Year In Review 2020
31 Dec 2020
Combat with real longswords. Leading a team through the sudden transition to remote work under insane circumstances. Learning what it feels like to have a tweet go viral. Walking away from a secure job and a guaranteed million dollars to start my own business that made zero dollars. Feeling helpless as I waited to hear if my father in law was dead while watching my wife cry in a way I’d never seen. These are some of the highlights from my life this year.
I’ve seen some people groan about reviewing the year 2020. Some are saying we should forget it even happened. I believe that the extreme challenges we faced in 2020 are the exact reason we should do a year in review. The greatest hardships bring the greatest lessons. Years from now we will look back and wish we had a detailed record of all the obstacles that we faced. Obstacles we later realized were pivotal moments in our own growth.
I learned a lot this year and felt I had to get a lot out in one post. I’ve organized my review by highlights in key areas of my life as suggested in YearCompass, followed by a set of lessons learned, then finishing with my intentions for 2021.
I’ve created a table of contents so you can skip to anything that looks the most valuable to you. I recommend skipping ahead to Lessons learned if you don’t want to hear as much about my personal life.
If you prefer audio, you can listen to this article on my podcast.
Table of contents
- Table of contents
- Lessons learned
- Intentionally designing my life with Amanda shielded our family
- I am here to serve TTRPG creators
- Being a better writer is mostly about being interesting
- I thrive in uncertainty
- Inspiration, constraints, and NoCode leads to remarkable results
- Focus on social media was bad for my business but great for relationships
- Make new habits attainable rather than optimal
- I’m a great people lead
- When building a new API, start with infrastructure
- We are bad at evaluating risk and lean on culture to guide us
- Leverage your personal monopoly
- Career advancement is about who you know
- It’s hard to predict ROI in the early stages. You should take more shots and diversify.
- Intentions for 2021
- Process over goals
- Collaborate. Collaborate. Collaborate.
- More, cheaper tests
- Ask for money
- Learn NoCode tools
- Stop worrying about social media and become a teacher
- Leave space for inspiration and reflection
- Build trust and dialogue with my audience
- Intentional information consumption
- Triple down on writing
- Triple down on mythology
- Recommit to longsword fighting
- Improve family spending habits
- Continue to hike and exercise
- Continue with piano
- Continue studying marketing
- Build more with family
Work, Studies, Profession
I left Shopify to start my own business. This was one of the biggest decisions I ever made and the impact on my life is difficult to describe. You can read the linked post for more detail on the decision. Building my own business will feature prominently in this year’s review and many to come.
Launched the Wazel Brothers Build podcast. Talking to my brother about our businesses once a week has been an incredible experience full of great lessons. I treasure our relationship.
Launched a website for Sword & Source in 1 day. I decided to start my entrepreneurial journey by focusing on the tabletop roleplaying game industry. I named my business Sword & Source and made a website as a homebase for all my projects. An interesting part about this project was that I decided to do it on a whim one day. It was finished that same day because I chose to buy a Shopify theme and build it there. This was a pattern of success I discuss in my lessons learned section.
Launched a website for Novus Bestiary, my newsletter about mythical creatures. Grew active subscribers from 91 to 306. I started this newsletter when I was on parental leave in 2019. With my decision to dive deep into the RPG industry, it made sense to double down and make a public website. I originally thought this was a good “SEO play” but later learned more about SEO and found that I was approaching it in a clumsy way. That said, this website still provides my number 1 channel for newsletter subscribers and is a constant outlet for creativity and improving my writing skills.
Failed to launch Here Be Taverns 2 but made the important choice to collaborate. I decided to revive an old side project that provides random generators for TTRPG games. The site gets regular traffic and has been around since 2015. I failed to launch this year but got the build to feature completion. Half way through building it I realized I wasn’t that interested in being the main content creator after I had seen so much incredible talent in this industry. I made the choice to reach out to a few great creators and get them on board for the project. I want it to be a platform for their work and bring success to their businesses. This was an important insight for me and it will be the North Star for my business next year. I don’t want to be the creator. I want to empower other creators.
