2015 Year In Review and What’s Coming in 2016

Alaska Cruise - Beautiful
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Wow 2015 came and went by so fast. Like every year, it was the best year ever for me. I saw tons of growth both on the business side and personal as well.

Since everything happens so fast, I don’t always get a chance to document it all in one place. Starting this year, I will be doing a yearly recap and sharing my new years resolution in public for accountability purposes.

Plus, I think there will be tons of lessons that everyone can learn from my mistakes. Not to mention, it will be fun to read it all 20 years from now when I’m super old.

Let’s take a look back at everything that happened this year.

Personal Highlights

I finally turned 25 years old. Apparently, I’m super responsible now because my car insurance dropped, I can get rental cars without paying the excessive “underage” fee, and more importantly I can actually rent our company retreat house on my own.

Because you know, as a 24 year old CEO, I was not responsible enough to rent a luxury house for my team. Go figure.

Since I bought my last house three years ago, I had the itch of building one from scratch. Now that Amanda’s PhD is almost complete, it was the perfect opportunity.

I was beyond excited to see every process of the build, and most importantly get the keys in August. Some pictures of the house below:

I visited Guatemala to see the two schools we built last year with Pencils of Promise. This time Amanda was able to join me on the trip, and I invited my cousin Muneeb as well as my close friend David Henzel (from MaxCDN).

Sharing this amazing experience with others was truly a blessing.

I took a two week vacation (where I worked about 2 hours a day) which was a BIG WIN for me because I normally don’t take vacations, and I work A LOT!

For the first half of the trip, we visited the Yellow Stone National Park. For the second half, we took a cruise to Alaska (highly recommended).

A lot of you have asked me if I go back go Pakistan often. The answer is no. I go about once every three years or so, but I did visit Pakistan in December for a week. Hanging out with my family and team members was a lot of fun.

Business Highlights

Since I have multiple companies, I’ve broken up things by business.

OptinMonster

This was a huge year for OptinMonster. We finally converted the WordPress plugin into a standalone SaaS application.

I shared our journey in this blog post. Some of you may not know this, but I always wanted OptinMonster to be a SaaS which nearly caused us to fail before we even launched in 2013 (read the story here).

Aside from a completely new site design and the app (which in itself was a huge update), we added several new features including the famous Full Screen Welcome Gate, several new integrations, and templates.

Since the launch of our application, we have served over 15 billion impressions.

On the content side of things, we completely overhauled our documentation which helped tremendously with support — over 142 documentation articles (see: how we handle customer support).

The conversion rate optimization blog is coming along well. We published a total of 54 articles in the year of 2015. My goal is to double this next year.

I also want to improve our social media / community engagement and create two new marketing courses for OptinMonster customers.

Envira Gallery

For the latter half of 2015, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Envira Gallery, our premium WordPress gallery plugin.

We added over a dozen new addons and completely revamped the site design which helped us double our sales. You can read my Envira Gallery case study for more details.

While we made tons of progress in the last quarter, I feel that a lot still needs to be done. As we ramp up our content marketing efforts, you can expect to see tons of awesome resources and articles on our photography tips blog.

Right now, the team is working on a docs overhaul of Envira. This will be followed up by video tutorials which I’m super excited about.

In 2016, I will be focusing a lot on marketing and onboarding because I think both of these areas can significantly help our growth.

As I said in the case study post, I’d like to quadruple the monthly sales of Envira Gallery by the end of 2016.

List25

List25 is definitely my most popular online property, but a lot of folks don’t know that I own it. That’s probably because I’m not as involved in the day to day operations like I’m with the software business.

Like every year, List25 grew exponentially. We published over 600 articles on the blog, and over 200 videos on YouTube.

Our YouTube channel passed 350 million video views, and we’re currently at 1.8M subscribers.

We finally changed the video format, and it’s no longer a slideshow. This will allow us to do more product placements (hopefully a lot of our own).

Louie the Lizard, our List25 mascot, is finally coming to life in the new shirt design.

Right now the site is being redesigned, and List25 will soon have a merchandise store. I can’t wait to wear the funny shirt design the team is working on.

My goal for 2016 is to pass 2 million YouTube subscribers and really grow the merchandise department because I think it has a lot of potential.

I would like to get better with ad sales on List25 because I think we’re severely under monetized. If you have online ad sales experience, and would like to join a fast growing team, then get in touch with me.

Soliloquy

Soliloquy WordPress slider is our oldest premium plugin. It is also the most stable plugin.

We did not release any major new features. We did bug fixes and enhancements to additional features.

In 2016, we will be redesigning the website and adding some really powerful features to give our slider plugin another dimension.

WPBeginner

A lot of you know me from WPBeginner, the largest free WordPress resource site.

