How did I do this past year?
2023 was an uneasy year. I already foresaw that it would be tough with Avery going to school and Audrey arriving into the world.
The macro-environment wasn’t good as well. A few of my entrepreneur peers landed new jobs instead of holding onto this entrepreneurship journey. Then more peers shared the same sentiment that business wasn't going as expected.
Worse, I lost focus mid of 2023. I was still doing a lot of things but I didn’t track back to my goals and direction.
Near the end of 2023, I had this wake-up call. Again, thank you to my wife, Lydia. I spent lots of time talking to peers and mentors like Fab Giovanetti (Alt Marketing School) and Jay Clouse (Creator Science), reflecting, and regaining perspectives.
Reader, I feel great now and am excited about the new year. Thank you for being a part of it! I often think that the lows improve the highs because they force us to regroup. 2023 served this purpose for sure.
A quick 2023 recap
🤗 Happiness & fulfillment from 9 to 7
👶 Baby from 1 to 2
🏃 Exercising - wait. What's that?
🙌 Twitter/X followers from 16.8k to 21.6k
📩 Email subscribers from 2.4k to 3.7k
💸 Online revenue from $47k to 57k
I didn't hit any of my 2023 goals. Well, they were ambitious after all. No biggie though!
Here are the 6 key reflections I've done:
1. We completed our family squad of 4
Lydia and I are pretty sure we only want 2 kids.
The main reason is that we are very hands-on and we want a lot of time & attention to groom them to be amazing human beings pursuing greatness in their lives. If we have more kids (which is not financially viable anyway), the time & attention would be spread too thin.
With an easy 1st kid (Avery), we already knew the 2nd one (Audrey) would be challenging. We were right. Audrey doesn't sleep well. She would wake up a few times through the night. We still have no method!
Anyway, I’m so happy with our family of 4. Same with marriage, I once again feel like another piece of my life is on track so now I can put even more focus on the remaining pieces. Of course, that is wishful thinking because the kids will always be around! 😮
2. Business grew 21% despite losing focus
Solopreneurship is hard.
I did an exercise to list down all the things I do and it is like I manage 20 departments of my business myself. I can do everything (this is bad btw), but time is my enemy. Also, there’s no one to talk to! This is why my wife has to remind me once in a while to create space for reflection.
Another thing I know about myself is that I’m someone who naturally puts more time into operations & fulfillment. I always want to give the best experiences to my customers. I can’t allow my work to be mediocre. I also prioritize product development. In 2023, I blocked 2 mornings every week for it. As you can see, sales & marketing suffer.
Looking back, I was lucky because I didn’t really do much marketing other than building new products in public, creating content consistently, and letting people discover me organically. Again, please don't see building in public as your only strategy, it is just one strategy.
I lost focus because too many things were going on. Audrey’s sleeping behavior means Lydia and I still have terrible sleep quality (btw, she suffers much more) Then clearly it affects my day. I didn’t exercise much last year and that contributed. I also had a family project that required my attention. So sometime in mid-2023, I think I was just executing without thinking about directions or goals.
21% year-over-year revenue growth looks pretty good given all these situations.
3. Made some wrong bets
Every decision matters in business, especially in a solo business.
A big bet I made in 2023 was to invest more resources and time into making YouTube videos. My thinking was to plant seeds on a new channel beyond Twitter/X, so I could diversify and expand. I was paying about $100 for an editor for each video. Near the end of the year, I even took on the entire creation process myself. I wanted to figure out my style before outsourcing again.
The growth was extremely slow while the production was extremely heavy. Making videos is 10x harder than writing, seriously.
So why did I say it was the wrong bet? When I reflect on what has worked well and what feels natural to me, it is always text content like my social posts and emails. They have built so many amazing relationships and driven my business growth until this point. The thing was, I haven’t even looked into how to do social posts and emails better. Ideally, I should have a better way of introducing Build in Public Mastery, my flagship program, to new people, but I didn’t work on that.
