This year flew by so fast, I can’t even believe we’re already in December. 2018 has been an amazing year.
Like every year, it was the best year ever for me both personally & professionally.
Since everything happens so fast, I usually don’t get a chance to document it all in one place. That’s why I started doing a yearly recap (2017 | 2016 | 2015), so I can keep a diary for me to reflect on as I get older. Plus, I think it’s going to be helpful for Solomon as well.
Let’s recap everything that happened to me in 2018 (caution: it’s very long).
The biggest highlight of my personal life is Solomon. He turned 2 years old this year. Now that he can talk and express his feelings, he’s a lot more fun because it’s easier to communicate with him.
Solomon has a pretty strong personality and sometimes I feel like I’m negotiating with a mini version of myself (except he’s more persistent).
It’s crazy how much he has developed cognitively in the last year. He has opinions about music, time, driving directions and just about everything else.
Despite all his opinions, I’d say that we got quite lucky because Solomon is pretty easy going.
This year, we made conscious effort to have Solomon learn both languages: English and Urdu. He has picked up a lot of words in both languages.
Since my parents live only 5 minutes away from us, this has made it easy for Solomon to learn Urdu. We see my parents 5 days of the week, and we talk in Urdu there.
Overall, I think I did a pretty decent job in spending time with family and balancing work.
One of my goals for 2018 was to go on more family trips, and we crushed this goal. Some of my friends thought that I was on vacation half of the year, but that wasn’t the case.
I simply prioritized bringing back my old remote work environment which I often call the #dotcomlifestyle, basically the ability to work from anywhere I want, when I want.
I felt that I had lost this part of me as the company grew, and I made it a priority to fix that in 2018, and I did (more on this in the lessons learned part of the recap).
We started the year with a trip to Punta Mita, Mexico. It was for a business mastermind that I’m part of, but a lot of us brought our families as well. The Four Seasons Property there is gorgeous. We’re going back in January 2019 again. The pictures below don’t do it justice. I’ll make sure to take better ones this year (now that I have an iPhone).
Even though I have a big family here in United States, I have an even bigger family in Pakistan. This year, we took a trip to Pakistan and Dubai to see family. It was Amanda and Solomon’s first time to Pakistan.
They got to meet my grandmother, aunts, uncles, and so many cousins. It was a lot of fun.
I think it was quite cool for Amanda to see the area where I grew up, and she really liked meeting everyone in person. Previously, she had only chatted with them via Facebook or Skype.
We will definitely be going back every few years because I believe its important for Solomon to know his heritage and have a connection with our family back in Pakistan.
We took a quick weekend cruise trip to Bahamas because I have found that there’s no better spot to brainstorm than in the middle of an ocean at night or early morning on the balcony of your room.
It’s just so quite and peaceful. The only thing you can hear is the waves running into the cruise ship, and your thoughts.
This was a quick family getaway because I had several business trips in between where I was away from home.
We did a family trip in Asheville, North Carolina with my siblings, cousins, and close friends that are practically family (Christoff and Keri).
We rented a beautiful estate and went zip lining / river rafting. Everyone had a great time. I specially enjoyed spending time with my brothers and sister. As we grow up and have our own busy schedules, it’s very important to get together and spend quality time.
We played a lot of games that we used to play when we were kids, and it was a lot of fun.
Last year we went to Turkey to hang out with my really close friend David Henzel and his family. This year we decided to take a family trip together to Spain and Italy.
We flew into Barcelona and spent some time there, and then took a cruise trip to Italy. I was able to convince David that cruises are not just for old people. We took Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas (biggest boat in the world).
We stopped in Rome, Pisa, Naples, and few other places. Overall this was a very fun trip because our kids are only few years apart. Not to mention, David and I can talk to each other pretty much all day.
The pizza and pasta variety in Italy is just amazing, and it’s DELICIOUS. I definitely want to visit again and do a road trip, so I can tour different areas and try out the local food.
Last year, I missed my goal of visiting two national parks, so this year we visited 4 national parks.
