A few Sundays back I woke up early.
It was 5am-ish.
I was upstairs in my office fiddling around. Then all of a sudden I heard a loud blasting noise. Since our neighborhood is still under construction, it didn’t make me stop and take notice like it should have. But after a few minutes of the blasting noise getting louder and louder, I had to check it out.
I walked downstairs, looked out of our dining room window and saw this…
It was a freaking hot air balloon!
And it had touched down 15 feet from our house.
What on earth?
Crazy part was this: After posting the video above on Instagram, the guy who was flying the hot air balloon commented on my post!
Turns out he’s a VF fan and follower.
This story perfectly sums up 2016 for me: random, crazy, cool, scary and fun at the same time.
For the past few years I’ve written a “Year In Review” post to force myself to look back, reflect and learn from the previous 12 months.
This article will be divided into 4 primary sections:
- Random findings (favorite books, products, etc.)
- What went well in 2016?
- What didn’t go as planned in 2016?
- What’s on tap for 2017?
I hope this helps you in some way.
18 Recommendations from 2016
Here are the best things I read, watched and bought in 2016.
Best Books & Courses
Amazing book. If you want to create products that actually help people, this book will blow your mind. My friend Jeff makes fun of me for this book because it has a drawing or picture on every other page. Jeff is wrong. This book is amazing.
If you’ve ever struggled with getting the right people on the bus, this book is magic. Best hiring methodology I’ve ever come across.
These two go together. Masterclass in the ops side of running a biz. This helped us level up in 2016.
Best fiction book I read this year. Really cool concept and great ending
6. SEO That Works by Brian Dean (Course)
Amazing course. I knew very little about SEO before. Now I know what to do. Buy it.
7. Behind the Scenes of a Six-Figure Email Course (Course)
Really good 1-hour class on building an email course that sells your flagship product.
Best Movies & TV Shows
1. Hacksaw Ridge (Movie)
I never cry at movies. I cried at this one. This guy’s faith is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. You have to watch it.
2. Newsroom (HBO)
The single best pilot of a TV show ever created. This series has been over for a few years now. But watch it if you haven’t already. It’s brilliant.
3. Homeland (Showtime)
Such good writing and acting. Love the story. The first 3 seasons are some of the best TV ever
4. Game of Thrones (HBO)
A little confusing to start. Google “GoT Family Tree” and print it out to help you. Every episode is like a movie. $10-20 million per episode budget. Season 6, Episode 9 is the best war battle ever shot (movie or TV).
1. 2016 iMac 4.0ghz and 48gb RAM (upgraded my computer)
If you were a lumberjack, would you buy the cheapest axe they make? No. You’d buy the best, take care of it and keep it sharp. Same goes for your computer. Don’t go cheap here. It is your tool.
I upgraded in December (from a MacBook). Spent more money on it than I spent on my car. Haven’t regretted it a second.
2. Jackery Bolt 6,000 mAh (cell phone charger)
I take this thing everywhere and use it constantly. Next to Comcast customer support, iPhone batteries are the worst things ever created. This great little portable charger is a lifesaver. Get one.
3. Lavatools PT12 Javelin Digital Instant Read (meat thermometer)
I could never grill meat right. Either too done or undercooked. Then I bought this after my friend Steve told me about it. Now it’s perfect every time.
Don’t know how I made it to 33 years old without knowing about foam rollers. I’ve had weird back spasm issues for the last 5 years. Now every morning I wake up, shower, then spend 10 minutes rolling my back out. No more back problems.
DUDE! LIFE-CHANGING! This should be #1 on my list. This little thing is utterly amazing. Set it to run at 2 AM. Wake up to clean floors every day.
The single best waterproof housing for your iPhone. Took some amazing shots with this thing.
Pro Tip: Use the wrist strap if you use it in the ocean. Otherwise you might lose your brand-new iPhone 6s and your brand new waterproof case in the waves. But hey! Bright side: One day, 6 years from now, when some dude on an oil rig finds your phone, it’ll still be waterproof!
I never use luggage anymore. I went on 14 trips last year and packed everything I needed for every trip in this one backpack. Packing cubes are also a revelation if you’ve never used them. Help you get more stuff in less space.
If you struggle with working out, buy this thing. Swing it 100 times a day. It’ll take 15-ish minutes.
Then you’ll be stronger and sexier.
What went well in 2016?
Thing #1: Videofruit hit its #1 goal for the year!
Our #1 goal for 2016 was to help 100 students succeed and then document their stories.
And we did it!
You can see all 100 stories here.
Here are a few of my favorites:
This was substantially harder than I’d ever imagined.
First, putting systems in place to find successful students was a load.
Second, getting with each person, interviewing them and then turning that into a written case study took A LOT of time.
