I’ve always struggled with how much personal information to put on this blog. I blog pseudonomynously, though quite a number of people actually know “the secret” now, and in real life personal meetings I don’t hide it at all now. For the people who know me, I’m not sure if this is the best forum or if I’m saying too much or too little. For the people who don’t know me, or who know me only as Brother Maynard, I wonder how much to say… that balance between relating to people as normal people and not boring them with the whining of someone they don’t know well enough to listen to it, thank-you very much. If you’re still with me now, what follows will be of interest to you either because you’ll have a helpful personal update or because it’ll tell you how long before you can expect to see some better quality posts arround here. If either of those is enough for you, settle in: here’s a snapshot of what’s going on in my life.
It’s been a little over a month since I last provided a Personal Update, and that one came a week after requesting prayer in what I think I made to sound like a crisis. It was a crisis, actually… just before Christmas. It turned out to be one of the worst Christmases I remember — in some part because I don’t remember much of it… I was withdrawn and spent a fair bit of time working and processing. I met with some friends to help talk through some of the things at hand, and telephoned one who was far away. Email exchanges were held, offers made, advice considered. Followup inquiries have been made of me, and I’ve been remiss in responding to some of them. More on this below.
Over this period, there’s the ol’ blog. I feel the quality of the posts I’ve spouted has dipped. Some are merely link-blog matter, though there are several I feel have been solid posts in the midst of it… I just don’t have something profound to say every day. Really, I never did, but I’ve always tried to muster something which was either original or insightful, or interacts with something that is. Despite my own perception of a sharp drop in the depth of many of my posts, my Technorati ranking hasn’t changed all that significantly. To get it to take a leap forward, I think the key for me would be to start commenting regularly at other people’s blogs, and a wider sample of those… but I fall behind the conversation pretty quickly, owing to being engaged in so many things at once. I would like to be a better commenter, but I have often trouble with it, even here on my own blog.
Still, the traffic around here seems to keep increasing… January 2007 broke through another milestone with 251,226 pages served during 84,649 site visits, an average of 8,104 pages during 2,730 visits per day. The variance between the two numbers in each set makes me think I have a lot of bots flinging comment spam, but whatever. Another stats engine reports 881 unique hits in the past 24 hours… not sure exactly what that represents. The stats interpreter that I use on the server log files (not a WordPress plugin) reports 8,997 pages served yesterday during 2,646 visits. February 1st was over 10,000 pages served. It seems I’m getting traffic, hope it’s not all spambots. I’ve been trying to give away a CD this week and didn’t have as many takers as I expected. I would (and do) tend to wonder how many actual people are visiting and reading, but I do get linkage and feedback from time to time to counter the notion. That and I heard from Jamie Howison that someone from Sweden ordered a copy of the CD. It could be that people who land here aren’t finding what they expected… my top search terms right now are variations of Mike Holmes (Holmes on Homes), Starbucks, Stuart McLean, and evil Sesame Street. Harry Lehotsky was a top search term until recently too. Most recent searches were “bible distrust of leadership”, “prone to wander lord i feel it”, and “Tuesdays with Morrie lesson plans” which are much closer to the standard fare around here.
When I look back at a couple of the personal posts I’m referring to in this entry, I see a lot of people I’ve never met, equaintances, many of whom I’ve come to think of as friends, and I do want to thank that group of you for your responses to the earlier personal updates and requests. I know there are live people out there, more than I would have thought. So it could be that the quality of material around here has dipped, and I think it has. I’ve been somewhat preoccupied. This personal update should help explain why, and as I implied above, hopes to see an end to it very soon.
Personal Goals. Back in mid-December, I was considering a personal goal or two for the new year… I wanted to read more, and take a bit more contemplative time. I was imagining blocking off one evening a week when the kids were in bed, me with a glass of wine in my study with a book. I had conceptual buy-in from my wife, and was starting to look forward to it. The goal I hadn’t talked much about was one of doing more writing.
December 20th. An unexpected event took place in my business that I’ve been referring to as “The Pre-Christmas Knifing Incident” and my brother (and business partner) has been referring to as “The Longest Night of the Year.” Being the winter solstice, he’s more literally correct than I am… it was also the anniversary date of our very first webserver going online eight years before. As an Internet business, we’re old-timers… but in that time the notion that you’ve seen everything is always toppling. This was the evening I posted an entry with the ominous title of “Please Help,” and once again, I’m grateful to those who reached out and up with prayers on my (our) behalf. Still, in terms of my own response to the events of that evening, I think my description is more metaphorically correct than my brother’s.
