2013 Year in Review

spiderman-mugEach year I do some sort of “Year in Review” post (here is YiR 2012) and it’s taken me quite a bit of time to get this post off of the drafting table.

The reason is simply because there’s so much that had happened in the last year that it’s been difficult to categorize, put thoughts down on paper, and create some sort of order to it all.

There was also a lot of emotional ups and downs that required me to retrospect deeply and pause my writing so that I could adequately wander through it all into a cohesive set of sentences.

But I think I’ve been able to polish it up to a point where it’s readable (tons of editing and removal of nonsensical-ness) and at a point where I’ll be able to come back to it many years from now and remember the things that mattered.

The Year

This was the year where I decided that I was going to go all-out on the “entrepreneurship” thing and more specifically focus 100% of my time on growing my current startup, 8BIT. Generally-speaking, I have always had a few sources of income on a variety of different projects with a “main” venture taking up most of my time. Now, we wanted to give 8BIT a serious go because it was at a critical point in its life to either make it or do something else.

And honestly my life had been changing pretty significantly as my health was being challenged in some very serious ways – this was the year to double-down on a few things instead of spreading myself too thin in too many directions.

It was “go time” and 8BIT was either going to make this serious pivot or we’d go down swinging. In addition, my wife and I agreed that financially we could take on the risk this year and make it happen. If not, then, I could always go do something else if it all went to pot.

You see, the financial element was one of the real markers for how this year would be different that previous ones – we were quite literally ready to mortgage the home for the venture to make it happen. I’ve read stories about how other entrepreneurs had done that and I have often thought “Pshhhhhhhh, yeah… right…!” but we got really close this year; like, really close.

With my partners in agreement and with my wife’s support I walked into 2013 with only a few things to concentrate on – it was a blissful entrance but one that held a lot of anxiety; would it work? Only time would tell…

The Not So Secret Project

There was one project, though, that I had been working on starting in the last quarter of 2012 – I was building it at nights and on the occasional weekend and I didn’t think much of it. There were only a handful of people who knew about it and it was much less of a secret than just a tinkering here and a hack there every once in a while.

That all changed when this private project became a very public one with the launch of a Kickstarter Campaign. I revealed my private project publicly and it was my first foray into the crowdfunding scene. The adventure nearly killed me and I was able to create a fun eBook out of it to help others which has gone on to be the most financially successful ebook I’ve ever created.

But Pressgram was now a real living and breathing project and would continue to build momentum to the point of raising nearly $300k in funding. I put in some serious sweat equity in the project and I have learned a ton about myself, iOS programming, and the internet culture at large. I don’t regret the decision to pursue this as it set up the last-half of the year quite nicely.

The Spirit of 8BIT

8BIT was my baby that had some very humble beginnings as a tech blog of sorts. It grew to include 3 partners and an international staff and grew year-over-year. It was, in many respects, a very successful venture (we even took on a small growth-round of capital in 2011).

We moved into a killer new office with a retro video game mural done by a local artist and things seemed to be going quite well. We were working hard to make this significant business change and made some seemingly-crazy decisions to right the ship as we sailed through 2013. The joy, pain, frustration, heartache, and the feeling of fresh victory was a daily engagement.

We had launched an experimental WordPress-centric news blog and magazine that blew up and that we eventually sold to WPEngine. And then, to the surprise of many, our flagship product was acquired by WooThemes effectually liquidating the company and giving all of us an exit.

8BIT-Partners-2013

There’s an entire book that could be written in contrast to this short paragraph but I’ll spare you the details. To be honest, I’m still processing through the events that took place and still working through my own emotions about it. I’ve had a number of other ventures but none that I was so emotionally attached to. I’m sure the lessons-learned will continue to crop up throughout the coming year.

But one thing is for sure, we decided as a company to sell the flagship product instead of the entire business being swallowed up – that way the spirit of the company would continue to live on. We are, and forever will be, 8BIT.

Oh, and if anything, I learned how to end well.

