It’s been an interesting year. I left my job as a producer at an ad agency, I helped start a fantasy sports company, I moved to Los Angeles and then moved back to Atlanta.
While I hope you discover something from this review, I use it to keep myself accountable and reflect on a year of learnings I’ve had. If you’re interested, here is last year’s 2014 review for comparison.
This entire story is too long for this end-of-year post, but here’s what happened in a nutshell.
This time last year I started working part-time on a product that handled finances for fantasy sports leagues. Unlike other products in the space that only focused on handling buy-ins from the league, our product focused on side challenges and other monetary transactions that happened during the season.
My partners, Adam and Tareq, had tested an email-based MVP for the 2014 NFL season. It ended with promising results, and looked like something worth pursuing. I started working part-time in December of 2014. In March I left my job to become a co-founder and work on SidePrize full-time.
We worked like mad to get an MLB integration done in the Spring, we won a few awards from the FSTA, were featured in Forbes, and scrambled to get 5 more integrations completed before fantasy football season.
FanDuel and DraftKings announced gigantic $275 and $300 million funding rounds. One of the largest media spends in history began to unfold. If you didn’t see a daily fantasy commercial last fall, you were living under a rock.
We started raising a seed round and the team moved to Los Angeles to be part of the LA Dodgers Accelerator. After a few weeks we paused our seed round. The plan to finish raising after our demo day presentation in a couple months.
Demo Day—Tuesday, November 10 New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman declares daily fantasy illegal—just two hours before Adam gets on stage to pitch SidePrize in front of 700 investors, journalists and people of note. With legal questions looming funding for all fantasy sports companies comes to a halt. Talk about poor timing!
The team moved back to Atlanta just before Thanksgiving. We’ve had to make some decisions to extend our runway since then. As part of that, I’ve stepped away from working on the product full-time and have picked up design consulting work with a company called Trusfuel. They’ve built a very basic Net Promoter Score tool.
The product works, but is fairly difficult to use. Now that the company has seed funding, they want to rebuild the product with a better experience. I’ll be working to redesign the product, update their marketing site and, if time permits, doing some branding work.
I’ll be consulting until March. At that time, we’ll have to decide if it makes sense for me to rejoin SidePrize or to continue on my own.
In 2014 I wrote six posts. This year I wrote six posts including this one. I wanted to write more, but when you’re trying to build a product and company time disappears pretty quickly.
Early in 2015 I wrote about my To-Do List Framework. Otherwise known as the odd way I keep tasks in order. I’m not a big fan of to-do list software, which mainly just makes it easy for managers to see what everyone is working on. I generally keep my tasks on a notepad. The main difference is having a pending state for items that I’m waiting someone else to take action on.
As I mentioned earlier, I left Red Square in March to work on SidePrize full-time. I wrote a goodbye letter, So Long and Thanks for All the Job Jackets, which I thought was cleverly titled.
After moving back to Atlanta I moved in with my parents for a month while my roommate finished out his old lease. I did some much needed spring cleaning and came across a ton of treasures from my childhood—Football tickets from Auburn’s 2011 National Championship, A Guide for The Learning Company’s Reader Rabbit 3 (circa 1993) and my original business plan for FRUGGL.
When I went to Italy, I was obsessed with the variety of doors. About half of the photos I took on that trip ended up being of doors. I made a photo project out of it and posted them on my blog. Doors of Italy was my most popular post this year.
SidePrize’s brand color is pink. It was a decision that many love and many hated. I explained my rational behind the color scheme so many times I felt that I needed to write about why I decided our brand should be pink. I suppose if a decision makes some people vocally upset, you’re doing something right.
Undoubtedly, my side projects took a back seat to SidePrize this year. Trying to build a company takes a lot of time and focus and this report reflects that.
Truss was an attempt at an ultra-simple professional profile—think Medium meets resume design. I started working on concepts early in the year, but realized that the space was becoming incredibly crowded. It was odd that so many people were attempting to build a similar tool.
I decided to post my design work on the site; however, another tool Standard Resume and Represent.io are solving the exact same problem and did a better job that I did. If this is the type of tool you’re looking for, I’d give them a look.
Fantasy News is a community for people that love fantasy sports. The concept was to build a community around SidePrize and leverage it as a place to make updates and discuss features.
