The weekend of September 30th, 2023, saw the release of Dumb Money by director Craig Gillespie and writers Lauren Schuker Blum, Rebecca Angelo, and Ben Mezrich. Dumb Money tells the story of Reddit user Keith Gill/Roaring Kitty (Paul Dano) in the WallStreetBets forum. Roaring Kitty is the one who flipped the script on Wall Street insiders.
He took a failing company stock, GameStop, and transformed it. GameStop stock went from $3 all the way up to $483. This became a true David vs. Goliath story as the little man found a way to turn the tide on Wall Street hedge fund managers.
The movie is titled Dumb Money. In Wall Street speak, Dumb Money refers to individual investors who make mistakes investing. Typically, Wall Street considers most individual investors Dumb Money. It’s an ironic twist of fate that Roaring Kitty came onto the scene and bankrupted multiple hedge funds while making the common investor rich.
We will take a Reel Leadership dive into the world of Dumb Money. There’s plenty to take away from this current and relevant film.
PSA: Dumb Money contains extremely vulgar language. This film could offend you because of the language used. In this Reel Leadership article, I will not use the vulgarities used in the film.
Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Dumb Money
1. Beware how you treat others:
I mentioned how the film’s title matches the terminology used by hedge fund managers. These hedge fund managers demean and make fun of the common Joe. They believe they don’t have the sophistication to make wise financial decisions.
Thus, they mock them.
Now, the tables are turned. With the help of Roaring Kitty leading the way, hedge fund managers, including Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onforrio), owner of the hedge fund Point 72, and Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), who managed Melvin Capital, are left scrambling to figure out what to do with the GameStop stock (ticker GME) they shorted as the stock price rises ever higher.
There’s no love lost on these two characters. Their portrayals smack of disdain. Ultimately, their careers and lives were changed because of what they believed about investing and the common investor.
The GameStop stock situation was something out of the ordinary. It was a situation exploited by one man and promoted to others. They took back the power of investing from those who claimed they had no right to it.
They treated the hedge fund managers the same way they were treated, with no mercy.
You may find yourself in a similar situation as Gabe or Steve if you treat your employees, customers, or vendors poorly. Know that how you treat others will often come back to you in the same measure or more.
2. Great leaders see potential where others don’t:
Roaring Kitty was talking to his friend, Briggsy (Deniz Akdeniz). He shared with Briggsy how he sold all of his other stocks to invest in a single stock.
That stock? GameStop.
Roaring Kitty took $53,000 of his proceeds and put it all into a failing company. That then took off.
Briggsy thought Roaring Kitty was insane. Why would you buy the stock of a company that all the hedge funds were shorting? Roaring Kitty saw potential in GameStop. His analyst showed him it was highly undervalued.
In the end, Roaring Kitty walked away with a profit of nearly 20 million dollars.
While getting counsel from those you trust is wise, you must also understand they cannot see what you see. You have an internal compass, an instinct to see potential when others do not.
Learn to understand how this insight works. Seek out the potential in others when those around you cannot see it.
You may walk away with a huge acquisition.
3. Caroline Gill (Shailene Woodley):
Don’t make a dumb case.
Roaring Kitty shared how his meeting with Briggsy went to his wife. He was concerned now that his friend had cast doubt on his instincts and what he’d seen.
Caroline didn’t flinch. She told Roaring Kitty to share his theory with his followers on the WallStreetBets Reddit forum.
Roaring Kitty became concerned. He wondered what would happen if he made a dumb case about GameStop. Would his followers stop following him? Would they be upset if his advice turned out to be wrong?
Caroline told him that he shouldn’t make a dumb case then. It was as simple as that.
Roaring Kitty goes to his computer, puts on his red Rambo bandana, and makes his case.
When you’re ready to pitch your next idea, project, or venture, are you concerned that you may make a dumb case? I think we all get nervous that the words coming out of our mouths won’t be wise, well-received, or the right ones. We may even make a dumb case.
As Caroline told Roaring Kitty, I’m telling you: Don’t make a dumb case. You have the information. You have the insight. Make the case air-tight.
4. You can learn valuable insight from the strangest places:
A nurse, Jenny (America Ferrera), had been listening to Roaring Kitty on Reddit. She began to take his advice on investing. She began to tell her coworker, Chris (Larry Owens), about the GameStop opportunity.
Chris was doubtful. He said Reddit wasn’t a great place to be or learn from. Jenny disagreed.
Jenny shared with Chris the financial terms she’d learned visiting the forums. They were valuable insights she wouldn’t have gained elsewhere.
Much like the movies we love to watch, Chris maligned a place where others were learning. I believe we can all learn from the strangest of places.
