, coupled with being open to collaboration and development from other partners (their recent RP-VITA robot partners with an established telehealth company and can use an iPad for an interface) suggests applications on the horizon that I can’t even imagine yet.   The founder is still the CEO and a long history of profitability, although it has had some recent hiccups.  Over the past several years, its cleaning robots had spotty consumer ratings which kept me away, but these have improved in recent robot releases.  Finally, the recent price swoon, in part due to a cyclical trough in military revenue, made it attractive to buy for real.  One risk to iRobot is that they get leapfrogged by another technology in both the consumer and military spaces, or their margins erode substantially as me-too companies enter the space.

Identifying best of breed high growth companies and keeping tabs on them for a drop in price is simple, but not easy.  The big dips require a gut check and a review of the thesis that underpins the investment, but holding on throughout the roller coaster ride for the long term can add a great tailwind to your portfolio.   Thanks for reading, and consider sharing what high growth companies you have on your watchlist in the comments below.  

Nolte808 has positions in TRMB, SSYS, IRBT. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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