Launched a landing page for The Quickstart Guide to Game Mastering. It settled at a 15% conversion rate (email subscribers) which blows my mind. I wrote the copy and launched the announcement page in 1 day. Again, I’m noticing this pattern that moving fast with inspiration leads to great things. I’m very proud of the copywriting and the conversion rate here. Novus Bestiary and Here Be Taverns were projects I wanted to do for myself. This project was my first attempt at seeing a problem in my niche (people want to be Game Masters but they get overwhelmed with too much info) and directly targeting it. This was a huge boost for my confidence. Now I have to execute.
Switch back to people leadership from technical leadership. It was a winding road but I ultimately realized this was where I belonged while at Shopify. I enjoyed the time with all of my direct reports and the leaders next to me as we adapted to COVID. Watching my direct reports develop was truly meaningful.
Designed a GraphQL API with Derek. I had never designed an API before. This year I got the chance. Even better I got to work closely with Derek Meulmeester. Derek is one of those quiet and therefore criminally underrated developers. I loved working with him. I was also reminded how engaged and awesome the Shopify developer community is.
I'm proud to finally share something I worked on at Shopify for a good chunk of this year. It was an incredible challenge and taught me a lot.— Adam Waselnuk (@awazels) December 8, 2020
The first ever public GraphQL API for the Shopify Partners platform https://t.co/qJDsSK4m22
Relaxation, Hobbies, Creativity
Learning piano and playing my first song. I’ve dabbled with piano for years but could never get through a song. This fall I committed to taking lessons with my daugher Addison. A few weeks ago I played my first song front to back. It was “Snowflake” by Sia. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish by doing something once a week.
Ranking up in Longsword and then losing it to COVID. In January I did a skills demonstration in longsword fighting and ranked up to Eisenphort (translates to “Iron Door”). Since COVID, my historical fencing practice has almost completely vanished. It made me realize how much I truly value this hobby and the other people I used to fence with. I can’t wait to get back to the sword hall.
Started a regular Dungeons & Dragons game. I’m in this industry so I really have to play now right? It’s for work! Seriously though making the time for this beloved hobby has rekindled my inspiration and I’ve made some great new friends because of it. I highly recommend role playing games as a way of staying connected with people. If you aren’t sure where to start, please do reach out and I’ll help you.
The Last of Us 2 was released. The Last of Us is one of my favourite games of all time. Maybe my favourite. I played through the sequel this year and was surprised by the narrative choices. I enjoyed it a lot.
Chilly Gonzales at the NAC. I also had the pleasure of seeing Chilly Gonzales perform. It exceeded my wildest expectations and was a great moment to share with my mom.
Making new friends. I made some amazing new friends this year, especially in the TTRPG space. Thank you so much for welcoming me.
Reconnecting and deepening relationships. I forged deeper connections with some important people this year. Shout out to Brandon, Kyle, Derek, Shawn, Tejas, Andrey, and my dads.
Losing connections from COVID. Like many of us, COVID created distance between me and some people. I found one silver lining: it gave me a reason to make more deliberate connections.
Losing connections from leaving Shopify. This was expected but still quite interesting. It turns out that a good way to figure out which of your colleagues truly care about you is to quit your job. There are a few special people I still talk to. There was a good portion of people who gave me a sincere goodbye. There was a ton of people who I heard nothing from. In several cases people were not in the camp I thought they might be.
Getting a real sword as a gift from the Shopify Experts team. My former team at Shopify bought me a real sword as a going away present. I was completely floored. The gift was so unexpected, so perfectly suited to me, and so valuable. I felt loved. I made a really dumb video as a thank you.
Twitter lead to many valuable connections. This was the first year I started really understanding Twitter as a way to connect with likeminded people. By deciding to put myself out there more often, I have started to attract more likeminded people and make really meaningful connections. It lead to an advisory role with Mighty, a startup teaching entrepreneurship to kids. It lead to a new relationship with Thariq, the founder of Multiverse with whom I’ve had several inspiring conversations. It lead to many, many 1:1 video calls with interesting people doing all sorts of interesting work. It’s honestly magical. I talk more about my Twitter successes in the Intellectual section. I feel like I’m just getting started here.
Hiking constantly. I always loved hiking. This year I hiked more than I ever have before. It was cemented as my physical activity of choice. Now my family is on a mission to hike every trail in Ottawa, and then move on to do longer hikes in parts unknown.
Actually sticking to a workout routine. Ever since having kids my workout regimen comes in inconsistent bursts. I can never find something to stick to. This year I managed to actually stick to it. The reason was twofold: quarantine made it more critical than ever, and I finally learned to focus on an attainable habit rather than an optimized one.
