Time is flying fast as I grow up. 2017 was an amazing year, and the best year ever for me. I learnt a lot of important life lessons as well as business lessons.
Because of how fast everything happens, I usually don’t get a chance to document it all in one place. That’s why I started doing a yearly recap, so I can keep a diary for me to reflect on as I get older. Plus, I think it’s going to be useful for Solomon as well.
Let’s take a look back at everything that happened this year (caution: it’s long).
I did a lot of juggling in 2017 – trying to be a good dad, a good husband, and a good son.
Solomon turned 1 year old, and it’s amazing watching him grow. From learning how to sit up, then crawl, and now walk / run, is by far the best moments for me in 2017.
Also for those who haven’t yet experienced fatherhood, it’s crazy how much control an infant/toddler has over your schedule. Most of our personal schedule in 2017 revolved around Solomon.
One of my goals for 2017 was to increase family time, so Solomon can have the same family experience that I had when growing up. To make this happen, I bought my parents a house 5 minutes from us. This was a great decision.
Solomon gets to spend time with his grandparents almost every day, and I get to eat my mom’s delicious food. Although the second part has caused me to gain weight which my doctor isn’t too happy with.
We also made conscious effort to go out for breakfast and dinner with our aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. This was a very pleasant addition to my life considering the last 9 years I spent in a college town away from family.
Between trying to spend more time with family and parenthood, I wanted to make sure that Amanda and I continue to have regular date nights. Thanks to my mom and my sister for babysitting Solomon, we were able to do that. And it’s getting better as he gets older.
I failed at my other two goals: remove profanity from my vocabulary and visit two national parks.
But I did travel a lot, and towards the latter part of the year, Amanda and Solomon joined as well.
We took Solomon to 3 different countries (Turkey, Mexico, and Bahamas).
Turkey was A LOT of fun. We spent two weeks there. Thanks to our good friends David & Yurda Henzel for showing us around.
We also took a family cruise to Bahamas with 17 people. First time for my parents and Solomon too. We had a blast, and I would love to do it again.
Here are some random photos from my travel in 2017.
The school project that I started in 2016 with Cambodian Village Fund was completed, and the “Syed Balkhi Learning Center” opened in 2017. I wasn’t able to make it to the opening ceremony, but to my surprise, I received a Medal of Honor from the prime minister of Cambodia.
Completely out of the blue, I got invited to have dinner with the United States Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin. The dinner was held at the Treasury building, and it was humbling to be in the company of several nation leaders and top entrepreneurs like Shahid Khan, the owner of Jacksonville Jaguars.
I also received the Technology Award from the Pakistani News Channel (GeoTV) where I sat down and got to chat with the new Ambassador of Pakistan for United States.
Last but not least, I was inducted in the United States Cricket Hall of Fame for the work that I have been doing with Cricket Council USA over the last few years in helping expand the game of Cricket in U.S.
Since I have multiple companies, I am going to break up the sections for each business. But before I do that, check out the new company website design of Awesome Motive Inc. I’m super proud of this one.
OptinMonster is our flagship product, and it saw a lot of growth in 2017.
We launched version 4.0 which introduced a lot of infrastructure changes that helped us improve performance by 57%. We redesigned the OM dashboard and added necessary account management features like sub-accounts, permission control, activity logs, and custom branding to help our enterprise and agency clients.
Last but not least, we finally launched our native Shopify app to help reduce cart-abandonment and increase eCommerce revenue with OnSite retargeting.
Aside from the product features, we redesigned the OptinMonster marketing website. This was a huge project considering we added over 100 new pages to the site.
We pushed out dozens of amazing articles, case studies, and launched our Facebook group.
I learnt a lot of lessons from OptinMonster when it comes to managing a growing team, creating strategic partnerships, and how to be better prepared for growth. More on this in the lessons learned section.
A lot of folks laughed at me when I told them I was going to launch a contact form plugin for WordPress in 2016.
Fast forward to 2018, in less than 2 years, WPForms is now running on over 800,000 websites, and we have a 4.9 out of 5 star rating average. That’s because it is the most user-friendly contact form solution for WordPress. Don’t believe me? Try the free version yourself to see the difference.
We added tons of neat features like form abandonment addon, invisible captcha, ability to create custom form templates, form column layouts, new email marketing integrations, offline form addons, form importer, new translations, and more.
We also acquired the most popular SMTP solution, WP Mail SMTP, to help solve the email deliverability issues that comes with WordPress. In December, we completely revamped the plugin to make it easy to use and more reliable.
We launched the redesigned MonsterInsights website and plugin in January 2017. For those who don’t know, I acquired this plugin in 2016 from Yoast, and it’s the largest Google Analytics integration running on 1.9 million websites.
Through out the year, we added several powerful features like: URL builder, Google AMP addon, Forms tracking, enhanced eCommerce tracking, Facebook Instant articles tracking, Google optimize addon, telephone link tracking, and more.
Finally, MonsterInsights has become the plugin that’s a MUST HAVE for all of my websites.
I believe 2017 was phase 1 of our revamp of this powerful plugin. In 2018, we will enter phase 2, which includes better reports for beginners. My whole goal is to make analytics easy for WordPress beginners. Simply sending data to Google Analytics is equivalent of sending it to a graveyard for most business owners because they have no idea where to find most of it.
I want to bring back the relevant data back to WordPress in a simplified reporting dashboard. I think version 7.0 will do just that. Here’s a sneak peek.
2018 is going to be huge for MonsterInsights.
