2020 Year in Review

December 27, 2020

If you compress several experiences in a short span of time (for eg. going to 5 different bars in 1 night), it feels like you had a much longer night than you actually did. Something similar happened with the business I’d built, SuperLemon, where so many events transpired every 3 months, it would feel like a year had passed each time.

In 2020, I simultaneously experienced time expansion and contraction.

A lot happened in terms of building a business, writing content on my blog, and building a second business. A lot didn’t happen in the sense that I was confined to the same house and room for 99% of the year after Covid-19 entered the scene. The scenery mostly remained static and thus, even though time felt like it was flying, when I would look out my balcony window it would feel like not much has happened at all.

What I am grateful for is that despite the widespread reach of Covid-19, people I know and care about have been safe and healthy. My girlfriend Mausumi got infected a few months ago but thankfully recovered with no severe consequences. It’s really my parents and people who are older or have existing conditions that make them predisposed to severity whom I’m worried about.

Btw, you can check out my 2019 year in review where I talked about my plans for 2020. You'll see clearly where I did well and where I faltered.

Here’s a summary how 2020 went for me:

  • Observed a global pandemic unfold from the first time it came on my radar in January
  • Moved to Hyderabad and began living with family for the first time since 2015, which was after college.
  • Got to meet and spend time with Mausumi 50x times more than I usually do as we are now in the same city
  • Finally got over my writer’s block and published 62 blog posts and sent out 27 newsletters in 2020.
  • Built SuperLemon, my first successful online business to $30k MRR, and then did something with it which I’ll tell you about soon ;)
  • Started DelightChat, a new venture that I want to spend my next 5-10 years working on.
  • Hired people for a business I run and own, so that we can build something truly amazing together. We call ourselves the DelightChat Tribe.
  • Something to do with securing capital that allows a business to invest in building and future growth even before generating any revenue. I’ll tell you more about this soon too ;)
  • Rescuing a street pup who was barely 15 days old and nursing him to health. Doggo now lives with us and while he has developmental disorders due to malnutrition, we are doing our best to make him healthy and strong.

Cool, that feels like a lot. Let’s unpack.

What made 2020 great

Spent more time with the people who matter the most

Moving in with family back in February meant, for better or worse, we were going to spend time together. It’s funny how we barely spend time with family after school or college. It’s because we move on with our respective lives, mostly in a different city or sometimes even a different country.

Covid-19 forced families to move back in with each other and go through this year together. My sister moved back in too and as a result I got to see her start her YouTube channel and see up close her passion for music and to watch her grow in her journey.

Additionally, my girlfriend Mausumi who works at Gandhi Hospital, which was the nodal centre for Covid-19 cases in Hyderabad when the pandemic first hit. It worked out that my family has also been living in Hyderabad. After the initial lockdown months, I got to meet and spend more time with Mausumi than we have been able to in several years of long distance. I am grateful.

Built a business to $30k MRR

By mid-2020, we had grown SuperLemon to $30k in MRR. Covid-19 accelerated the adoption of Ecommerce, so it’s not Sankalp or my genius that lead to rapid growth. Market demand dictated our growth and we did our best to cater to it.

Sankalp and I had promised ourselves that if we made a successful business, we would pass on our first-hand experience to as many people as possible. Mission 1000 is what I call it, and I’m glad we have been able to do it, whether through 1:1 conversation or with written content, or podcasts or webinars.

SuperLemon continues growing and serving users globally, but there’s a small (big-ish?) update about the business that I’ve been sitting on since a while. I’ll share the update soon, I promise ;)

Good enough to be "dangerous" at Frontend coding

Oh my god, I probably tortured Sankalp with endless questions and sometimes dumb doubts. But 2020 is the year I shipped features from scratch to an actual production app, that too one being used by 20k+ users.

This journey took me 3 years! I first dabbled with code in 2018, and I’m glad I finally pushed something out to the real world that people actually use. I learnt just enough React, HTML, CSS and JS to be “dangerous”. 

Writing on preetamnath.com for 89,571 readers

Ever since I left my online writing gig back in 2016, I’ve dreamt of getting back to writing consistently. Part of the reason was I didn’t want to lose my touch, but the main reason was that I enjoyed writing. 

If one is an artist, they need a canvas and paint to express themselves. For me, writing was my paint brush and this blog, the canvas.

In absolute numbers,

  • I’ve written 62 blog posts of which 54 are under /blog, and 8 under /micro-saas.
  • Sent 28 issues of my Sunday Coffee newsletter.
  • My words have reached 89,571 readers.
  • My blog has garnered 165,516 total page views. 

I’m really proud of how far my blog has come and the wide reach of my words, despite only getting regular since June of this year. Not bad for 6 months, eh?

I've also been sending out my weekly newsletter, Sunday Coffee, and I've been very consistent at it. In 2020, I sent 28 issues and currently have 511 subscribers.

This isn't a number that I'm trying to grow and optimize for, so I'm happy with the results and I'm happy that my words are reaching a lot of people consistently.

