Why I Write: Statements That Need to Be Declared and Shared
Hi there! Who are you and what’s your background?
Hi, I’m Katelyn Donnelly. I write a newsletter called Declarative Statements. I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but now I live in Greenwich Village, New York City.
I invest in early stage companies and advise founders at Avalanche VC.
I co-founded a firm called Delivery Associates that advises and builds software products for governments around the world implementing big reform programs. For example, we've helped 25 US cities reduce carbon emission from implementing buildings and transportation policies and I've worked with education and health ministers across emerging markets to make measurable system improvements.
Previously, I founded and managed the venture capital arm of Pearson, a publicly-traded education company where I invested in and built education technology businesses.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Back in the pre-covid days when we used to go to parties and networking functions, people would often ask me the standard question: So, what do you do outside of work? Like, you know, for fun?
And I’d try to reply honestly: I read a lot and then often write about it. To which the reply would be: Groan. What do you really do? That’s a cop out.
And it’s like, no, that’s actually what I do! Being serious about reading takes copious time and focus. You can’t multitask. You can’t fall asleep.
I’m able to write a newsletter because I love reading, analyzing, and writing about the world.
What’s your newsletter about?
It’s an eclectic mix. All the links and topics that I find most original, current, and cross-cutting.
Every week I use a song as a theme and weave that theme throughout the content.
I start primarily as an investment and economics newsletter, trying to put the current market environment in context with the timeless content from some of the greatest investors of our era.
I like to use primary sources, so less news. Focus on those tools or readings that might be overlooked. I reference a lot of thoughts and ideas that are well-articulated in books and often not in internet culture.
Given my background in education and technology investing I usually include a section on a unique take about the future of education.
I have a community corner section where I highlight what my subscribers and community members have been doing that week.
Who is the intended audience for your newsletter?
The curious. The seekers. People who appreciate open-mindedness and creativity and still desire hard analysis and maintain a keen interest in markets.
I’d rather be a cult classic than a best seller.
The audience are people who I’d like to be my friends. Who I’d grab a drink with and catch up over a long meal. I write Declarative Statements on Friday night so it’s like a Friday conversation on the state of the world that I’d have with a good friend.
What motivated you to get started writing your newsletter?
I started a year ago as an update email to friends to hold myself accountable for a weekly debrief. I was exploring a few side projects and wanted to write more about what I was learning and also have a place where I could share and get feedback. I also had quit Facebook and Instagram so I wanted to express myself in a way that was more verbal.
One inspiration is I was going through the creativity program as outlined in The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. And I felt the desire to create something that wasn’t corporate or for a client. That had a greater creative edge to it.
What do you write about and why?
I write on whatever is most interesting and current. Whatever has inspired me that week. Some of the material is timeless, some of it is recent. I stay away from news, I try to index more to primary sources and unique voices.
I’m a life-long investor across asset classes. I wrote my senior thesis in college on Time Zone Arbitrage Trading Strategies in Vanguard International ETFs, I worked in Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities and Commodities Trading for a summer at Morgan Stanley before working for the banking and financial services practice at McKinsey. And, then, I tried my hand at venture capital in emerging markets as part of one of the world's largest education and publishing companies.
I’ve lived in Africa, Asia, and Europe and visited and worked in over 85 countries.
I’ve done a lot and seen a lot. And I like bringing together these diverse perspectives into one weekly publication that is original and personal.
I have published quite a few books and professional essays, either on investing or education. I wanted a place where I could use my own voice, unfiltered, and discuss the topics that were on my mind.
I co-wrote a successful essay a few years back called An Avalanche Is Coming: Higher Education and the Revolution Ahead for a British think-tank called IPPR.
The metaphor of an avalanche as a concept for predicting change resonated with me. I grew up racing slalom and love being in mountains. My curiosity and drive lead me to finding markets, investment opportunities, and ideas that are pre-avalanche. Or pre-massive sector change or before discovery. Being on the frontier, that’s what gets me excited and is visible through all my writing.
What does the process of writing your newsletter look like for you?
I collect articles throughout the week and store all the links and snippets in my Apple Notes. I write notes from books or articles that I’ve had for a while and have stored up. I also bookmark tweets that may be relevant on Twitter. I use Mailchimp to distribute the newsletter, my partner acts as a copy editor, and I have a newsletter landing page made on carrd.co. The newsletter is sent every week on Friday night in the US.
Starting 14 weeks ago each newsletter has a song that is the weekly theme. The process of generating that theme song is a bit haphazard but so is every creative process, I suppose. The search for the theme song runs in the back of my mind while I’m walking around or have a quiet moment. And it’s an ah-ha moment when it works well.
What are some of the difficulties you’ve encountered in running your newsletter?
It’s always evolving. It’s an evolving process. We live in interesting times. The newsletter is different today than it was 4 months ago when Covid-19 and the societal conversation around racial inequity became stronger. I didn’t want to stick to topics without acknowledging the times we are living through today.
What have you learned through writing your newsletter?
The power of connecting with people through written word. I feel a special bond with people who read and respond to my newsletter and what I’ve written. They are engaging with me at my best and that feels special.
What do you do outside of writing your newsletter?
The newsletter and my day-jobs take up most of my time. Anything else I use for adventures or spending time with friends.
What’s your favorite part about writing your newsletter?
I love waking up on Saturday morning and reading the responses. It's a pleasure to connect with new people on the ideas I’m most excited about. I feel like I ‘get’ the power of the internet now. I have at least one connection with someone I’ve met through the newsletter a week. And those are powerful, motivating, satisfying. I would never have expected that.
How do you grow your audience?
I have 750+ mostly added in the last 3 months I grow by referral, mostly friends or readers sharing the newsletter. Occasionally I’ll be tagged in a viral Tweet. That can help.
What are some of your favorite newsletters, books, and podcasts?
Matt Levine is a must read for me. So is the Financial Times. I love Lunch with the FT.
I’m a big Chuck Klosterman Fan. Loved his book But What if We’re Wrong?.
The Fish That Ate the Whale by Rich Cohen — Best activist investor story ever. So much rich history here.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
On Being Awesome by Nick Riggle.
Dune by Frank Herbert — My friend named his company after the species of civil servants with computer brains that exist in this book.
I have a website full of reading recommendations at myyoungerself.co.
I find artists inspiring: Alexander McQueen, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Vivian Maier are a few of my favorites. They are true originals.
What goals do you have for the future?
I just reached my 1 year mark with the newsletter, and we’ll see where year 2 takes me. I hope to keep writing, keep engaging, and keep building. For me, it’s quality over quantity. I’d take 1 loyal reader over 100 lukewarm subscribers any day.
I’m an investor and builder at my core. I love exploring new ideas, making predictions, learning new things. It’s only fun if you put your money behind your conviction and make a few bets along the way. Doing the work I love with people I trust and respect is what life’s all about.
Where can readers go to learn more about you and your newsletter?
Users can learn more about me on my website, my newsletter, or my VC firm. I'm also on Twitter.