My Health and Aspergers

For most of the 2013 year I kept one of the biggest secrets close to the chest as it was incredibly personal and even professionally harmful. I’ve written extensively on both subjects so I won’t go into detail here but 2013 will be marked by a significant shift in my physical and mental health that has enabled me to experience too many breakthroughs to count.

You can read about my Autism diagnosis here as well as my biggest triumph of 2013 which was related to Aspergers here. These revelations as well as transformations will easily rank in my own life’s Top 10 as I can only think of a handful of other events that have been as significant.

I encourage and challenge you to get your health (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) in line in 2014 – it’ll change your life and you won’t ever regret an investment in that department.

The End of the Personal Brand

Historically I’ve kept my own self and my own brand as somewhat independent of each other. More specifically, I’ve always had some sort of moniker or “brand name” that I leveraged while growing some of my ventures or pursuing some of my various projects. Oftentimes they’d center around a specific online handle or avatar or more recently a blog.

TentBlogger "toast"...? WTF...
TentBlogger “toast”…? WTF…

That all changed this year as I officially retired the Tentblogger brand and decided that whatever “brand” that I have (or think that I have) is becoming less relevant every single day while becoming more difficult to manage and maintain.

In short, I’ve done away with any “online branding” and decided to simply be me – as best as I can in name and action. This might not seem to significant but it really was for me as it forced me to reflect on the many online handles and avatars that I’ve had over the years and how much emotional investment I’ve made into them.

In many ways I simply felt that it was time to just grow up – I’m not getting younger and certainly not getting any more attractive and the distance between these characters that I was creating (i.e. brand) wasn’t as interesting nor worthwhile as it used to be (was it ever…?). I am no longer as clever as I used to be.

Consequently, all my digital properties came into one place (this blog) and my online handles changed globally as best as I could. A nice outcause of all of this was a significant reduction of domain and URL registrations – I’m a junkie, I’ll admit 100% (I’m working on it!).

Front and Center

This year was also an odd year for me in regards to public speaking and conferences. I had planned on limiting my engagement to just a handful and instead I ended up flying out nearly every month to do another keynote!

Much of this was related to iOS development and Pressgram specifically which enabled my marketing ‘arm’ to kick in a bit. I even had a CBS Atlanta interview and my first ever live broadcast on national TV with Fox News.

This year I realized that I’m not all that bad at public speaking and that I’ve been able to create models that work just well enough so that I don’t walk off stage and instantly regret everything that I had said or shared. I had some “go to” talks that were well received and found myself enjoying the moments on stage more than I had in the past.

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to become a professional speaker on some crazy circuit – quite the contrary, but it does mean that I have gained a level of confidence in my poise and presentational ability which goes a long way for me. If anything it means that I sleep better the night before and the night after I give a talk, whether it’s a major venue or a local Meetup.

And, I enjoyed the pace and I think I’ll continue it if people will have me. I love talking about stuff that I enjoy doing (duh…!) and if it can help others love what they do more then I’ll all for that, all the time. I have a few planned talks early next and we’ll go from there and if you’re interested in having me then I’d love to chat!

Mission-Driven

Pressgram, post-8BIT, became the center of my world and my life became really nothing more than thinking, eating, and sleeping this project. With engineering challenges, business decisions to be made, and a growing user-base to appease it has been a rollercoaster of a ride.

What kept me going was the fact that I was deeply committed to the mission of what I was attempting to do and not only was I committed but I discovered a loyal band of believers who have dedicated countless hours to helping support the growing userbase, community, and even tactical projects.

I have experienced and seen passionate users come alongside an individual and/or business and help out but I have not yet experienced it to this degree. My Community Leadership Team is freaking nails and has helped me iterate not only on the community management but also the product as well.

It just goes to show what can happen when like-minded people come together to fulfill a mission that they really believe in. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished and I’m so stoked about where it’s headed in the near future. The next version (v2.0) is going to be a dramatic shift and I hope that we all can stomach it, let alone survive it. Together, we will.