Ranking #1 and Featured Snippet on Google

I ended 2019 with a goal to become better at SEO. One of the things that I did manage was to rank #1 for the term “Micro-saas” on Google.

For another related term, I'm showing up as the featured snippet on Google. This is all happening to me for the first time in my life!

Initially, I ranked high for the phrase by accident. It wasn’t intentional at all and happened as a by-product of writing about building a Shopify micro-saas app.

But when I took in all the data and combined it with my new learnings about content marketing, I used it as a testbed to see if all this theory put to practice actually works. And guess what, it does!

I now get a steady stream of traffic from Google Search, to the tune of ~1000 impressions/day and ~75 clicks/day on my blog posts and pages.

I’m applying all these first-hand learnings to DelightChat’s long-term SEO and content strategy and vice-versa.

Tweeting to 1,254,000 impressions on Twitter

I didn’t tweet for half the year, and when I got back I wanted to spend more time on writing something meaningful every week than tweeting five times a day. So I stuck to a routine of tweeting every week about my newest piece of writing, and it’s yielded decent results.

Twitter only lets me see 3 months data at a time

My tweets reached 1 million, 254 thousand eyeballs. Of the 1.254 million impressions, 985.8 thousand impressions happened in the second half of 2020. This is vs 427 thousand impressions in the entire of 2019.

It’s mind-boggling how amazing Twitter as a platform is and more than the impressions, it’s all the conversations I’ve had with people who reached out or with people I DM’d.

I really don’t care about vanity metrics, to a fault. Growing a “follower count” is the last thing I want to optimise my life for (not applicable to a business account), but by virtue of all the content I wrote and shared, I did grow my Twitter follower count from 1017 to 3178, which is +2161 followers.

I attribute this growth to 2 things:

  1. Sharing my written content and transparently sharing business milestones.
  2. Being consistent in delivering value to others.

I aim to do more of this in 2021 and perhaps care slightly more about vanity metrics as a way to inform myself whether I’m delivering high-enough value to a large number of people.

Started a new business with a bigger mission called DelightChat

On October 1st, we announced to the world about our next project, DelightChat. We took everything we learnt about Ecommerce merchants from building SuperLemon and came up with DelightChat, which is our attempt at building a long-term business that can empower thousands of online stores across the world to deliver delightful customer support.

Our mission at DelightChat is to impact 100,000 Ecommerce brands in managing customer support more easily and turning it into a revenue center. We will achieve that by building a product that is extremely simple to use (think Gmail or Messenger), packed with powerful features that industry leaders provide, and yet be super affordable for any business that is doing more than a few hundred orders a month. 

Found amazing people to join the DelightChat tribe 

Because DelightChat is a complex product, Sankalp and I knew from the get go that this isn’t something the two of us could achieve. Perhaps we could, but it would take us years.

Whereas with a team of 8-10 enthusiastic and aligned people, we can move much faster and realise the dream of building a large and profitable business sooner. That’s why we set out to hire a founding team even before we wrote a single line of code.

This is the first time I’ve hired people for a business that I’m building, and it’s hard. Identifying people with whom you can align in the long term is tricky, especially when you’re supposed to make that decision over only a few hours of interaction at best.

Sankalp and I are learning a lot about evaluating people the right way and we are prepared to learn from the right decisions and the mistakes we make as we go.

SEO experimentation to 180,000 monthly impressions on Google

DelightChat’s long-term pillar for customer acquisition should be a channel that can scale and that we can own (as much as that’s possible in the world we live in today). Google search is the place to show up when our target audience, Ecommerce merchants, make searches that are directly or tangentially relevant.

We ran an experiment to try and rank for a long-tail of keywords using code, data gathering, manual cleaning, and programatically generating landing pages for each long-tail keyword.

The result? From 100 impressions/day on Google, DelightChat’s website pages are now garnering 6000 impressions/day in just 45 days. That’s 180,000 impressions per month!

During the same time, we wrote a dozen odd guest blogs for websites in the Ecommerce niche or those that have a very high domain authority. Our strategy is to write long-form, well-researched and evergreen content for existing and established sites, with a backlink to DelightChat’s website that helps grow our domain authority over time.

This is the oldest trick in the book, guest blogging for backlinks. We will experiment with more approaches, especially those that can generate dozens if not hundreds of backlinks at a go. We will only follow legit practices, no black hat and stuff like that.

I can’t wait to work on more marketing experiments with the team and in the process become “dangerous” at content and SEO. And then write and share all about it so that others can also learn and grow their business using content and SEO.

We adopted Doggo, a street puppy

I talked more about how we found doggo, what happened to his 5 siblings and mother, and how we are trying to nurse him back to health and help him become strong in Sunday Coffee #0026.

Doggo has quickly become an important member of our family. We all care for him and are trying to nourish him back to health. He has overcome all health challenges thrown at him so far, including the most recent encounter with ICH.

