Happy New Year!
For the past several years, I’ve published a state of the business report as my initial blog post of the year. And this year will be no different.
In this post, I’ll reflect on the past year and look at the year ahead. Let’s dive in.
Reflecting on 2022: Measuring the Impact of Our Course Business
In last year’s post, I announced that we were becoming a course-first business. That means we require that folks enroll in our Master Class or our set of Deep Dive courses before engaging us for coaching. We made this decision for two reasons:
- Our courses are a more cost-effective way for teams to learn the basics of our continuous discovery framework.
- It helps us scale our impact by working with more teams at more companies.
Both turned out to be true. When I was coaching full time, I worked with 30 teams over the course of the year. Most teams had three to five people each. That meant that at most, I was able to introduce 90–150 people to my continuous discovery framework each year.
Let’s compare that to how we did in 2022. We had 950 students participate in either our public Master Class or one or more of our Deep Dive courses. On top of that, we had 865 students from 23 companies participate in our corporate Master Classes. These are courses that we host privately for employees at one company.
In the past, when we engaged directly with companies, it would take us years to coach all of their teams. We are finding our Master Class is a much better way to train large teams quickly.
In 2022, we helped over 1,800 students get hands-on experience with the continuous discovery habits. That’s awesome.
When I was coaching full time, at most I was able to introduce 90–150 people to my continuous discovery framework each year. In 2022, we helped over 1,800 students get hands-on experience. – Tweet This
Last year, the decision to become a course-first business felt risky. Today, it looks like the best business decision I’ve ever made.
It Wasn’t Easy Getting Here: The Last Few Years Have Been a Marathon
In December 2019, the world felt easy. I had a full book of business for coaching. Hope Gurion joined my coaching team and was helping me work through my waiting list. We had tons of inbound leads, the business was growing, and I felt ready for a new challenge. So I started writing my book.
I had no idea that four months later, the world would radically change. And so would my business.
In March 2020, as the world responded to the global pandemic, Hope and I (along with many other consultants) saw a massive pull back on training budgets. From March to August, our leads dried up, many clients delayed their scheduled engagements, and we started to wonder how long this might last.
In May 2020, I made one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was based on one simple principle: While companies might pull back on spending during recessions, individuals tend to invest in themselves. I couldn’t even remember where I had heard it. But I decided I needed to develop products that individuals could buy.
One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was based on one simple principle: While companies might pull back on spending during recessions, individuals tend to invest in themselves. – Tweet This
And as a result, here’s what the next several months looked like:
- By the end of May, I launched our Early Readers program—our first subscription program that evolved into our CDH Membership program.
- Also in May, I transformed our two scheduled (now canceled) in-person workshops into our six-week virtual Master Class.
- Hope Gurion and I designed our Defining Outcomes course and launched the first cohort in July.
- I designed our Opportunity Mapping course and launched the first cohort in September.
All while continuing to write my book. It was a grind, but I thought it was necessary.
It’s hard to remember what those first few months of COVID felt like, but I was genuinely afraid my business would dry up overnight. During the ‘08 recession, I was the CEO of a startup that saw our revenue go effectively to zero in a few short months. I was determined not to live through that again.
I thought the grind would be temporary, but it wasn’t.
As many of you know, you don’t launch a product and move on. I now had three new courses to iterate on and improve. I was still writing my book. And by September, coaching leads had returned.
I told myself the grind was necessary. Courses would help us prepare for the growth that the book release would bring. I naively thought that once the book came out, things would slow down. Looking back, that’s laugh-out-loud funny now.
I wanted to get the book into as many hands as possible. So starting from the release date on May 19, 2021, I booked a promotional event (a talk, a podcast interview, or a community event) every single day for the next year.
I loved every minute of promoting the book. I met product people around the world. One day, I was speaking at a German conference, the next it was a Swedish meetup, and then a French podcast interview. I joined a Brazilian tech TV show live on air. I had never done that before. I was blown away by the response to the book. But as an introvert, I was also exhausted.