Our BHAG as a company is to help 10,000 people per year grow their list to 1,000 subscribers and launch a product. Obviously we can’t write case studies on every single person. But 2016 laid the foundation for figuring out more automated systems for identifying these successful students and pinpointing those who would make the best case studies.
More on 2017 plans later in this article.
Thing #2: All of our big numbers went up and to the right. Woot!
Metric #1: Successful students (our #1 metric) went from ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ to 100.
While I’m confident we helped more than 100 students succeed in 2016, our goal was to find 100 and write case studies on all of them.
We hit that. Woot!
Metric #2: Revenue went from $900k to $1.5mil.
We made a strategic decision mid-summer to slow on growth. I felt like our current internal systems and workflows had hit their ceiling. So I hired a coach (more on this later) and we spend all of Q3 and most of Q4 focused on refining, hiring and not breaking everything we touched.
This definitely affect top line revenue and the bottom line, but it’s got us set up for the years to come.
I say that to say this: Don’t feel bad or weird if you have to de-prioritize marketing and sales for a season to focus on other areas. Ideally, in some utopian world, we’d all have these incredible systems that run without a hitch and cause us to never have to take the foot off the gas–but that’s not real.
Here is a rough breakdown of our sales from 2016…
Metric #3: Email list grew from 45,000 to 110,000
Metric #4: Site uniques went from 202,496 to 306,700.
Kind of a bummer to see a few numbers go down and total page views basically hold even. Not really sure what to think about that.
We’ve never really focused on site traffic, despite me saying in every year’s roundup post that we need to focus on that more. But alas.
One of my top priorities in 2017 is going to be taking our growth department pro, stop winging it so much and run it like a legit business. That probably involves starting the hiring process for a VP of Growth this year. That will be hard. It’s my baby. But it will also be our #1 limiting factor if we don’t find someone else to own it.
As the org has grown, more of my time is diverted from growth-related activities and is spent on CEO stuff.
That means I generally do a poorer job on the things I used to be good at and new initiatives are even worse.
Thing #3: Figured out VF vision and overall org structure
This summer I had a crisis.
I originally started VF on a lark. I wasn’t satisfied in my job and always wanted to start my own thing. But after a lot of attempts, nothing had taken off.
It wasn’t started with some grand vision in mind. But 3 years later I had hit my original goals: 1) quitting my job; 2) doing stuff I really really liked every day; and 3) starting something that had some degree of success.
(If you’re reading this and you’re working on those 3 things above, this next part might sound weird, but trust me, it’ll happen to you eventually too.)
I had accomplished those things, so now what?
Should I just optimize 100% for my own lifestyle?
Should I try to milk the business for every dime I could get out of it?
Should I go on a walkabout to find my grand vision for the company?
I chose option #3.
I took a month off of work in June, we sold our house and I sat and thought about things.
Why does VF exist?
Why does the world need yet ANOTHER marketing site?
Why not just sell off VF and go to work for Ramit or Hyatt and rock out their growth department? That’d be fun!
Why? Why? Why?
After a lot of thought, meditation, prayer and hiring a smart business coach, I found my answer.
The reason VF exists is simple: to cure cancer.
Stick with me for a minute.
Point #1: Right now in the United States alone, 87% of people are doing work that they are actively disengaged with.
87% of people. That’s 100 million-ish people who spend their days doing things they don’t like and don’t believe in, and they daydream about other stuff.
Point #2: Those 100 million-ish people who are ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ about what they are spending their lives doing, all have little kids watching them. Nieces, nephews and children of their own.
And those kids who are watching those adults slogging through every day wishing they were doing something else–what do you think those kids will grow up doing?
The same freaking thing.
Point #3: There is a Bible verse in Ecclesiastes 3:12 that says (roughly paraphrased), “There is nothing better than for people to enjoy what they do.”
Why is that?
I think this is why -> When you enjoy what you do, you are happier. You are more engaged. You are more creative. You solve big problems. You pass that joy and happiness to other people. The world is better.
Point #4: The person who will cure cancer is a 5-year-old watching Daddy do stuff he hates.
And since the kid watching Daddy do stuff he hates, the kid won’t cure cancer. Instead they’ll be a CPA and spend their days actively disengaged.
This is why our mission is to cure cancer.
We won’t do that directly, but by helping 10,000 people per year start doing things they love and shipping crazy ideas they have out into the world, we think that will create the critical mass needed to solve big hairy problems.
So that’s our goal. And that’s the reason we exist.
Our goal is to make 10,000 people per year successful (success defined as 1,000 email subscribers and launch a product).
Everything we’re doing is built around that goal.
It isn’t enough to just be good at marketing or just good at product. We have to be world-class at transforming everyone who enters the VF ecosystem into successes. That’s the only way we’ll hit our goal.
This clear mission has been incredibly refreshing and exciting.
The only way we’ll hit it is to double our successes every year for 7 years.
