The original title of this post was going to be Trial and (mostly) Error, but I had a last minute change of heart.
If you know me or you’re familiar with my work, then you also probably know that I’m a bit of a polymath, weaving my way through hobbies and interests that sometimes go just as soon as they come. Some days, my curiosity feels like a curse; others, I find myself so grateful that I’m not stuck in the same routine on infinite repeat.
Whenever I start one of these projects, I set my expectations high for a positive detectable outcome, which I typically associate with market traction (are people using it?) and financial gain (am I earning from it?) – and the new projects I began in 2018 performed rather poorly on those fronts.
Any time I take a step back and look at the big picture, I realize that these cursory objectives aren’t an admirable baseline for achieving a positive experience with anything I work on.
They’re the objectives that everyone expects and assumes of you.
They’re the ones that are easy to talk about at a family dinner or with a distant acquaintance – the business version of “how’s the weather?” and “staying busy?”
Since when have I ever done things by the book?
I lead a happy and healthy life. I have more than enough. I’m comfortable, surrounded by friends and family and dogs and my lovely wife, Katie.
Whatever void that might be present within those who attempt to fill it with an increased workload and a bump in their paycheck is missing from my DNA.
I’d much rather be learning, growing, experiencing life, with all of its ups and downs, bumps, humps, dips, waves, missteps, mistakes, triumphs, and opportunities.
It wasn’t just this year that was trial and error. My entire life is trial and error, as it should be – so let’s call this 2018 in review instead.
What Went Well In 2018?
I committed to building local community
Ever since I left Chicago, I’ve had a growling desire to bring the best parts of the meetups I’d attended while I was there back with me to the Cleveland area. It’s something I had postponed for quite a while, simply because I was afraid of shouldering the amount of work it would take to power a community on my own, but I hosted the first We Make the Internet meetup in April 2018 and am so glad I did.
Since then, our group has heard from companies and individuals in the Cleveland area that are doing some amazing work on the web, and I’ve gotten to hear some wonderful stories of connections and opportunities that have come out of the events I’ve been hosting.
Working alone is tough, so this was a huge win for both helping the local community and injecting myself into it.
I spoke at MicroConf
I’ve toned down the amount of public speaking that I’ve done over the past few years because I have a hard time acting as the expert without acknowledging my privilege, but I wanted to share my story in a talk titled The Case against Growth
My personal objectives have never been about building a company that takes over the world, nor have I been driven by a never-ending quest for salary or status. I optimize for preservation of my time and autonomy, and I think that’s an opinion often squashed by our culture, so I’m glad to have brought a reminder to a room full of smart people that you don’t have to work the way you’ve been told.
I leveled up my skills
Jumping in and out of all kinds of different projects opened me up to a world of new tech and services. The code I worked with this year gave me experience with Google Cloud Firestore for the Twitch extensions I built, Node Sentiment analysis and OCR libraries, Parcel JS, Gatsby, and Web3 and CCXT for some of the cryptocurrency experiments I made in January.
Even if the projects go nowhere, at the very least they introduced me to a bunch of new tech and skills that I’ll certainly keep in my toolbox moving forward.
Less work, more living
2018 was very much a year of exploration and discovery for me. Here are some of my highlights:
- I finally bought my first real mountain bike
- I reintroduced myself to regular songwriting
- I biked from Cleveland to Pittsburgh with my friend Nick
- I hiked the Enchanted Valley trail in Washington with Katie
- I traveled to Florida, Michigan, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Chautauqua NY
- I took on some DIY home improvement projects
- I enrolled in beginner golf lessons
- I dabbled with some gardening
Revenues grew by 27.5% YOY
Though I attribute most of this increase to pricing increases and snowballing subscriptions, I also think that retooling the frontend code to use VueJS and launching Vimeography 2 did wonders for Vimeography’s stability moving forward.
In addition, I’ve been working hard at establishing some partnerships and would like to relaunch a Vimeography affiliate program in 2019 to find out if there’s room for that to exist.
What didn’t go well in 2018?
I couldn’t find a sticky project
For one reason or another, each of these projects had a special draw to them right when I started working on them that eventually faded due to personal interest or predictions on the direction of the market.
That’s not something I’m super proud of. I feel immense pride when I can get something shipped and provide value to the world, and this year I danced around all of that.
…and there were a few flops
My takeaway from Microconf was that I should offer a business tier for Vimeography that would provide white-glove installation, error monitoring, and priority support to customers that use the plugin with a high-uptime requirement.
I worked on customer interviews, provided a specific landing page for business and enterprise, and sold exactly zero subscriptions at this level.
I also decided that it was time for me to discontinue my efforts on Lunchbox, my video course plugin that I launched last year. I concluded that it is far too big a project for me to handle on my own and its success depended on the success of its daily users – and, as we’ve seen, it can be truly difficult to sustain a business on video courses.
Lunchbox taught me a lot about React and the direction of WordPress, so while it feels like a loss, I know there are still a few takeaways.
Not enough collaboration
One of the biggest promises I committed to at the start of the year was that I’d stop working alone and find some way to collaborate with others. I had a few ideas float around with others, but couldn’t find a way to incorporate that into my work that also worked for others.
I’m tired of being the smartest person in the room (read: only person in the room.)
This is something that I’m continuing to evaluate moving forward into 2019.
Most valuable lessons of 2018?
- Identifying that the life I lead now is enough. This enabled me to focus more of my time and energies on rounding out other interests and building my relationships rather than sinking more time into a work routine.
- Learn by doing. Wavering and avoiding commitment doesn’t help anybody.
- You don’t have to feel bad for not always knowing what you want. Nobody knows what they’re doing. Embrace your madness.
More reading and writing
I’ve historically preferred short-form reading through articles and podcasts, but I’d like to spend more time in books next year. I also have Blinkist subscription so I can discover more topics of interest.
Similarly, I’d like to routinize my sharing of personal experiences through private and public writing and passing what I’ve learned onto others, as the articles I’ve written in the past have always worked in my favor.
Pushing projects further
I’d like to document the projects I build and show the successes and failures in a public format. By taking more photos, videos, and writing more articles, I can hopefully inspire others to push their own projects forward.
I’m a few years late on getting out of my home office and finding some talented people to work with and create something that we can be proud of together. I’m hoping 2019 shows some opportunities on that front.
How am I framing 2019?
2019 won’t be so much finding out what I’m interested in, but more executing on those interests to determine how much joy they bring to my day. Here are a few things I’d like to get into:
- Gardening and landscaping – plant some trees and work on a back patio to laze in the summer sun
- Pickling (I hear good things about The Joy of Pickling)
- Install a basic aquaponics system in our home
- Get better at drawing and painting
- Songwriting – I’d like to play out again for the first time in a decade.
Now it’s your turn.
What are your biggest takeaways from 2018?
How will you apply those lessons to the year to come?
Are you writing your own Year In Review? Tweet me – (at)davekiss – with the details of where I can read yours and support you!