2017 in Review — The Year We Redesigned The Company
Life | January 9th, 2018
Another year complete. Time for another year in review post! For reference here are the past six years: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011. Personally I really enjoy going back and reading these posts for a snapshot of my mindset and goals at the time.
As always, as you read 2017’s review, remember that I wrote this for myself. You just happen to get to read it as well. Let’s jump in.
This year was less active for personal travel, but still was a lot of fun. I visited two new countries (Spain and Ireland), but otherwise mostly traveled within the US. Here’s the full list:
- Team retreat in Oceanside
- SF for SaaStr Annual
- San Diego Traffic and Conversion
- Salt Lake City for the Everything Food Conference
- San Diego for Hilary’s cousins wedding
- Carmel for Mastermind Talks
- Portland for WDS
- A couple camping trips (I’m lumping these together since they are only a few hour drive)
- NYC for meetings
- McCall for the second team retreat
- Denver for Two12
- Dublin for SaaStock
- Philadelphia and NYC for more meetings
- Dallas for Fincon
- Nashville to record with Michael Hyatt
- Sedonna for a mastermind retreat
- San Francisco with Hilary to visit friends.
- Breckenridge for a ski trip with blogger-friends.
Surprisingly 19 is the exact same number of trips I took last year! Though last year felt like more travel because of the month spent in Thailand. Overall this feels like the right pace and I’ll try to maintain that in 2018.
Next year I’d like to take more trips with the kids. Oliver has traveled a lot, but August hasn’t been that many interesting places and it’s time to do more traveling with the family.
Barcelona was the first international trip that Hilary and I took just the two of us. Since we had kids super young we missed out on some of the solo travel that we would have liked to have done. But a week in Barcelona was just what we needed.
Thanks to a lot of company spending on credit cards we have pretty crazy mileage balances with Amex and Starwood (over 2 million total miles). So I redeemed those for a week long stay at an epic hotel and first class flights on Lufthansa to Europe. The entire trip was pure luxury—at one point we couldn’t take any more free champagne and amazing food—and the entire trip cost under $1,000 total.
Travel hacking continues to be one of the skills that adds considerable value to my life! Though now it’s basically on easy mode since I have a million dollars per year in business credit card spending to use to rack up points.
My biggest personal experiment this year was starting a vlog. Ever since going all in on ConvertKit I’ve missed consistently creating content and the creative outlet that comes from that. So in 2017 I started a vlog. The goal was always for it to be just a fun creative outlet, rather than a big production.
I shot everything on my phone, compiled the clips in Dropbox, then sent them off to my brother-in-law Daniel who was learning video editing. He created the finished video and sent it back for review. That worked well, except for delays because both of us were just doing it on the side.
Overall I published 14 vlog episodes in 2017. I have about 5-7 more that still need to be edited and uploaded.
I’d say the vlog is a success for two reasons:
- I got over the fear and nervousness of talking to a camera, by myself, in public. Who cares what random people think. I’m doing my thing.
- It was a creative outlet and I created more in 2017 because of it.
That said, it’s not nearly as good as it could be. Had I put in more time and planning each episode could be better produced and deliver more value. By the end of the year it was more a random collection of clips on what happened in a trip, rather than a polished story.
Based on it’s lack of success I should shut down the vlog…but I’m torn because of the fun of being able to look back at the video from a trip and experience it again. Or to show Hilary what the boys and I did while she was away for the weekend.
If you haven’t seen any of the videos, I’d start with our Barcelona trip.
There’s also a part 2 that you can watch on YouTube.
One of Hilary’s dreams has been to have a homestead or small farm. She grew up with land and animals, so for the last few years she’s been thinking more and more about doing that. I wasn’t so thrilled. We just bought our house in 2014, remodeled it, and I love it. Best of all I could ride my bike 15 minutes (or drive 6 minutes) to my favorite coffee shop downtown.
But… a homestead is one of her dreams, so we started talking about it more seriously in November 2016. We were looking for at least 3 acres of land within a 20 minute drive of downtown. We quickly found a property that would be perfect, but we were in Thailand at the time. Once we returned to Boise it was off the market.
A few months later I noticed in public records that it hadn’t sold, so I started to track down the owner. She had moved out of state, remarried (so she changed her name), and was generally quite difficult to track down. But I eventually got her on the phone and learned that she had rented out the property on a year lease just two months earlier. She added that if something changed she’d keep my number and call me.
A month later (March, 2017) she called to say that things may not work out with the renter and she’d keep me posted. A few weeks after that she had evicted the renters for breaking the lease (not paying rent, etc). By mid-April we were able to tour the property.