We flew into Utah and did a scenic road trip. We saw Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Zion National Park.
Aside from that, we also saw few other state parks.
Normally we stay in hotels, but this time we got adventurous. We stayed in a luxury Yurt, a cabin, and a tiny house. These were pretty cool experiences.
I also have a lot of business friends in Utah, and I got to hang out with many of them. This was a bonus perk.
Utah is a very beautiful state, and I definitely want to visit again.
To round off the year, I took a Ski trip with my brothers. This was Zain’s first time going Skiing, so we kept it easy. We did an East Coast mountain which most Pros won’t even call mountains
The important part is that I got to hang out with my brothers and have a good time.
As I do the recap, it’s understandable why my friends might think that I was on vacation half of the year, but just wait till you get to the Business Highlights section.
To round off the personal highlights, this year I received the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award from University of Florida (my alma mater).
This was a very special award for me, but what made it even more special was that I had a reserved parking spot with my name on it.
If you have studied at a large university, then you know the struggle of finding parking on campus as a student. When I saw the spot with my name on the sign, I felt like I had made it in life (lol).
2018 was a very productive year for me in business. Since I have multiple companies, I am going to break up the sections for each business.
OptinMonster is the most powerful conversion toolkit to help you get more email subscribers and make more money from your website traffic.
Over the last 5 years, we’ve taken OptinMonster from a small plugin to one of the most well-known brands in digital marketing.
In March of 2018, I decided to step out of the day to day of OptinMonster, so I can properly oversee all of our brands at Awesome Motive.
I felt that OptinMonster was getting to a size where it needed a dedicated full-time President / GM. My co-founder, Thomas Griffin, is now serving as the President of OptinMonster.
It has been great to see the evolution of our business and the people within it.
Just because I stepped out doesn’t mean progress stopped. The OptinMonster team accomplished a lot in 2018 starting with the launch of OptinMonster 5.0 which came with a brand new drag & drop campaign builder.
As part of this release, we also revamped the display rules to offer even more powerful targeting features. This is precisely what makes OptinMonster the best solution in the market.
Aside from the big release, we also added several new campaign templates, email conversion summaries, a new beta program, and my favorite Smart Tags feature.
Smart Tags basically makes dynamic personalization easy. Previously OptinMonster offered this feature as part of our API, but it required coding.
With the new Smart Tags, you can now add personalization like user’s name, location (country, city, state, etc), time, and other items inside your OptinMonster campaign to boost conversions without writing a single line of code.
The OM team also launched the OptinMonster University to help users get more out of OptinMonster. The plan is to add more digital marketing courses in 2019.
WPForms is the most user-friendly WordPress form builder in the market.
This year WPForms passed 1 million active installs, and it is now in the top 25 most popular WordPress plugins of all time.
We continued to maintain our 4.9 out of 5 star rating average with over 3000+ five-star ratings. Reading WPForms user reviews give me a new level of energy every time.
We added a lot of powerful features in WPForms including: surveys & polls, form permissions (form locker), conditional form confirmations, Stripe recurring payments, Drip addon, rating fields, likert scale, NPS fields, image choice fields, custom input masks, better terms of service field, GDPR compatibility, Gutenberg compatibility, and so much more.
I started WPForms to create the most beginner friendly WordPress form plugin.
To stay true to our mission, make smart WordPress forms easy, we created an internal challenge called the “WPForms challenge”. The challenge basically said users should be able to create a simple form and start collecting entries in less than 5 minutes.
Every time we added a new feature, it was my goal to stress-test the user workflow and make sure that we always stay true to our mission.
With the rapid growth of WPForms, I know that we simply can’t think of every use-case ourselves. As a team, we decided to make the WPForms challenge public and make it part of our new user onboarding flow as a guided-tour of WPForms.
This means that every new user can give us feedback, and the added accountability will allow our team to continue improving the workflow while adding more powerful features. Read more about WPForms challenge.
Towards the end of last year, we acquired WP Mail SMTP, the most popular SMTP plugin for WordPress, and we completely revamped it to solve the email deliverability problem in WordPress.
