The new year is around the corner, and it’s time to pause and self-reflect. This year was very productive: I did plenty of consulting, grew my podcast, published another book, sold my SaaS product, and started a new one.
Consulting was great. I helped nine SaaS companies redesign ten existing web applications and build one new product, not to mention strategy calls and smaller gigs. This year brought some great names like BuzzSumo — here’s their custom UI audit, published as a case study.
Working closely with so many SaaS businesses helped me learn a lot this year: both as a consultant and as a founder. My overall revenue grew as well — due to the increased consulting volume, more product sales, and podcast sponsorships.
It was a fantastic year for UI Breakfast Podcast. I doubled down on quality of the guest lineup, and was religiously consistent (with only a few breaks for travel). As a result, 42 episodes were published this year, collecting a massive number of downloads. The number of weekly downloads for each new episode grew from about 2,000 to 3,500–4,000.
The chart below shows how the downloads have grown over time from the very first days. Checking the podcast stats gave me a lot of happy moments this year!
I also started accepting sponsorships. It worked out great, and gave me another reason for shipping consistently. I’d love to give Balsamiq an honorable mention: they’re one of the most generous design companies out there.
UI Breakfast mailing list remains my most precious business asset, and I work hard to treat my subscribers with respect and send out quality content.
The list size hasn’t grown dramatically this year, since I haven’t done any active promotions: it lingers around 8,000 subscribers. There’s a nice number of organic subscribers, balanced with unsubscribes from each campaign.
This year I set up Sunday Breakfast — a weekly autoresponder sequence for the new subscribers. They get three pieces of my best content every Sunday for 11 weeks after they join. It helps them learn more about my ecosystem, and allows me to showcase the best content from the archives.
I didn’t publish too many articles this year — only two new issues of UI Practicum — but I don’t feel guilty about it. Most of my writing was in other formats, such as the new book.
Productized consulting has been my favorite topic for many years. Having amassed a lot of practical knowledge — and warmed up by a successful talk on the topic at DYFConf Europe — I felt a strong urge to share it with freelancers and consultants out there. The book was supposed to be a quick win, written and published fast. However, after I launched pre-orders on August 1, different things kept happening and preventing me from sitting down to write it.
I pulled myself together and launched Your Productized Consulting Guide on December 21. So far it has made about $3,000 (including pre-orders). I’m looking to sell more of it next year: not even because of money, but to spread the word and help people find their best way in client work.
My main goal for 2017 was launching and growing Tiny Reminder to $5k in MRR. Here’s what happened. I launched Tiny Reminder on January 12, and the launch went amazing: it felt like the entire community got together to support my new product. During the first half of the year I was doing active promotion and collecting new free users (I quickly changed to a freemium model after the launch).
Initially I was very excited about the product idea and had high hopes for the virality of the product. But not only was I not experiencing rapid growth — the new users almost never converted to paid. From my experience, that means a lack of product-market.
I wasn’t sure what to do next. The product was good, but too broad to be super-useful to a specific audience. I was essentially violating my own favorite product advice! The product category was new and people weren’t searching for a tool like that. And I didn’t feel like a marketing rockstar either.
In the end of August I got an offer from one well-known company to acquire Tiny Reminder. We quickly agreed on a nice number, but this acquisition didn’t go anywhere (and the process took 3 months). However, I’m still very grateful for this offer. It turned my thinking upside down, giving me liberation to not move forward. It also caused a splash of inspiration for a new product — more on that later.
In the middle of December I sat down, reconciled all pros and cons, asked my senior friends for advice, and decided to sell Tiny Reminder to someone (preferably from our community) who’s more excited to grow it.
As I’m writing this, we’re working with the awesome new founders — Nathan Powell and Michael Koper of Nusii — to take over the product and make the public announcement. They’re very excited to keep improving and growing Tiny Reminder, because their proposal tool targets the same audience. I couldn’t wish for better new hands!
Liberated with the acquisition news in September, my brain started buzzing with new product ideas. Starting the second time is easier than the first, plus I knew exactly what mistakes to avoid.
While starting out with Tiny Reminder, I was looking for a tool to manage my users and send action-based emails and in-app messages. I was surprised about the way most analytics tools dealt with users: making the profiles entirely faceless. Just having a transparent user list (with names, emails and some activity) turned out to be a problem — Intercom was the only tool that I could find. But Intercom seemed a bit clumsy and also outrageously expensive.