By way of background, as of March 1, 2006 we began merging operations with another company. The company that my brother and I own(ed) and operate(d) has grown very rapidly, but rapid growth is not without problems of its own, and we felt it was time to expand the management team, which we did through a merger. The company we are merging with was not an equal… it had some overlapping and some complimentary operations, and it had about the same number of staff as we had. Although the legal work hadn’t been completed, we moved into a new space and began operating together this past March 1st. Understand I’m trying to make a very long and complicated story into a short and simple one, stripping all of the obvious business-related details in the process. The week before Christmas we were threatened with calling off the merger in its entirety, and in a fashion that would put both businesses under some acute strain, but us particularly since we have obligations to fulfill that the other parties would be walking away from. We hashed out a bunch of things in this infamous December 20th meeting which was fundamentally a senseless power struggle characterized by mudslinging and blame-shifting, and finally under some duress we signed a document enabling the merger to proceed.
In a nutshell, we appointed one of the new partners as CEO. This person has an insatiable ego and seems to feel the unyielding need to be the alpha-dog. I’m sure you know the type… the speech baloon over the head says things like, “I’d better say something now so people remember I’m in charge here.” Someone I respect once referred to him as “vapid,” but he’s not inept, and had fuelled a lot of growth in the business we were acquiring. But he is young and impatient, and doesn’t know how much he doesn’t know, hasn’t figured out the Cluetrain, and has yet to realize the extent of the damage he’s done. I met with a client a few weeks ago, one who’s become a bit of a friend, and he asked me how “the palace coup” was going. This without having been told anything… he had just noted some changes taking place.
A lot was asked of me in this meeting, and I suspect that had it been put to most people, the entire thing would have come unglued, and not in a nice way. The problem is I can be a very patient man, and I can see the long view. I can set a decent strategy, consider alternatives and outside influences, and hope to arrive close to a point I expect. Considering that “revenge is a dish best served cold,” I have all the potential as not the type of person of whom you want to make an enemy. I confess my first thoughts were of getting the upper hand, hurting back, and exacting revenge… and I had a rough draft in my mind for the means of doing it. But I’m not that person, and I don’t want to be that person. I told friends with whom I discussed this whole matter that I wanted to avoid becoming vindictive. I explained to someone a week or so ago that I could go five years on thoughts of revenge, but I didn’t want what it would do to me, and to my family. The price is too high.
So we finally settled on the differential price between the two businesses, having re-opened the business valuations we had done. We have secured an investor to take a minority position in the company and a crucial fifth seat on the board of directors. Although I’ve lost a lot of trust in the two new partners, I have a lot in this fifth director, who attends a local emerging-style church that I drop in on once in a while. I’m giving up something… some cash, yes — but in a way right now it’s only imaginary money, since it’s unrealized profit. I’ll be giving back the company vehicle too, which causes other logistical problems… but I’ll get to work at home some, which is nice (even though it necessitates many other adjustments).
The big question is why, when I’ve lost so much trust and taken so much personal assualt, I would proceed with plans to work with these people? Basically, it comes down to options and future ideas. I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past six weeks, and a lot of evaluation and considering the future. Where I had been reinvesting most of my income into the business to help fuel growth, that stopped on December 20th, and I’m now bringing home what I earn instead. I’m working from home a lot now, more than I actually intend to do going forward, as it does have detrimental effects in the office. I have the promise of being able to take more money out of the company in the future, and have some potential buyers in-house lined up for it… but that’ll take a few years yet.
Most importantly, I’ll be able to hold onto my family and my sanity… something that comes from a deep appreciation of the wider view.
I am freed up from most of the day-to-day operations of the company now, and am left to focus on R&D and strategic matters for the business. This is an area that I enjoy, and most of what has been done in the company in this regard has come from me or I’ve been involved with it somehow. I’ve created business models and tweaked them, I’ve projected where they would take us, and I’ve set about strategic finances and relationships to help us get there. I’ve looked at markets, potential, and barriers to entry, and as of today, I’ve helped spearhead building something much bigger than I could have conceived of 7 years ago. I can now conceive of things much bigger, and I’m now left to see if there’s a way to do them, or simply figure out how. In my mind, most of these are “how” questions more than “if” questions… I approach a lot of problems that way, like a puzzle to be solved.
Other Opportunities. In figuring out what to do next, I was for a while not certain I would return to work there, but no matter the challenges it would seem slightly daft to abandon something at the point where it’s about to start yielding its payback. This becomes more obvious when I realize that every resource I would have to put toward something new is tied up the current business. For a while I considered some form of business consulting, and continue to entertain the notion of strategic business consulting, being the generalist that can help small and medium businesses describe and achieve their goals, knowing which specialists will be more helpful than others along the way. For now, I have committed to my existing company for a minimum two to three years of employment (a two-way committment), and depending how that goes, perhaps longer. I will however be cutting back my 50+ hour average work-week to something more akin to banker’s hours.
I dug around only minimally to see what else was out there, and came up with three startup offers. One is a nonprofit, so factors only in time, not income. Another is something for which I’ve set up a strategy session with the other principals this Monday evening. It’s an online business idea which at first glance seems to have very low startup costs and not a huge amount of ongoing work, so is worth pursuing just to see what happens. First step is to fully describe the animal to begin to flesh out a business plan.