We loved the land immediately, but didn’t care for the house right at first. But on a second visit we planned out some simple remodeling (new floors, paint, and moving a door) and realized that for about $15,000 we could significantly improve the house.
Since the house never went back on the market we were able to get a better price and avoid the majority of realty fees (we still hired a realtor to review contracts and guide us through the process, but at a discounted rate).
We bought the house and land (4.5 acres) for $517,000 (financed on a 30 year mortgage with 20% down). The deal closed at the end of May. We were able to finish the remodel and move in early July.
So far we absolutely love it. We now live 5 minutes from soccer (where I play an average of 3 days a week) and 2 minutes from Hilary’s brother and sister-in-law who we spend a lot of time with. We are further from downtown, but it still only takes 15 minutes.
The farm has a small guest house that I remodeled and rented out on Airbnb. Because of family staying with us we’ve only rented it for a few months, but it has already cleared about $4,000!
You can read more about that here.
Even in the quieter fall months the Airbnb income covers half of our mortgage. I’m excited to rent it through the summer when it should be able to cover the mortgage payment for the entire farm!
This year was great for wood working. I got a shop setup at the new house and started building. I did quite a bit of remodeling, but also a decent number of small fine woodworking projects. From simple things like a craps table to an incredibly elaborate jewlery box for Hilary for Christmas.
And of course lots of swords, axes, batarangs, and other weapons for the boys. I also got a lot better (and faster) at using the CNC machine which pushed the limits of what I could make.
Right before Christmas I bought a Sawstop table saw, so that I don’t accidentally cut my fingers off. Once that is setup and the shop is reorganized, I’m excited to build even more projects. My biggest goal is to teach my boys that when we need something we can just walk out to the garage and build it.
Book and Course Revenue
One surprise was how much I made from ebook and course sales this year. Back in 2014 I decided to ignore all my book sales in order to focus on ConvertKit. While ConvertKit took off, course revenue fell off a cliff. Last year it was at $23,633 (down from the 2014 peak of $299,000). This year it dropped further
Overall I’d love to do more with courses, but financially ConvertKit is a much better use of time.
The rise and fall of my info product empire
Justin Jackson mentioned on Twitter about how quickly the information product revenue dropped off without focus. Last year and the year before were the biggest drops. I made this graph to show the entire rise and fall over 6 years.
If that graph looks depressing you, let’s overlay the ConvertKit revenue for each year to show the results from shifting my focus from information products to SaaS.
In the goals section for last year I added one little line… “Host a conference.” It seems so innocuous—just three words—but it threw the team for a loop. We’d talked about hosting a conference, but there’s never a perfect time, so it didn’t make it on the schedule. But now it was an official goal.
So we discussed it in detail at our team retreat in February. The original plan was to do it in October, but for some reason we moved that to June. Maybe we just like to do business the hard way.
With just 4 months to plan the conference and sell tickets we got to work. It was hard—and in hindsight we should have allowed more time—but we pulled it off in a huge way. We had a killer line-up include Seth Godin, Melyssa Griffin, James Clear, and many more.
Nearly every attendee I talked to was shocked it was our first year. In fact, many said it was the best conference they’d ever attended.
On Sunday morning of the conference I gave a talk about our mission as a company (more on that in a moment) and announcing a massive change: we redesigned ConvertKit from the ground up. You can watch the 19 minute talk here:
For years we’ve toyed with building a visual automation builder, but only if we could make substantial improvements on what was already out there. So in January Dylan, our lead designer, flew out to Boise and we spent a week designing our own visual automations.
We quickly realized that we could improve upon the work of tools like Active Campaign, Drip, Campaign Monitor, and Infusionsoft. They all had visual builders, but most were overcomplicated and slow.
That’s where we decided to make ConvertKit shine:
- Making it super easy to understand
- Making it super fast
I couldn’t be more proud of the end result! Watch the video above for the full details (my favorite moment is when the entire audience gasps around minute 12).
Getting this ready in time for the conference was an insane amount of work. I definitely stressed out the team by pushing so hard. But ultimately I couldn’t be more proud of the results. We started designing in January, refined the concept in February and March, then started active development in April.
Along the way we also redesigned every single screen inside ConvertKit to make it mobile responsive and match the new look. Here are some shots from along the way.
You can read more about the process here.
What are you world class at?
On his podcast Tim Ferriss often asks guests, “What are you world class at?” I’ve thought of this question (mostly because I’d love to be a guest on the show) and never come up with a good response. I’m pretty good at sales, marketing, design, and writing, but I certainly never considered myself world class in any of them.
