2021 Year in Review
I've been doing these privately for years, but now seems like a great time to bring them into public. Here's how my year went and what I'm looking to do in 2022.
Setting and achieving goals can be a fickle process. When the timeline is too long, it's hard to connect them to actions to take right now. When they're too short, you end up spending all your time planning and not enough time doing.
What I've found works for me is setting directional north stars and arranging my habits and goals on a yearly basis in service of my directional aspiration. As such, I like spending some time between Christmas and New Years looking back at what was and looking ahead toward what will be.
Since this year's post is the first time I've done this in public, I will just dive into a retrospective rather than diving in on the status of last years's goals. Here's how my 2021 went.
Any overview of this year would be incomplete without mentioning the COVID-19 pandemic. Though my region was blessed with relatively low infection rates throughout the year, our free-but-inflexible medical system still required tight restrictions throughout the year. The summer was fairly open, but both holiday seasons were more or less cancelled this year.
My wife and I are both fortunate enough to work from home, so we were some of the lucky ones during much of the chaos that marked this year. That said, of course we were not unaffected. Most events of my year are marked by COVID somehow, so it's worth mentioning in advance.
Having gotten married to my lovely wife in the summer of 2019, COVID provided a unique opportunity (and excuse!) to get busy building a family. On September 21st, my first child Adrian was born. He was born several weeks early, but has spent all his time catching up to his cohort and capturing our hearts at the same time.
Since finding out this was coming, I made fun of my wife constantly for her "nesting" tendencies. But soon, I felt my own version creeping in - an intense desire to provide for my family. We're all told of changes that happen to people as babies come into the world, but it was fascinating to watch it happen to myself as well.
Leaving Bell Curve
Since the summer of 2020, I had been working as a senior growth strategist at a Silicon Valley based growth marketing agency called Bell Curve. While I was there, I was lucky enough to be able to build and execute growth strategies for close to a dozen venture-backed startups, and work alongside supremely talented people like Julian Shapiro, Nicole Murphy, and Ian Martins.
But after about a year, I was ready to go for a few different reasons.
1) Despite best efforts and intentions, most agencies seem to have a difficult time walking the line between providing a stable working balance with the demands and expectations of their clients. Being consistently under the gun made it difficult to do focused, long-term focused work
2) I realized I wanted to work on long-term problems that I care about
3) The market had moved significantly for my skillset in 2020-2021
In the summer of 2021, I left bell Curve to join the growth team at Bungalow as Head of Demand Growth.
I've spent much of my career working in travel and hospitality startups focusing on remote work. I did it because I truly believed (and still believe) that remote work is one of the biggest human capital unlocks we'll achieve in my lifetime. That said, the culture of "digital nomads" was starting to rub me the wrong way. The experience can be so enriching, but the movement can be extractive and consumerist - pulling experiences from poorer countries, and collecting them like knick-knacks on a shelf.
Housing was a pretty obvious jump for me. The developed world has been dealing with a housing crisis, and home affordability has been moving further and further away for many in my generation. My work in hospitality lent themselves very nicely toward what Bungalow is aiming to do - combine property management and rental marketplace models together into a package that aims to help renters eventually become homeowners.
The team is chock-full of A players, and everyone is sharp, accountable, and capable, and I love the work we're been able to do so far.
Productizing My Freelance Work
I've been freelancing on the side for five years now, and I'd been slowly burning out on it generally. I'd been taking on project work that took too much intellectual overhead, which pushed me to limit myself to avoid it affecting my primary work.
That all changed this summer while I was taking a long weekend on Prince Edward Island. While my primary work has been getting more strategic over time, I was getting further from actually executing growth work. And I wasn't ready to say good-bye to the extra income freelancing provided. The answer? Build a productized service that provides better, more predictable service to my clients while taking less intellectual overhead and time.
In essence, I paired down my growth services to exclusively provide paid search and social strategy and management for consumer internet businesses. This allowed me to focus on building processes and a small stable of trusted specialists that allow me to scale my services with minimal incremental time required.
I've developed three core acquisition channels: People looking for help in founder and marketer Slack communities, cold email, and freelance services like MarketerHire. Since launching in September, I've doubled my freelance income and plan to grow further this year - all with less overall time spent doing the work myself.
As I was plotting my next move from Bell Curve, I knew I wanted to be working in real estate tech. I'd been watching prefab and tiny home communities blow up on Instagram, and I realized the market had a pretty big problem - it was disintegrated, and finding and comparing different prefab buildings was next to impossible. So I decided to see what I could do to fix it.
The results was PrefabList - the internet's best way to discover, compare, and shop the world's best prefab homes.
The goal was to create enough organic traffic to monetize. I'm not there yet, but organic traffic keeps slowly creeping up even with minimal updates, so I may continue working on it this year. I attempted to monetize by selling a spreadsheet aggregating all the prefab info on Gumroad, too. I got two sales before Gumroad shut down my account due to "fraud concerns". I took that as a sign to focus on SEO for now.