I also thought about writing. It’s pretty hard to go from zero to making-a-living in that field if you’re trying to get there overnight, so that’s a bit of an issue. I have a business book idea, and may begin work on it. I hope to spend some more time writing, honing my abilities and then starting to see about possibly publishing the odd piece. A lot of that won’t appear here, but I expect that some of it may well land up here.
I also thought about blogging, how some people make a living at it now. I have enough traffic to maybe derive a bit of cash on the side, but not to live on. Still, I may pursue some kind of revenue model that will allow me to take some income from it, which would justify spending more time on it, which may help with more revenue… which I’ll probably only spend on books, but it’s something. In this vein, I started another blog (which has all of 5 posts so far) on which I’m talking about business, about strategy, marketing, branding, and related ideas including technology. That blog is not pseudonomynous, so I won’t be linking to it here, but if these subjects interest you, drop me a line and I’ll send you the url. The site has a WordPress blog which doesn’t ping anyone about its updates yet (waiting until I have some more content) and a public RSS reader which displays the blogs that I follow in that vein. It’s over there that I’ll be talking about concepts of and linking to people like Seth Godin, Kathy Sierra, Tara Hunt, John Jantsch, Mike Wagner, Guy Kawasaki, Tim O’Reilly, Doc Searls, and many others. I’m hoping for some original ideas too, of course! I may talk over there about some of the outputs from my “Tuesdays with Morrie” group, a small group of us who meet biweekly for “testing of assumptions for fun and beverages.” The King’s Head is the venue, and we usually hash over business ideas, concepts, practices, case studies… lots of fun.
I’m getting discouraged with our biweekly group that I refer to as our primary church. In some ways, St. Benedict’s Table is becoming more primary. In our smaller group, for which I had been filled with great hope, things are seeming to flounder a bit. I’m not sure that the way we’re dealing with the children’s meetings is working for me, as a parent or as an adult participant. The kids enjoy it, but I don’t think we’ve yet created the type of community expression into which we want them integrated.
With eight or ten regular couples/families, there should be enough people to get things done and moving forward with some momentum, but it doesn’t seem to work that way: maybe we’re at the threshold where it’s easy to think someone else will step up and take care of it. Out of 11 meetings planned from January through May on our schedule, it looks like we’ll be either hosting or facilitating 8 of them. Of those, it seems to involve me filling in to lead the meeting when nobody else volunteers, as will be the case later today. I don’t typically feel confident about whatever I come up with for the meetings, but people generally say afterward that they’ve enjoyed or appreciated it. Problem is I’m starting to feel a bit like I’m carrying more than I wanted to. I don’t mind being involved, founding, leading, participating… but I don’t really want to pastor a church.
In the meantime, there are a few families in our group who are members of an established institutional attractional mini-mega- (pick the word you like) church, and continue to join there. That hasn’t been a problem except when we suggest the odd Sunday morning meeting or when the home group which they attend falls on the same night as our gathering times. Although there’s genuine desire to be a part of the simple church we’re cultivating, the schedule conflicts have to happen sometime. It’s the foot-voting that’s most telling, and it seems to be favoring the larger expression.
We’ve still got a lot to work out with the group, including who wants to continue, to just make it a church, call it a church, and let it be the primary expression to which they’re committed. We do need an external focus-point, too… something to engage in and with. We’ll see, it’s quite likely just a season for us.
Summary. So, all of this is to say that I’ve got a lot of irons in the business fire. I thought about pulling out the big one, but I’m going to stick with it while the others heat up. It’s possible that a few years down the road, I’ll be able to pull away from my current business and just be a passive investor there… but even if none of these other ideas go anywhere, just keeping them fresh and rotating from time to time should help replace a lot of the enjoyment that’s been taken out of my primary job right now.
As for reading more, I haven’t set aside an evening, but I’ve been managing to book some time for it anyway, now that my schedule has a bit more flex in it. I purchased a Moleskine, too. My wife and I completed our first wine kit, and we’ll be onto the second pretty soon (making, not drinking), so the wine supply should be good for a while. More importantly, it’s something we can do together, since we don’t share a very large number of hobbies in common.
I’m evaluating our church expression and growing a little weary… but not going back to Egypt.
So the upshot is that I’ve had a lot on the brain, I’ve launched another website, I’m reinventing my role in my business and taking some projects on the side, and I’m continuing to evaluate my involvement in everything. But I’m still here, not going anywhere… thanks for listening.
Oh, and I hope over the next month that as we sign the final legal paperwork on the business and I get into a more wholistic routine, things are going to get better around here content-wise and frame-of-mind-wise, which is the crux of the whole matter anyway.
Gratia vobis et pax,