Last year I wrote a good bit about the lessons I learned with Advertisers.io and thoughts on how to build a community.
“What would have I done differently? A product like this is probably a step or two ahead of where I should be. Starting over again, I’d build a community around a weekly newsletter and blog first. List growth and link contributions would prove the desire for such content, and adding a community for those to interact would just be the icing on the cake.”
Did I listen? Absolutely not.
I got similar, if not worse results from launching Fantasy News. I figured with football season coming up there would be more interest in a product like this. I was wrong.
Speaking of communities…
Advertisers, my community for people in advertising and design, has been around for a little more than a year. I really haven’t put much work into the project since it launched. Well, other than updating the ad agency directory.
My hypothesis was that building a directory would drive search engine traffic to the site—primarily creative agencies looking for more visibility. They’d request to be added, discover the newsboard and become active members.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Instead I got a ton of inquiries from spammy SEO agencies trying to boost their backlink profile. No doubt I miscalculated. Creative agencies really don’t understand or care about traffic, while SEO agencies do, but don’t have any creative work.
I’m not entirely sure what I am going to do with the site. With Growth Hackers, Designer News, Ad Age and the Creative Ham at the fringes it seems like a product that may be difficult to differentiate. However, there are a few posters who still add links every once and a while. Plus, advertisers.io is a great domain.
It’s faults lie with me, partly because I never put the marketing work into building the community. I never saw through last year’s plan.
“Gaining traffic has been an interesting exercise. I’m planning a press push early next year to get the project in front of people in advertising—I probably should finish polishing up those designs for my press kit this weekend. I’ll also try and get a mention in email lists for 4A’s, AIGA and other various ad associations.”
Is there an opportunity to make money with the site? I’m not sure. Who would pay—agencies, production houses, ad tech companies? What could they pay for—job postings, industry data, sponsored postings? I think what Andrew Wilkinson has done with Designer News has been incredible. Job postings, good looking ads and a soon to-be-live marketplace for designers to sell their goods.
The product isn’t going anywhere, but I’m not sure that it’s worth sinking more time into it. If so, Advertisers might return as something different.
Signal Tower for the last several years has been my most successful project. It is a site where I publish long-form interviews with designers and entrepreneurs. As I’ve mentioned before the site has given me the opportunity to meet people that are much smarter and more interesting than I am.
The good news is I did some great interviews this year, the bad news is that the only one I’ve published is my conversation with DigitalOcean’s Joel Califa (Sorry Cap and Sacha!). The newsletter grew to 712, up from 540 this time last year. Overall traffic remained fairly flat.
Part of the reason for the unpublished interviews is that I was going to release them in bulk to experiment growing traffic. I talked about this a bit more in last year’s Podcasting Seasons. Unfortunately, that concept never materialized because of the huge amount of time and work that has to go into every interview.
What’s next for Signal Tower? I’m not sure. I love the friends and connections I’ve made through the publication and the final product is very good. Unfortunately, I don’t know that I can continue to justify the time commitment that comes with running such a publication. All efforts I’ve made to scale my work have failed. Because of that I’m less sure that there is a decent opportunity to monetize Signal Tower.
I do think there is an opportunity to scale small group of interest-specific publications, as I mentioned last year, but I don’t think Signal Tower is one of them.
“Even further in the future, I see economies of scale—a small strong product team at the core of several publications, with a small number of writers working at each publication. I know exactly what to do from a product standpoint, if I was going to build another site like Signal Tower. Perhaps, if I stumble upon the right person we could branch out to golf, paintball, food trucks—anything!”
While I’m not taking Signal Tower down, I’m not guaranteeing when my next interview will be published.
Last year I said it felt like it was the year that I learned how to make things. It felt like the year I finally grasped designing and developing applications. Becoming a maker meant a lot to me and it still does.
One thing I’ve noticed about myself this year is that I admire those that make things above everything else. Maybe I’ve done it subconsciously in the past, but I like artists and engineers and writers. Look no further than who I’ve interviewed on Signal Tower. I like them because I don’t value fame or antics or Twitter followers. I value people on the quality of the things they produce.
What’s the lesson here? If you don’t draw, write, code or make things, dedicate your year to finding something to make. If you do make things, dedicate this year to getting better at it. I know I am.