I miss Entourage. 

To this day, I’m not sure there was much better than watching Ari Gold lose his collective crappola and yell hysterical insults at people. Listening to Ari’s invective was like giving my id a voice. Sure, it was obscene, profane and probably actionable abuse in many cases, but that’s why it was so much better to watchsomeone else spewing that hilarious filth than to let my own inner Ari Goldout to play.

Vulgarity aside, I also enjoyed watching the agent-principal relationship that Ari had with Vincent Chase. Sure, Vinnie ultimately called the shots, but Ari brought moola and industry know-how to the table. It was, despite a brief firing at the end of Season 3 (and the entire “Medellin” disaster), an almost perfectly symbiotic relationship.

In many ways, you see that same principal-agent relationships play out in the investment world (minus the copious swearing). In fact, I content that all investors can be classified as either principals or agents, or as some hybrid blend of the two, and that it’s critical to know which one you’re dealing with at any given time. 

If you’re a money manager on the prowl for assets under management, knowing whether you’re interacting with a principal or agent can save you time, energy and headaches. If you’re an investor looking for a new role, understanding and explaining whether you’ll be a leading lady/man or Ari Gold can help manage expectations down the line.   

Investors who are principals usually have some traits in common: 

  • They’re often quicker to invest – usually because there’s not layers upon layers of decision makers behind the scenes. There is no (or a limited) investment committee and there’s usually no consultant or operational due diligence outsourced resource. 
  • “Principal” investors may choose more innovative or niche-y investment strategies, invest in new trends earlier and generally take more risks. 
  • However, they are often able to do this because they are investing their own capital and may not have fiduciary duty to anyone other than themselves or a small group of constituents, which means they don’t have to make enormous allocations or worry about headline risk. 
  • Think high net worth individuals, single family offices, small foundations. 

Investors who are agents also have traits in common:

  • They usually take longer to invest due to multiple layers of sign-off and decision making. 
  • You can be pretty sure that every nook and cranny of your fund, firm and investment strategy will be gone over with a fine-toothed comb, because these investors have more headline and client risk. If an agent investor recommends a fund that blows up or fails you’re almost certain to hear about it because they are investing large, either for themselves or on behalf of their external clients.  
  • Because “agent” investors often move as a herd, you can rest assured that where one goes, there will likely be a sequel. Making it past the gate with one agent can pave the way for others.
  • Think institutional investors (whose minutes and meetings are often matters of public record) and investment consultants. FOFs (who generally have to think about attracting clients to ensure their existence) can fall anywhere on the agent-principal spectrum, depending on the organization.
 (c) MJ Alts

(c) MJ Alts

Obviously, there are benefits and drawbacks to working with both agents and principals when it comes to investing. The only real drama comes from not knowing with whom you are dealing and therefore not effectively managing expectations (and resources). 

For example, if you’ve got a truly niche-y and innovative strategy that perhaps is a bit untested, presenting it only to agents may pay off, but it will likely be a long slog and you may be stopped out entirely if your strategy can’t handle large allocations. Or if you have a strategy that is more of a new twist on an old tale, Aquaman 2for example, you may find that high net worth individuals aren’t sufficiently wowed by your offering. If you need to get to a quick close, or if you only have limited capacity left before your final close, landing a prime role with an agent may not be possible. But if you’re looking for a large anchor, or if you have enormous capacity and the time to run the agent gauntlet, these investors can provide the bulk of your capital.

And to make matters worse, some agents present as if they were principals, and principals can suddenly bring an agent to what you thought was your fund’s premier. It would be so much easier if there was just a script the industry could stick to, but unfortunately, you just have to try to learn everyone’s role and trust that if there’s some confusion, you can just hug it out in the end.