2019 was bittersweet.
I had a concussion during the Summer, from which I’m still recovering. It’s my fourth one, so it’s taking a while. Sucks, but I can still think and write and joke around and breathe. So I’m good.
Amid physiotherapy and part-time work weeks, I still managed to become CEO and product owner. Not bad, Francky!
Here’s a quick rundown of this crazy year.
Our team grew quickly, reaching 8 people at its peak:
→ 4 developers, 3 marketers, 1 designer.
Then 2 of them left—for legit reasons, no bad blood.
Still, it always hits hard when people you’ve personally hired and trained decide to leave.
The first one, Nathan, was a talented content writer. Witty, funny, passionate guy. He wanted more flexibility in terms of schedule and remote working. As a primarily non-distributed team, our nexus of culture and communication is physical. We try to be remote-friendly, but we don’t want to be remote-only. I couldn’t offer him what he wanted, so he left.
Management lesson: check in early and often with a team member’s long term ambitions.
The second one, Josselin, was an experienced product designer. Detail-oriented, creative, driven guy. He was offered a gig with better benefits and a full-time product design workload. As a small, bootstrapped startup, we don’t have yet a full design team. We needed a one-person army designer who’d do product and marketing work. He preferred working full-time on client products inside an agency, so he left.
Management lesson: explicitly map job description with potential candidates during interviews.
These departures stung, but highlighted better ways to manage my growing team!
The initial shipping of our latest version (v3.0) took way too much time. I talk about this in-depth here.
Today the product keeps improving, one development sprint at a time. 🏃♂️
We've changed a lot of things in 2019 Q4:
- Reaffirmed company vision, product vision, business objectives
- Implemented Scrum framework for tighter development process
- Set up better feedback loops with customers
Late 2018, jumping into the v3.0 development without such a process threw us into a rabbit hole of complexity, slow releases and bad expectations management.
Now we're climbing out of it. 👍
This re-structuration brought refreshing feelings of accountability and direction. Whole team is more motivated.
On the marketing side of things, we took some hits in 2019:
- Our writer friend Nathan left the team to pursue nomadic dreams.
- Our designer friend Josselin left to work full-time on multiple products.
- We had to cut our content output in half: 2 pieces/month instead of 4.
- We had reverse pilot experiments running (no Buffer posting, no Quora posting).
I expected traffic and signups to decrease. They didn't. Signups increased. Traffic flat-lined, but didn't drop. The evergreen pieces of content we've published keep generating organic traffic and backlinks.
Through proper SEO hygiene (regular posting, refactoring of high-converting pieces, regular link-building, regular micro-optimizations), our authority keeps improving—a tide lifting all content boats. I'm still amazed at the marketing machine we've built.
We've nailed acquisition these last few years with a solid content and SEO strategy.
So 2020 will be all about PRODUCT—activation and retention. These steps of the funnel we haven't nailed. I'll share more about that journey as we cross fresh milestones.
- We attended 3 conferences this year: JAMstack_conf NYC, VueConf TO, Saglac IO. Cool experiences, but cutting down on these next year. We’ll settle on a single one (probably JAMstack_conf, and focus on making the most out of it). Events are expensive in time, money and energy—can’t afford to spend thousands and thousands on them right now.
- Early 2019, we stopped respecting our golden-rule of “only hire when we have +5K MRR available”. Our finances dipped a little because of this, but we managed. However, I’m definitely re-enforcing this rule next year.
- We’ll be improving our internal product analytics in 2020, and I can’t be more excited. We’ve relied on shaky or non-existent product analytics for years, and now it’s about to change. Currently taking our first steps with Amplitude—looks very promising! It’ll help make even better marketing and product decisions.
Note to self: it’s okay to suck at something you’ve never done before! It’s okay to ask for help, be it among your team or in your external network. Smart is not trying to do or learn everything on your own. Smart is knowing when and where to ask for help.
Here’s something personal I’d like to get better at: taming anxiety-driven worst-case scenarios in my thoughts and interactions. I tend to imagine the worst most times, and it can negatively impact my mental state and the quality of my communications. I’ve already got some cognitive behavioural therapy basics mastered, but I’ll keep working on this. Meditation and therapy are sure to help here.
I can't complain, though. Becoming CEO and product owner brought more responsibilities + a bit more stress.
But every day, I get to learn new things about product and people management, and I'm thankful for that. I'm surrounded by a team of people I trust, people who aren't afraid to tell me when I fuck up. I'm working on a great product with people I like and respect. I'm laughing out loud almost every single day at the office.
Pretty freaking awesome gig if you ask me.
Happy Holidays! ✌️