90% is 5%

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Only a little earlier this morning, equity markets around the world exploded higher on the news that the I-am-so-sick-of-talking-about-it China/US trade deal was “90% done.”


Turns out that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin was simply bemoaning the fact that, before talks broke down, the talks were ostensibly 90% done, and gee what a shame it all is. So most of the spike has been unwound.


Let me tell you something about being 90% done by way of an anecdote.

Back in 2004, my company, Prophet, received strong interest in being bought by optionsXpress, our biggest customer at the time. Their CEO, David Kalt, was quite found of ProphetCharts, and literally within 2 minutes of him expressing the desire to “do something more strategic”, he and I had settled up on a price.

So it took virtually no time for us to get 90% done. Hell, we were 99% done. We both wanted the deal, and it made sense.

But it was that final 1% that took literally months. We had a patent portfolio sale which their lawyers didn’t like, and we all tied ourselves up i knots trying to figure out a compromise. Half a year after that initially 2 minute “we want to buy you” conversation, the talks ground to a total halt. We wound up selling ourselves to Investools instead (for the exact same price, and without any damned lawyers bitching about patents).

My point is that 90% isn’t 90%. It’s that first, big, easy chunk that takes a few moments to reach. It isn’t like your gas tank being 90% full. It’s really more like 5%. Because it’s the last chunk that’s really hard and most prone to failure.