I’ve now been an entrepreneur for 10 years. As with any stage of entrepreneurship, there are ups and downs every day. This year was no exception. That said, many things came together this year that I put in motion long ago. All in, it was the most profitable year of my career.
With a new blog and a new year, I wanted to take some time to reflect on what went well, what didn’t, and everything that happened in between. For more context on who I am and what I do, start here.
The Highlights – What Went Well
Much of my personal, business, and travel life blends together. I've done my best to separate each below by area.
My company Need/Want was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest growing businesses in America. We were ranked #108 nationwide, #1 in St. Louis, and #1 in Missouri. This was one of the few awards I wanted to get in my lifetime - so I'm quite proud of it. Many of these kinds of awards get made fun of in entrepreneur circles, but people still seem to respect the Inc. list since its actually quantifiable.
We started working 100% remotely. At the beginning of the year we decided to kill our office in downtown St. Louis to run the company completely remotely. The benefits have been nearly endless. The company saves a bunch of money each month and everyone is free to work from wherever they want. Ironically I co-own the building so I lost out of tenant revenues. We eventually found someone to rent our office space though.
An interesting side-effect of going 100% remote is we're more inclusive of employees that were already working remotely for us. Before when we had the office, some discussions happened in-person while other times they happened online. Sometimes those remote employees got left out. I feel like now that everything must happen online, we're all on equal standing and communication always happens in a central place. We're more organized!
Successfully managing the business without my co-founder. After 5 years of working together on Need/Want, my co-founder Jon Wheatley decided he wanted to work on something new and stepped down from the company. It was all entirely amicable and I completely understood. We're still great friends. However when he left and moved to Denver, I felt a hole in my life. I missed working with one of my best friends on a daily basis. Over some time though, I learned how to come into my own. It also helped that I empowered our CFO. He's really stepped up as an operator... so much so I gave him the COO title.
Need/Want's monthly operating expenses were trimmed by 40 to 50%! Around the same time Jon wanted to leave the company, we decided to move away from a "startup studio" model and focus solely on Peel, our best performing brand. In doing so, we were able to cut tons of expenses related to building multiple brands. At some point I'll write a blog post about this process of trimming up our expenses so drastically.
We issued profits to owners in both of my businesses for the first time. In both Need/Want (which operates Peel) and Ludwig (the holding company that we bought the building in downtown St. Louis with) began issuing profits to owners. This was the first year for doing so in both entities. For Need/Want, we've poured all profits back into the business for the last 5-6 years. Other than some relatively small bonuses, we haven't taken any money out of the business until now. This year I decided we should begin issuing dividends to owners.
It feels really great to finally see the fruits of the labor. This was the main reason 2018 was my most profitable year to date.
Profits doubled at Need/Want this year while revenues declined. While a mix of factors contributed to the revenue decline of about 20% (we didn't advertise as hard for example), our drastic profits increase of nearly 100% was largely due to honing our focus.
At Peel we released new products in new categories. Peel started out with the original super thin iPhone case design. A big goal of ours for 2018 was to expand into new product categories. We used the design elements people love Peel for and applied them to new categories. We released a super thin wireless charger, a magnetic slim wallet, and a magnetic & minimal paper notebook. With doing so, we're morphing into more of a minimalist essentials brand. Design / prototyping phases for these products started back in 2017, so it's really great to see them finally launch.
Launched our 13th rental property. This kept my wife and I quite busy. We're now working on acquiring a hotel license and morphing things into a boutique. In 2019 I'm looking forward to building out a brand for the property we acquired. It's been a blast designing and operating a little boutique property.
I hired a General Manager to run day to day operations of my building. This freed up a lot of my time for other projects.
I invested into a Fiber Internet company in Pennsylvania. I was the first investor money into the company and now own about 11%. It's been fun helping the founder where I can and diversifying a little bit. The company is called Loop Internet – they offer super fast fiber internet that's about 10x faster than their competition in the area. Fun fact: they're based in Scranton PA, where 'The Office' is supposed to take place.
