Who cares, right? Yet another retrospective about someone’s dumb year. And you’re right, this is probably worthless. But I learned a lot this past year, and I hope what I’ve experienced might help a few other people who are curious about what it’s like to try to build anything on their own.
This post covers what I did in 2014, what I didn’t do, and what I plan to do in 2015. It also includes a breakdown of my income for the year, a retrospective for each project I launched/what happened to them, and why some of the things I launched “failed.” Enjoy!
A Year of Contradictions
The past year was a fascinating one for me. It felt like a year of contradictions. Know upfront that 2014 was the best year of my life thus far, both personally and professionally. I created and launched more things into the world than I have any year previously, which was empowering. Yet at the same time I struggled directionally and financially for much of the year. Encouragingly, I found more clarity than I’ve ever had about my worldview and goals, while also suffering from an obnoxious amount of self-doubt, confusion, and emotional stress.
My internal compass evolved throughout the year as well. In January, I had little idea where I wanted to spend my life (I was living alone in a remote lakehouse), nor how I planned to use my creative energy. The goal at the time was to build a straight-forward web application which businesses paid for monthly, netting me enough money to work for myself. That was it.
Then it slowly dawned on me that I desired to settle down more. I felt distress over constantly moving, bailing on my friends and community, not knowing where I’d be, not being able to invest (emotionally and physically) in a place or the people around me. I became emphatic that I needed to be involved with and help build a community I cared about, and that community was Chicago. On top of that, my desire to have a physical space (home, office, etc) to call my own and reliable creative people around me drove me to pick where I want to live long-term instead of moving around more.
Throughout the year, my dreams of running a small software development studio became drastically less interesting. I couldn’t see the point. I began to gain new purpose around February or so, evolving it throughout my April trip to NYC.
What Can I Do For You?
My skills are… varied, to say the least, and often difficult to pin down. They include...
- a decent design-sense.
- a solid (but lacking) programming ability.
- a little marketing and business acumen.
- an ability to understand and build the operations/logistical side of most projects.
- and a grossly preternatural ability to “network” with people.
These skills are really great for taking an idea from nothing to reality all on my own, but I began wondering what else I could do with them. Could I somehow “outsource” my skills to other people, helping them get their creative projects off the ground? Yes, I believe so. On top of that, the industry that I work in tends to be very profitable (funny to say that, given my [lack of] income for the year), which provides another a very useful tool for helping people. But something happened, or more accurately, didn’t happen… my projects weren’t taking off, for a variety reasons you’ll read below. How can I help other people launch their projects if mine aren’t going anywhere? I needed to learn more. I put this “idea” on hold until I could get something of my own off the ground and, hopefully, very profitable.
So I went back to doing product design+development consulting. While freelancing again, I learned a lot about what I needed to do with Mocky. But then I gained a new need: I had projects which were too big for me to do alone, so I needed other designers and developers to help me. I know tons of people in Chicago, but everybody was booked up or not looking for work. What the hell? If I can’t find people, then other people must be having issues with this.
Then, ironically, I had friends struggling to hire people for design & development jobs in Chicago while at the same exact time multiple other friends couldn’t find good design & development jobs. What. The. Hell? We’re all searching for the same thing and can’t find each other.
Hermes. People need good jobs. Companies need good people. I luckily know a lot of people and a lot companies.
I put up a simple website that took me two days to make (mostly copywriting) at a subdomain of my current site, so I spent no money. I didn’t make any software. Software wouldn’t solve this problem yet. It was a human problem, so I began learning. And I’m still learning. As of this week Hermes has helped at least 4 people get new work, and a couple of others negotiate raises at their current jobs. Each hire helps the next person get hired a little more easily and a little faster. And as pleased as I am with the fact that Hermes has helped at least 4 people so far, I can’t help but see the list of 50 other people who signed up who I haven’t helped yet.
But that’s why the future exists. Always room to improve.
(Read below the lists to see my income breakdown for all years from 2011-2014, as well as retrospectives on each of my major projects.)
What I did in 2014
- Moved back to Chicago in May.
- Lived alone in a remote lake-house for the first 3 months of the year.
- Built and launched Mocky.com, with ~1,000 users but not making any money.