This year we published 275 WordPress tutorials on the site and over 200 video tutorials on our YouTube channel.

We passed 2.5 million video views and are currently at 27,000 subscribers on YouTube.

I was able to increase our Facebook traffic by 332% in 2015. I shared the exact steps in my Facebook case study.

WPBeginner now has over 140,000 twitter followers which is kinda cool. It’s our most popular brand on Twitter.

Real Estate

My real estate business is coming along well. I added another gas station / C-store property to my portfolio.

Since I spent most of my money building and furnishing the new house, I couldn’t buy more properties.

I’m sure I could have bought more if I got loans, but I like being 100% debt-free.

Press & Mentions

I got tons of press mentions either through quotes or having my articles featured in top publications.

This year I got featured in Mashable, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, HuffingtonPost, Fox Business, VentureBeat, Yahoo Small Business, TheNextWeb, and countless other publications.

I have written a blog post here on how to get featured on almost any website.

Lessons Learned

I learned A LOT this past year. But few important lessons that I want to share:

  • Pixel All The Things – Retargeting is powerful which you probably saw in my Facebook case study. Although I’ve known this for years, I wanted to share it here because I think this will be even bigger in 2016.
  • Evaluate your hosting needs regularly – Add evaluate hosting needs in your quarterly review checklist. In 2015, we switched List25 to SiteGround because their managed dedicated servers are both reliable and affordable. If you’re looking for the best managed WordPress hosting, then nothing beats Pagely. We host the entire OptinMonster app on their infrastructure, and they are awesome.
  • Security become a bigger problem as you grow – We dealt with several attacks on both List25 and WPBeginner. I added the Sucuri Web Application Firewal (WAF), and haven’t worried about things since. Of course you should always have a reliable WordPress backup.
  • Polish what you have – The success of Envira Gallery is proof that little optimization can have a massive impact. My goal for 2016 is to spend more time on polishing existing projects vs launching new ones.

What’s coming in 2016

I hinted at several things above, but in no particular order below are the things that you can expect from me in 2016:

  • New OptinMonster Builder + Rules Engine (coming Q1)
  • Several New Addons on Envira + Tons of Content
  • Site Redesign of List25 + Merchandise Store (Q1)
  • A content site in Accounting & Finance niche
  • A content site in the Beauty niche
  • Complete overhaul of Soliloquy Design + New Addons
  • Multiple side projects and internal tools that I like using made available for public
  • New Acquisitions / Partnerships with WordPress product companies
  • A paid eBook on SyedBalkhi.com (I might just give it away for free, not sure 100%)

I’m sure there’ll be more, but that’s all I’m comfortable sharing right now :)

Personal Goals for 2016

  • Less Business Travel and More Fun Travel – Up until now most of my travel is for business because I’m usually alone. Since Amanda’s school will be done in June, I’d like to do more “fun travel”.
  • Continue my weight loss and get to 225 lbs by the end of the year. I started in Nov 2014 and went from 272 to 240.
  • Hire a Personal Assistant – I have had multiple offshore VAs in the past, but I think I’m at a point where I need a real life personal assistant in West Palm Beach, FL.
  • Start reading for pleasure – I really want to start reading for pleasure again. Now most of my reading is business related, but I’d like to read more books like Ready Player One (that was fun).

2015 was such an awesome year that this article doesn’t even do justice, but oh well. Here’s to an even better 2016!

In the meantime, enjoy more pics from 2015 (just because).

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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39 thoughts on “2015 Year In Review and What’s Coming in 2016

  1. Wow Syed! Quite impressive. I had no idea you were 25, that’s awesome. You going to Pressnomics this year? Cheers

  2. Syed, congratulations on another successful year. You truly inspire me as an entrepreneur. I wish you the best in 2016 and look forward to what you will accomplish.

  3. Good work, Syed. Always enjoy reading posts like this. Eager to see how the year pans out for you, Amanda, and your companies.

    Congrats on the house, as well. Looks great :).

    Perhaps we’ll still find that intersection for us to do something together. I’ll be at a few WordCamps this year, so hopefully our paths will cross.

  4. Hi Syed,

    That’s a beautiful and responsible lifestyle there. One to be copied!

    Hope I wouldn’t be sued?

    I never knew you were that young. And you’ve achieved a lot. I’m inspired. If only you knew how I wish to be your personal assistant.

    Yes, I’ve seen your achievement but what’s the SECRET to get there?

    How are you able to do this?

    Is it that easy?

    And what’s involved?

    Francis

    • Hey Francis,

      I wish more people live a responsible lifestyle :)

      The secret? I wish there was a simple answer. I work hard, I work smart, I’m genuinely nice to people, I help others without expecting things in return, I take care of my team members, and I’m passionate about all that we do.