I got a vasectomy. End of an era.
I got shingles. It was extremely painful and coloured my last work week at Shopify. Not ideal, but many people have it worse than me.
Focus on writing and publishing. At the start of this year, I counted myself a solid business writer. Influenced by the ‘build in public’ movement and my refined knowledge of how to succeed at Shopify through written communication, I decided to double down on this skill. It paid off big time. I count this under the Intellectual section because writing is thinking but, when you add the publishing element and its effects, this could very easily go under the Work section.
My tweet about Addison’s business plan was my first ever viral tweet. It was completely off the cuff and unplanned. You can’t predict when something will resonate. Its all about putting yourself out there regularly. It earned me about 360 new followers. Later we actually built a real storefront on Shopify, sold some of the blue gems, and donated the proceeds to an ocean charity. All of this spawned from deciding to publish.
My 5 year old daughter just asked me why people start businesses and how to start her own. Good thing I work @Shopify. She also asked if kids were allowed, to which I replied “yes and I’ll help you!”. Let’s do this 🚀— Adam Waselnuk (@awazels) February 15, 2020
My blog post on leaving Shopify earned me about 400 new followers on Twitter and about 70 newsletter subscribers.
Today is my last day at Shopify.— Adam Waselnuk (@awazels) August 27, 2020
I want to build my own business.
I want to reconnect with my artistic side. I want to look at a blank calendar and see a blank canvas. I want to connect with new people, new ideas, and new opportunities.https://t.co/RNhCWS6Nu7
Learning writing, new ideas, and Twitter from David Perell. David is the best new thinker I discovered this year. I’ve learned a lot from his podcast and his writing on Twitter and his newsletter.
Learning how to think smaller and diversify from Daniel Vassallo. Daniel was a huge inspiration to me when I discovered him last year. He has continued to impress. His approach to lifestyle design through bootstrapping is something I am trying to model in many ways.
Learning marketing, and the business of software from Pat McKenzie. Pat McKenzie taught me more this year about marketing than anyone else. Many know him already but this was my first year diving deep into his published work. Thank you Patrick!
Learning wealth creation, happiness, and business from Naval. Naval was one of the most profound thinkers I discovered. His way of thinking helped push me over the edge to finally start my own business. I highly recommend checking out the Navalmanack by Eric Jorgenson which collects and summarizes Naval’s best ideas.
Deepening my mythology studies. I’ve got more weird books on mythology and bestiaries than ever before. I’ll continue to dive deep here. This ocean has no floor.
Learning SEO, marketing, bootstrapping and loving it. Unlike the common developer-founder trope you hear about, I am relishing my new studies in marketing and business. It has become clear to me that I am ready and eager to learn new skills and that software design is no longer my central concern.
Reading mythology has had a religious feel. Many of the old myths I’ve been studying were essentially religious fabric to past humans. Studying this topic has felt like a spiritual practice in many ways.
Making the decision to leave Shopify brought inner peace and an integrated life. This decision had been in the back of my head for years. Making it was a relief. I now feel like all of my actions, thoughts, and energy are integrated and pointed in a single direction.
COVID highlights what’s important and the strength of my family. For me, COVID was a valuable forcing function. It brought all of my attention and emotional energy to what really matters most in my life. I feel like I have dropped a lot of useless baggage this year.
Making more speculative bets in stocks and getting huge returns in the bull market. Instead of taking a cautious approach, I admit to being somewhat reckless with some of my savings this year. I put a small portion of my money into tech stocks which I picked by hand. Yes I also bought Bitcoin. It’s basically the complete opposite of what a sane financial advisor would tell you to do. Through complete dumb luck, it has brought incredible returns for me this year. I am well aware that this is a bad strategy and we will be strongly reconsidering our finances in 2021. That said, I’ll always want to have a little bit of cash in speculative assets like this, if only to better understand what not to do.
Struggling to decide how much $SHOP to cash out in the face of starting a business and COVID. Most of my net worth is still in $SHOP stock. When I chose to leave the company I had make a difficult choice: how much should I cash out? This decision was overshadowed by the uncertainty of COVID. I did a lot of searching, reading, and thinking. I learned that when you are in a fortunate position like me, financial decisions at this level basically come down to your personal wishes and risk tolerance. I ended up making a list of things I knew I wanted no matter what: travel budget, kitchen renovation, maxed RRSPs, and 1 year of runway. I cashed out enough to make those things happen and left the rest.
