What goes up...

June 2020 Retrospective

What goes up must come down Isaac Newton

I knew that May was an anomalously good month, but the return to orbit still stings a bit.

June was fine. Not great. Not bad. Fine.

It was a relatively standard month. And I’m glad it’s over.

Notables

  • Pegasus profit dropped by almost 60% but still managed to be the second highest month ever.
  • Place Card Me continues is slow rise from the ashes of the global pandemic
  • I’m really struggling to finish an article about JavaScript
  • The future is tricky to plan

Last Month’s Profit

Despite coming in well below last month’s record-setting profits, it was still a solid month, profit-wise.

Project Profit Monthly Change
SaaS Pegasus $1682.73 -58.39%
Place Card Me $663.44 243.86%
Chat Stats $225.84 20.00%
Total $2572.01 -41.88%

Pegasus had its second best month ever, Place Card Me continues to show signs of life, and Chat Stats continues to trickle in a few dollars a day with zero effort.

Honestly, I should be thrilled with this, but everything is relative, right?

Time

June 2020 Time

Time breakdown for June 2020

My Dimagi work continues to take a large amount of my time—this month coming in at almost half of the pie.

Everything else looks about how I’d like: lots of continued investment in Pegasus, lots of time for exercise, and almost no freelance work.

The results? Not so great. But the inputs—those seem ok.

Last Month’s Goals

Overall a pretty underwhelming report card this month. Certainly not something my overachieving past self would have been happy to bring home!

# Goal Grade
1 Publish and promote the next Django content piece (a Django/JavaScript guide). C
2 Publicly ship the baby words mobile app. B
3 Figure out my OKRs for Q3 B
  1. I’d say I’m about 75% done with the content on this and have done zero in the way of promotion. More on these struggles below.
  2. I did ship my baby words and sounds app. But I haven’t done anything to try and get any feedback or use on it so it’s just sitting in the Play Store with “1+ installs”.
  3. I did manage to set some OKRs in the process of writing this retro. More below.

Pegasus Update

Two big things were happening on Pegasus this month.

The first was my pricing test.

I raised the license cost by 50% on the first of the month (from $200 to $300). And unfortunately I don’t really have the data—or rather I haven’t analyzed the data—to know what the impact of that change has been.

Obviously, anecdotally, this month was worse than last month which instinctively makes me question the price increase. But with an average number of sales hovering around 10 each month it’s hard to say anything statistically significant. Plus, last month had a spike in attention do to the promotion of the Django Stripe integration guide.

Also anecdotally, I had a huge spike in sales at the end of last month after the price increase was announced but before it hit. Which corroborates other things I’ve read about using time-sensitivity as a way to increase conversion rates. So that’s also something to keep in mind for the future.

For now, though, I plan to just leave the prices as they are another month and continue collecting data. If things stay ambiguous, I’ll plan a deeper dive into traffic, conversion rates, and such for some unknown time in the future before making additional changes.

The second thing was my JavaScript blog.

And man, it sounds simple, doesn’t it? Django and JavaScript. How hard could that be to write about?

Well—25 hours and counting later—the answer seems to be quite hard! As I mentioned above, I’m probably only 75% of the way through my first draft and it’s been an arduous slog the whole way.

Thinking out loud, a few reasons it’s been so hard:

  • The scope is enormous, and it’s hard to know where to dig deep versus what to leave out.
  • I don’t trust my own knowledge of JavaScript enough to know that what I’m saying is right. I’ve been learning a lot during the process which has slowed things down.
  • I’ve gotten derailed by “research” tasks. For example, adding a Vue.js example to Pegasus.
  • It’s been hard to get feedback from anyone with domain expertise—so I’m flying a bit blind as to whether the content is “good”.
  • I’ve gone back and forth on several key elements—including the degree to make it Django-specific versus more general, as well as whether to make it one giant behemoth or break it up into multiple posts.

One of the reasons this article has been such a slog is that I’ve had to actually learn technologies that I’ve been using for years. Key emphasis on mostly.