2016: 100 successful students
2017: 200 successful students
2018: 400 successful students
2019: 800 successful students
2020: 1600 successful students
2021: 3200 successful students
2022: 6400 successful students
2023: 12,800 ←– mission accomplished!
Nailing down this long-range mission forced me to think longer-term and start putting systems in place to help accomplish it. Our existing systems were already stressed, and if we are to have any chance of hitting our goal, the way we did things would have to drastically change.
So we did two things:
Thing #1: We admitted on paper how the organization was set up at that time.
Not how we wanted it to be, but how it was set up then.
This was very telling. Basically our org chart looked like this…
Who is in charge of product? Bryan
Who is in charge of growth? Bryan
Who is in charge of support? Bryan
We knew that had to change. So we spent the rest of the year working on organizing and delegating ownership of the different areas of VF across the team.
This is what the org chart looks like now…
I own only one division: growth. And I have a mandate to own less than three sub-areas outside of growth.
This has worked wonders.
Thing #2: We installed a regular meeting rhythm into the organization.
Prior to June 2016, the core team members of VF (all part-time until recently) had only ever had 3 conversations together.
^^ I feel stupid even typing that out.
But everyone hadn’t been in the same room together or on a call together outside of 3 occasions.
That was not smart. After reading Scaling Up and hiring my business coach, we immediately changed that. I learned that the meeting rhythm of an organization is its heartbeat. If it doesn’t have a meeting rhythm, everything suffers due to communication sucking.
Our meeting rhythm is as follows:
(1 HOUR) Weekly meeting with the entire team
This is what the agenda looks like for that meeting:
(30 MINUTES) Weekly meeting with each division
This is what the agenda looks like for those meetings:
(15 MINUTES) Daily meeting with the entire team
This is what the agenda looks like for that meeting:
(2 DAYS) Quarterly in-person meeting with the entire team
This is what the agenda looks like for that meeting:
I could talk about these meeting for hours. But I think you get the point. Feel free to ask any follow up question in the comments.
Sidenote: I am keenly aware of the disadvantage of having too many meeting and sucking up people’s times with meetings. That’s why we have a timekeeper at each meeting that keeps us on point and on schedule. The time that this meeting rhythm SAVES us in lack of communication and mis-comm is tremendous.
Thing #5: Created 3 new products in 24 hours
One of the things I was most excited about heading into 2016 was creating some new things. The previous 2 years had been extremely focused on growing our list and teaching people how to do the same.
So I wanted to give myself permission to create a few new things.
We did that by blocking off 1 day per month in Q1 to spend creating.
In January we wrote a book in 24 hours.
In February we built Slingshot in 24 hours (and live-streamed the process).
In March we built SmartBribe in 24 hours.
This was really fun!
SmartBribe ended the year with just over 2,500 users.
Slingshot ended the year with over 1,000 paid users.
The Short ended the year with 200-ish paid customers and right at $10k in revenue.
I plan to do more of this in 2017. But lower key.
For Q1 I’m blocking out every other Friday to have a private, quiet day to brainstorm and mock up new ideas and initiatives. This won’t be for public consumption, but for my own creative purposes.
I find that if I’m not creative on a regular basis and if I stop flexing those muscles, they tend to atrophy and start affecting other areas.
This has to be a priority for me.
Thing #6: My personal health
The first half of 2016 I was on FIREEEEE.
I went from 212 to 199 lbs in Q1 and dropped 4% body fat in the process.
This was all possible due to having a small group of guys hold me accountable AND by setting a dire consequence if I did not execute my daily action item for achieving this goal (logging my food every day).
This worked wonders.
I ended the year on a high note. For the first time in my life I started working out.
I learned how to deadlift, squat, bench and do a ton of other exercises I had either never done before or did not know the correct way to do them.
Here are my 1RM for each of the major 3 exercises:
Bench press: 215#
Thing #7: Took 15 trips in 2016
Here is the list…
Boone, NC: Snow skiing trip with close personal friends
Jasper, GA: Mastermind trip to north Georgia
Dale Hollow Lake: Mastermind trip in a houseboat
Spencer, TN: Mastermind trip in a cabin
Fort Lauderdale, FL: All of the Mastermind wives took a girls’ trip
Dauphin Island & Fort Morgan: We spent the month of June at the beach
Downtown Franklin, TN: Rented a house here for a month
Was fun being able to just walk downtown.
Deer Run: Church retreat with all the dudes
Bahamas cruise: My wife’s family took a pre-Xmas cruise
Canoe trip: My dad, brother, cousin and I all took a 2-day canoe trip to Percy Priest Lake
Microconf in Las Vegas: Have always wanted to go to this. Woke up the morning of, bought a ticket and flew out.
Houston: I took our 1-year-old to see his cousins for the first time. Flew by ourselves. Huck’s first flight.
