2019 year in review

Last year, around this time, my year-in-review was an admission that life can be hard. 2017 and 2018 were difficult years for me. I wasn't feeling like a winner.

But those difficult years lead to some key realizations:

  1. Discomfort is the key to personal growth. We need periods of being uncomfortable.
  2. Making small improvements each day is the best way to create long-term results.
  3. Confronting hard truths in the present pays long-term dividends.

In 2019, I was fortunate to have a good year. Here's what happened.

Key learnings in 2019

  • "The market you're in will determine most of your growth." – Sahil Lavingia (The market you choose matters!)
  • Cynicism kills progress. (Source)
  • Everything you implement will need to be maintained. (Source)
  • Most worthwhile accomplishments are a long time in the making.
  • It's OK to move on. (Source)

What went well in 2019

Full-time on Transistor.fm

My plan for 2019 was to spend most of my time and energy on Transistor. I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to accomplish that.

At the beginning of the year, we had $5,000 in monthly recurring revenue; not nearly enough to replace the income Jon and I were earning from our full-time gigs.

But, we were growing fast (sometimes up to 29% month-over-month). For me personally, I felt my future was in SaaS, not in my old business (online courses).

So, even though I wasn't being paid, I focused about 90% of my time on Transistor.

In April, we hit $10k in MRR, and we started paying me a regular (albeit small) monthly salary. Now it was official: I was full-time on Transistor.

Three months later (when we reached $19k MRR), Jon quit his full-time job at Cards Against Humanity and joined me.

Since then, MRR has continued to grow. In the last quarter of 2019, we've been able to pay ourselves the equivalent of what we'd be making in our old full-time tech jobs.

Success really is "gradual and then sudden." At the beginning of the year, the idea of going full-time on Transistor still felt like a pipe dream. But all that momentum we'd created previously started yielding impressive results for us this year. We passed the milestone that so many indie bootstrappers aspire for: earning a full-time income from our software product.

We don't take this lightly. We're incredibly grateful to the thousands of customers, fans, and supporters that helped get us here. We know we've been fortunate, and in 2020 we want to pass that good fortune on to others.

What else made me happy?

Doing less. I shut down tons of projects and products I'd been running. I cancelled 10+ domain names. I finally deleted 25 old WordPress installs and cancelled my Mediatemple account. I didn't take on any consulting work. I didn't run a Black Friday sale. I spoke at fewer events. I reduced my weekly meeting commitments to 1-2 calls with Jon and an occasional podcast interview. For the first time in years, it feels like I'm not juggling multiple plates. I worked fewer hours. When my dad came to visit he said: "Justin, "I've never seen you this calm."

Less financial stress. Earning more with Transistor translated into more peace in my life. I paid off a line of credit that had been hanging over my head. I didn't feel like I needed to hustle as much. For the first time, in a long time, I feel like I have a bit of financial margin. I've started rebuilding my savings, retirement funds, and college funds for my kids.

Time with family. Less time at work (and less financial stress) equalled more time with my kids, my wife, and my extended family. I'm still getting used to being "more present," and I have a long way to go, but spending more time with them has been a big plus.

Time with friends. My daily routine consists of walking or biking down to Ratio (a local coffee shop) and hanging out with friends there. Then, I walk to Cowork Vernon, which is full of incredible people. I made an effort to hang out with friends more regularly on a weekly basis as well.

Hiking, biking, snowboarding. This summer, my wife organized an incredible hiking trip with some family friends. We carried all of our gear and food up in packs and spent three days in the mountains. We did multiple trips to natural hot springs. It was awesome. I've also been able to do a lot of downhill mountain biking and snowboarding.

Speaking at Laracon. I gave one of the most personal, and impactful, talks of my life at Laracon 2019 in NYC. Preparing for it was agony; I really didn't know how it would land. But after giving the talk, and having it published online, I've had many people tell me it's the reason they took action on their mental health.

Visiting NYC. While I was in town for Laracon, I stayed in Brooklyn and met up with a number of people. I also visited the Spotify HQ for the first time. I rounded out my trip by seeing Iron Maiden (one of my favorite bands)!

Plans for 2020

What I'm going to stop doing this year

  • I'm planning on eating way less red meat this year.
  • I'm going to continue to shut down old websites and projects (I still have a few left). Going forward, my primary focus is Transistor.fm.

What I'm going to keep doing

  • Abstaining from alcohol. (Last year I only had two drinks and I felt great).
  • Flying less for business. I'll do one trip to Minneapolis for MicroConf, and maybe another founders' retreat with Jon Buda.
  • Going to therapy once a month.
  • Writing my weekly newsletter.
  • Participating in the MegaMaker forums and Slack.
  • Practising my front-end dev skills (focusing on Tailwind and a bit of Javascript).
  • Reading paper books. 
  • Taking more local trips (in BC) with my family and friends. Hiking, snowboarding, cycling, camping.

What I'm going to start doing

  • Spending more time thinking, researching, and acting on climate change.
  • Saving money, investing, and re-building retirement funds.

Happy new year!

I hope your 2020 is full of purpose, freedom, and healthy relationships.

Justin Jackson

I write an annual review every year. You can read 201820172016201520142013 here.

Published on January 1st, 2020
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