2016 was a fantastic year for me where everything seemed to go right. To quote my last review: I got engaged, left London, lived in 8 different countries, doubled the size of my biggest business, got this blog profitable and was promoted in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Well, 2017 was quite different. 2017 was a year of higher highs and lower lows.
A lot of good stuff happened. I got married (woop!), this blog made over £60,000 while enabling me to give away $9,000 to help support budding entrepreneurs. My main businesses continued to grow and I am well into the process of building a new passion business: a brand of gin. I took some amazing trips and continued getting better at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
But some bad stuff happened too. A business I was involved with hit financial difficulties and wasn’t able to pay back its investors. So I ended up paying everyone back personally. Another investment also hit difficulties which caused a lot of stress and took up a lot of my time. But perhaps most importantly I felt that I didn’t grow much as a person. 2017 saw me become more introverted, less self-disciplined and generally more fatigued.
Let’s look at the highlights and see what I can change in 2018:
Definitely the best thing to happen to me last year (or ever?) was getting married. I don’t think I need to say more! The day was great and everyone had fun.
Emma, my wife, did most of the work organising the day. And what struck me was how similar organising a wedding is to setting up a business. She spent most of her time finding suppliers, getting samples and prototypes, negotiating and making sure people delivered on time. All while sticking to a budget. That is very similar to what it is like setting up an Amazon FBA business (or any physical product based business). Witnessing her juggling so many small unreliable suppliers was one of the reasons we ended up starting a gin business together. And now she is using those wedding planning skills to manage the logistics of creating and selling gin.
One of my favourite parts of the wedding was shopping for the wine. Rather than just purchase some from the local supermarket we decided to do a wine tour round Europe to buy and taste all the different wines. The UK has very high alcohol tax whereas most of mainland Europe doesn’t. So by doing a road trip direct to the vineyards to try, buy and bring back the wine we hoped to save enough money on tax to cover the costs of a fabulous trip. We went to 30 vineyards, three countries and bought about 300 bottles of wine. Here is the route we took:
Then at the wedding we had a tasting table where people could try all the different wines while viewing our own tasting notes and photos of us at the different vineyards. It really was a trip of a lifetime and although the tax savings didn’t quite cover the cost it did make it a lot cheaper.
The wedding was followed by a honeymoon to the most picturesque ever. A small island in the Maldives.
This was one of those trips where I stopped posting pictures for fear of losing all my friends. It was also a really nice break to think about what was important and where to take my businesses forward.
My main businesses at the moment are table tennis related with the most profitable ones being the two brands of table tennis equipment Palio x ETT range and Eastfield Sporting Goods Co. While they have both grown in 2017, growth has been less than I had hoped.
Palio x ETT sales grew by about 10%, which is much smaller than the 100% growth it saw in 2016. This is primarily due to more competition and a failure on our behalf to push into new markets. We had planned to launch in India and Japan in 2017, but that hasn’t happened yet due to an intense amount of bureaucracy in India. It looks like we are finally ready to launch and hopefully 2018 will be the year of our world domination.
And while Eastfield has grown much more it has suffered from really long product development timeline. In my last year review I mentioned that we had started work on a new bat that will be as good as anything currently for sale, but half the price (about £100 rather than the £200 a professional would have to pay at the moment). Well it is now 2018 and we still don’t have that super bat on sale. It turns out it is much harder to create something that is the best than we naively thought! But we have finally finished development and are currently in production of our first batch. They should be on sale soon!
To be honest, I am largely to blame for the sluggish pace of the table tennis brands. I really lacked motivation and productivity in 2017. That will change in 2018.
This Blog And Entrepreneurship Grants
2017 was a great year for this blog. In 2016 it made a little over £27,000, in 2017 it over doubled that to a bit over £62,000. That’s huge! And allowed me to launch my entrepreneurship grants, which so far has given away $9,000 to budding entrepreneurs. I am really excited to see how the grant winners develop their businesses in 2018.
But despite making far more than I ever expected, I have lost a bit of love for the blog. I am not the best writer and am finding it harder to motivate myself to write a truly in-depth useful article. I am not sure where this blog will go in 2018. Maybe I’ll move into other mediums (video, audio, etc). Maybe I’ll bring it back to its original aim of documenting my businesses. Or maybe I will get fired up again and churn out some great posts.
I think part of the reason I’ve lost the fire is that I spent quite a bit of 2017 marketing the blog. That obviously worked as it made good money, but isn’t what I enjoy doing. At heart I am a creator and I found myself spending more and more time doing admin or marketing and not creating new content.
Perhaps the thing I am most excited for in 2018 is our gin brand. This is also the first business where I am documenting each step as we do it.
Here we are hard at work creating our recipe:
I have high hopes for this and we are not too far from the launch. We have the correct licenses, we have almost perfected our recipe, we have the business registered and set up, we have our fulfilment network planned. All that is left is to perfect our branding and label design. Very exciting.
Losing People Money
I have no problem losing money. My businesses are all built on the idea that I try lots of things, most fail, but one or two will do great. That means losing money on most of my businesses. I also used to make a living from professional gambling, which by its nature is a game of variance. You lose money one day, you make money the next.
