Short month with a short update for y'all. This month definitely went by super quick and for lack of a better phrase, completely got away from me.
Even with some bumps in the road in terms of productivity, and still feeling like I'm coming out of the haze from the holidays, the month went pretty damn well.
Ended up getting some new features out on the site, which weren't the most substantial from either the code side of things, or in terms of marketability, but not every feature needs to be something that you feel compelled to push to Product Hunt or organize a multi-tiered marketing campaign around.
That said, those little things, the things that maybe you wouldn't have thought of at the beginning of the project, or have carved out time for, they are the ones that can make a ton of impact in the later stages of a project.
These little changes that barely warrant dropping a note to my mailing list are the polish that I'm fortunate to be able to spend my time on at this point. They are part of that grit that I talk about in terms of being somewhat boring, but also the right thing to do, especially when they are things that customers are asking for.
Revenue wise, Februrary is traditionally slower for us, just after the holidays, so it's not shocking to see a negative on the month over month charts. Sometimes we look at these things too closely and end up not being able to see the forest for the trees. The forest in this case is in terms of year over year growth, which we absolutely crushed.
Side hustle to the side hustle right now has been toying around building a new boilerplate for myself to base some new projects I have in the works on. It's definitely work that I could justify not doing, but it's been extremely cathartic to build something from the ground up again, as it's been a while since I have.
It's funny too, because this process has helped to remind me that it's extremely hard to start something new. Easy to fall into paralysis over the technical stack or even where to start. Deciding what features to include and which to push off or avoid all together factor in a ton as well.
With that, I've been taking my time with this particular one and enjoying the process a bit more, which I find to be extremely healthy, even if it doesn't directly to my day to day bottom line.
January is one of those months where you are in great spirits and are ready to change the world. Resolutions and all of that, setting goals, hitting the gym, all of that. That's most folks anyway, they shine brighter than the sun, then end up fizzling before the month is over.
Nothing wrong with that, just gotta keep getting back on that horse. For me, I tried to slow my roll a bit. Last year was extremely productive, both in terms of what we accomplished with the platform, but also in terms of revenue, ending the year around ~76% over the year prior.
Money's great, but for me, the satisfaction comes from shipping a great product. Talking to users has helped me learn a ton about the space, where and how to grow, as well as what adjacent opportunities are out there.
Because I didn't want to rush into too much this year, January was spent sharpening the ax, so to speak. Tons of research and planning to help ensure that over the next 11 months, I'm spending my time correctly.
Time is always limited, so spending it building the right things is always of the utmost importance.
With that, I'm a huge fan of the book Essentialism, and tend to read it at the top of the year. This year, I opted to simply put one of the core principles to practice. Said principle is "play", the idea that you need to goof off a bit as a way to stay sane and ultimately, become more productive.
Play for me looks awfully similar to work, coding. I spent some time building a small Node.js library that I won't even mention by name because it really doesn't matter. What matters is that by taking that time to play, I freed up my mind a ton which helped aid in my planning for the year.
In addition to the background cycles doing their thing, I spent a great deal of time brain dumping / mind mapping a ton of ideas that I have been kicking around, and found some commonalities in a lot of the things I want to build.
Don't necessarily want to delve too much further than that, but do want to mention that some of things that I've been doing last year (sites I'm running, projects I'm involved with, et cetera) don't necessarily fall in line with those commonalities.
Because these things aren't necessarily "on brand" I'm starting to cut them out of my life. Some have been easier, like scaling down my freelance writing and some will be hard and may take the better part of the year until I'm there emotionally, like pulling the plug on the niche social network I've been running for the better part of a decade.
These little deaths will ultimately contribute to new life in the form of other projects as well as additional time to help me keep my shit together and not bug out over working all of the time.
From the actual business front, this month continued to see growth in MRR and some amazing new customers that are building some amazing things using our service.
What's been a pretty big milestone this month is that for the first time, a split test we were running hit complete confidence. That tells me we're either starting to define the right tests or we're finally hitting an inflection point in our traffic where tests don't take forever to finish.
More than likely it's a combination of both, which if so, is definitely a huge win.
