Around the holidays I start putting together my yearly review. These reviews are ways for me to reflect on how the year went. It gives me a chance to talk about what I made, what I learned and where I failed. More importantly these reviews force me to think about the future.
This is the fourth year in a row I’ve sat down and written a yearly review. Per usual I’m a couple weeks late. It’s always weird when I start these things. So much changes in a year. If you’re interested my reviews for 2014, 2015 and 2016 might be an interesting comparison.
So, what did happen in 2017?
I left Trustfuel and joined SalesLoft. I went on some spectacular hikes and took awesome pictures. Also, I came close to shipping some cool side projects—they need just a bit more tuning. You’ll hear more about them a later.
When I wrote my review last year, I didn’t realize that I’d be leaving Trustfuel so shortly. It’s sad, but it happens. The business couldn’t afford to keep me. I love the product and the people, but such is life.
I interviewed with several companies—both in Atlanta and elsewhere. There were a few things I was particularly looking for in my next move.
I wanted to be on a design team. For several years I’ve been the lone designer and front-end developer. I thought it was about time to have other people question my decisions (the design ones anyways).
I wanted to work on a product that people loved. Perhaps this goes along with having a great design team. There are few things more telling than a customer’s enthusiasm for a product.
After several conversations with friends who were ecstatic about the product, SalesLoft became the obvious answer. I love the leadership, the team and the product. Eight months later I’m still certain that the decision to join SalesLoft was the right one.
I managed nine posts this year, which includes this review. That’s three more than last year. Here’s what I wrote about:
I wrote about my disappointment with the 2016 MacBook Pro. I was in the market for a new computer. I wanted something to replace my 2012 MacBook Air. Quite frankly the 2016 MacBook Pro shipped with too much overhead. I don’t want to think about dongles. I don’t want a screen on my keyboard. There’s just too much complexity added for something I use every day. Instead I decided to purchase an iMac and keep my MacBook Air for travel.
One thing I began doing in 2017 was transitioning my Quora posts into blog posts. The first one was about offering discounts for subscription services. This was specifically looking at the differences between B2B SaaS services and consumer Saas services.
I don’t have much of a portfolio—or not one like you’d expect from a designer. When you’re a product designer you don’t have a bevy of projects for different clients. You work on several problems that are part of a single product. Instead I wrote several detailed posts about features I had worked on— Trustfuel’s Salesforce and Gmail integration.
A friend and I were having a beer and was telling me about this agency he was starting. I asked about the name—the most important part of any boutique agency—he hadn’t settled on anything. So we had another beer and started brainstorming agency names.
I wrote a post about why I joined SalesLoft.
Using Toggles in User Interfaces was short guide on common errors when implementing toggles and switches. I didn’t publish it until this year, but I wrote it over the holiday break. I’m counting it for 2017.
In 2018, I’d like to be more consistent with my posts. Part of my inconsistency was with a side project I was working on. I could post smaller articles more frequently.
I have some unfortunate news. Signal Tower, which was one of my first and longest-running projects, is no more. One weekend I made a few changes—adding SSL and updating WordPress. SSL broke several images and updating WordPress caused a 500 server error.
The specific feature that caused the site to break is unknown. I built the website toward the end of 2011. There were a lot of things that did not follow best practices. I just didn’t know any better.
The site was home to several interviews I did from December 2011 until December 2015. Is it worth investing the energy in rebuilding Signal Tower? I don’t know. The interviews are still visible on archive.org. At some point I do plan to repost them, but that will probably be a different section within solomon.io.
This year my website received a design update for the first time in several years. I had a couple of weeks from the time I left Trustfuel. I figured that was as good of time as any to spend designing and building a new site.
I’m not particularly happy with it—maybe that will always be the case. Part of me misses the typography of the previous version—big blocky headlines in Raleway with Freight Text Pro as the body. Anyways it’s something new.
As most things, this website is a work in progress. There are a few rough edges I’m aware of—404 page, newsletter signup. I already mentioned adding a section for interviews. There will probably be another for photos.
I’m sure there are other tweaks I’m forgetting right now.
I setup a system that sends me an email whenever a discount on airline flights out of Atlanta appears. Some of these are pricing mistakes others are legitimate deals offered by airlines.
I get notified of about 30 deals a week. Most of the deals are on international flights. I went back through my inbox and pulled a few examples of deals I’ve discovered this year:
- $403 Atlanta to Barcelona Roundtrip (Normally, $2,000+) 80% Off
- $430 Atlanta to Paris Roundtrip (Normally, $2,200+) 80% Off
- $310 Atlanta to Copenhagen Roundtrip (Normally, $1,300+) 76% Off
- $239 Atlanta to Mexico City Roundtrip (Normally, $900+) 73% Off
- $508 Atlanta to Tokyo Roundtrip (Normally, $1,500+) 66% Off
- $86 Atlanta to Miami Roundtrip (Normally, $200) 58% Off
- $76 Atlanta to Houston Roundtrip (Normally, $180) 58% Off
This works by pulling RSS feeds from about a dozen cheap flight blogs. I aggregate those posts and then filter the RSS feed to look for ATL, the Atlanta airport’s call letters. When a match appears I have an email sent to me with a link to the blog.
It is not perfect. There are duplicates as several blogs are piggy-backing off of the other’s findings. Most of the flights are non-stop, but when Atlanta is a connecting city, the flight gets pulled into the feed.