His biggest challenge right now is a developmental disorder in his right foreleg which we hope gets better through regular massage and better nutrition in the next 3-6 months.

What could have been better in 2020

Responding to Covid-19 and lockdowns during the initial months

The way I handled the lockdown right when it began wasn’t pretty. My whole routine of going out to work, hitting the gym, this new apartment I was about to move in to and had already paid the rent and deposit for - everything got thrown out the window into disarray.

It takes time and energy to build new routines, and I had just uprooted all of mine when I moved from Bangalore to Hyderabad in February. I spent a month and half rebuilding those routines, only to have them uprooted again. But this time, I couldn’t adapt.

The uncertainty and fear of disease initially made me scared and unable to focus, and reading the news or browsing Twitter just added to the mental health fuckfest. Thankfully, I recognised this and disconnected from reading the news or browsing Twitter for a few months.

I wanted to feel in control of my life, or at least some aspect of it. The one thing completely under control was building the SuperLemon app, and so I threw myself into work. Again, it wasn’t healthy, I ended with a backache from those long hours of sitting in an ergonomically uncomfortable chair hunched forward. I wish I had done things differently, and I’m glad that I am no longer in that place now.

A situation like covid-19 and lockdown is something that happens once in a lifetime, and while I don’t blame myself or beat myself up for how I responded to it, I do want to do a better job with responding to dire, out-of-control situations in the future.

Neglecting health due to “priorities”

If you don’t do something it’s because it wasn’t a priority. And while I told myself at the end of 12 hour or longer workdays that it’s because I don’t have time to workout now, the real reason was that I didn’t make health a priority. This is despite me starting the year with a solid gym routine and diet that I know if I had followed for 6 months, I would have hit all my health goals and then some more.

Progress with Fullstack coding

I didn’t get into backend, at all. Once I had figured out enough of React, HTML, CSS and JS, the next thing I wish I had picked up was Python and eventually Django. A lot of things happened around the middle of the year and I did have time to get into the backend side of building apps, again only to get good enough to be “dangerous”. 

Having said that, I won’t be making Fullstack coding a priority in 2021, because other aspects of building DelightChat take higher priority.

What I look forward to in 2021

Make health a priority

In 2021, health comes first. Which means I won’t schedule working out for the evening, as I often get carried over by work and don’t know when to stop. I kind of like that about myself as it works for me and it gets things done.

However, I want to get things done without gutting my health, and therefore I will workout the first thing in the day. That way, even if on some days I work till late, I’ve already done my exercise and taken care of my body.

By the end of 2021, I want to be 8 kgs below my current weight, and nurse my body back to strength, endurance, flexibility, and stability.

Continue writing and growing preetamnath.com

I love writing every weekend on my blog. This creative release feels meditative, makes me feel joy, and makes me look for to Sunday mornings (very much like this one where I’m currently editing THIS section of the post).

In 2021, I want to expand my blog into more topics. I believe I have a lot to share with the world, and I want to continue delivering content that is actionable and can meaningfully help people in making progress in their lives or business. 

There are a few topics I’m toying with:

  • Product Design
  • Webflow Development
  • Building and Eliminating Habits
  • B2B SaaS Marketing

I will pick one topic at a time and drill down on it, trying to capture everything that I know about it that has helped me and can help others. This content will be besides my general life and business philosophical posts.

By the end of the 2021, I want to help improve the lives of 100,000 people through my blog.

Expand my presence on Twitter

Building an audience on Twitter has compound benefits, especially the hidden ones that you can’t account for due to serendipity. I believe I am delivering great value on Twitter - the product is good. But not enough people know about this product, me.

I also believe I can further my Mission 1000 initiative by growing my Twitter audience to 10,000 followers and beyond in 2021.

To achieve that, I need to overcome my biases with social media, especially when it comes to posting short-form content and posting regularly.

Become an accomplished marketer

I want to become a great marketer, and the best way to do so is to learn by doing.

I’m excited to work alongside people like Deb and Jay in the marketing team, build DelightChat into an iconic and widely recognized brand amongst Ecommerce merchants and operators in the DTC industry. And in the process, we will all grow individually as marketers.

Build DelightChat into a long-term business with massive, worldwide impact

Building a strong team and culture, understanding customers and building a world-class product, and learning how to distribute this product in front of thousands of potential customers are the core skills I want to sharpen next year.

In 2021, I want to

  • Make the business profitable.
  • Find a niche focus and value proposition that we can be #1 at.
  • Build strong distribution channels that helps us grow to 1000 paying customers and continues to scale beyond.
  • Create a team culture and work environment where everyone not only grows, but thrives and has everything they need to become the best version of themselves.

In it for the long-run ✌️

Everything I’m doing is aligned with the long-term goals in my life. I’m really happy about that and I’ll continue to live life that way in 2021 and beyond.

Want to read more? Check out my co-founder Sankalp's 2020 year in review post.

I also wrote a guide on how you can plan your year ahead. Give it a read if you're looking for a framework to make your planning process easier.

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