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.
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.
Since I have multiple companies, I’ve broken up things by business.
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.
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 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 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.
A lot of you know me from WPBeginner, the largest free WordPress resource site.
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.
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.
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).