For anybody that's followed these little retrospective posts of mine, you know that I continually apply to Y Combinator every single batch. This upcoming batch is no exception.
The big difference this go around is that the day the applications opened, I filled out the application and filmed my video. I can't wait to be known as the YC alum that was first to apply for their batch ;)
Joking aside, I'm confident and hopeful but always humble and grounded enough to know that it still may be too early.
End of the year tends to be a slow time for most businesses. Not in the calendar / holiday data business though.
This month shaped up exceptionally and exceeded all of our expectations in terms of growth. We still experienced the usual drop off during the week of Christmas, but the first part of the month was absolute fire.
From a morale perspective, I couldn't be more excited about this year's growth but more so, next year's potential. Talking to customers has yielded a ton of new ideas, and being open about revenue and the ups and downs of how I am feeling as a founder as been great and something I want to continue into 2020.
I didn't start dropping these retrospectives until middle of the year, but for those in my accountability circle, you know that this year was the "make it or break it" year.
In 2018 I had put a different startup to rest and after a bit of soul searching for the better part of 2018, I decided that 2019 was going to be the year I actually took Holiday API seriously.
Prior to that, the project was maintained regularly and was a nice passive income stream, but was always treated as this cool little side project of mine. Into 2019 I decided to not only treat it like a business, but also made the decision that if I'm not able to move the needle in terms of growth, I should probably move it back to back burner status and work on something else.
Fortunately, a bajillion conversations and growth hacks and improvements later, the needle really started to move favorably. Granted, we always saw organic growth year over year, but things really started to move. If nothing else, the number of customer conversations I've had went from a few month to a few a day.
These customer conversations have helped ensure that I'm working on the right things. They've ensured that I've addressed the confusing parts of the service. They've ensured that messaging as improved a ton.
With such growth though, I feel like the big negative about being transparent about things, especially here on IH, is that the bulk of the feedback I tend to receive is in the form of an unsolicited email half-heartedly congratulating us, and then immediately falling into some sort of customer development or sales pitch for whatever thing the person is selling or trying to figure out.
I don't mind it, and probably not being a good community denizen here, but I do ignore most of those inquiries. With that, I wanted to take a brief moment to address something that I see with I'd guess is about 6-8 out of every 10 emails I receive that appear to be from fellow IHers:
Most of your emails are going to spam. I know this, because I check my spam bucket regularly to help ensure that I'm not missing important / mislabeled communication.
During the day, I work for a cold-email tool, so which not a complete expert in things, I do know how to troubleshoot this one.
Often times, these are missing critical headers like SPF and DMARC signing, which should be an easy thing to correct.
The content, while not always sketchy, could be improved and there are tools out there to help you grade the content to ensure you're flying below the spam trap's radar.
Other times, everything actually looks pretty solid, which I suspect means that the person on the other end is sending too many emails either without warming up their email / domain, or just sending too many of the same messages in general.
Customization of email can help a ton. Even just including the person's name or a sentence or two that's wholly related to them and not generic can help improve deliverability.
Anyway, while I may not respond to make of the cold emails I receive, mostly due to my own time constraints (if you haven't, read Boundaries), I still want to wish everybody a successful 2020, and I think by improving your email communication, a lot of y'all are going to rocket to the moon.
Happy holidays, happy new year, let's kick some ass in 2020.
p.s. Let the deluge of cold email course writers commenting on this thread begin!
After last month's little discount snafu, I started this month feeling a bit off my game.
I've been spending LESS TIME working on the weekends, which has been good, but the obvious adverse feeling is that I'm not getting enough done.
With that, I've been focusing more and more on "being the entrepreneur" instead of "being the engineer" as my buddy @collinbrewer is always reminding me.
By focusing on building the business instead of letting myself get dragged into the cycle of doing DevOps type things that aren't going to move the needle. Because of that, even though I'm spending less time on the weekends working, the time I am spending has been significantly more impactful.
Such impactfulness (spell check says that's not a word, but I don't care) has resulted in another month of stellar growth thanks to even more customer conversations and yet another round of clarifying / improving our brand message.