I hired an assistant. With many false starts over the years, I'm confident this time it will stick. I've long wanted to offload annoying daily tasks I have. Every time I've been inspired to hire an assistant, I would try to save money and hire a cheap virtual assistant for $8/hr. I would ultimately find it too cumbersome to explain how to do everything and then would cancel.
This time however, I went super premium and hired someone from Worldwide101 for 3hrs per day at $37/hr. My assistant is Carin and she's amazingly capable! I've entrusted her with a ton of access to my businesses and personal life. This access has allowed her to do much more for me.
More money saved in the bank than I've ever had. 10 years of entrepreneurship means 10 years of being mostly poor. It wasn't until very recently things started to pay off financially. With money in the bank, it makes things a bit less stressful day to day. I have a little less anxiety about money now.
My wife and I got rid of most of our belongings. In preparation to be nomadic and travel while we work in 2019, we got rid of a ton of junk. At the end of the year we sold or donated almost all of our furniture and stuff. We now only have what will fit in 2 suitcases each. It's freeing having very few things.
I built up a budgeting habit and track every personal expense. I've tried to NOT level up my lifestyle equal to our income increase. I've enjoyed learning more about finance and being more disciplined in that area of our lives. It's weirdly one of my favorite things to check our budget each week. At some point I'll write about my system. I moved away from Mint and now use a simple custom spreadsheet.
My wife Jaimie graduated with her Bachelors in Interior Design. She decided to go back to school when we first started dating, so it's been really cool to watch her grow through the entire program. She killed it with a 4.0.
I raced in a 6 week karting series over the summer. I placed 3rd overall amongst about 30 other drivers. I've owned a motorcycle ever since I was 16, but stopped riding and doing track days a couple years ago. I've missed motorsports so it was a blast to get back into a hobby.
My cardio fitness greatly improved. I run about 3 miles regularly and often push myself to do 5-6 miles without issue. My absolute max a few years ago was only 2-3 miles. I attribute lower levels of anxiety to my fitness regimen.
I got in the habit of leaving my phone on the other side of the house when I go to bed. This is one of those things that's so small, but had such a massive impact on my mornings. I'm able to curb my phone addiction and get out of bed quickly. Before doing this I would wake up, grab my phone from the nightstand and check social media, company stats, and emails for 30-60 mins from bed. I can't recommend this tiny change enough. Try it!
I trained myself to stop doing tons of stuff that just doesn't matter. The "no" muscle got used a lot this year. I've become much better at figuring out what's essential and eliminating what is not. This has applied to both my business and personal life.
My wife and I prioritized travel in 2018. A newfound hobby has been maximizing credit card points for travel rewards. By putting our business expenses and personal expenses through the right cards, I've been able to take a lot of free travel this year with Jaimie.
Here's everywhere we went in 2018
- British Columbia, Canada – started 2018 in Victoria on Vancouver Island for 2 weeks with my wife. We visited my friends at Tiny and did a lot of hiking, reading, and thinking.
- Shenzhen, China – in January to visit factories for our new Peel products
- Tulum, Mexico – Jaimie and I went to Tulum 4 times throughout the year. It's clearly one of our favorite places to relax.
- Shenzhen, China – again in March to visit factories once more.
- Phuket, Thailand – in April for our 1 year wedding anniversary (we went between visiting our factories in China)
- New York City – in September for Jaimie's first visit.
- Orlando & Dallas – finished the year by visiting Jaimie's family in Orlando and mine in Dallas, TX.
What Didn't Go Well This Year
It wasn't all profits and travels. This year had a lot of tough times.
Shut down a business that we spent $625,000 buying. As you can imagine this was the most painful thing I did this year. I'll write about this entire story soon, but the entire ordeal was horrible. We co-purchased a business with the guys at Tiny. The business turned out to have some fatal flaws and dishonest founders that hid some crippling things during due diligence.