Oxford, MS: My buddy Patrick and I went to Oxford, MS to see Auburn play Ole Miss. War Eagle!
Auburn, AL: The whole fam went to see Auburn beat up on a crappy Alabama A&M team. Huck’s first game.
Austin, TX: Spoke at Sumocon.
Best room-service quesadilla ever!
Thing #8: We sold our house and built a house.
Our housing situation has been a pain point for a long while.
This year we fixed that. We saved forever, sold our house and built a new one in a location we like a lot.
Here is the old one…
Here is the new one…
Thing #9: A few other personal highlights
Highlight #1: Stacy got preggo. Due in June 2017.
Highlight #2: Found a great (new) marriage counselor close to our new house.[no pic here]
Highlight #3: Expanded a homeless ministry thing we do and helped two of our homeless friends get a house.
Highlight #4: It snowed 6” in Nashville and we did some epic sledding!
Highlight #5: Built a giant sandcastle on the beach with my dad (garbage can and sawzall were employed)
What didn’t go as planned in 2016?
I’m an optimistic person so this list will be shorter.
Thing #1: Missed our Q4 goal
Our Q4 goal was to sell 1,000 copies of Slingshot. At the beginning of December, it became clear we weren’t going to hit this goal for a variety of reasons.
We had a 3-part plan to hit that goal:
Part 1: Sell 250 copies via partnerships
Part 2: Sell 500 copies via PPC
Part 3: Sell 250 copies via internal launches
In hindsight there were several things we missed in setting this goal.
First, we had NEVER gotten PPC working in the past. We shouldn’t have banked on our #1 sales channel being a brand-new channel.
Second, our main lead on booking and leading partnerships left the company in mid-November.
Third, it’s really tough to keep myself and the team pushing hard towards a super-aggressive goal around the holidays.
So, we had a meeting and decided to adjust our goal to something obtainable that would motivate us and push us through December. We set the goal at 600 sales. And we beat it! We hit just over 750 sales of Slingshot.
And I think that if I would have done a better job of picking up the slack left in partnerships due to staffing changes, we could have hit our original goal of 1,000 as well.
Takeaway: It’s ok to miss a goal. Evaluate why you missed, adjust if needed and move on. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.
Thing #2: Missed on a few hires
Two people left the VF team in Q4.
This was a bummer but was good for everyone. We’re still on good terms with both of them.
But I did underestimate the friction this would cause.
Takeaway: Use the WHO framework for hiring to decrease turnover as much as possible.
Thing #3: List Goal revamp took forever
One of our big objectives in 2016 was figuring out how to track student success as closely as possible.
Fortunately we have a tool, List Goal, that is a perrrrfect fit for that. However, the app was a MVP and had some substantial quirks on the back end, which have kept us from pushing the app more and getting more people to use it.
So, we made it one of our top objectives of Q3 to upgrade and overhaul the app.
That project draaaaaagggged onnnnnn forever.
A variety of things contributed to that:
Reason #1: I abdicated the leading of that to a team member (instead of delegating and teaching).
Reason #2: Outsourced labor is much harder to work with than people who are 100% on your team.
Takeaway: Move away from using contractors for core tasks. Don’t abdicate. Delegate and help.
Thing #4: Got stabbed by a stingray
I got waylaid by a stingray at the beach.
Some people would call this a STING. Don’t be fooled. Stingrays don’t sting you. They STAB you.
Straight-up gangsta style.
Takeaway: Do the Stingray Shuffle. Google it.
Thing #5: Gained 12# back and went up 3% body fat
As hard as I worked in Q1 and Q2, all of my habits fells apart in Q3 and Q4.
All of them.
I think the wholesale house and routine changes were the biggest factors.
It got harder to have a standard routine, eat the same things and plan. This was a big contributing factor in me reverting to old food choices that I used to be able to get away with, but can’t at 33 anymore, apparently.
My weight went up from 199 to 212.
My body fat % went up from 16 to 21%.
What’s on tap for 2017?
Enough looking back.
Let’s talk about 2017!
Here is what I plan to do this year…
Goal #1: (Work) Help 200 people get to 1,000 subscribers and launch a product
Goal #2: (Personal) Get to 10% body fat @ 200lbs
Those are the only two goals I have for the year.
All remaining focus will be devoted to 3-month segments. A year is too long to plan out much further in advance for me.
Here are all of our business goals for Q1:
As you can see, a big part of my time in Q1 is going to be spent on hiring a few key positions.
Side note: If you’re interested in any of these positions, read the scorecard for them linked above and send me a note.
My personal goal for Q1 is this (doc):
And that’s it!
Thanks so much for being a part of this crazy journey and supporting VF!
I appreciate you!
PS: What are your goals for 2017? Tell me in the comments below. I read every single comment.