3 hypotheses, 4 values, 5 mistakes, and 6 hopes
A reflection on 2023 before the new year
If you’d like to support things I care about, consider donating to the Oakland Literacy Coalition to improve literacy in my hometown, or buy a Wanderly gift card for a loved one (use RUNNING for 25% off). Happy Holidays! 🎁
I think 2023 was the hardest year of my life: I lost my father, my five-year-old didn’t have reliable childcare for about 4 months, my one-year-old is… one, and I founded Wanderly, a story-led educational app using generative AI. But I’m probably the happiest I’ve ever been about how I’ve spent my time and energy.
As the year closes, I want to return to where this year started: In January 2023, I declared an intention to align my goals with my values. In the same post, I announced a new Etsy shop1 and decided to move on from explorations in crypto. Progress isn’t linear.
But I also set up some hypotheses that I wanted to test and set an intention to come up with guiding values. The mantra of “aligning my goals with my values” rang in my ears all year, and it steered my path even when things got too crazy for me to be deliberate in my actions. So here’s how I did this year. And many thanks to all of you who have been with me (and guided me) on my journey this year. 🙏
Here’s how I did on each of the three hypotheses I set out to test this year:
🟡 I can be content not pursuing vanity metrics - I’m pretty content with Wanderly’s progress, but that’s because it’s nascent, and I’m not pursuing growth yet. But I often look at numbers of users, sales, or funding inquiries for validation beyond what’s useful to drive Wanderly forward. Conclusion: Medium successful.
🟡 I can make money on my own - I’ve made some money from Wanderly this year. By no means is this enough to pay the bills, but I also don’t think any new company comes out the gates with a firehose revenue stream. A wise mentor told me that revenue can be a longer-term goal, but it’s too early to set it as a key metric; if I elevated revenue to a key metric, it would likely skew Wanderly into something I don’t like. Conclusion: Yes, but not at scale… yet.
🟢 I can build a technology solution on my own - Much to my surprise, I’ve built and grown Wanderly using my coding skills (with some help from great tools and ChatGPT). I’m very excited about the foundation I’ve built here and about continuing to grow my technical knowledge and skills. Conclusion: Yes!
4 Guiding Values
In January, I said I would establish guiding values, publish them, and evaluate my alignment with those values. I never did… until now. Better late than never. 🙂
💗 To Love
So much of this year was about family. I’m proud of how I supported my dad in his final year of life. I’m proud of how my husband and I worked together to support our children through tough moments of growth. I’m proud that I still found time to invest in my marriage and supported my husband through a career change. Even though it cost me some professional momentum, I don't think I'll ever look back and regret supporting my family this year.
🛠️ To Build
I worked with a fabulous coach who helped me identify that I’m a builder. And I decided to build Wanderly. It started as an experiment to return to coding and gain independence. It quickly turned into an all-encompassing project where I practiced engineering, marketing, UX design, and business management. I feel more confident in my identity as a builder than ever, and I want to continue to lean into it.
📚 To Learn
I’m a happier person when I’m learning… and wow, I learned a lot this year. I am learning how to code (again), how to advertise on social media, how to monetize, how to make a TikTok, and how to tell great stories. And I still have so much more to learn, and I also made many mistakes that have taught me lessons. I’ve also learned a lot from the generosity of this newsletter community. 🙏
To learn also has a double meaning: Learning is the core of what I’m trying to build with Wanderly. Stories have so much to teach us and can be a delightful surface for passive learning.
💪 To Empower
As a college RA, a manager, a parent, a board member of a non-profit, and a founder, there’s always been a throughline to my work: I want people to be the best versions of themselves.
This year, my children learned skills to express their needs (and I learned skills to help), I joined the board of the Oakland Literacy Coalition, and Wanderly told stories where each child was the hero of their own story, and they got to decide what happens next. I hope to turn Wanderly into a tool that superpowers each child’s sense of self and imagination.
Overall, I think I spend very little time outside of these 4 guiding values, and I look forward to carrying them with me into 2024.
In the spirit of humility and learning, here are my top 5 mistakes from 2023:
Not doing due diligence on naming - I should have thought harder before launching my code name into a public-facing name.
Being glib about content strategy - At the beginning of Wanderly’s journey, I naively thought that I didn’t need to have a content strategy because there were infinite stories due to AI generation. But people still need to be hooked by content before they are willing to spend their time.
Not understanding ad fatigue - I got lucky that my first few social ads worked well, so I was surprised when they became less effective over time. Then, I learned about ad fatigue. Now, I’m experimenting and learning more with better results.
Not cultivating a core group of users for feedback - There was a lot going on this year, but if I had to do it over again, I’d invest more effort in cultivating a core group of users for regular feedback. I’ll be kicking that into high gear early in 2023.
Stressing too much about other people in the space - The space of creating kids’ stories with AI had many players and no real winners this year… but I stressed out each time I heard about one. I wish I’d spared myself, as I don’t think stressing helped. And in some cases, I didn’t need to worry at all. For instance, the app Stori announced at Google I/O shut down last week (only 2 months after public availability).
I’m hopeful that 2024 will be better for me, and I’m also hoping it’ll be better for the world. There’s too much going on right now that makes me sad. I try to focus on and amplify the good (check out Future Crunch or the Progress Network if you haven’t) and hope it counteracts the ugliness.
Here are 6 hopes I have for 2024. I hope…
My family is happy and healthy, and I wish the same to you and yours.
Wanderly continues to grow.
To keep learning curious things and to talk with passionate people.
To continue to grow and invest in community, including this newsletter.
That AI opens more doors than it closes.
For peaceful resolutions to the many tensions in our world.
Thanks for a great year, everyone. I appreciate your support and accountability as I venture off into uncomfortable new things. I hope your new year starts well, and I’ll be back in January with many fun updates. 🎉
I closed it after several sales because I had more fun building Wanderly.