I considered paying off more of my mortgage but decided against it, believing it would remain a very cheap loan (I have a variable rate mortgage). The hardest part was deciding how much runway to cash out. I am proud of myself for holding my ground in the face of COVID. Deciding to largely cash out of the stock market this spring is a move I’m sure many people considered and with good reason. I recognize that my pride here could still turn to shame. No one knows the future of the market.
Personal life and family
Two cottage getaways with both families lead to incredible quality time. We spent 1 week away at a cottage with both sides of our family this fall. It was truly special and I want it to become an annual tradition. I’ll never forget playing a game of The Quiet Year and almost suffocating myself laughing at my brother Brandon. I haven’t laughed that hard since I was 12.
Amanda’s father Paul is diagnosed with stage 4 leukemia. This came on the heels of another family member just recovering from cancer. It was the worst time in our family in many years. I don’t want to go into intimate detail. I do want to point out that it helped me really understand what other people were feeling as they faced the hospital system in a world of COVID. I will also say that this event made it clear that Amanda is the pillar on which all of my success rests. When she is suffering, the whole system falls apart.
I built a playground with my stepdad Ian and my father in law Paul. It was just guys building stuff but it remains one of my most treasured memories from the year. This is a clear reminder that I need to make this kind of thing happen more often.
Connecting deeply with my brother and starting a podcast with him. When I started working on my own in September, my brother Brandon and I started meeting once a week to talk business. We should have done this years ago. It has been some of the most valuable time I’ve ever spent. I loved it so much, I asked him if we could record it as a podcast and he agreed. Wazel Brothers Build was born.
Audrey’s personality emerges. My daughter Audrey turned 1 this year in July. This is such a special age, the age where a child’s unique personality starts to shine through. It turns out she is just as stubborn as I was at that age.
Bo the polydactyl cat joins the family. A surprise addition to the family came in December. This kitten has brought our house a lot of joy. Bo is an orange polydactyl cat, meaning she has extra digits. Apparently these cats are quite rare but Ernest Hemingway loved them and collected them. They are sometimes called “Hemingway cats”.
COVID removed my need to commute to work. All that time went back to family. After the shift to remote work, I remember clearly thinking to myself: “I’m never going back”. When my family bought a house in the country two years ago, the only drawback was my commute. With the commute gone, I regained hours of time each day and channeled that right back into my family. I felt very weird feeling such joy and connection while the rest of the world seemed to be falling apart.
Belongings (Home, Objects)
We designed our new kitchen. Amanda and I knew we would do an epic kitchen renovation ever since we moved into this house 2 years ago. Amanda is a seriously talented chef and baker. COVID slowed us down but did not defeat us. The design phase is complete and construction begins in March 2021.
Rebuilt the front of our house. Got in some beautiful landscaping in the front of our home.
My new standing desk and home office. Like many people, I heavily invested in my home office this year. I’m grateful to have one with a door. It is now filled with excellent furniture, shelves filled with books and games, and a gorgeous “Alive” standing desk by Ergonofis.
I started my own business. It made $0. To paraphrase Rob Walling, I still don’t really have a business - I have projects. I recognize I need to ask people for money in 2021.
COVID took away travel to distant lands. Amanda and I did not prioritize travel earlier in life. We are now incredibly excited to see more of the world with our daughters, and have the means to pay for some travel. Unfortunately, this did not happen this year.
Intentionally designing my life with Amanda shielded our family
My wife and I are very intentional with how we build our life. We have great communication and we aren’t afraid to go against the grain if it makes sense to us. This way of living helped us this year in ways we never could have predicted. When COVID hit, we were remarkably well set up.
- We decided to homeschool our kids just before Addison was born in 2014.
- We decided that I should be the sole income earner in 2015 when I found success in tech and she struggled to find meaningful work. This meant no need for daycare.
- We decided to buy a house in the country 2 years ago to give our kids more exposure to nature and create space for us to build a home.
- We decided to stick with Ottawa to be close to family and enjoy the benefits of a high salary combined with a lower cost of living.