Since this plugin wasn’t properly maintained previously, these updates helped us earn the confidence of WordPress community. I believe that’s why WP Mail SMTP also passed over 1 million active installs without any major promotion from our end.
Seriously I can’t do enough justice to all what WPForms team accomplished in 2018 with just a few paragraphs. If you’re interested, take a look at the awesome 2018 Year in Review infographic WPForms team created.
MonsterInsights is the most popular Google Analytics plugin for WordPress.
This was a huge year for MonsterInsights as we added several key features that were needed to complete phase 2 of the business revamp.
For those of you who’re new to my blog, I acquired the Google Analytics for WordPress plugin from Yoast in 2016 and renamed it to MonsterInsights. At that time, it was a dying business making very little revenue.
I created a 3 phase plan to revamp the product and the business to truly make the best analytics solution for WordPress.
- Phase 1: Make it “effortless” to send all interaction data from WordPress site to Google Analytics
- Phase 2: Make it “effortless” to get the stats that matter inside WordPress Dashboard
- Phase 3: Make it “effortless” to make data-driven decisions.
We completed phase 1 in 2017, and I’m proud to say that we completed phase 2 in 2018.
This year, we launched a brand new Overview Report inside the WordPress dashboard. We also created customized reports for Publishers and Ecommerce websites, so you can see the stats that really matter. Along with that, we added few more reports including: Search Console report, Form Conversion report, and Custom Dimensions report.
We also made sure that MonsterInsights is GDPR compatible with our new EU compliance addon.
In August, we finally added one of the most requested features, Google Analytics Dashboard widget. While the feature looks simple, it requires a lot of creativity to add without exhausting Google Analytics API limits since we operate at such large scale.
Last but not least, we launched a page-insights feature, real-time reports, and custom link attribution.
We started work on Phase 3 in 2018, but we couldn’t get it live. I’m confident that we’ll get it live in 2019.
Aside from all the above, we also acquired Google Analytics Dashboard Widget for WordPress (second most popular analytics plugin for WordPress), and rebranded it to ExactMetrics. We didn’t do any major updates to this plugin in 2018, but in 2019 we’ll be releasing a premium version.
MonsterInsights has become one of my most favorite plugins in 2018 because it helps me grow our business with confidence. I sincerely believe that it’s easy to double your traffic and sales when you know exactly how people find and use your website. MonsterInsights helps me make data-driven decisions to grow our business.
WPBeginner had another excellent year. Can’t believe it’s about to turn 10 years old on July 4th, 2019.
I have been thinking hard on doing something very special for the upcoming 10th anniversary of WPBeginner.
This year we passed 100,000 subscribers on our YouTube channel (currently at 122k subscribers). As a reward, YouTube sent us a Silver YouTube play button.
This is my second Silver play button because I already have both the silver and gold button for List25, which has 2.4M YouTube subscribers.
The WPBeginner button looks different than the original YouTube silver button because they changed the award design.
This year we also switched WPBeginner to HTTPS because of the massive website security push by Google. If you haven’t done so, here’s a step by step guide on how to properly move WordPress from http to https (also includes instructions on how to get a free SSL).
As part of this switch, we added Browser Push Notifications to WPBeginner. In the last 6 months, we have added 260,000+ users in our push list. This has been a great new traffic source for the blog.
2019 is going to be a challenging year for us because we have to update almost 2000 articles with new screenshots for the WordPress block editor (aka Gutenberg). If you’re new to the WordPress block editor, then check out our Gutenberg tutorial.
In October 2018, I sold List25 to Ramon Van Meer of Pink Java.
List25 was a side project that I started in college as an experiment to see if I could dominate YouTube and other social networks with viral content.
In 2018, we passed 2.4 million subscribers on YouTube and 570 million total video views.
The List25 project never really fit into what we did at Awesome Motive, but I kept it for as long as I did for sentimental values. Not to mention, it generated a pretty good side income, and it was a great place for us to experiment.