Clarifying the message and cutting through the noise has also helped shaped the vision of what we can accomplish with this product in both the short term (12-18 months) and long term (that 5+ year plan).
It's easy to have some pie in the sky vision when you start a project. Just throwing some random number out there that's based on obtaining some percentage of a gazillion dollar market and all of that.
Once you dig in, it's never as easy as it seems and it rarely takes as short of a time frame as you may have imagined.
This month actually marks the 6th anniversary of Holiday API, and while it's been a labor of love the entire time, this year has been the year of "taking things seriously" and it's really starting to show in terms of month over month growth.
I couldn't be more thankful this holiday season :)
I'm extremely excited to see where things go in the next 12 months with some of the changes we have planned. It's a bit too early to divulge any details, so yeah... here's to another 6 years!
Wowza, feel like it was just yesterday I was putting together my task list for the first week of the month, and here we are about to close it all out.
This month has been an interesting one. New revenue has been good, churn could have been better. Churn could always be better though, right? Got hit with some downgrades as well, which I'm about to go into.
The big bork of the month was when I carelessly sent out an email to a bunch of paying customers offering them a 20% discount. I was able to salvage the snafu by further qualifying the offer as being for converting from annual to yearly and ended up converting quite a few folks.
Live and learn though, proof read the heck out of your emails. Then ask some other people to proof read them if you can. Heck, pay them to proof read, it will probably end up being cheaper.
On a positive note, we now own a trademark on Holiday API™, which I think means I probably should be starting to chase down a few people or something. Really though, I wanted to make sure I had myself protected, more so than trying to chase people down over things.
The month's been extremely productive on the development front as well, new features going out, a handful of bug fixes and we added another web server to the mix to handle the load.
On a more personal note, I've been beginning to feel more and more productive as of late and the product vision and division of labor is starting to grow more and more obvious. I'm really hoping I can capitalize on this productivity going further into the holiday season as to not lose my edge while everybody else is taking it easy.
Mentally, I've been way less cloudy and I've actually been taking more time off from working. My goal for the year was to not work on the weekends, and while only moderately successful, the last 3 weeks I have been about 99% keyboard free from Friday evening until Sunday evening, which has been a huge win.
This week's not over and I'm excited to see if I can finally roll out a bunch of account-based functionality that has been long pushed to the side.
Wow, so that was a bummer. Evidently I clicked something or my mouse hovered something, and I lost a good chunk of prose.
Take 2, so this month has been a pretty exciting one for us here at Holiday API. The summer slump appears to be drawing to a close and I have personally felt like I've been firing on all cylinders lately.
Looking back at my weekly retrospective stand ups with my accountability group, I've been 8 to 10 on the morale scale.
Sales can definitely cure all. Granted, every conversation doesn't always lead to a sale, but those conversations have been continually leading to small improvements to the platform that have had some pretty big impact.
From a business perspective, the output recently has been good with bigger features being shipped. Internal infrastructure keeps improving and we're doing a better job of understanding our customers and their needs as a whole.
The foundation was built long ago and at this point, everything we're doing just feels like we're polishing up the property and adding to the curb appeal. While far from "done" it feels really good to be at this place and exciting to think about what the next big chapter will look like.
October should be pretty action packed as well. I've mentioned in the past that sometimes I don't know what I should be working on. Right now, that picture couldn't be any clearer, so I want to make sure that we grind as much as possible before the end of the year.
Oh, and we applied to YC, so wish us luck ;)
Been an interesting month with the service. We've expanded into having 3 feature based tiers and and have been talking to a ton of customers.
Usually customer conversations revolve around a lack of features, but this month was actually heavily focused on user confused, specifically with a single feature on the site. This led to adding a new API parameter to allow folks to query data in a few way.
Earlier in the month we added another feature that had been requested a handful of times, and we decided to "fuck it, ship it" and drop an email to announce the feature.
This was a shift from doing formal "monthly newsletters" and actually led to us sending out 2 emails this month. By focusing on single features in the emails, I was able to change the tone of the email from being a bullet list of updates and really deep dive into a full explanation of things.
