I've meant to do a year-in-review post almost every year for the past five or so. For one reason or another, I just never got around to it. This year is different!
2021 had a lot of good, a little bad, and, in general, a lot of change.
Here's what I'll cover in this post:
- The Bad: Ugh, Covid
- Client Work
- A New Venture - CourseLift
- Theme for 2021
- Theme for 2022
The Bad: Ugh, Covid
Perhaps we'll get the bad out of the way first. To sum it up, living in a pandemic world was tough in 2021.
We had lockdowns in Ontario for a good part of the beginning of the year. The lack of in-person socialization and inability to do anything was hard.
My family has been lucky and none of us has gotten COVID yet (as far as we know) but the persistent low-grade stress and languishing that comes along with the pandemic has been hard to deal with.
As I write this, Omicron is making the situation worse around the world again. Here's to hoping this is the last of the waves.
Now on to the good! 2021 was a great year for my family and my business(es).
I don't talk about it much online but I run a really small agency called Elevate Digital. We build custom software for small to medium sized companies (think line-of-business software).
From 2016 to this year, it was really just me cranking out code on my own with the help of some contractors for specific projects. In August I was able to hire two full time developers to help with the increasing project volume and to free me up to focus on some other endeavours (more on that later).
Revenue for Elevate Digital in 2021 was the highest it has ever been. 2022 looks like it will be another great year as well. I'm super grateful for this and feel quite lucky to have a good amount of project work without needing to fish for it. The new team members are executing really well and increasing our capacity to take on more ambitious projects. 🎉
I didn't produce any new courses in 2021 but my existing offerings have still been selling. 👍
My current flagship course is ReactSecurity in which I teach about auth and security for React applications.
Total lifetime sales are at just over $90,000.
The course was released in June of 2020. About half the sales took place in 2021 which shows that there is still a good amount of interest in the topic. In 2022 I need to update the course and work on some things to get it selling better.
That actually leads into the biggest topic of the year which we'll get to in a bit.
I started with Prisma in Developer Relations in July of 2020 after a couple years running Elevate Digital and building software for companies. I was actually technically a contractor at Prisma (I wasn't employed by them directly, Elevate Digital was) but it was my full-time gig up until June of this year.
Working at Prisma was an amazing experience. The team, the product, the userbase--everything was great. I did a lot of devrel type stuff: speaking at conferences (all online while I was there), writing articles, doing livestreams and more.
I think my favorite work activity at Prisma was livestreaming. I get a kick out of being in front of a crowd and that was probably the closest it came to it in an all-online world. Most of my conference talks were prerecorded.
The only thing I regret from my time at Prisma is that I didn't get to meet any of my teammates in person. It's the first time I've worked at a company and not met a single coworker face-to-face.
The decision to leave Prisma wasn't easy but something had been gnawing at me for a while. For a long time, I've wanted to start a SaaS company. Building one is actually one of the reasons I initially got into programming.
I've had ideas for products over the years and even a few false starts. But this time, some stars aligned that allowed me to have my primary focus on building a product company of my own in an area I've got a lot of experience in.
A New Venture - CourseLift
Even though things with Elevate Digital are going great, I've long wanted to build and run a product company. SaaS has always been attractive to me and this year I decided to formally commit to bootstrapping a company.
For course creators like me, there are plenty of options out there for hosting. For ReactSecurity, I use Podia. I've also done everything from using platforms like Udemy to building my own platform.
All of these options exists on a spectrum of tradeoffs. Using a platform like Udemy means you get an immediate audience but you need to accept the fact that they'll take 50% of your course sales and you won't be able to have a high ticket price. This is usually good for first-time course authors.
On the other end, if you're self-hosting, you get to keep more of your earnings but marketing your course is all up to you.
All things being equal, I think self-hosting is the better move. You get to keep in contact with your audience through email, you keep more of the sales, and you can charge more for your course.
The problem is that a lot of course authors don't know how to effectively market their self-hosted courses. I'm building CourseLift to solve this.
CourseLift offers everything you'd expect a platform to (content hosting, payments, landing pages etc) but it helps authors market more effectively. Authors get a tailored marketing playbook with prescriptive guidance so they can ensure their launches go well.
I'm still early with CourseLift and haven't actually shipped anything yet but it looks like I'll be able to get it out the door in early 2022. At the time of this writing, I'm creating a free course that deals with fullstack development which will be the first course to launch on CourseLift. Expect to see that out in the first part of January. 🎉
Theme for 2021
Going from 2020 to 2021 was the first time I set a theme for my year instead of a bunch of resolutions. Apparently it's a better way to make the kind of change you'd like without being overly specific and prescriptive about it.
My theme for 2021 was "build".
That's a fairly broad theme but I did have a few specific areas I wanted to focus on. Those things were: content, side projects, relationships, muscle, and more.
I like the idea in this video.— Ryan Chenkie (@ryanchenkie) December 28, 2020
Instead of a new years resolution, have a new years "theme".
My theme going into the new year is "build".
Content, side projects, relationships, muscle, and more.
What's your theme for 2021?https://t.co/FHKBx3ZZco
Here's a recap of of where I feel I landed on each of those specific topics within my theme.
I'd say I fell short of my goal for this one. I shipped a bunch of content for Prisma but I guess what I really had in mind was to ship content under my own name.
I published a handful of YouTube videos and held a livestream or two of my own. But I didn't make any new courses and I didn't write any new content for the blog. ❌
Even though I fell short on this one, I'm actually ok with it because I think it belongs more in my theme for 2022 (more on that in a bit).
I think this one is a win for 2021. I started CourseLift and left a great job to pursue it. So I guess you could stay I started a side project and morphed it fairly quickly into a full time project. Mission accomplished ✅
I didn't have anything too specific in mind when I said I wanted to build relationships but I'd say this one was "pretty good" in 2021.
I don't think I worked a single weekend in 2021 and was generally home by 5:30 every workday. This was great on the family front. ✅ Having worked many weekends and evening hours in the past, I'm glad to not be doing it much (or at all) anymore. I don't want to miss my kids growing up.
For other relationship building, friendships were maintained as much as can be in a pandemic world. I'm at least fairly positive I didn't lose any friends ✅
Fail on this one. ❌
Before the pandemic, I was at the gym with a trainer three times a week. I haven't been at all since.
That's not to say that fitness was a total flop though. We bought a Peloton this year and I really started using it regularly in the fall. I'm on it about every second day and am just about to hit 50 rides. At least I'm building on cardio ✅
Theme for 2022
My theme for 2022 is "ship".
Ship what exactly? I'm going to keep it simple and focus on three things.
In 2022, I'll focus on shipping CourseLift, videos, and blog posts.
For CourseLift, this means getting the app into production and shipping regular feature updates.
For videos and blog posts, this means writing and recording on a regularly. I don't know exactly what kind of cadence I'm aiming for yet but something on the order of weekly. Within the realm of video, I'll be focusing on YouTube and releasing courses on CourseLift.
Even though this neverending pandemic is the worst, 2021 was all-in-all a great year. Looking back, I had a ton of great experiences, made a bunch of new friends (even if just online), and had great revenue for Elevate. I'm hopeful that my biggest shifts in 2021 will set up some exciting times in the future.
Here's to a great 2022! 🍾