      Was my success easy? Read my about page and you’ll have the answer to that.

  5. Hey Syed,

    Thank you for posting this, is really inspiring, I am also excited to see some pictures with the schools that we contributed too :).

    Last year once my business started to grow and be less stressful I started to think more of other aspects of my life and I kept having the strange feeling that with so many things and work around me ( since I love doing this so much ), I don’t really live or feel like I am living, so I prepared along with my gf in October a 3 month trip with maximum 1h/day of work and I had a huge impact on how we feel and how we see things around us.

    I am just saying that if at some point you feel like that, my suggestion might help :)

  6. Thanks for sharing. It’s very inspiring. My last year was bogged down with “inaction” so not much progress. I’m tackling head on again. There is so much to do at this time, I’m working solo and have a full time job with an ad agency. So I need to overcome the obstacles that I allowed to block my road last year. Best wishes to you in 2016 and beyond.

    Ila
    LetFamilyKnow.com

  7. Syed,

    Ever since you did some design work for me years ago, I knew you had a bright future. Congrats on an awesome 2015 and I am sure 2016 will Surpass it :)

  8. Hi Syed!

    You know what? 2015 was the year that I just got to know the job opportunities that can be gotten by doing legitimate and legal businesses online.

    I have been learning WordPress since April, 2015. I’m now a part-time web and mobile app developer (although, I studied Mechanical Engineering in the University).

    I sure believe it has been God all the way! He is the SECRET to your success.

    Wishing you the best of 2016 as you continue to help me through your blog (http://www.wpbeginner.com).

  9. Delighted to see it’s been another successful year for you, and awesome to see the focus on quality of life – “happiness” is so often discussed as an abstract but rarely genuinely pursued it seems. Best of luck with 2016, although I’m sure you won’t need it ;)

  10. Congrats Syed! I’ve been a huge WPBeginner fan for a long time. Since meeting you in person, I learning about your big picture – you’ve inspired me to dream bigger. You’ve definitely been a huge inspiration to getting me off my butt. Happy 2016!

  11. oh you turned to 25 and still desperate to find more worlds in internet,its ridiculous as i just heard about wordpress last year and I was 25. :)
    you are truly piece of ignition for me!

  12. Nice review, you accomplished a lot man.

    I’m curious about the content sites that you plan to start this year. Maybe you could write a post (or even start a case study) explaining your strategy/approach regarding content businesses? It’d be awesome to read it.

    With your new chosen niches, do you plan to build something more informational like WPbeginner or entertaining like List25?

    • I will definitely be doing case studies Rob.

      I plan to build more informational like WPBeginner. Fashion one may have some entertainment to it as well.

      • Awesome. One more question: what do you think about starting a publication focused only on one channel?

        For example, instead of building a blog/content site, I think of starting just a newsletter or just a podcast. I’d deliver content only by this one medium and monetize it with ads and maybe affiliate links.

        Some examples of such businesses:
        – newsletters: JavaScript Weekly, TheSkimm
        – podcasts: StartUp (Gimlet Media produces a couple of podcasts)

        What do you think about such approach? Does it make sense to build something like that? All of the mentioned businesses seem to be doing pretty well. Thanks!

  13. Hey, Syed!

    You never cease to amaze me. That’s a lot. People like you, inspire me to do more. I hope to achieve a portion of what you have when I am 25 (23 as of now).

    Congrats on the new house. It’s a tough thing, I’ve just started mine and I feel like there is no time for anything else. I hope it gets better with time.

    Here’s to a great 2016, I hope we work together on something in 2016. If you plan to visit WordCamp Europe in June, I’m planning to attend it. Let’s meet.

  14. Hi Syed. This is awesome and quite inspiring to say the least. The multitudes of projects you’re working on and their scale is amazing. I intend to use some of your products in my upcoming news site.

  15. I also want to visit Pakistan and India one day, because I love the story of the golden temple and vegetarian food. I saw you recently speaking to Michael at platform university and I loved it so following you across social media where I enjoyed the social photography and great tech content. I soon will rebrand my personal blog and share more about my social media where I have about 60k followers. I am a bit of a geek too as for example I decided to wait on Optinmonster pop on one of your Optinmonster blog posts with the idea that it triggers a discount follow up. I hope you visit one day Switzerland and if you need a guide let me know.

    • Thanks for the kind words Daniel – glad you liked my interview on the Platform university.

      I will let you know when I visit Switzerland :)

      • Thank you Syed. You have to and I will connect with you also on Instagram and Twitter if you wanna see some pictures. Please keep up your leadership and great work around wordpress. I just bootmarked this blog as one of my favorite blogs and will read your great content.