It felt good, the tone felt more conversational and natural to me.
From a sales perspective, things are going well. Customer conversations don't always turn into conversions, but often times they are. These conversations are helping me to identify bottlenecks in our sales process and explore solutions to make things more repeatable.
Really great month overall. A lot of things got done, even though I had 2 separate trips to California. I'm actually sitting at breakfast right now writing this before going to Pasadena Daydream Fest (The Cure, Deftones, Pixies, OMFG :hearts:).
The lack of time this month really helped pushed more work out the door. As they say, pressure makes diamonds.
Here's to crushing September!
Last month I decided that instead of posting a list of things we've done, same as what I send out in our product update email, that I'd do a bit more retrospective on how the last month went.
This particular month felt as if I wasn't getting anything done. A ton of effort was put into improving our server infrastructure, which tends to be one of those tasks that nobody actually gets to see.
With that, I'm always saying that you can't just make claims, you have to actually back them up. We promise 99.9% up time and I personally felt like our infrastructure was a bit too fragile for my taste.
While somewhat thankless tasks, these improvements are already paying of by saving our developers time as well as improving their developer quality of life.
Aside from the big infrastructure changes that had me feeling stuck in the mud, most of the other projects this month have been "polish" on what's started to feel more and more like a completed project.
For me, a project is never really "done", but there are inflection points along the way where I start to feel like time spent is experiencing diminishing returns, and focus should be put on another project, something external to the current project or a larger "moon shot" type project on the current project.
With all that "soul searching" on what I should be doing, I've ramped up customer conversations quite a bit. Rarely is somebody 100% satisfied with your product offering, and while not discouraging or anything, these conversations helped to remind me how much more there is to do on the project.
The benefit of being as nose down as I have been this month, even if I am feeling like I'm spinning my wheels, is that it's helped me put up the blinders to the competition and really get back to focusing on the things that matter (talking to customers, daily improvements, etc.)
Now that most of the hard work / heavy lifting is done on the infrastructure, I should be able to get back to more product development and marketing in August.
Realized last month that posting what we did to the platform probably isn't an ideal way to post an update on IH about our service.
It's about our journeys, how we're iterating and improving, right?
So for me, this past month was a lot of hard work.
It was honest work, but it was hard. Mentally draining, extremely manual and even though I could have outsourced it, I was stubborn about having my hand on it.
That said, the work is done.
By doing this hard work, we're poised to be able to move our platform forward in exciting new ways, many of which will allow us to differentiate us further from our competitors.
Big lesson learned for me in all of this is that if you're putting in the work and trying to improve by 1% every day, even if it's hard at the time, the work you put in not only snowballs but eventually you can hit an inflection point where even small tasks end up adding 10% instead of just 1%.
I feel like now that we're over this major hurdle that's where we're at. Every small change is going to be bigger than it would have been if we made it last year.
Since a lot of our platform is an expanse of data, we can now make changes that won't affect a few dozen touch points, but a few hundred or even thousands.
It's a good feeling to see it all start to come together in that way. It's also been good because it's helped me to stop worrying about the competition entirely.
I'm at a point mentally where not only am I aware of how much of a waste of time worrying about a competitor is (even if they are using my same exact branding, and stealing my marketing every chance they can get) but I've also really leaned into just not giving a fuck about it.
I can control how I feel and I feel like I need to ship some awesome new features to my amazing customers. Nothing more, nothing less.
If somebody is going to steal what I wrote yesterday, they will only ever be as good as I was then, not now.
Since I'm doing the work to improve, tomorrow's ideas, code, words and execution will always be better.
If you're chasing my past, there's no way you'll be able to surprise me in the future.
Being over this mental hurdle of being too concerned with the wrong things means I won't have to talk about this shit next month and will hopefully have some nice lessons learned from the month of July.
Every month I send an email out to my users outlining the accomplishments of the past month. I thought it would be fun to also share these updates here for my fellow IHers to see.
We're on a mission to rid the world of databases and spreadsheets full of stale holiday data. Our algorithmic approach allows us to provide accurate, up-to-date holiday info that can be added to your app in minutes.