In retrospect these all seem obvious but at the time, each decision was challenging. There were many naysayers and cultural forces in the world that wanted us to do different things. Homeschooling is for unsocialized freaks. An atomic family with a male breadwinner is too patriarchal. Country homes have septic tanks and long commutes. Ottawa is a dead end compared to Toronto or SF or wherever.
Obviously we did not predict COVID. I claim no credit whatsoever for “seeing the future”. We were lucky. But I feel endlessly grateful for finding a partner who thinks for herself and collaborates with me to build our ideal life.
I am here to serve TTRPG creators
One of my TTRPG projects positions me as a content creator. I love the project. It brings me a lot of joy and creative fun. It is making me known a bit in the space as a creator.
But I have realized that my greatest joy comes from watching other content creators succeed. This will be the North Star for my business next year. I want TTRPG creators to flourish and make more money. I will dedicate my work to them. I will serve. I will be of service.
Being a better writer is mostly about being interesting
I studied writing a lot this year. I read books on the topic and guides online. I worked out a system to edit my own work in an attempt to shorten the feedback loops. All of that paid off, but it was only a marginal gain. The big wins came from “being interesting”. For example, my most successful blog post was written in one morning with minimal editing. It worked because people actually care about that topic. The technical study is still something worth investing in, but focusing on interesting topics is the most valuable thing you can do.
I thrive in uncertainty
Shopify was always a company with rapid change. COVID made it much crazier. I loved the challenge. I felt like I was operating at my best and supercharged to work. I am now in the process of bringing a company from 0 to 1 and loving every minute of it. 2020 made it abundantly clear that moving in uncertainty is one of my greatest strengths.
Inspiration, constraints, and NoCode leads to remarkable results
I noticed a pattern this year. When I move fast, with inspiration, and low amounts of code, magic happens. This tweet highlights some of the wins:
Insight from this year: Some of the best things I did were done extremely fast, under analyzed, and powered by inspiration.— Adam Waselnuk (@awazels) December 30, 2020
I must remember to leave space in my calendar to follow my gut and my inspiration more often.
Focus on social media was bad for my business but great for relationships
I got way too caught up in “figuring out social” media as a business. I regret the amount of thought I put into it at this early stage. I tried to post in many places. I signed up for Buffer to optimize and chunk my time. I constantly worried about spending too much or too little time being “in the scene”. It was dumb. None of it mattered to my business.
What really mattered was unlocking human connections. My personal Twitter account has been incredible this year. Meeting new people in RPGs has been the single greatest value. Don’t optimize. Just connect.
Make new habits attainable rather than optimal
This year I tried a new approach to fix my workouts. I was sick of starting routines and then watching them fizzle out after 1 or 2 months. I removed all possible friction and decided on simple calisthenics at home. I committed to something extremely small: do 5 pushups, do 1 pull up, etc.
It totally worked. I stuck with the routine and gradually increased it over time. The problem was I used to focus on building an optimal workout plan rather than something I could really attain. It doesn’t matter if HIIT routines, progressive resistance, and a perfect combination of yoga, weights, and cardio are the best approach. What matters is that you consistently show up.
I’m a great people lead
In January, I moved back onto the people track at Shopify after spending ~2 years as a “Staff Developer” on the technical track. It felt like coming home. I lead my team confidently through the transition to remote work when COVID came. I invested heavily in the growth of every single person I worked with. I finally knew how to “play the game” at Shopify, which is kind of funny because I quit later in the year.
I want to carry this learning forward into my own company design. It is likely that I will perform better if I surround myself with great people rather than stick to solo entrepreneurship. I’m curious how that might affect my attitude towards fundraising.
When building a new API, start with infrastructure
When I worked with Derek on designing the new GraphQL API for Shopify partners, we knew we would need a bunch of low level things to ship to production. We wanted API versioning, performance analytics, Global IDs, and several other things. We decided to start with the interface design (good decision) and then jumped into building it outside-in to get to alpha and get feedback faster (bad decision).
The problem was that, as the API evolved, we had to backtrack and update tons of specs any time we introduced a new infrastructure piece. I remember when we added Global IDs, almost every spec had to be updated as most of them made some assertion related to the ID of something. In retrospect, we should have put in all the low level pieces first, and then we would have flown through the rest.