However as we double down on our small business (b2b) software business, I needed to eliminate all distractions and focus on what really matters.
This was a bitter-sweet moment for me, but in the end, I believe I made the right decision for me as well as the List25 team.
In October 2018, we acquired SeedProd, the #1 coming soon and maintenance mode plugin for WordPress. Currently SeedProd is being used by 800,000+ websites.
I have met John Turner, SeedProd founder, at numerous events and have a lot of respect for what he has built.
When I announced the WPBeginner growth accelerator fund (more on this later), John was one of the people who applied.
After several conversations, we decided that a full acquisition makes more sense for SeedProd given the synergies between our brands and existing products.
I’m extremely excited about what’s coming next for SeedProd in 2019. I can’t share too much details here, but I’d say keep a close eye.
Growth Accelerator Fund
In August 2018, I announced the WPBeginner Growth Accelerator fund.
It was the first-ever growth fund focused entirely on WordPress businesses.
My goal was to invest in a small group of WordPress focused businesses. Along with the investment, I will work intensively with the founders to refine and optimize their existing product / processes by using the Awesome Motive playbook.
Companies will also get to benefit from our vast media resources and the business network that we have built over the last decade.
Over 90+ companies applied to the accelerator, and I invested in:
- MemberPress – #1 WordPress membership plugin.
- Pretty Links – most popular affiliate link management plugin for WordPress.
- Affiliate Royale – create in-house affiliate program for WordPress membership and eCommerce websites.
- Formidable Forms – advanced solutions-focused WordPress form plugin.
I wrote a more in-depth analysis in my blog post about the first round of WPBeginner Growth Accelerator companies.
This past year, I also decided to invest in two companies that are essential to our business.
CloudApp is a productivity tool that speeds up business communication, and I really love it. Our entire team uses it to quickly create and share screenshots, video screencasts, animated gifs, and quick video recordings. You can also annotate screenshots that you take.
I hear a lot of people raving about Loom, but I think CloudApp is 10X better.
It seamlessly integrates with Slack, and our customers really love it when our support team creates custom video replies for them. Bonus, you can use your own custom domain for links.
Since it’s become an essential tool for our business, I decided to invest in CloudApp in their recent round. I highly recommend that you check this tool out.
ChurnBuster is the second company that I decided to invest in. If you run a subscription business, then you’re likely losing a lot of money to involuntary churn (failed payments, credit card declines, etc).
Overtime this number grows and most entrepreneurs completely ignore the problem. ChurnBuster solves this problem with a smart dunning process. From my point of view, this is practically free money!
A lot of entrepreneurs think they can build this in-house, but trust me it won’t be as good. I tried it already … and then I thought it was wise to invest in their business. All of our companies use ChurnBuster, and they have recovered hundreds of thousands in failed payment for us.
In the WordPress ecosystem, it’s quite normal to have a remote team. However in the normal world, people get really shocked when I tell them that our entire team is remote (spread across multiple countries and continents).
We do an annual retreat where we all fly into a central location. This year we all traveled to Cancun, Mexico.
Our annual retreats are by far one of my most favorite trips. I get to hang out with some of the smartest and most caring people in the world that work alongside me to serve our customers. I’m truly proud of my team, and all the work we did in 2018.
Below are some of the photos from our annual retreat:
Looks fun? Want to join the company? We’re going to be hiring in 2019.
If you are an experienced UX designer, WordPress developer, search engine marketing specialist (PPC), copywriter, video educator, or social media manager (with a proven track record), then shoot me an email with your resume / portfolio.
Like every year, I learned a lot in 2018 through reading books, talking with other smart entrepreneurs, and through trial-and-error. Below are some of the most important lessons:
Processes are your most important product
As your company grows, you need to start treating your processes as the most important product of your company.
Writing down processes and creating checklists are the fastest way to onboard new team members and grow efficiently.
Aside from that, you must have processes for accountability and making sure everything is running smoothly.
In my 2017 year-end review, I mentioned that we have invested in creating a company hub. This year we expanded on that even further by documenting a lot more processes.
