Annual Review 2020
2 years ago • 9 min read
Last week I heard someone joking that there have only been three months this year: January, February, March and December. It made me chuckle a bit. This is exactly how it felt for me this year.
The first three months of the year felt like an eternity as Celine and I were planning our move to the Netherlands. (More on this later) In March we received our contract for the new apartment. At the same time, the corona pandemic unfolded on the global stage.
We put a lot of effort into getting the apartment, but with the papers finally, in our hands, we wondered if the timing would be right. But in the end, we collected our courage and signed the papers. Not knowing how the world would look like in the months ahead.
After we signed the papers, everything went by in a blur. That's why I'm taking time to reflect on everything that happened in 2020. It helps me to digest all the events and developments and to start 2021 with a clear intention. Let's start with the most defining event this year.
Moving to the Netherlands
"Why did you move to the Netherlands?" was one of the hot questions this year. I'm always scrambling together the answer to that question.
I have been living in Germany for my entire life and never really moved far from home. But after I finished my bachelor's degree, I had the gut feeling that it's important to move on and make new experiences. And I knew that there would never come a better timing.
I wasn't alone with this feeling. Two of my closest friends and my girlfriend had the same feeling and we decided to move together. We picked Utrecht, because the city felt very cozy (gezellig as you would say in dutch), but also innovative and forward-thinking. The city focuses on healthy urban living, is growing fast and has green ambitions. The most striking one is probably the vast biking network and the largest bike parking garage in the world.
In retrospect moving to Utrecht and taking this step together with Celine, René and Leo make me really happy. I have the feeling that the city offers the right environment for me to grow as a person. On top of it, the move and settling in to the new apartment was a great distraction from the news and the corona pandemic.
Something that I'm also happy about is my progress with learning dutch. We started to take dutch lessons in 2019 and were able to have short conversations when we landed in Utrecht. But from there we quickly picked up fluency. We tried to speak as much Dutch as possible with locals and this really paid off. I'm still missing a lot of works, but I'm able to have long conversations with friends without major hiccups.
Being an entrepreneur
This year has been the most challenging yet in my time as an entrepreneur. As René and I both moved personally, it made sense to pull the company along and set up a new legal entity in the Netherlands.
As a result of that, many things were running in parallel. We had to focus on day-to-day business and pushing projects forward while setting up the scaffolding in the back for our new company. At the same time, we also had to move into our new apartments, buying furniture and taking care of insurances and similar paper challenges. And of course, we had to shift our business model to fit into the new reality of the corona pandemic.
This created a pressure cooker, that we had trouble to escape in 2020. We sacrificed our holy rule of separating work and personal life and started to work evenings and weekends. René much more than me, as he orchestrated the delivery two big trainings this year.
But there is also a silver lining here. First: I'm immensely proud of the things we achieved in 2020 despite the big obstacles we faced. We made it through 2020 alive and kicking, and we were able to financially sustain us. Second: We pushed our comfort zone and made valuable learnings along the way. One being that we delivered a fully virtual 3-month training.
I'm grateful for being an entrepreneur. It's not easy, but solving those riddling challenges is fulfilling and creates meaning. And it's a great vehicle for me to personally grow and to design my life on my own terms.
Mental Health under pressure
Mental Health is something I would like to touch upon. Mental health problems run through my family and the fact that I'm an entrepreneur in 2020 is something that should already put me on guard. It's always easy to lull yourself into stories about who you are and how you feel, without actually grasping the reality of it.
As I mentioned, much of 2020 felt like a pressure cooker. I was often in a hurry to get things done and to make progress because I had the feeling failure was lurking just around the corner. Failure to not secure a new project and being forced to skip salaries in order to stay afloat. Moving to the Netherlands increased this pressure because our living costs increased in Utrecht by 33% compared to Aachen, Germany.
But after looking at last years financial numbers, I came to the conclusion that most of this pressure was created internally. Although we faced a tough financial year, I was still earning more than last year. And if you put that into perspective about what others need to go through this year then there is not a lot to worry about. Heading into 2021 I want to take this as a learning and adjust my expectations accordingly.
Something that a great impact on my mental wellbeing was mediation. I meditated on 119 days for a total of 1500 Minutes using the Waking Up app by Sam Harris. After starting this habit I immediately saw an increase in focus, calmness and wellbeing.
Through meditation and the theory behind it I also made some insights into my own mind this year. I'm much less in control than I think I am. Most of my thoughts just bubble up on the surface of my consciousness without me being able to control where they are coming from.
For years I never understood what people liked about Twitter. I've tried it a couple of times, but never got the hang of it. But since the start of the year, this changed as I became more interested in Knowledge Management, Web Development and the Indie Makers of Twitter.
The whole community around people like Anne-Laure Le Cunff, David Perell, Tiago Forte, and Roam Research helped me to understand the value of knowledge and how to cultivate it. It also led the amazing conversations with people like Ramses Oudt (Whom I first met in a David Perell webinar) and Maximilian Schulz.
The second world of Twitter, that I found a lot of inspiration in are the Indie Makers. Smart and disciplined people that build small companies on the internet often completely on their own. My favourite makers in this field are Jordon O' Connor and the Italian maker duo Fabrizio Rinaldi and Francesco Di Lorenzo.
This really inspired me this year to take development more serious and to work on my own ideas.
Building my own digital products
At the beginning of the year, I saw the opportunity to create a Web Highlighter as a companion to Roam Research. I already worked on something similar for Dynalist last year, but took the opportunity to completely rewrite the app using React and Chakra UI.
The launch was a big success and now more than 4000 people are using the app on a weekly basis. I'm not tracking any data, but let's say every user is taking 15 highlights per week. That would mean that users create 60.000 highlights with the app every week. Amazing if you think about it.
One of my personal learnings this year is that designing and developing web apps, is something I'm really passionate about. The process is challenging, creative and quickly gets me into a Flow where I completely lose track of time. And the end result can potentially impact thousands of people, depending on the quality and usefulness of the app.
In Oktober, I also teamed up with Leo to work on a new web app for Roam Research called Roamflow. We already pushed this quite far and can hopefully start with the beta at the beginning of next year. Roamflow will be the first product that I want to monetise in order to make it a sustainable and viable business on its own.
Plans and goals for 2021
Making big plans for 2021 is maybe not the best idea, but I still want to set the intention and theme for the new year.
As the theme of the year, I want to step back a little bit from thinking to much about "management" and more about "creating" and "building". That's what I'm really good at and that brings me much more joy.
At work, this means, that I want to focus more with René on creating valuable content like courses, videos and events around facilitation and collaboration. We see a major gap here as most of the topic is outdated and boring.
On the personal side, I want to document my learnings and thinking more often in 2021. Either as tweets, small videos or also articles on my blog. I will use myself as a proxy to share things that caught my attention and interests.
It's important that I take care of my physical and mental wellbeing. Therefore I want to continue to exercise and meditate at least three times per week. Similar to last year I will put this into my mornings to make it a priority. That way I'm also starting the day already with a small success and confidence.
Additionally, I want to put more attention on the quality of my mind by reducing my screen time, giving my mind some downtime and going outside more often. As Sam Harris would say: "The quality of your mind is at the base of everything you experience and create".