In 2022, I set more ambitious goals. I designed and launched our Identifying Hidden Assumptions course and our Assumption Testing course. I recruited and trained new instructors. And I poured my heart and soul into our CDH Membership community.
Over the past 18 months, I’ve also started coding again. After reading Ask Your Developer, I realized there was plenty I could automate in my business and decided to dust off my coding chops. I dove full-steam ahead into the AWS serverless applications world and started to automate all of the administrative trivia that comes with running a course business.
I forgot how much I liked to code. While it was tough learning a whole new coding paradigm, I inched my way through and reacted with glee every time I could make a boring task simply go away. I’ve added a new mantra to my toolbox: No human should do what a computer can do better.
Looking back, COVID inspired one of the most productive periods of my life.
Looking back, COVID inspired one of the most productive periods in my life. – Tweet This
So What’s Next: Looking Ahead to 2023
As we rolled into December, I started my annual review process. Each December, I take some time to answer three questions:
- What went well?
- What could have gone better?
- If you had 100 wishes, how would you spend them?
That last one is my favorite. The key is to push to get to a 100. I find when I really commit to that uncomfortably large number, I start to uncover minutiae that annoy me every day but never bubble to the top of my consciousness. I also find that after surfacing them, many are quite easy to fix.
I take several weeks to revisit each question again and again. At the same time, I also start working on my goals and priorities for the upcoming year.
I’ve followed this process for over a decade. It’s one of the most valuable activities I engage in. But this year was different.
When it came time to think about goals and priorities, I got stuck.
Don’t get me wrong. I had lots of ideas. I want to write more books. I’ve even started to sketch out my next table of contents. I want to design more courses. I already have my next course idea in mind. I want to create self-paced versions of our existing courses so that folks in regions of the world where our time slots don’t work can still benefit from our programs. I want to partner with other creators and design courses together.
But when I thought about picking one or two things to commit to for the year, I just couldn’t do it.
The last three years have been the most productive years of my life. I wrote a book, I promoted that book, I designed and launched five courses, I relearned how to code and automated much of my business logic, I trained new instructors, and I devoted myself to building a thriving product community.
I’ve loved every minute of it. But it’s taken a toll. I can no longer put it off. It’s time for a break.
I’ve loved every minute of the extremely productive past three years. But it’s taken a toll. I can no longer put it off. It’s time for a break. – Tweet This
So for the first time in as long as I can remember, I’m setting no new goals for 2023. My priorities are as follows:
- Sleep a lot.
- Play outside.
- Take some time for pleasure travel.
- Follow my interests.
I’ll still be doing the following:
- I’ll still be teaching our full lineup of courses (but at limited times).
- I’ll be traveling to Hamburg, Germany this summer for Petra Wille and Arne Kittler’s new conference, Product at Heart. But I won’t be traveling for any other events this year.
- I’ll still be working with Melissa Suzuno to post twice a month on the Product Talk blog.
- I’ll still be engaging with the CDH community through the CDH Membership program.
But I won’t be committing to writing any new books, launching any new courses, or starting any other harebrained projects. I’ll also be limiting my speaking engagements, promotional events (like podcast interviews and blog guest posts), and miscellaneous one-off calls. I’ll be remembering how to say no, so I can fully show up for the things that I say yes to.
I’m not very good at slowing down. I like what I do too much. The success of the book has reinspired me to serve this community. But I know the pace that I’ve been working at isn’t sustainable.
So 2023 will be a sabbatical year for me. When you own your own business, you can’t completely step away. And honestly, I’m not sure that’s what I would want to do if I could. But I will be stripping things down to the bare minimum. I’m embracing less is more.
Instead of filling the extra space with more work projects, I want to learn more about how economists model complex problems. I want to eat, drink, and be merry in New Orleans. I want to mountain bike in Kelowna. I want to go to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. And most of all, I want to be bored for a little while.
Wish me luck! I’m often my own worst enemy.