I highly recommend reading the book, Traction by Geno Wickman if you’re just starting out.
Some other books that I enjoyed reading this year are: Atomic Habits by James Clear, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just 5 days by Jake Knapp, and Who: The A Method of Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street.
You can do anything you want, if you prioritize it
I used to say that I can work from anywhere I want … when I want.
I felt that I had lost this part of me as the business grew. I was afraid that if I travelled like I used to, then it might impact the business performance.
But my fear was not based on any evidence.
In mid 2017, I decided that I will not let this fear hold me back.
I made it a priority for me to bring back the #dotcomlifestyle in 2018. I started changing things, so we could travel more.
I created systems and processes, so that I could travel with my family while working remotely.
I would say it worked well in 2018 considering I did all the accelerator company deals and sold List25 between August – October (while traveling to New York, Mexico, Spain, Italy, and Utah).
The key is to be disciplined and set concrete work schedule that you MUST NOT skip, no matter how hard things get!
Hire Help Faster
As an entrepreneur, we wear a lot of hats and juggle a lot of things.
Some of the things that we do can AND should be outsourced / delegated.
This year, I decided that I am going to focus my time on tasks that I love and/or only I can do.
I started with delegating everything I hated doing that I know others can do. This included most work around the house and running errands. I hired a part-time Life Assistant. Her job is to do all the normal things that a housekeeper would do, plus run any local errands that we need.
I also recently hired an executive assistant, so I can delegate tasks that I find myself procrastinating on such as booking flights / hotels, appointment scheduling, managing my calendar, meeting planning, etc.
This was by far one of the better decisions I made for productivity in 2018.
My only regret is that I waited too long to execute on this. This was one of my goals for 2016, but I didn’t do it until 2018.
Curated Events are Almost Always Better
I used to attend a lot of conferences in the early days of my career. However as I progressed in my career, I found most large conferences added very little value.
Yes, you meet a lot of people, but you rarely build long-lasting relationships unless you do smaller dinners around the event, and actually follow up with people afterwards.
Typically when you return from a large conference, you’re exhausted and rushing to get back to work. All business cards that you collect usually end up going in trash.
That’s why I started attending smaller more curated events. This allowed me to connect on a more personal level with some of the most brilliant entrepreneurs.
For example, I went to Cabo for a mini-event that Eric Siu (a good friend of mine) organized. There were a total of 9 people all doing amazing things with businesses ranging from 5M to 50M+ in revenue.
I got invited to a small 50 people event by a friend of mine. There were about 35 family offices and 15 accomplished entrepreneurs. I learnt a ton because there was just so much experience and wisdom in that room. The family offices alone managed over $700 billion in wealth.
I also organized few small meetups for WordPress entrepreneurs around WordCamp US (large event). Since a lot of people wanted to come, I got a meeting suite at Westin Nashville.
In 2019, I will focus even more on smaller curated events.
My Goals for 2019
I’m not going to list out product-specific goals because each one has fairly elaborate roadmaps.
My personal goals for 2019 are:
- Fund the Family Foundation – After a lot of back and forth, we got our family foundation approved. The goal for 2019 is to start offering grants and of course create a nice looking website for it.
- Reduce Conference Travel – I want to further reduce my conference travel. If all goes according to plan, I’ll only be at 2 big conferences in 2019 (Traffic and Conversion Summit and WordCamp US)
- Continue Doing Family Trips – I really enjoyed our family trips in 2018, and I want to continue doing these in 2019.
- Document Every Process – As I delegate more, I need to get better at documenting everything (even the smallest of processes).
- Keep a daily journal – I have never done this before, and I am looking forward to start doing this in 2019.
- Take more photos with friends – I realized that I didn’t take enough photos in 2018. I need to get better taking photos with all the awesome people I hang out with.
I really enjoyed 2018, and I’m truly blessed to be able to do what I love every day.
Here’s to an even better 2019!
In the meantime, enjoy more pics from 2018 (just because).