That’s how I came up with the idea for Userlist.io. The idea wasn’t new exactly, which is a good thing. I quickly registered the domain name and started recruiting co-founders. With Tiny Reminder, I had to pay hard-earned cash to build every new feature. It was a great “sanity check” against building a Frankenstein product, but felt very limiting. I also needed someone for marketing, it just isn’t my strongest skill.
I got extremely lucky: the people I wanted the most said yes. My co-founders are Benedikt Deicke as the CTO (he is the one who built Tiny Reminder for me), and Claire Suellentrop as the Chief Marketing Officer (she was previously the Director of Marketing and employee #2 at Calendly, which speaks for itself).
What’s so exciting about Userlist.io:
Our ambitious goal is to reach $5k MRR by the end of the year, but realistically we aren’t expecting hockey-stick growth from day one. Having all the success factors in place, we’re set for an amazing long journey. Claire has already interviewed 12 founders during the research phase, and we’re planning to launch the beta version early in 2018.
Here’s a secret: I’m a seasoned procrastinator. Or maybe I’m a sensitive human being who gets easily shaken by various circumstances and needs time to recover. Whatever it is, it comes with plenty of guilt attached, even though I did embrace such “waves of productivity” long ago.
As an experienced design professional, I’m fast and efficient at work — if I make myself sit down and get started. It helps with client deadlines, but doesn’t help too much with my own products.
I’ve been in the productive mode many times this year, including the final push in the end of December, so I’m still happy with the outcome. But I’m not 100% at peace with such daily drama; I’m secretly hoping for a magic cure. My friend Kai Davis mentioned The 12 Week Year as one of his favorite books. But no strict system has ever worked for me, even though I admire focus mentors like Shawn Blanc and everyone who wakes up at 6am. Maybe I just need to find inner peace about it.
I turned thirty in March, and this number felt like a major milestone: wrapping up tender youth and entering “serious” adult life. Very melancholic. To self-reflect and celebrate, I wrote a huge blog post with the story of my life. Sharing this moment with my friends and readers was a great pleasure!
This year brought just the perfect amount of travel, three conference talks, and a lot of pleasure from meeting friends around the world. We also spent this year living in the south of Russia, which meant trips to the beach every weekend for the entire summer, and exciting field trips all year long.
The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam was the only one disappointing: beautifully organized, but very impersonal, hundreds of enterprise teams sticking together. Other events were fantastic — once again proving that small size is the best.
My husband is growing his own engineering company (30+ people), and we find pleasure in sharing business matters with each other. Our two sons are now 4 and 5.5, we’re getting ready for school, and things are going well in the family. The kids have become much more autonomous: they now play PlayStation, learn to read and write, and do other awesome things.
This fall we all made a major step forward in health and fitness — like massage, kinesiology, a personal trainer, etc. I’m hoping to make more progress there in 2018.
This year was productive, but much more relaxed and focused than 2016 (the year of speaking frenzy and unstoppable content production). That’s a good trend. The goals for 2018 are even more straightforward:
Be a specialist. As founders, we wear multiple hats — because we can, and because it saves us resources. In this rat race we often forget that the most precious resource is our time and energy. Sometimes it’s better to focus on your most valuable skills — what you do best! — and delegate the rest to co-founders or employees. Learn to buy back your time in all areas of your life.
Ask for advice. You might know your business better, but sometimes you’re perfectly incapable of seeing obvious solutions from the inside. Whenever in doubt, seek advice from friends or consultants. Don’t just ask for general feedback — ask for critique or specific recommendations.
Don’t be afraid to quit. There’s always a way out of any situation. Persistence is great, but find time to evaluate your results (and your feelings) once in a while.
Work with humans. Working with big companies can bring amazing acceleration, but it’s much more pleasant to work with partners of your scale. Deal with people who have genuine interest in your product. Do business your own way — human, transparent, and reliable. You’re not alone sharing these values!
Dear friends, thank you for reading to the end: maybe some lessons will be useful for your business. Hope the new year brings you energy, good health, peace of mind, focus, and amazing professional growth!
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