We are bad at evaluating risk and lean on culture to guide us
COVID made it brutally clear that my risk-analysis framework is basically non existent. It’s all “gut” feeling and mostly guided by the culture. Life is filled with risk decisions. My favourite example is driving in a car. Everytime you do that, there is some chance of getting injured or dying. And yet, every day we automatically make the tradeoff and drive. Our culture has taught us that driving is a reasonable bet.
Enter COVID. We suddenly had this new safety threat that was largely unknown and a countless number of decisions to make based on risk. Even when we started to learn more about the virus, and the probabilities of infection, our culture gave no guidance. Some people wore masks, some didn’t. Some people never left home, some had small bubbles, some didn’t care at all. When I was left alone with nothing but my knowledge of statistics and personal risk tolerance it became clear: I have no idea how to objectively work through risk.
I started learning a bit. For example, did you know there is a an actual unit of risk called a Micromort? Travelling 6 miles by motorcycle increases your risk of death by 1 micromort, and travelling 230 miles by car increases your risk by the same amount. Giving birth is 120 micromorts by comparison.
So how many micromorts is it to hang out at your parents house for Christmas dinner in Ottawa during COVID? I have no idea. I’m a helpless novice. I think an investment in learning basic statistics and frameworks used by high-risk decision makers would be a great investment.
Leverage your personal monopoly
This is one of my favourite ideas from David Perell. He describes it this way in his essay on the topic
The ultimate goal of writing online is to build a Personal Monopoly. It’s your unique intersection of skills, interests, and personality traits where you can be known as the best thinker on a topic and open yourself up to the serendipity that makes writing online so special.
The Internet uniquely rewards people with Personal Monopolies because it rewards differentiation. But just as global markets increase the upside of having a Personal Monopoly because every creator can broadcast their ideas to a global audience, they make it hard to create one because of all the competition.
This hit home when I made a meaningful connection based on the intersection of my skills. The CEO of Mighty, a startup teaching kids about entrepreneurship, reached out to me personally and I became an advisor. It was not because I was a dev lead at Shopify. It was not because I was homeschooling and talking about it. It was not because of my clear fascination with game design. He reached out to me personally because I was talking about all three: Shopify dev, homeschooling, and game design.
It pays to be yourself online.
Career advancement is about who you know
You may not want to hear this, but I believe it strongly. As your career progresses it becomes more important to connect with other people in your company and make noise about what you work on. You need to market yourself. The people with the power to promote you are asking themselves in some way: “What have you done for me lately?”.
I was told outright by my boss at Shopify that the only thing stopping me from a promotion to senior leadership was the fact that not enough other dev leads knew about me. I had the skills, and my manager’s blessing. He couldn’t get me the promotion because it was not only in his hands.
You could dismiss this as politics, or a failure of human reasoning. I prefer to take it as valuable feedback and a positive reflection of that fact that people matter most. It doesn’t matter if you can ship projects on time, or code anything on earth: what matters is how you serve your customers and your employer. In a large company like Shopify, how would you expect them to know if you don’t tell them?
It’s hard to predict ROI in the early stages. You should take more shots and diversify.
I’ve already pointed out that some of my biggest wins came from the combination of inspiration, constraints, and no code. I’ve also discussed my viral tweets and articles: big successes I certainly did not predict. I will also point out that my first two projects with Sword & Source (Novus Bestiary and Here Be Taverns) were roughly 4 week builds and I invested in quality. I am happy I demonstrated quality as I believe it helped me make a better splash into a new industry. But is this the best way forward?
It has become clear to me that I should be thinking smaller and communicating more of my ideas. I have a huge list of potential projects for next year. I was about to fall into the trap of picking the “best” one, making it bigger, and then hoping to turn that into revenue. This is clearly not the way to go. Instead, I will be looking for small and tangible ways to put out all of my good ideas. Once I see what resonates, I can think about taking another incremental step. I thought I was following this approach with 4 week projects but I have learned that I can think even smaller. How can I make my ‘micro app’ a blog post? How can I use more NoCode tools? What ideas can just start as a survey to my mailing list?
Daniel Vassallo calls this a “Portfolio of Small Bets”. I think that’s the perfect name for it.
Intentions for 2021
Process over goals
I’ve already been trending this way for a couple years now, but I want to reaffirm this in 2021. I do not want to be a prisoner to arbitrary goals when the future is so uncertain. Instead I will focus on the habits. I will show up every single day and improve the lives of TTRPG creators. I will outline areas of focus and habits to invest in, but I will not attach numbers to them. I will need to agree with my mentors on a system of accountability for my business that does not require hard numbers.