Honestly, I can’t figure out what to do with this project. Should I write a blog post going into detail about setting up this system? Should I just build a website or newsletter that features deals by city? If the latter, could I monetize it? I could become a Priceline, Expedia affiliate, but that really isn’t fair to the sites I aggregate—that’s how they make money.
Product Dork changed a lot in the last year. Initially it was just going to be a site I posted things I liked on. Then realizing how difficult it was going to be to drive traffic, I’ve begun transitioning the project to consumer product reviews.
It’s still a work in progress, but figured I’d go ahead and mention it. There are about a half dozen reviews in my drafts folder. Once those are done I’ll do an official announcement.
In the past, I’ve put together quick summaries of my favorite books from the year. Some of these I read while others were audiobooks.
In total, this summary is about 1,000 words. I thought about breaking it away from my normal review, but decided to keep it in this year. We’ll see about 2018.
Absolutely, the best thing I listened to this year. I was told about The Great Courses by a co-worker and purchased the audio course when it was on sale. It is about 30-hours long and is essentially a semester-long lecture on China from the 1400s until 2012.
The most interesting part of the course was from post-Word War II to the present. The rise of communism in China, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution were things I knew almost nothing about.
You know something is good if it forces you to reconsider positions. I previously considered Universal Basic Income as an obvious answer to automation—I’m not so sure about that anymore. The Great Leap Forward is a textbook example of what happens when there is no longer an incentive for individuals to work. In China’s case at least 50 million people starved to death.
I’m not ruling out UBI completely. However, I think automation must be able to replace human labor wholesale before it is implemented. If zero people worked would automation produce enough to keep society afloat? That’s the litmus test.
I digress. Highly recommend this course.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things
Ben Horowitz’s book is often the most recommended startup book next to Peter Thiel’s excellent Zero to One. As a whole, I felt like the book was less tactical than other startup books I’ve read.
Will this book teach you how to build a startup? Probably not. On the other hand, I do think it is worth reading. Ben Horowitz has some entertaining stories and has great commentary on colorful characters like Marc Andreessen.
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
The book is well researched. However, Walter Isaacson’s writing seems to jump around a bit—sometimes by topic, sometimes chronologically. As a whole, I enjoyed his book on Steve Jobs more.
With that said, I feel that learned a good bit about Franklin. The most entertaining parts of this book are the arguments he had with himself. Franklin would often publish an article with a clear position and then write a rebuttal. This rebuttal would be published as a letter to the editor under a pen name. This was certainly good for his publication—controversy is great for any sort of news business. However I found his ability to debate any side of an argument fascinating.
1984 and Brave New World
War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.
It had been a long time since I had read either of these books. Considering how much I reference them, I figured it was time to give them another read.
1984 is just as spectacular as I remember it. Eating, sleeping and thinking are all monopolized by the state. Any form of dissent is strictly prohibited. It shows a world where fear has encouraged people to cede their power to the state.
Brave New World provides an interesting comparison. Distractions, not fear, have allowed the government to consolidate power. People care more about entertainment, drugs and sex than their freedom.
Both are examples of how governments can amass power. Both should be warnings of what happens when states become authoritarian. Both are books everyone should reread every few years.
Musk is a fairly controversial figure. He’s revolutionized the payment, space and automotive industries. He’s also a tyrant to work for. Musk is a brilliant, persistent and complicated man—this book reveals much of that.
Regardless of what you think about Musk, the risks he has taken cannot be ignored. He could have taken the $100 million or so he made from the sale of PayPal and lived lavishly without ever having to work again. Instead he invested that entire amount into Space X, Tesla and Solar City. Companies that have all spent several years on the brink. Instead of retirement, he works 80-to-100 hour weeks.
This is not an easy book to understand. There’s a lot of things I don’t. The book covers a lot of interesting topics that I did not expect. I was surprised about how much religion and philosophy is involved in this book. Early on there is a lot of discussion about non-monetary debts and what exactly a debt is.
Another common theme is how historically cheap credit is extended to the elite, while the poor are charged heavy interest. In many ways that is still true today. Just look at the payday loan industry.
There were also several topics I expected, but were ignored. How was credit managed and controlled under communist states? What happens when the state extends easy credit to meet policy goals? We know what happened with housing. What’s next, Education?
The book is interesting, but different than I expected. No solutions are offered. Only observations about what has happened. It’s a very good book, but I feel left with more questions than answers.
Plans for 2018
In the past I feel like a lot of my goals were about production: write more blog posts, do more interviews, ship more side projects. This year my resolution is more abstract. I’d like to be more reflective.
It feels like I’ve always been focused on the future. It took more than a decade of jobs and experiences I hated to figure out what I love. Except for a fortunate few, I think that’s what it takes.
But now I’ve figured it out—at least I think. Perhaps some of that energy is worth trying to understand why and how things happen. The past isn’t worth fretting over, but it is worth understanding.
I would be lying if I told you that I knew exactly how I was going to become more reflective. One thing I’ve been doing is writing a daily summary. I set aside time to think and ask myself questions. What did I accomplish today? Who helped me today? How do I feel right now?
I’ve been doing this for about three months. Maybe it’s early to tell, but it feels like it’s been a worthwhile exercise. Perhaps, it will make this post better in 2018.