Sued someone and was counter sued. (related to the above story). We both agreed to ultimately drop our cases against each other. This could have become ugly as both parties were located in different countries.
I didn't stick to my writing goal. I wanted to write daily. I trailed off after about 2 weeks of consistently writing over 1,000 words per day. I plan to make writing a priority this year. Starting this site should help!
Didn't launch as many new Peel products as I wanted to. I'm still finding the balance between saying no to stay lean and profitable, but also exploring new ideas in our business.
Had to shut down a rental property. The building association where my first rental property is located decided to begin enforcing no Airbnb. I've had it listed on Airbnb for about 4 years. Due to this change I'll lose out quite a bit of income per month. I'm going to try to sell it or do a long term tenant to break even. Unfortunately the property has lost value in 5 years of ownership. If I sell it will be at a loss.
Mixed friends and work which almost killed a friendship – without getting into too much detail, my wife and I nearly lost a relationship with a close friend. Luckily things were repaired. For a while it was very awkward.
I feel like I'm in a bit of a creative funk. In 2019 I'm going to tinker with a few things on the the side to get the creative juices flowing again. Starting this blog is part of my plan to combat my funk.
Several copycats to my business stressed me out. Nothing pisses me off more than someone completely copying your product design.
I had to let go of several employees. Changing the direction of our company and cutting expenses often means layoffs. I also had to fire someone unrelated to expense cutting. Letting someone go is always emotionally difficult. Luckily everyone has found positions that I believe are a better fit for them long term.
Things I've Loved
I thought it would be fun to recommend a few things I've discovered and loved in 2018.
Apps & Services
- Superhuman – an email app that forces fast processing and keyboard shortcuts. It's hard to explain why it's so good, but I love it. $29/mo. Hit me up on Twitter for an invite if they're still not open to the public yet. Any customer can invite others.
- Castro Podcast Player – So many great features, but my favorite is how the app embraces the notion that not every episode from your subscriptions needs to be listened to. There's a slick inbox flow to quickly sift through the latest episodes from your subscriptions. Add them to your queue or archive entirely.
- Bear – I've used Evernote for nearly a decade but recently made the switch to Bear. Evernote got too bloated with features. Bear is just right. It's on mobile and desktop too.
- Worldwide101 – The premium executive assistant service I hired through. They're expensive, but REALLY good.
- American Kingpin – The story of the founder of Silk Road. It was described to me as a modern day Breaking Bad story and boy were they right. I almost exclusively read non-fiction but this one had me hooked.
- Atomic Habits – I bought this book for so many friends. I can't recommend it enough!
- Profit First – While I didn't follow everything he recommends, it was a wakeup call to stop delaying profits. I highly recommend this to any small biz owner.
What's Next? What I'm Looking Forward To In 2019
I will be traveling for all of 2019. Jaimie and I no longer have a permanent home. We'll be living and working abroad in various Airbnbs for 2-4 weeks at a time. I'm actually writing this from Lisbon, Portugal where we'll be for all of January. The plan is to split our time between European and Asia Pacific countries. Follow me on Instagram for travel photos and daily stories. Give Jaimie a follow too – she posts more than me.
Writing on this blog each week. To kick off this blog I'm trying something new. Instead of tricking out new articles randomly, I'm letting my readers choose what I write next. See the articles that are coming soon here.
Starting a new podcast with Jon! We used to blog and podcast regularly at Need/Want sharing what we were up to. We both really miss it so we're soon going to start a podcast called The Catchup Call. The format will be monthly catchup calls between us, talking about what we're up to and getting an update on each other's businesses.
Creating a new product for fun outside of Need/Want – I have 3 ideas that I'm going to explore
- An idea around my productivity system
- A tool for travel rewards points – that space needs some tools to make life easier.
- Teaching a course about making physical products
I have some financial and company goals but those are a bit more private.
Overall I had a blast in 2018. I'm looking forward to tackling 2019 and trying some new things. If there's anything you'd like to see me write about more, sound off in the comments. Thanks for reading!