These places of knowledge may come from the movies, your children, or even a convict. Don’t be afraid to learn from strange places. Just verify the facts when you do.
5. Great leaders open up about their challenges:
Roaring Kitty would do live videos showing his stock portfolio, how he invested, and the reasoning behind his investments. Rarely, he would share about his personal life.
On one such occasion, Roaring Kitty opened up about his sister Sara. Sara had passed away as we all struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was just one more thing that had piled onto his life. The viewers saw his openness and candor when speaking about his loss. This made them connect with him even more.
Are you open with your employees? Do you share your struggles? Or do you play Superman?
The great leaders know how and when to open up about their struggles, especially personal struggles.
This sharing isn’t a way to manipulate those they lead. Instead, when great leaders share their challenges, it’s to connect with those they lead. They know they’re not the only ones facing a challenge. Opening up about theirs is a way to help others realize this as well.
6. People in different situations can all have the same reaction:
As the hedge fund managers saw GameStop shares rising, they uttered a three-word curse. They were incensed at these peons raising a company’s stock price that shouldn’t be going up.
The retail investors of GameStop also uttered the same three-word curse. They were in awe of the meteoric rise of stock price.
Two vastly different groups of people in vastly different situations, both had the same reaction. One used the curse words in frustration. The other group used them in an exclamation of disbelief and excitement.
It was interesting to see these reactions on the big screen. You’d think the responses of these groups would be different. Yet, they were eerily similar.
When you see people reacting similarly, ensure you’re not taking this as an agreement or an affront. Figure out why they’re reacting the way they are.
7. Organizations can take a turn that goes against their core values:
Have you heard of the trading website Robinhood? It’s an app-based trading software, founded in 2013, that was designed to help the little man get into the investment game.
As this situation unfolded, many investors were using the Robinhood app to invest in GameStop. Then, one day, the founders of the Robinhood app, Vladimir Tenev (Sebastian Stan) and Baiju Bhatt Rushi Kota), halt the trading of GameStop on their app.
They fell victim to the pressures of regulators and pressure from outside their organization. They went from helping the little guy invest to preventing them from doing so. Now, they’re the enemy.
We see this happen in organizations all of the time. They come out with a mission statement that gets corrupted.
What was once a company on a mission to help others is now a company out for money. They don’t care how they get it, who they hurt, or who they turn off from the organization.
Beware as you’re leading not to do this. Stay true to the mission and vision of the organization. Don’t turn on those who helped you build it.
8. Kevin Gill (Pete Davidson):
Kevin is Roaring Kitty’s brother. He was the loser brother. He struggled to hold down a job, borrowed his brother’s vehicles, and more.
Yet, Kevin spoke wisdom into his brother’s life.
Kevin met Roaring Kitty at the local running track. He’d brought him a pair of shoes he could run in.
During their conversation, Kevin shared with Roaring Kitty how he had once run naked. This led to Kevin telling his brother to stop hiding. Roaring Kitty would have to face Congress straight on (the government had launched an investigation into the GameStop WallStreetBets investing).
When a problem presents itself, face it head-on. Be brave, be bold, be a leader.
9. The way of the leader impacts the way of their followers:
Robinhood eventually reopened trading of GameStop. Roaring Kitty took to Reddit to share what happened
The retail investors saw that Roaring Kitty had not sold his shares. He hodled the stock (a funny misspelling of hold).
When they saw Roaring Kitty hadn’t sold during the shutdown, they reinvested and invested more in GameStop stock. They followed the leader.
Your people will follow you. They will watch you to see how you handle situations, treat people, and do business. Your actions will impact the way your followers act.
Make sure you’re above board and worthy of being followed.
10. When you believe in something, live it out:
Roaring Kitty believed powerfully in GameStop. Before heading into a meeting with Congress, Roaring Kitty purchased another 100,000 shares of the stock.
He believed in it. He showed it by buying into it even more.
It’s our responsibility to live out what we believe. The core values of our organizations, do we believe in them? Live them out. There are things that are right and wrong? Live them out. Our faith? Live it out.
11. Not everyone will win:
Dumb Money showed various retail investors investing in GameStop. There were winners. College students Riri and Harmony (Myha’la Herrold and Talia Ryder, respectively) and Marcus Barcia (Anthony Ramos), a GameStop employee who was poorly treated by the store’s manager, all made out like bandits with their investments. They won.
On the other hand, Jenny lost. She didn’t come out rich or wealthy. She lost more money.
What does this speak to us as leaders? We won’t always win. Or, more importantly, not everyone in our organizations will win. We have to be prepared to face failure. We have to be willing to help our team members walk through failure.