- Built The Shakedown with @BenedictFritz, got to 10,000 players.
- Launched Hermes (The Service, more on this later).
- Spent more time back in Kentucky with my family than I have since I moved away.
- Spent a lot of time with friends and people who I care about, but not enough.
- Started a podcast (Strange Beings) and then put it on hold when I got too busy.
- Started doing standup comedy, after putting it off for 8 years. Performed about 1x a week for the final 3 months of the year.
- Learned to skateboard.
- Read a few great books, not nearly enough.
- Made a ton of new friends, both in Chicago and on the internet.
- Helped a handful of people get new jobs.
- Helped some other people get better salaries and gain the confidence to address problems with their jobs.
- Designed a few apps for clients.
- Tweeted. Like… a lot.
- Tweeted so much and so poorly that a lot of people unfollowed me. But even more people followed me than the number that unfollowed me, and those people are better.
- Adopted an adorable dog named Marlo (Long Live The Don #DonMarlo).
- Went on a lot of dates. Somehow too many and too few all at once.
- Drank a lot of alcohol and ate a lot of bad food.
Things I didn’t do in 2014
- Didn’t make any money from my own projects, only from client work. This is probably the biggest letdown, as it was my primary goal for 2014.
- Didn’t blog at all. Hardly wrote, to be honest.
- Didn’t build the right product for customers with Mocky.
- Didn’t build the right app with The Shakedown.
- Didn’t explore enough. I spent most of my time in Chicago, but in the same neighborhoods I’ve frequented for years. Also, I only took a single trip to NYC.
- Didn’t build a consistent habit of working out, also didn’t lose any weight (probably gained weight, actually).
What I plan to do in 2015
- Help 100 people get a better job, a better salary, and a better environment for their creative work.
- Build Hermes (The Product).
- Grow Hermes (The Service + The Product) into my full-time income.
- Perform standup comedy at least 2-3x per week. This included writing a ton of standup material, which was a major reason I didn’t perform more frequently in 2014.
- Get to the level in the Chicago standup community where I’m regularly invited to perform at showcases.
- Start hosting a weekly standup open mic AND a monthly showcase.
- Share a lot more… my thoughts, opinions, ideas, code, design, laughter, etc.
- Write and publish. A lot. Starting right fucking now.
- Help grow and enrich the Chicago design, development, and general creative community more directly. (Have some ideas here)
- Host weekly/bi-weekly dinners for people in Chicago.
- Record more episodes for Strange Beings, my podcast.
- Build The Shakedown version #2 and reach 100,000+ players.
- Build a habit of working out regularly.
- Drink a lot less alcohol. (Challenging myself to at least take January off entirely.)
- Lose 30 pounds. (Combo of eating better, drinking less, working out more.)
- Probably a lot more stuff I haven’t even considered yet… shit.
Money is an annoying topic, and I generally find it to be an incredibly tedious thing to struggle with. I’d prefer to not have to think about money, but it’s a powerful force over my mental and emotional state at any given time.
I have a beefy blog post I’ve been meaning to write about money, but here’s the primer: I view money as a tool. It’s a tool which allows me to spend my energy and attention on anything I want. Right now that is Hermes. However, I also value control and my own way of doing things, which is why I spend a lot of energy fending off the temptation to seek investors for my projects (yet another topic for a different day), or even to get another full-time job. The driving forces behind the projects themselves are more important and powerful than what money could provide me (for now).
So, here’s the breakdown of my income the past few years, and I’ll tell you why I think it matters:
In 2011, I got my first job out of college. I was hired as a junior product manager (actually it was some other bullshit title, but whatever) at Twilio. My salary was $60,000. On top of that, as employee #23, I got some stock options (Nothing crazy like you might imagine, but absurdly fortunate for me. When they IPO I expect to pay off my student loans and maybe have a little left for a savings account). I was 21-years-old, so my personal expenses were low, but the job was in San Francisco and my rent was $1,200/mo (not to mention SF's generally insane cost-of-living).
After 18 months (June 2012), and after many months of telling them I expected a raise, they increased my salary to $72,000. I’ll write another blog post about this experience sometime, but I quit that job 6 months later, at the end of 2012, after realizing I didn’t have a place there anymore.
