A Year in Review

The last twelve months have been a fantastic journey and we are just getting started. The team at Little Engine Ventures (“LEV”) and I gathered eighteen investors, acquired three companies, invested in fifteen others, and looked at more than a thousand. On top of this, I met a lot of fantastic new people and read over 150 books. On July 27th, 2017 we had our first LEV Annual Meeting here in Lafayette, IN and I was shocked by the individuals that carved out time to learn more about what we have been working on. Although we celebrated our first year at this event, I am humbled to have learned so much. Here are a few highlights that I hope help others.

Most people have higher risk avoiding tendencies than opportunity seeking desire. This is amplified by a perception of risk that is deeply rooted in volatility. Any divergence from the norm is scary. Despite sufficient brains, many people flock to the crowd to avoid being alone, even if it means giving up what is right. I have always under estimated the pervasiveness of this behavior. I should not project myself on others, nor should I define myself by others. Both paths lead to terrible errors.

People generally do not care how something is done, just that it works. Again this year, I need to remind myself of this truth. I enjoy the journey and love to talk about my perception of how the world works as it helps me clarify my own thinking, invites feedback and ultimately leads to improvement. As I personally shift gears from AgTech entrepreneurship to diverse, compound, small business investing, I am learning that most people simply don’t care about discoveries that don’t directly impact their lives (this post may be one!) It reminds me a lot of the early days at Advanced Ag Solutions where I was talking about how precision agriculture actually worked and how I was approaching the world in order to provide value just to learn I should be answering the question, “What’s in it for me?” I am trying to be less self-centered while still inviting feedback. I’m going to write and talk, so I might as well help and learn. Join me if you are so inclined.

When the convergence of product development, marketing, finance and responsibility of ownership converge in a person it is rare. No one is an expert at everything but some people are able to focus on a locus of control. They take complete responsibility for everything that goes wrong. They practice reflexivity (observe environment, then take action to change the environment.) These game-makers are fighting fair, only because they wrote the rules others are willing to play by. You should never underestimate the impact someone with this mindset can have on the world, especially if they are particularly young. If you blame external factors you are destined to a life of bitterness. I made a few investments this year that lost money. It was totally my fault. Fortunately, a few of my other decisions more than made up these losses. I am working hard to own the losses and pass credit for the wins. Having partners helps accountability and I believe will improve my behavior. In almost every case, the “win” was simply acting on something that was obvious, so it was not hard. The losses were almost always the result of me trying to force something.

More of the world behaves according to power laws than I realize. A few books I read this year seemed to repeatedly smack of this truth. I must be a slower learner. Compounding the size of cities, the resources of companies, the wealth of individuals and more, are not linear, despite my natural inclination to project linearly. Streams converge to rivers that fill oceans. The whole world is a series of simple power laws, or flocking fractals. If I ever get around to writing a book that might be it’s title. A new habit of mine this year, is to ask myself, “am I thinking linearly?”

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