All that means that I have got very good at compartmentalising ‘business money’ from my spending money. If I have a good month my personal spending doesn’t change. And if I have a bad month my personal spending doesn’t change.
But this year was the first time I ever faced the consequences of it going wrong with someone else’s money. And discovered that losing other people’s money is very different from losing my own. And is something I couldn’t really handle.
I am not going to go into too much detail of what the business was and what exactly happened as it involves other people who don’t want me writing about. But in short the business had a bunch of investors, most of which I had helped recruit and felt personally responsible towards. The business hit financial troubles and throughout 2017 I put a lot of time and headspace into trying to save the business and their investment. If it had been just my money, I would have written it off and just closed down. Eventually, it became clear that the only way to keep the business alive was to write off the investment. As I felt personally responsible to the investors I chose to pay them back personally (which took a big chunk off my net worth).
It was a very stressful and expensive time, but is also a valuable lesson learned. Managing other people’s money is not for me. I will never be a venture capitalist or hedge fund manager. I do not make good decisions when other people could suffer and the pressure is more than I am willing to deal with.
2017 was the first year in as long as I can remember that I didn’t add to my investments and actually took money out. This is because the amount I paid back investors in the section above wasn’t planned for and needed to come out of my investments.
Most of my investments are in stocks and shares (one fund, the vanguard life strategy 80% ACC fund), in peer-2-peer lending and a little bit in property. The only real change in 2017 was with P2P lending, where I started moving money away from Funding Circle and into Ratesetter (here is the post where I explained my reasoning). This process took most of the year and I am now almost completely out of Funding Circle.
My goal is still to build these investments to an amount where they earn me more each year than I spend. 2017 was a blip but I should be back on track next year.
2017 was also the year where an obscure investment I made a few years ago seems to have come good. I bought some bitcoin back in 2013 and now is now worth about 100x what I paid. I didn’t buy enough for it to be life-changing, but it is still a nice surprise. I don’t know what is going to happen with bitcoin or cryptocurrency in the future, so my strategy is to sell off half my bitcoins every year until it collapses or becomes a viable currency. I also swapped some bitcoin for ethereum to diversify a bit.
The End Of Digital Nomading
In 2016 I sold all my stuff apart from some clothes which I packed into a small suitcase. Then we hopped on a plane and proceeded to live wherever sounded appealing and had a good internet connection. 2017 started the same way, with two months in Malta and two months in Portugal.
We were living a minimalist lifestyle while earning a living online. Emma was working as a freelance marketing consultant while I was working on my businesses.
It was a ridiculous and fun lifestyle. But did have its downsides. By mid-2017 we were desperately missing the community you get from being in one place for a while and building up long lasting friendships. And my productivity was really suffering. We were having too much fun (is that a thing?). To quote my post about why I gave up being a digital nomad:
20-somethings aren’t meant to retire and live a life of ease. We’re meant to use our talents and energy to build the most awesomest things possible
So in July we decided to change things up. We rented a house in Tunbridge Wells, unpacked the suitcase for good and started acquiring stuff. We also started getting really involved in the local community. We both got involved in a local church. Emma found a local yoga studio and hosts supper clubs. And I got involved in local sport (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Table Tennis). It is a different life. I have all the things I wanted as a kid: a convertible, a video games room, a giant bed. But it’s not quite as exciting! The jury is still out on which lifestyle is ‘best’.
Which kind of brings me on to the area I am most disappointed about in 2017. My own personal growth. I don’t think I improved as a person, I just became more me. And that’s not a good thing. Being your own boss is great, but there are also some distinct downsides, one of which is the unusual luxury of having no accountability.
I am a lazy person (I even go as far as to credit laziness as my motivation for becoming an entrepreneur) and 2017 saw me become more introverted, less self-disciplined and generally more fatigued. I have spent far too much time watching tv or playing video games. Cancelling on social events because I didn’t want to leave the house.
I normally try quite hard to step outside my comfort zone and force myself to do something I don’t want to do that will improve me as a person. 2013 I joined the Metropolitan police and worked as a volunteer responding to calls in Tower Hamlets. In 2014 I spent every day playing table tennis while videoing and uploading it to YouTube. In 2015 I dived headfirst into learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. And in 2016 I sold all my stuff and hit the road travelling to strange countries.
But what did I do in 2017? I still did travelling, I still did Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and I still played table tennis. But now all of those things are well inside my comfort zone. That needs to change in 2018. I need a new project or challenge that will stretch me.
I do have some ideas. One thing I am really bad at is managing people. So far I do a good job of sidestepping any need to do so by leveraging technology or outsourcing companies. But I think if I ever want to really take business to the next level that is a skill I need to develop. So anticipate some sort of project or challenge to do with managing people in 2018.
New Years Resolutions
Well, as you can see there was quite a lot I need to improve for 2018. Let’s set some targets:
- Start selling our gin to the public.
- Average at least 5 hours a week at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
- Launch the table tennis business in India.
- Do a new challenge to improve my managerial skills.
- Cut down on the amount of TV I watch or video games I play.
- Get back on track with my investments.