In 2013, my income was $33,423. About 1/3 of that ($12,013) came from freelance work, and the rest ($22,743.57) was from the 3 months I was “Head of Operations” at Svbtle. That didn’t work out, which was for the best, but it definitely helped even out my income for the year. The first 6 months of the year were spent living in Chicago, paying $400/mo for rent. The summer was spent in San Francisco paying $1,250/mo in rent. And the final 3 months of the year were spent in Kentucky paying $0 for rent (family home).
Finally, my income for 2014 was $40,850. In relation to my cost of living+expenses every month, that’s the least I’ve made since I graduated college, yet it's been the best year of my life, without a doubt.
Sharing this information is making me feel pretty fucking vulnerable and uncomfortable. I generally like to be very open about everything, and in private I freely talk about money (even going so far as to let some dates know when I was broke). But money is a taboo topic in public forums, which is exactly why I believe it’s important to talk about it more.
I’ve come across so many people who struggle, like me, with money. How much they have now, how much they should be making, what’s enough, what’s the future look like, how much do I need to quit my job, etc etc. Knowing what I need to survive in a given year is useful to me because I’ve discovered that I can live comfortably in my current lifestyle if I make between $40k-$50k/year. Ideally I’ll reach an income of $70k-$80k/year so I can build up some savings and pay off my debt, but beyond that any other income is a tool for funding things I find interesting. Hopefully I can make that happen in 2015 and help enable more people’s creativity.
I spent last winter building Mocky.com while living in total isolation in a lakehouse with my mom’s dog. Mocky is primarily for designers to share their work and receive feedback from clients and coworkers. What happened?
First, I spent the entire development process working alone and working solely on Mocky. It’s a tool for collaborating and receiving feedback, but I was never able to fully use it except to get feedback from friends on Mocky. So I build the wrong product… at least it feels that way.
In reality, I’ve learned a lot by using it for all my client work in 2014. It requires another 1-3 months of development to get it to the point where it would solve real problems for businesses and start making a real income. So for now it’s on hold while I focus on Hermes, but I’d like to dedicate some attention back to Mocky soon, or potentially hire someone to work on it. I still believe there’s something useful here.
What began as a joke on Twitter quickly became a real project with my friend Benedict Fritz. We thought we’d spend 3 days making it. That turned into a week. Then two weeks. Then a month. And it ultimately was about two months from idea to launch.
The Shakedown was my first real mobile app. We built it entirely on the side of our client work, so it took a lot longer than it expected even though it’s relatively straight-forward. As with every piece of software, we launched it and realized there were a lot of flaws in how we built it which made it less fun for players. However, the game is actually a lot of fun and it had a lot of attention for about a week.
Benedict and I still hope to make an updated version of the app. We think it could be even more fun, cause more of a ruckus, and maybe even make us a little money to fund future projects (not to mention all the time we’ve already put in).
This is the big one. Hermes came out of nowhere this year. The project evolved entirely organically (which I described up top in this post) out of a real need I and many people around me were having. The more time I work on it and think about it, the more important it becomes to me. It comprises about 80% of my mental and emotional energy at any given time. There’s something special here, and I can’t wait to talk about it more.
Luckily, it’s looking good that my full-time income will be entirely from Hermes beginning in February 2015. If I can sustain and grow that, then I have an exciting chance at being able to build something meaningful for other people. I really hope I get that chance… I’m sick of how difficult it is for so many good people to get a job they can be proud of.
#33cc77, the future
My studio is called #33cc77. It’s named after the HEX code of the green color I use for everything. #33cc77 is a playground for all my thoughts, ideas, and creativity… so much an extension of me that it is basically who I am. Hermes was an evolution out of my #33cc77 work, as were Mocky, The Shakedown, and many other projects.
I have this weird, potentially unsustainable/unstable, perception that I can do anything. My goals for 2015 are stupidly ambitious, and almost surely impossible. I’m optimistic, and I really hope I get the chance to make some really useful stuff for all of you who are reading this.
That’s it. Hope you enjoyed my dumb retrospective. Email me if I can help you in any way at all: email@example.com