Anyway, all of this is mostly just venting, or justification for missing my goal, or a call for help. I’m not sure. But I am going to finish the damn thing and ship it as soon as I can, come hell or high water.

By the way, the unfinished mess is here if you, friendly retro-reader, want to provide any feedback. I am not expectant, but would be grateful.

Place Card Me Update

Not much to say here. Place Card Me continues a slow climb out from under the pandemic as the world—for better or for worse—continues to re-open.

Place Card Profits

Continuing to make that slow climb out of the pandemic hole…

With Covid cases rising sharply in the US again, the short term future of Place Card Me is still quite unclear to me. I’m mostly just continuing to watch from the sidelines and let it play out how it will.

OKR Check In

Q2 is over! And just like that half of 2020 is in the books. What a year.

Anyway, here’s how I did on my Q2 OKRs.

Project Objective Key Result(s) Status
Financial Achieve financial independence through passive income $2200 average monthly profit for Q2 $2848
Pegasus Broaden the reach of Pegasus Produce and promote two high-quality, relevant content pieces Only 1.5
The Future Better understand what life after financial independence might look like Explore 3 possible new projects with some level of depth. Only 1

My 2020 Q2 OKRs

I’ve already talked a lot about the Pegasus content. Meanwhile, I continue to struggle on my goal of trying to do non-work things with any regularity—something that was a recurring theme as I planned my Q3 OKRs.

Speaking of which…

Q3 OKRs

One of my goals this month was to come up with new OKRs for Q3 (July-September).

And it was…tough. Actually at the time I of this writing I still don’t know what they are.

But then I remembered: writing is one of the ways I work through things. So I decided to just start brain-dumping here and see if I could get to a conclusion.

Note: this section is long and rambly. Feel free to skip to the table at the end if you don’t want to follow my inner monologue.

The first one was easy enough. My quarterly financial goal entails just picking a target monthly profit and attempting to hit it. I chose $4k because that’s what I put down for Q3 at the beginning of the year, and with the recent uptick in Pegasus sales and possible pandemic re-openings it seems at least plausible I could get there.

But then I struggled with what else to put down.

I know I want to keep working on Pegasus—so some kind of Pegasus-related objective makes sense. But then I get stuck.

Focusing on content creation this past quarter has arguably been successful—and I suspect there’s plenty I could do to continue to broaden the reach of Pegasus. That feels like a high-ROI activity. So marketing, then?

But the thing about marketing is—well—I’m kind of drained.

It turns out that writing 7,000 word blog posts takes a lot out of me—as I’m sure any phD student or author could attest to. By the end I pretty much hate the content and just want the damn thing to be over. So I want to give myself a break from writing. Plus this kind of writing isn’t that fun.

What is fun is building. Every time I use Pegasus to make something new I end up learning a ton and making it way better. Which is why part of me is really tempted to build something new with Pegasus.

Plus, I did have a big-picture goal to launch a “big new thing” this year—and I haven’t really made any progress on that. So maybe my goal should be to launch a new app with Pegasus and then bring all the good stuff I learn back into the template?

But what I worry about there is that I don’t have the capacity for another big thing. My life is getting full—and outside of work, in Q3 we are expecting a child, buying a car, and looking into moving. I’ll probably spend at least one of the three months on “paternity leave” and barely working. So can I really expect to launch a new product with any level of success with all that going on?

Plus, am I actually just suffering from “shiny object syndrome” and distracting myself from the projects that are already working?

There may be some sweet spot in there—something that sits at the intersection of building and marketing that would be fun but also not too distracting to Pegasus itself.

For example, I have aspirations of overhauling how Pegasus works to facilitate an “add-on” ecosystem—and possibly a free tier. I could work towards that goal and it might scratch my “building” itch—as well as maybe broaden Pegasus’s reach and increase its conversion rates. Working on that wouldn’t necessarily work towards my goal of launching a big new thing this year.