Envira Gallery and Soliloquy
As announced yesterday, we have sold both Envira Gallery and Soliloquy to a private buyer, Nathan Singh.
One of the “problems” of a fast growing business is that you have to carefully choose what to focus on. Most of my focus in 2017 was on our growth tools.
This caused us to severely neglect Envira and Soliloquy which I believe wasn’t fair to our community of loyal users who have supported us all these years.
I’m very happy to have found a new leader in Nathan who shares the same values as us in building a customer centric product and company.
I know as this news spread, I will be getting a lot of emails with questions related to the price, sale process, and everything in between. Here’s what I can share:
This was a multi-million dollar transaction that involved banks which made for an interesting learning experience. The due-diligence process took two months, and we closed the deal before the end of 2017.
I learnt a lot of lessons from this sale. Some of these I will share in the lessons learned section of this article below.
I also intend to write a separate blog post talking about my detailed experience from acquiring these two plugins, growing the business, and then selling them.
I missed my goal of redesigning the site in 2016, and I wasn’t so happy about that. We did a complete redesign of List25 website in 2017, and it turned out to be good for us.
Since I spend two hours a month managing the website, I brought on a third-party ad management company, SnigelWeb, to help improve our revenue. Overall, they have done a great job.
My goal for 2018 is to finally launch our merchandise store for List25. This will also give me the chance to play around with Shopify in great details.
However I fell short on my goal of reaching 100,000 subscribers on YouTube – we only got to 80,000 subscribers.
While we reduced the output of our videos, I felt the quality of our videos improved significantly. We also created some of the best WordPress tutorials in 2017, and I’m very proud of the team.
My goal for 2018 is to increase our content output while maintaining the same high quality. I also have a few secret projects planned, but I won’t be sharing those just yet.
I added a very special property to my portfolio in 2017. It’s a Wells Fargo building that I used to ride my bicycle by when I was growing up. It’s kinda cool to say that I own it, and the bank is my tenant.
I’m also creating my office in this building. It’ll be a new experience for me, since I’ve never worked out of an office before.
Aside from this commercial property, I also bought two residential properties for rental income.
I could’ve definitely bought more if I borrowed money, but I like being 100% debt-free. Some people call me crazy because I can grow a lot faster by borrowing money (specially when borrowing is so cheap), but I’d rather grow slowly and have peace of mind.
Press and Mentions
I got tons of press mentions through quotes as well as having my articles featured in top publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, HuffPost, TheNextWeb, and countless others.
Three that I’m particularly proud of are:
I was recently recognized in Inc magazine as one of the 6 online entrepreneurs who’re giving back.
I was recognized on Forbes for my work on List25 / YouTube – it also contains 8 tips to grow your channel.
Larry Alton did a story about my background on Inc talking about how I started the company.
I was also mentioned as #2 in the list of top 10 online marketers to watch in 2018 on Entrepreneur Magazine.
I learned A LOT in 2017. Below are some important lessons:
Have a Right Business Structure
There’s a lot of due-diligence that’s involved when you sell a business. One of the best decisions that we made early on was to keep every product in a separate business entity (LLC). This allowed us to keep our books clean because each product had a separate Stripe / PayPal account, separate bank account, etc.
This made the due-diligence process very easy for us because we had all the documents ready to go.
If you have a business with multiple products, and you think that there might be a time where you will sell one of the products separately, then it’s best that you establish separate business entities.
We still used Awesome Motive for management purposes (i.e hiring employees, paying shared expenses, etc), but we did regular inter-company invoices. This sounds like a hassle, but it worked out really well for us in the Envira / Soliloquy sale.
Invest in building a company hub
One of the best things we did this year was to finally invest in our company hub for the team. A hub is a website where our team can find all the relevant information such as team directory, SOP manual, announcements, style guides, company calendar, videos, etc.
I looked everywhere, and I couldn’t find a solution that did everything that we wanted. So we built one using WordPress.
Be more Intentional
I used to attend a lot of conferences every year, casually learn a few things, and never implement most of them.
In 2017, I made it a point to be intentional about everything I do. This forced me to be better at just about everything.
When I attended an event, I had a purpose of what I wanted to get out of it. And surprisingly enough, I found the events that I did attend to be very valuable for my business.
This sounds so simple, but I bet you that most businesses don’t do this properly. Up until 2017, I was doing it wrong as well.
Yes, I had an uptime monitor setup for my website which notified me if our websites went down.
What we didn’t have was monitoring system for our cart and lead-gen forms. If you’re spending money on ads to bring users to your site, this can be a major blow if something isn’t working right.
Due to a server configuration issue, our cart had an error but everything else on the website was working fine. So the uptime monitor didn’t notify us. We didn’t know about the issue until a customer emailed us. Something like this should’ve been caught right away, but it wasn’t which caused us to lose a lot of $$$.
Now, we’re using Pingdom Transaction Monitoring solution. If you’ve an eCommerce website, then this is something you should seriously consider!
My goals for 2018
I’m not going to list out product-specific goals because each one has fairly elaborate roadmaps.
My personal goals for 2018 are:
- Start a non-profit organization – The more success I have in my professional career, the more I want to give back. We have already filed the paperwork, and both Amanda and I are excited about this.
- Create a video show – Most folks don’t know this, but I actually get quite nervous when I get in front of a camera. I want to break out of this in 2018.
- Continue doing family trips – I really enjoyed our family trips in 2017, and I want to continue doing these in 2018.
I had a lot of fun in 2017, and I’m truly blessed to be able to do what I do every day. Here’s to an even better 2018!.
In the meantime, enjoy more pics from 2017 (just because).