I came close to accomplishing my goal on Twitter, though I fell off late in the year as my son was born. I gained +2k followers too, which was nice. I also wrote two long-form blog posts on my site, along with a huge "How to Buy a Prefab" guide for PrefabList. My newsletter was a bit of a flop. I loved the subject matter and made a few great connections because of it, but it became a little unsustainable for me.
Knowing the baby was coming, I played a LOT of tennis this past season. Competitive team tennis, my local club ladder, and occasional matches with friends. My serve has gotten much more consistent, net play has improved, and my forehand is becoming a weapon. I'm hoping I can play enough this coming year to keep this up!
Mountain biking was my passion in high school. It was too expensive to keep up with through college and my early career, COVID made riding all of a sudden much more appealing. I picked up a Specialized Fuse at the end of 2020, and took several small road trips around New Brunswick to ride throughout 2021.
I had to stop doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu during the winter when COVID hit, so I re-took up bouldering. A new gym had just opened up locally, and it's high ceilings made it a pretty decent pandemic activity.
Between pregnancy, having a baby, and COVID, travel was as little a part of my life in 2021 as it has ever been. In lieu of going abroad, we did what we did in 2020 and took a few road trips instead across New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and P.E.I.
Personal Growth & Projects
It's long been on my to-do list to work on becoming more present and less future focused, so this year I decided to meditate for five minutes every day. I came pretty close to hitting this goal, though it's tough to say whether or not it's helped me very much yet.
Long form journaling has been tough form e to keep up with, so a few years back I decided to bullet journal. I've found it helpful, but often just fill it in as a matter of habit without much though behind it, making it less useful. I'm aiming to improve my practice this coming year.
The home we live in came with some pretty big depressions in the lawn, likely due to the removal of old tree roots over a decade ago. In the spring, I ordered a dump truck of dirt and wheelbarrowed it all myself from the front driveway to the back yard and reseeded it all. The results: a yard much more conducive to play for young children.
My wife and I both work from home. We converted one bedroom into an office, and use a corner of the living room to work as well. The living room office had been make-shift, so I decided to make some built-in shelving and Ikea-hack a desk to make it feel like a more integrated part of the room.
Anxiety & Climate Change
Perhaps because of COVID, having a child, and too much time spent on Twitter, I ended up dealing with some pretty aggressive impending doom feelings this year, mostly related to climate change. Years ago, I'd been a bit of an environmentalist, but slowly started insulating myself from news about it since it felt like a monolithic thing I had no control over. But this year, I couldn't ignore it anymore, and I had to face it.
I'm still dealing with dread over a future I have little say in, but I've found that allowing that dread to turn to anger has helped spur action in my own life. Someday soon, I hope to build something that helps others make an impact on climate change, but for now, here's what I'm doing:
- I moved all my ETF investments to ESG funds (basically does not fund companies involved in fossil fuels, weapons manufacturing, and has no all-male boards)
- I'm reallocating 2% (and growing) of my business revenue toward carbon capture technology projects through Stripe Climate (www.stripe.com/climate), with hopes to grow this over time
- Signed up to Citizen’s Climate Lobby to help lobby politicians in my ridings to take action on climate change (www.citizensclimatelobby.org)
- I've been biking as much as I can rather than drive
- Planning to make next car purchase be electric
- Planning to upgrade home heating to a heat pump
- Slowly replacing meat & animal products with legumes/pulses to keep protein intake with reduced meat consumption
- Reduce/eliminate car commutes (thank you remote work!)
- Shopping locally as much as possible for gifts to reduce shipping carbon emissions
- Starting a vegetable garden on my deck to reduce carbon impact of food transit
I'm sure there's more I can do, but this is where I'm starting.
Things I'm Not So Proud Of
COVID has helped cement in some habits I'm not crazy about.
Leaning on Work When I'm Bored
I am a bit of a workaholic. Part of the freelancer's curse is that all time all of a sudden has a price tag attached to it. This mindset has caused me to turn to work when I have spare time, rather than just working when I plan to. I'm working on building systems to mitigate this, but I'm sure having a growing child will help rid me of this habit as well.
Sleep difficulties a few years ago have caused me to avoid using my computer in the later evening. Unfortunately, this left me with an hour before bed with little to do that wasn't work, so I turned to TV to fill the gap. I plan on re-picking up a non-work hobby to help wean me off this one.
Goals for 2022
☐ Knocking my role at Bungalow out of the park, securing promotion
☐ Growing my agency to $XX revenue
☐ Holding onto healthy habits as my son grows
☐ Lifting at least 2x per week
☐ Playing tennis, riding bikes, or climbing at least once per week
☐ Yoga once a week
☐ Walking everyday
☐ Travel abroad again
☐ Build a backyard vegetable garden
☐ Go skydiving
☐ Get PrefabList to 1,000 daily active users
☐ Meditate or work on mental health daily
☐ Build time to write every week
Until next year!