My goal with videos has always been to showcase my teaching style and personality so that prospective students can get a glimpse of my program. Somehow I got lost and tried to make weekly videos. I don’t want to be a YouTuber, but I was acting like one.
My new approach to YouTube is that I will make videos only when I have something really important to share via a video format. I’ll still share my channel and videos but I don’t want to care about the subscriber count.
4. Where is online education going?
While the overall sentiment is that the economy is bad and online education is taking a hit, I’ll never believe it if someone says it is a dying industry. It might be slowing down a lot, but it is definitely still a growing industry.
Why? Because content and community continue to play a big part in business. And more people are establishing themselves to give themselves this “pathless path” option one day.
I used to tell myself that the economy is bad so it affects my growth, but I realized that is an excuse. There are always people doing well in a bad environment. The strong ones stand! And honestly, there are so many bad learning programs out there. Many teachers don't care enough. My business grew a bit despite the hardship, so what would happen if things pick up again? I need to strengthen the foundation to prepare for that.
Other than selling and running an educational program, I’m also keeping my eyes on software opportunities in the online learning space. I once ran a SaaS company, and I want to explore that again. At the moment, I’m just writing down my observations. And I definitely need a technical co-founder to do that together.
5. Why did planning & delegating not happen in 2023?
Again, I was spending time “in” the business, but not “on” the business.
The 1st reason was that I’m still iterating my products a lot. Build in Public Mastery went from a live cohort model to a self-guided model, to now a hybrid year-long learning program with an accelerator cohort to onboard new students. Things are changing too much and too fast. At this point, I have a feeling the model is solid, so I need to put more effort into sales & marketing. Let’s hope that’s true because again, I love to work on product development too much (friend, please remind me!)
The 2nd reason was the lack of planning. I can tell you that I was always working on things for that week or the next week. Ask me about my plan next month and I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Without zooming out, I couldn’t get anyone to help me with any tasks. So it is important that I have a product development timeline and marketing timeline ahead of time, so then I can train & guide contractors to work toward that.
The 3rd reason is that I have a hard time letting go. I hold too high of a standard for my work, so it is hard for me to be satisfied with someone else’s output. This is bad. There’s no solution other than to train people and focus my attention on the bigger ball.
6. Setting these 3 as my 2024 themes
- Collaboration - In the last 3 years, I’ve been doing my own thing mostly. I haven't collaborated much. It is peaceful and calm. But I know to go far, we need to go together. I’m now looking at other businesses that can create win-win outcomes. If you want to chat, please reach out!
- Systemization & Delegation - I want to standardize student onboarding experience and content creation workflow. I shouldn’t be tackling a checklist all by myself every time I want to welcome a student or create a piece of content. I can get help!
- Unreasonable Hospitality - this is the book I read over the holidays. I’m dreaming about an online learning experience that has the best hospitality ever. Is it possible? What do I need to do? I’m very curious about this!
The funniest thing about my 2024 goals is that the planning & delegating part are exactly the same as my 2023 goals 🤣 Clearly goals like this are "out of sight, out of mind" pretty quickly. I need a way to battle this.
This business is profitable since it doesn’t require startup capital and the profit margin is high (72% in 2023 for me), but you can obviously see that the business is not sustaining my family at the moment. I’m using my savings and other income sources to subsidize it right now.
I recently watched this retro video from Khe Hy and he said the same thing. This "Internet business" thing is harder than it looks. I just want to paint an honest picture to you.
But one thing I’m very hopeful about is that 90% of my business is product revenue and 10% is coaching revenue. I don’t do any service or freelance. This means it is very possible for me to tweak and optimize some things and the business will grow more.
I didn't spend time in 2023 to think about this, maybe it is time.
This reflection is more for me, but I hope you find 1 or 2 things that are helpful to you too.
And how did your 2023 go? I'd love to hear it to bounce ideas!