Skip to main content

2021: Year in Review

This is my seventh year in review. If you’d like to read my past reviews:

  1. 2016 was the Year of Writing
  2. 2017 was the Year of Embracing Solitude.
  3. 2018 was the Year of Balancing Calm & Focus.
  4. 2019 was the Year of Continuous Improvement (CI)
  5. 2020 was the Year of Managing Myself Better
  6. 2021 is the Year of Never Missing Twice

So, how did I do in 2021? Let’s dive in!

Work

I worked on incredible projects with talented people who helped me mature my thinking. I also hired four personal coaches to help me with my physical health, mental health, nutrition, and my career. This led me to build a Notion template (buy it here) to manage my progress with these coaches.

While I’ve worked on growth for many early-stage SaaS companies in the $100k to $15M ARR range, this year I took the challenge to join a company on Day 0. It’s the earliest stage I’ve ever worked with a company and also the most exciting.

Here are some of my biggest bite-sized lessons at work.

General

  1. Early stage teams are wonderful. Everybody knows everybody. Anything you do has a truly visible impact on the company’s growth. You have no creative boundaries. You’re 100% focused on building.
  2. In the age of people striving to retire as early as possible, I realised the importance of work. If you made all the money in the world and retired next month, what purpose will your life have? Think about it for a second. Work gives you purpose. Here’s a nice thread on that.
  3. There are a lot of people today who’ve built large personal brands for themselves, but aren’t really good at the work they advertise. They’re just really good at social media (especially LI & Twitter) and promoting themselves. Be careful and evaluate them like you’d evaluate any other contractor. I hired popular contractors/agencies that looked ‘technically’ good on paper but sorely disappointed us with their work. Some tips to avoid this:
    1. Just because they’re popular doesn’t mean they’re good. Evaluate them without a bias.
    2. Work on a smaller test project before committing to the full project.
    3. If a smaller test project isn’t possible, do atleast 1 client reference check.
    4. Fire as quickly as you hire if you think they’re not the right fit.
  4. What’s even more concerning is that people today unknowingly risk their reputation by recommending these agencies/people whole heartedly *without ever having worked with them*. They’d say “Oh they’re the best in the business.”. Don’t be one of those people. When recommending an agency/freelancer, share that you’ve never actually worked with them and it’s just worth having a chat. Don’t risk your reputation.
  5. Do your 1-hour meetings always go >1 hour? Schedule 45-minute meetings. You’ll cover the same agenda in <1 hour.

Marketing channels

  1. Lifetime deals? They’re not all that bad as I thought from a strategy purpose. If your business needs cash to grow in early stage and get the company off the ground (without giving away early equity), lifetime deals are a great strategy to raise some money. BUT if your business already has cash and you’re just looking to acquire more customers via LTD, I wouldn’t recommend it.
  2. My perspective on social media (as a marketing channel) has changed quite a bit this year. I’ve realized social media allows you to test ideas, build an audience and also build businesses. The more you post, the more people you’re coming in front of. I use FeedHive to grow my audience on my social media accounts and it’s very good.
  3. Affiliate marketing strategy in a short sentence: acquire (recruit affiliates), activate (activate them to make their first sale) and optimize (grow revenue from top affiliate partners).
  4. Most affiliate programs organically scale as the brand awareness grows. Focus on the brand awareness and you’ll indirectly scale your affiliate program.
  5. When I started out monetising my content this year, the biggest question in my mind was WHAT do I monetise? What do I sell? I had no product. I only had content and some traffic. That’s when I had two of my biggest learnings:
    1. Understand the audience I serve the best, their lifecycle journey and then create digital products for different points in the journey for them.
    2. Promote my product (s) aggressively. If you have multple products, sell the product that brings in 80% revenue.

Some of my biggest content pieces

  1. 12 Leadership Lessons as Head of Marketing
  2. Who is behind Remote Marketing Podcast? (my longest podcast interview ever)
  3. How to recruit affiliates?
  4. How to manage leadership stress using CBT?
  5. Why senior executives “get people on the phone” to uncover ideas?

Health

I believed 2021 was going to be the year when things returned back to normal. Boy was I wrong?!

Got Covid

Not only was it a worse year than 2020, but my family and I also contracted Covid this year. To say it tested my mental resilience is an understatement because it happened during the worst time. There were no hospital beds available and medicines and oxygen were short on supply!

We used to send these messages to each other every hour hoping the oxygen level doesn’t drop.

It’s been 7 months and I still haven’t recovered my taste and smell fully. But I’m very grateful that my entire family escaped Covid without any complications.

Enjoying yoga

On my road to recovery, I started practicing yoga more frequently and really enjoy it now. My biggest learning with yoga this year is that

Yoga helps you wake up your body. It wakes up your mind, back, joints, muscles and sore areas“.

Eating clean

This is relatively recent, but I got very inspired by the quote “You are what you eat”. I hired a quantified nutrition coach to help me eat clean and get fit. Some learnings with my coach:

  1. Clean eating doesn’t mean you have to starve. Did you know that an Oreo cookie has the same amount of calories as half a plate of rice?! Eating clean is really about measuring what you eat and removing the unmeasured junk food you eat between meals.
  2. Measure your waist. Measure your weight. Compare it 3-6-12 months later. When you see the progress, you’ll get motivated to push further. What you don’t measure, you can’t improve.
  3. Don’t over-eat just so the food doesn’t go waste. The amount of money and time you’ll spend to cover up for the additional food taken will be much much more.
  4. Ditch buffets. You’ll likely over-eat and you’ll never have anything really tasty.
  5. I absolutely love bitter dark chocolate (75%+). Not only does it have less sugar, the flavor is more intense too. A small bite of dark chocolate satiates a good dessert craving so it helps in portion control too. My personal favorites are Lindt 70% & Amul 75% (local).
  6. If you’re ordering in or eating outside, go for simple food items that are satiating like dosa, biryani, paneer tikka etc. Also focus on protein sources (tofu, eggs, soya, paneer, cheese etc.) and veggies. Maybe have some carbs (rice) for satiety. For drinks, go for unsweetened mojito. Avoid fried, heavy gravies, desserts and high calorie beverages.
  7. At an Indian wedding? Steamed rice > biryani/pulao. Tandoori roti > Laccha parantha. Dal tadka > dal makhani. Take tiny dessert portions.
  8. Soya chunks are crazy high on protein. Add it to your meals.
  9. Stick to a specific time to work out every day (preferably in the morning).
  10. If you aim to workout every day, you’ll end up working out half the days in the year (which is still pretty good).
  11. Want to do a quick workout? Chloe Ting’s workouts will get you sweating within 5 minutes.
  12. The goal of working out is not to lose weight (your nutrition will handle that), but to keep your body active and strong. Think of your body like a machine. Working out helps keep it oiled. Not working out will make your body rust. That’s the difference between looking like you’re 50 when you’re actually 70 vs looking like you’re 70 but you’re actually 50.
  13. While both cardio and strength and conditioning are important, it’s more important to do strength and conditioning workouts than cardio. What do you use most on a daily basis? Your muscles, joints and back, right? You use these while you’re doing cardio too. Prioritise strengthing these and your cardio will become easier too.

Your health > everything.

Being proactive vs reactive with mental health

In 2021, I made a conscious effort of talking with my coach every month versus scheduling sessions with my coach when there was a problem. The difference was that problems were discussed before they became problems.

Some thoughtful questions asked by my coaches

  1. What’s a hobby that you genuinely enjoy doing even if you’re bad at it?
  2. Your success goal posts constantly change over time. What’s your goal post now? What does success mean to you right now?
  3. They say you learn more from failure than success. What have you learnt out of failure in your last few challenges? What would you do differently?
  4. Asked at the start of every session – What’s the challenge? What’s the outcome you’re looking to get to?

Travel

While international travel remained out of question, we still made some awesome trips within the country this year, including:

  1. Doing an “introspective” retreat where for 9 days we asked ourselves introspective questions about our past and the future and did a lot of writing.
  2. Staying at a Hobbit inspired cottage and seeing glorious sunsets (below)
  3. Staying at a pottery studio
  4. Staying inside a centuries old palace
  5. Staying at a youth hostel after many years
  6. Seeing Taj Mahal at midnight under the moon

Other bite-sized lessons on various life things

  1. You will never have enough time. To make time for things that matter, let your calendar to rule everything around you.
  2. When taking a hotel package, always only opt for one included meal per day. Never two or three as you’ll start feeling sick of the food there.
  3. You can literally spend all day doing house chores and feel frustrated that you don’t have time. Or you can find the house chores that annoy you the most (80/20 rule – 20% house chores bring 80% annoyance), SCHEDULE them and get them all completed in a batch. Multi-tasking can get your house chores done in 1 hour what would normally take you 3 hours if you did it sequentially.
  4. After MANY years, I backpacked with my wife and stayed at a youth hostel for a couple of days. I realised how inspiring it was to meet interesting people and have new conversations. Have to do these atleast once a year.
  5. I’m a value buyer. I like to buy things that I feel are truly value for money.
  6. I don’t like keeping a beard. Makes me feel lethargic, lazy and untidy.
  7. You are your own parent. Welcome to adulthood (realising this 10 years in).
  8. Life can be unfair, but there is no point in cribbing about it. Just work your way around it.
  9. Money – If you invest for a longer period (>5 years), your probability of getting higher returns increases. Or to put it Vishal Khandelwal’s way “Your behaviour & expectations are under your control, & so is the amount of risk you wish to take & the time you have in hand. Stock prices & future returns aren’t under your control & thus you must leave them at what they do best – fluctuate.”
  10. Money – Diversify your investments. Diversification reduces your portfolio’s risk.
  11. We purchased a new apartment this year. Quick learning – when you buy a property, your purchase price is not the selling price you see when buying. Factor in an additional 20-30% on top of it in the form of possession charges, government taxes, builder fees and brokerage.
  12. Also, buying a property is a very complex, time consuming, expensive and frustrating process. Probably only limit it to 1-2 times in your life unless you enjoy it.

2022: The Year of Digital Products

So what are the big plans in 2022? Quite generic actually.

  1. Believing in myself
  2. Making time for things that matter
  3. Continue eating clean & working out
  4. Get velocity in my work without over-working myself or getting stressed
  5. Go big with building digital products. Keep an eye on earlystagemarketer.com.
  6. Post more on social media (not for likes or comments), but to educate, build an audience, test ideas and get sales for my digital courses.
  7. Go on a creator vacation with my partner to have a digital product ready by the end of it.

A major realization in 2021 was that building/creating (blog, podcast, digital products, strategy) brings me the most joy. So that’s essentially what I’ll keep following as my path forward. You’ll see digital products (namely courses) coming from me in 2022.

I’m currently building digital products around:

  1. Early-stage marketing leadership (I’ve led and built marketing teams at five companies)
  2. SEO (I’ve grown several client’s blogs from 0 to 100,000+ visitors/mo)
  3. Building a successful career in marketing
  4. Early-stage affiliate marketing (building & scaling an affiliate program)

Thanks for reading my review. Happy new year!

Madhav Bhandari

I'm a marketer who's been working with remote marketing teams for 6+ years. My long term mission is to make all co-located marketing teams, location independent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *