Our pace of blog posts has slowed dramatically since 2016. (177 published in 41 months is an average of 4.3 posts per month.) Mikel and I chatted about why the sluggishness. I surmised, “I think we wrote to ourselves more often in the early months.” –Or, perhaps we had more to say? We rolled back through the early posts, skimming titles, and recalling the content. I began naming my audience for each: “This one was for you.” And, “I was trying to solidify my thinking there.” (writing to myself.) Or, saying things like, “our partners don’t realize how early I braced for this.”
We have a culture of writing.
Each day we scratch out emails, Slack messages and text messages to various stakeholders. Many are quick. Some are wordy enough to receive a “whoa” in response. Keyboard and iPhone clacking is more regular than telephone calls in our office.
I think our writing has accelerated since launch but the audience differs. I have more than a few heavy email threads going with company leadership. We are thinking in words, and writing to shape our thinking… and ultimately shape our actions. Writing helps us align our interests.
Mikel opened up our email client and reviewed our newsletter subscribers. While our audience is diverse, we agreed that our business partners (whom our legal documents refer to as limited partners) are the most engaged. Most are active readers (based on opens and click throughs.) Several type up replies each month. We don’t intend for the newsletter to be part of our investor relations… but thinking about it, it sort of functions that way. When big events happen, we publish a blog post, and then we link to it in the monthly newsletter. This reinforces a culture of reading –and writing. We absolutely have a culture of reading. Someone once said, “you guys are a book club that happens to buy businesses.” We have been repeating the phrase ever since. It’s sort of company lore now.
Anyways –our blog posts are usually us spit-balling business ideas, regurgitating stuff we’ve read or simply wrestling with a tough issue.. attempting to mold our ideas into something coherent and actionable. I suppose that’s also part of our culture. We openly admit we don’t have all the answers and some of these elements are quite delicate. How should we think about things? What do other business owners do about this or that? How should we do things? Where are we different? Is that right? Why?
Humility is at the very core of Little Engine Ventures. It’s the primary reason I named it “Little” Engine. Every time I hear it, I am reminded that we are not done, there is more to go, more to learn, and we shouldn’t think too highly of ourselves. We are still quite small. So, we sometimes make light of ourselves and prepare to adjust our plans as circumstances warrant. However, it’s important to prepare. Do our best. And strive to be helpful. Persist.
Juxtaposed to this element of humility is a raging fire. I want to win. And, I expect our teammates to do their best. Sometimes, I think I write to prevent from saying something too harsh in the moment.
I will never forget catching an employee asleep on the job. Literally laying down. Hat over his face. I arrived unannounced. His supervisor was elsewhere. He took the liberty to catch some shut eye. What did I say? What did I do? I said, “don’t mind me.” That’s it. I didn’t think. I just said it. He popped up. Made some excuse about some process taking time, etc, I don’t know… I sort of blacked out for a moment. After the manager and other teammates arrived we did our short review and the manager and I left. In the parking lot I told the manager the story. I’m pretty sure that fellow is working harder today than he was prior to that moment. I sure hope he gets adequate rest when he’s at home. This situation doesn’t fit in our culture very well long term. It’s time to man-up or move on.
We have a culture of working hard.
How does that fit in with a culture of writing?
We don’t subscribe to working harder just for the sake of effort. We want to be effective. And frankly, I find it extremely fun to try and accomplish big things with limited resources. How do we get more out of the existing things? …working hard is part of it. But, it’s not exclusively that. And thus we think, write and do.
When we write, it becomes a bit more real than when we just say things. We can say, “Oh, we’re great at this or that.” But what does that really mean? How does that compare with our customer’s alternatives. When you write down platitudes, review them for heft, you wind up seeing holes. And, it causes the thoughtful to go to work on filling those gaps.
Several employees subscribe to our newsletter. I am always thrilled to see this and usually holler, “Hey, did. you see Steve subscribed! Cool!” (name changed to protect privacy. No, Steve, Steven, Stevie or Steve-o, I’m not talking about you specifically… unless you have subscribed! Then, I have probably yelped!) We don’t maintain an all-staff email list at Little Engine Ventures. I’ve toyed with it. Today, it’s far more organic. We (I) try not to smash our (my) beliefs onto already high-functioning teams. Also, the culture at each company is fairly unique. For the two or three “Dear Managers” emails that I have sent, each was limited to the leader and delivered some broad cultural guidance/reminders, saying things like, “remember, people are scared right now. We need to help them.” I try to be 100% authentic me, as though I were standing in front of each person, talking things over in private. The benefit of writing is that I get to think just a bit more before I “speak.”
I’ll tie off this blog post by saying we did not set out to make the LEV.vc blog a media company or with some grand marketing plan. At best, my guidance toward this endeavor is to say who we don’t write for, and who we want to resonate with us. Our ideal audience is fellow business owners. We’ve lucked into a few employee subscribers. The rest of our. “audience” is someone off-center to our core. But, maybe that’s why it’s fun to read? It’s a sneak-peak into the only lightly edited mind of an entrepreneur turned investor.