This experience has also taught me a few nuances of leadership that I’ve been unable to grasp until now. Investing in an idea is fine but it can be murky waters at times and I’m not quite sure all the time if my investment is working. Investing in people though is a much bigger and more important task of any leader.

I have always spent the vast majority of my time investing in my ideas rather than people and I’m beginning to believe that I may have it backward. I’ll have to noodle on it a bit more but I’m already seeing the results and they are quite powerful and thought-provoking.

the-iron-yard-logo

The Iron Yard

Speaking of investing in other people… it seems as if my future will include much more of that as the biggest news to end the 2013 year was my announcement of my joining The Iron Yard. I share a bunch in that post there so I won’t repeat myself but I couldn’t be more stoked to start off a killer 2014 by joining a company that I’ve known and respected for quite some time and that is fully centered on investing in human capital.

Not only that, we’re mission-driven and focused on building other people’s dreams, investing in their very lives, and changing them for the better. I know how satisfying it is to do this as I still spend a bit of time doing professional coaching but to do it in this way is going to bring me even more pleasure – I honestly can’t wait to see it all happen (and it’s already begun… and I’m hiring!).

I’m sure much of my 2014 Year in Review will be squarely focused on what I am able to accomplish with the team @ TIY. I’m already looking forward to writing about it retrospectively as it should be quite a doozy.

All Grown Up

Outside of these more professionally-related events was my a huge re-focus on my family. I say “re-focus” because my collaborative decision with my wife to focus 100% on 8BIT was so that I could have a better life at home.

My two daughters are growing up very, very fast. My oldest is now 7 and looks like a little woman – it’s honestly hard to say “girl” at times because I see her mother as well as all of the physical and emotional changes that are happening quite rapidly.

sue-roenne-arden-blowing-rock
May, 2012 ~ Blowing Rock

Note to my own future self: You were incredibly annoyed with the older one this year as she really began to test the boundaries of your patience and resolve. It is quite possible that she has a little Aspie in her as well so just make a mental note so that you can give her as much love as she needs (and then some) so that she can thrive. Your wife indubitably thinks that she has some of it and she’s probably right.

I have fallen in love with the younger one this year as well but in a much different way than my love for the older one. She is my last “baby” and I never want her to change but even in the last 12 months I feel she’s doubled in size and intellect. She’s even scolding me now for mistakes that I’m making and is observant as hell. I’m trying to not let these small moments with her slip away as she still enjoys cuddling up into my arms on a cold winter afternoon – she won’t do that forever so I’m doing all that I can do relish these moments.

Finally, my wife and I are definitely into our 30’s now and we’re feeling the burn of growing older. This year I quadrupled the amount of gray hair on my head and my wife and I see a few wrinkles in our faces that were never there before. We still have so much more to do but this is the year that we no longer feel invincible. That youthful ignorance has left us completely and we collectively feel like a grown-up couple. About time, I suppose.

A Few Odds and Ends

Finally, here are a few odds and ends that I want to remember when I look back at this post many years from now. In 2013 I:

This is building season for me and it has been this way for a very long time. As I cycle through the past year’s posts a flood of memories hit me pretty hard.

What fun. What a ride. I can’t wait for 2014.

How I Put These YIRs Together

I’ve been asked more than a few times on how I put these Year in Reviews together. The honest answer is that I don’t have a recipe or ingenious process as I simply recall, as best as I can from memory the major events and then fill in the gaps by reviewing an archive of my posts.

I do this in this order because I think it’s important to capture the things that are the most visceral and that are top-of-mind; the rest is probably just filler and soon-to-be-forgotten experiences. If I can recall it by memory (and by heart) then it’s something worthwhile to write down.

If I’m looking for a few pieces of puzzle I’ll simply go into my post archives and scroll back through the 365 posts that I’ve crafted in that year. Since I blog every single day (read more about why here) and so it’s easy to walk through and since I blog about most everything that happens I don’t really miss much at all.

I highly recommend you start writing and documenting your life and your experiences. It’s such a blessing, it really is.

[Update: Here are my goals for 2014!]

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