After launching visual automations for ConvertKit I know my answer. I am world class at product design.
Not to be arrogant, but our end result is just that good. It’s fast, easy, and—most importantly—fun to use. There are interactions that we came up with that are obvious in hindsight, but in 20 years of email marketing products no one thought of them before. I fully expect other email providers to copy them.
In 2016 I focused most of my time on sales and growth. Then in 2017 I spent the first half of the year on designing a better product, and the second half of the year back on growth. I think I can add the most long-term value by continuing to focus on design and product. So in 2018 we’re expanding our engineering team further, hiring another designer, and that’s where I’m spending the vast majority of my time.
Defined a clear mission
We’ve always known that as a company we want to have a mission beyond just revenue growth each year. Though for the last few years we’ve struggled to nail down exactly how to do that. This year we landed on a simple statement as our mission:
We exist to help creators earn a living.
The ConvertKit software is the tool we use make that happen. But we also teach through our online magazine Tradecraft, tell our customers stories through a new project (more on that later), and connect our customers to each other through Craft + Commerce.
If we’re going to brag about something as a company I want it to be how many creators we helped go pro from their work. Not how much we spend in Facebook ads each month or our latest headcount.
At our last team retreat I made small plaques for each person on the team to keep on their desk as a daily reminder for why we are here.
Finally, as the least important update on ConvertKit, we grew our MRR from $520,000 to $887,000. An increase of $367,000. Averaging $30,500 in net new MRR.
Net revenue had some crazy gains. From $4.1m in 2016 to $9.52m in 2017. I’ll take 131% growth! A big part of that came from our wildly successful Cyber Monday promotion. That deserves it’s own recap blog post. The short version is that we did nearly a million dollars of revenue from annual prepayments in a week!
Our goal for the year was $1m in MRR, which we didn’t hit. Though thanks to the amazing SaaS business model we’ll hit it in early 2018.
Speaking of goals. Let’s finish this off with a quick recap.
How’d I do on 2017 goals?
Host a conference.Done! It was epic.
- Cross $1,000,000 in monthly revenue. Nope. We hit $887,000 MRR.
Take a solo international trip.Yes! I went to Dublin for SaaStock. Redesign this site.Yes, kinda. I did a small redesign. There’s a new header now.
- Write 12 blog posts (even one a month is better than what I’ve been doing). Hahahaha. This goal seemed easy… But I only wrote 7 the entire year.
- Practice soccer 4+ times per week. I didn’t do this either. I played a lot of soccer, but I didn’t practice as much as I should.
Launch a massive new (secret) project.Done! This was visual automations for ConvertKit. And we crushed it!
Goals for 2018
- Host another amazing conference. This is happening June 29 – July 1, 2018. We already have Pat Flynn and Casey Neistat booked.
- Build marketing funnels for this blog. I want to turn nathanbarry.com into a case study for everything you can do with visual automations in ConvertKit. With the improvements in the last year ConvertKit is quite powerful and it’s time to use this blog to showcase them! It won’t hurt to earn some more money as well.
- Release a documentary and coffee table book. We shot a documentary called “I am a blogger” in 2017. It’s all about how bloggers earn a living from their work. It will be coming to Kickstarter in a few months!
- Cross $1.3m in Monthly Recurring Revenue. Pretty straightforward. We want another epic year of growth.
- Weigh 175 lbs. Currently I weigh 195. Sometimes 198 (but so far never 200). At 6′ 2″ 175 lbs feels like the right weight.
- Relaunch Commit. I let my iOS app Commit expire from the App Store since I failed to update it. In 2018 I’m going to relaunch it as a free app sponsored by ConvertKit.
- Publish 12 posts on this blog. Yes, the same goal as last year. But this year I’m actually going to hit it! Let me know if you have suggestions on what I should write about.
- Release 12 episodes on the vlog. One per month. Video is really fun. I’ll focus these videos on more impactful moments of the year rather than just whatever happens to be going on in life then.
- Become more effective with my time. Despite working quite a few hours I don’t feel like my output is nearly as high as it could be. One of my key goals is to use my time better and create more.
I better stop there. There are so many more goals that I want to hit this year, but they are more private. Just like with visual automations in 2017 I don’t want to announce something for ConvertKit until we are ready to make a big splash.
That’s it for 2017. I’d love to hear what you think! If you’d be so kind as to help me in my goals you can do two things:
Here’s to a great 2018!