Thinking about it—I’m pretty sure I want to try building a new product, but I also want to give myself permission to fail. Like the issue is not that I don’t like that idea—it’s just that I don’t think I can execute it well within the arbitrary constraints of the quarter. Which, when phrased like that doesn’t seem like a reason not to try it.

Ok, I think I’ve convinced myself that should be the goal: launch a new product with Pegasus.
Sounds pretty darn fun. I’ll need to decide whether or not it’s going to be a “real” product or a “toy” product, but that’s a decision for the future.

And then there’s… life. Ah, that whole “why am I working on achieving financial freedom if I can’t even convince myself to work on something else” problem I keep facing.

To recap where I’ve gotten on my “figure out the future” goal:

  • In January I set “Seriously explore at least one non-standard project I might do if I didn’t have to work” as one of my four goals for the year.
  • In Q1 I set a goal to “Spend at least 40 hours exploring non-traditional projects” and failed. I spent about 20 hours on this—15 of those hours coming over the holidays in the first week of the month.
  • In Q2 I had the idea to switch from time-based to project-based and ended up with a goal of “Explore 3 possible new projects with some level of depth”. I explored one—and exclusively on weekends. I didn’t really enjoy it all that much, nor am I all that proud of the outcome.

So basically, despite me trying quite hard to explicitly declare that doing “stuff that is not obviously productive” should be a core part of my life and priorities—I continually relegate that stuff to holidays and weekends and make virtually no progress on it.

It’s like I have some kind of mental block against doing non-traditionally-productive work between 8 and 5 on weekdays.

On the surface, one of two possible things seems to be going on here:

  1. I don’t actually like this work, I’m already doing what I love, and I should just punt the whole goal.
  2. I do like this work, but am so deeply entrenched in the notion of a 9-5 “work” day that I refuse to give myself permission to properly explore it.

And how do I figure out which of those two things it is?

I don’t know.

So I’m stuck.

What I do know, is that it doesn’t feel like the system is working—and given that the whole purpose of the goal is to be doing what I want to be doing—and it is currently achieving almost the exact oppositeI think I should punt it.

I do of course like the idea of finding a way to give myself permission to pursue things I love—whether it’s writing, cooking, creative technical projects, making the world a better place, etc. But maybe the best way to achieve that permission is by not structuring it?

Anyway, I think I’ve convinced myself that I don’t want any explicit OKR on this topic. If I make any progress on that front, it should be because I want to and not because I planned to.

And if I don’t? Well, there’s worse things in the world than finding out you’re already doing what you love.

Thanks for riding that out with me.

So, with that we come to our Q3 OKRs!

Project Objective Key Result(s)
Financial Achieve financial independence through passive income $4,000 average monthly profit
Pegasus Continue improving Pegasus through real-world needs Launch a new product with Pegasus
The Future On pause

My 2020 Q3 OKRs

They’re short, simple, and sound like fun.

As things should be.

This Month’s Goals

Goals for the month!

  1. Ship the damn JavaScript post. I need this monkey off my back.
  2. Break ground on the new product.

Recommendations

After everything that happened last month, I took some time to better educate myself around the history of race in the US. A few of the resources I appreciated the most:

  1. Podcast: Seeing White from Scene on Radio is a really good in-depth exploration into both the history of race relations in the US as well as a thoughtful commentary from the perspective of white people and on “whiteness”.
  2. Documentary: 13th is a powerful take on the “intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States”. The end is tough to watch, but worth it.
  3. Podcast Episode: The Stuff You Should Know episode on the Black Panthers and particularly the ruthless assault on the organization from the CIA—including literal assassinations of its leadership by US police officers—is a wild ride.

What’s ironic is that all of these predate the current round of Black Lives Matter protests. It’s crazy how long this problem has been obviously known in a subset of communities—and how little most of society (myself included) has done to combat or even become of aware of what’s been going on.

Also wanted to send a hat tip to a couple friends who put together a Google Doc with a lot more good stuff on this topic.

May July be better than June!

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