Year in Review – Mitigated Success

It’s easy to spin a negative into a positive.

It’s also easy to make a positive sound negative.

But there’s really no point in doing a year-end review and bury the facts under spun positives, so here goes the hard truth:

2018 is the year during which I worked the most, but have the least to show for it.

Although I launched the Lean B2B video course 🎥, built 2 versions of Highlights, wrote 65 new articles, and did thousands of supporting tasks/analyses/calls, my revenue only grew by 20%.

This while my costs grew by 30%. 😬

On the positives…

  • I made fresh new mistakes. I learned a lot about business, myself, and life in general;
  • The business around Lean B2B grew on almost all key metrics (site traffic, sales, revenue, email signups, word of mouth, etc). Reader feedback is still tremendously positive; 👍
  • I met great people. I experienced life in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. I took few vacations, but when I did, they were amazing.
  • I’m proud of the work I’ve done.
  • I’m healthy, alive, and I get to keep going.

Year in Review – Learning Rate for 2018Learning Rate – 2018 Growth & Learning

On the negatives…

  • We have yet to find a sustainable level of product-market fit for Highlights, a tech startup;
  • The lack of significant business progress cost me a great business partner (Ludo left the business);
  • Revenue/income levels are not yet fully sustainable;
  • I had to sacrifice a lot of my personal life;
  • I’m feeling the brunt of the opportunity cost.

“A founder is spending 60 months of their best years in their startup (instead of their career). That is a substantial upfront investment; it’s like a seed round, but instead of money, it’s your life.” – Des Traynor, Intercom Co-Founder

So, Why Keep Going?

The easiest thing to do is to do what most people are doing.

It minimizes social costs, the need for explaining, and, if it means getting a full-time job, you often get to reclaim some of your time.

This can be great, but it’s not the game I’m playing.

My goals are:

  1. Location-Independence (✅ I have that);
  2. Financial-Independence (I’m getting there);
  3. Complete control over how I spend my time (work-in-progress).

The last two can, almost exclusively, be achieved with the path I’m on.

Obviously, if my game was revenue-maximization I’d be failing by a mile, but thankfully, it’s not.

“One of the hardest things to do in the world is to turn down money.” – Ryan Holiday, Author

So, What Went Wrong?

The flip side of independence is that you end up having to make all of the decisions, and that, by making all the decisions, you have to bear 100% of the cost of those decisions, good or bad.

This means that, until you start hiring staff, any task you take on has a cost on your entire business (distraction or opportunity cost).

Building something new is extremely costly.

  • Writing Lean B2B cost 1,000 hours;
  • Creating the Control Alt Deceit game cost about 450 hours;
  • Building Highlights to its current state cost something in between.

Although it takes roughly 40 hours per month for me to maintain the business around Lean B2B, maintenance is not growth. The time I spent on Highlights was not spent on Lean B2B, my main source of income.

This means one business grew at the cost of the other.

Resilience & Opportunities in Disguise

If nothing else, this year taught me resilience.

Resilience in the face of indifference. Resilience in the face of major pivots. And resilience in the face of a partner leaving.

Amidst the negatives of a partner breakup, opportunities emerge:

  • Reclaiming equity and being able to bring on partners to help solve key business challenges;
  • Taking a step back and re-aligning the business to fit my personal game plan;
  • Finding new ways to monetize the business.

The Lean B2B business allows me to play a long-ish game with Highlights. It also allows me to see first-hand the value of having a portfolio of products (e.g. a book, a course, an app, a game, etc).

A portfolio…

  • Helps spread risk across different projects;
  • Opens up more ways to engage or appeal to my audience;
  • Reinforces my brand and positioning.

There just needs to be overlap between the different products’s audiences.

It worked with the Lean B2B community (now defunct); it didn’t with the Control Alt Deceit game (different customers).

Based on what I’ve seen in 2018, I think Highlights can add to my portfolio; a key part of my strategy in 2019.

So, What of 2019?

“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” – Stephen Covey, Best-Selling Author

Working hard is no replacement for working smart.

When I look back at this past year, there’s a lot of things I did that didn’t have much of an impact. Although some of those things led to important insights, or were just completely unavoidable, in 2019 I want to significantly improve my ability to identify the 20% that truly drives results.

By slowing things down and re-investing energies in the most impactful opportunities, I should be able to:

  • Work less;
  • Double-down on new revenue opportunities;
  • Re-invest in my health and personal life.

I’m excited to hit the road again (Balkans!), focus on financial independence, and reclaim my time. The mitigated successes of 2018 should help me see the opportunities in 2019 a bit more clearly.

Montreal, Canada