Collaborate. Collaborate. Collaborate.
My favourite parts of this year were all connected to other people:
- Building sheds with my dads.
- Working with my team through COVID.
- Collaborating with new friends in the RPG space.
It is obvious that I am at my best with other people. In 2021 I want to continue to collaborate as much as possible. I don’t have a clear picture yet but I suspect this realization may have a big impact on my goals for the business. My love of working with others might mean that remaining a solo-bootstrapped founder is not the best strategy for me.
More, cheaper tests
I want to put more work out into the world to see what resonates. I will seek creative techniques and tools to help. I will try all my best ideas by thinking of the smallest viable step and the hypothesis. I will create a Portfolio of Small Bets that will make Daniel Vassallo proud.
Ask for money
My business made $0 in 2020 and is therefore still a collection of projects rather than a business. The reason: I never asked anyone for money. In 2021 it’s time to get real. Many of my Small Bets will need to include a revenue model and I will need to ask people to pay me for the value I create.
Learn NoCode tools
Coding less will be a key strategy in increasing my throughput. I’ve put off learning NoCode tools because I can code and I like it. In 2021 I will experiment here and accept the cost of the learning curve in exchange for rapid prototyping tools.
Stop worrying about social media and become a teacher
In 2020 I worried too much about social media. I tried a bunch of silly things. In 2021 I will do two things only on social:
- Connect with people
- Teach people
The interesting part is that in order to teach people in the TTRPG space, I will first need to learn for myself. Several of my projects will revolve around learning aspects of the TTRPG industry.
Leave space for inspiration and reflection
Although I want to do more, cheaper tests, I must also leave space in my calendar for inspiration. Making my projects smaller will be a failure if I then fill my calendar with 3 times the number of projects. I need to leave space for learning from what I put out, and space to say yes to serendipity. My favourite framework for making this happen is Hell Yeah or No by Derek Sivers.
Build trust and dialogue with my audience
I started focusing on this in December and it has had remarkable results. By reaching out to people who follow me, I have already discovered more interesting problems I could be solving, and found real collaborators for projects. Yesterday I received the best email of the year because I chose to reach out to a subscriber. This person told me what they love about my work, what they would like to see, aspects of their life and business, and offered to pay me for my creative work.
I don’t want to be on a stage holding a microphone. I want to be in a conversation with the people who have trusted me with their email address.
Intentional information consumption
My information consumption has gone off the rails. I am a glutton for information. The problem is I consume what’s in sight on Twitter, what the newest podcast is, or what book happens to interest me that day. Next year I want to do a rigorous reset of the information I take it. I plan to start by simply reading and listening to less.
When I do want to consume some information, I need it to be more thoughtful. I plan to build a strict reading list focused more on great works of fiction. I plan to redesign my Twitter feed. I plan to take advantage of great thinkers like David Perell to curate better choices for me.
This is a huge problem with the internet age. We need more curation and less feeds. I’ve tried mailbrew as a potential solution but I need even more. It’s time for my brain to go on a diet.
Triple down on writing
I already write multiple times per week. I want to write even more. If you couldn’t already tell by the ridiculous length of this year in review: I have a lot to talk about. Next year I hope to share more frequently.
Triple down on mythology
This is a new topic of study I’m obsessed with. Who knows what magical things it will lead to? I have a backlog of great works to read and I will read them.
Recommit to longsword fighting
Fencing went off the map this year due to COVID. It made me realize how much I enjoy it. I hope to recommit to this practice in 2021.
Improve family spending habits
In 2021 I need to get real with money. I am buckling up for the long run of company building. The cold truth is that my family still spends as if I’m employed at Shopify. It is time to rework our personal finances and make smarter decisions with money.
Continue to hike and exercise
Physical health went great in 2020. Especially when hiking. I have never been more grateful for my physical health. Everything I do depends on it.
Continue with piano
Music is good for the soul. Playing piano is great time spent with my daughter and a fantastic way to relax.
Continue studying marketing
I am heavily investing here and have a lot to learn. I’d appreciate any recommendations. I’ve heard I should read Obviously Awesome to understand positioning.
Build more with family
Building things with my dads were some of the best moments of my year. Let’s do more of that.
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