For investors patient enough to look beyond Mr. Left's bombast, they will be rewarded with as refreshing and value-based an investing philosophy as I've seen on the limits of the Information Age. "I go long on stocks all the time. I look at the Internet and I love any company that takes a problem, solves it and makes a profit in the process," he said. "You know OpenTable? I love OpenTable." For Left, the dysfunction in the digital economy is that the good stories raise up the bad stories, giving Left the chance to play a sort of anti-Warren Buffett. Instead of businesses that work, he seeks those that don't. He looks for management that is not entirely honest with Wall Street and deep insider selling of company shares. Once Left develops an argument, he researches it deeply and posts that research on what amounts to a blog. Then he uses his own money to set up traditional short investments against that company. "There is no trick to going short. I own maybe 20 positions at any time. I borrow stock, I use puts and calls to manage the risk in real time," he said. "But being a short is not for every investor. The risk is unlimited, the gains are not, and the ebb and flow of the market is against you."
Left is far from perfect. Though remarried for nearly five years, his divorce filings offer a glimpse of a man with a hectic life that leaves him fuzzy on the basics -- like on what date he married. There are also blurry lines between Citron Research and activist sites Left owns, including Angieslistexposed.com. And most importantly, Left would not answer my questions directly about who or what resources he uses to help him report, edit and publish his stories. "I do not pay for stories, but I have four contractors I use to help me with research," was all he would say over three hours of interviews. Also, he admits openly that he can be terribly wrong. "I completely misunderstood MySpace when it first came out, for example," he admits. But overall, Left leaves nothing on the table. And as the independent professional contrarian that I have somehow become, it's hard not to admire his guts. "A lot of people feel that a stock has a God-given right to go up. It doesn't," is how Left summed it all up to me. "And I have done better than the average bear at pointing that out. Literally."