Every year since I was 21, I sat down each year to write down my personal goals for the year.
This was my most important ritual for over 15 years, a realignment on the True North of my deepest values, principles, and dreams.
This year I sat down to do it once again, and noticed that something was different. After some reflection, I realized that it no longer made sense to set my goals in isolation. All the most important goals I wanted to pursue now involved my team.
I held off on finishing that goal-setting exercise, published my personal year-end review without it, and decided instead to define our goals as a team at our annual winter retreat in early January.
I proposed a set of goals for the company, but that was just a starting point for a discussion that took place over several days. We discussed and debated which of the goals really mattered, and which would be merely nice to have. We took a hard look at our available bandwidth for the year, how and where we wanted to spend our time, and lots of other factors.
All those inputs transformed into something far more powerful: a set of goals for the company that everyone could get behind. We assigned each goal to specific people, identified how they would be measured, and even set milestones along the way so we would know if we were making sufficient progress.
I’m incredibly proud to share with you our 2022 goals for Forte Labs, created for the very first time through top-down AND bottom-up consensus.
$5 million in gross revenue with 50% net margins
We are targeting gross revenue for the year of $5 million dollars, which would be a 72% increase from our 2021 gross revenue of $2.91 million. This is about the average annual growth rate we’ve had for the past 2 years, which means we only need to maintain our current growth to reach it.
It’s not clear exactly how we’re going to reach this revenue number based on our current portfolio, but for me this is the exciting part. Such a high number forces me to think bigger and keep my eyes open for unexpected opportunities.
An important caveat is that I want us to maintain our gross margins across all our products and services of 50%. High margins provide us with a nice cushion in case we face a downturn, leave room for innovation and experimentation, and ensure we only take on profitable projects.
1 call per day, 30 minutes and audio-only by default
This is a personal goal for myself that I’m also asking everyone on the team to strive for. We all noticed that the excessive number of long Zoom calls last year was one of our biggest stressors. Multiple pre-scheduled calls in a day, especially when they require us to be “on camera” and sitting at our desks, doesn’t leave us with a sense of calm and fulfillment at the end of the day.
I’ve noticed that as many companies have gone “fully remote,” they’ve simultaneously become less asynchronous. In an office, there are lots of opportunities for quick check-ins and impromptu huddles. But in the remote work age, all those spontaneous conversations have been turned into scheduled meetings, and many of them seem to become hour-long Zoom calls by default. As a result, people end up spending more time in meetings than when they worked at the office.
In 2022, I’m going to make a major push to make our culture not only remote, but also as asynchronous as possible. This starts with pushing back on Zoom calls. I want to have no more than one scheduled call per day on average, to make all meetings 30 minutes by default instead of 60, and to make audio-only the default so I can take walks and do housework as I listen.
People & Operations
Employee satisfaction over 95%
As our headcount grew to 10 people in several countries last year, we began to invest heavily in Human Resources (which we call “People”). We hired an HR consulting firm to help us create a number of new systems and policies, such as:
- Hiring our first customer support representative and adopting a support ticketing system (HelpScout)
- Adopting a recruiting and HR management platform (BambooHR)
- Creating standard templates for job descriptions and offer letters
- Instituting a thorough employee onboarding checklist
- Publishing our first official Employee Handbook with all our policies
- Creating a professional development policy and stipend ($3,000 per employee per year)
- Creating an official PTO policy (4 weeks paid time off per year)
As we’ve created these things, we’ve begun to wonder how their effectiveness should be measured. How do we know they are making us a better company, versus merely a more bureaucratic one?
We settled on overall employee satisfaction as our key performance metric for People and Operations, which we’ll begin measuring soon via micro-surveys.
Customer support average feedback rating
We also wanted a customer-centric way of measuring our operations, and settled on average customer support ratings as a useful metric. For our course, we have extensive evaluations before and after the cohort, but we wanted something that applies to all customers beyond the course. We have some work to do to set a baseline and then develop a metric around this that can be tracked.
Time to hire of less than 75 days
We’ve noticed that it takes us a long time to hire new people: over 75 days on average from the initial green light to having them fully onboarded and productive. I prefer to hire slowly in general since we are completely bootstrapped, but since we have limited windows of time to onboard new hires in between cohorts, we created a goal to reduce this timeline to under 75 days.
By encompassing the entire hiring process from beginning to end, I’m hoping this will highlight more opportunities for improvement versus simply focusing on onboarding.
Content & Marketing
Building a Second Brain is a New York Times #1 bestseller with 10k pre-orders
This is the Year of the Book for us. After 9 years in business, 5 years of teaching the course, and over 3 years since I first started working on the book, we will finally see the release of Building a Second Brain in the U.S. on August 2, 2022.
With this in mind, it became very clear during our recent retreat that every content and marketing-related project we take on this year needs to directly impact book sales. The ultimate success of a book is strongly influenced by its initial momentum: pre-orders, initial release, and first months of sales. This year is our chance to do everything in our power to move the needle on those, and everything else can wait.
I’ve had many people both inside and outside the company push back on the goal of making the book a #1 New York Times bestseller. In many ways, it isn’t an ideal way to formulate a goal. We don’t have much control over making it onto this list, since it is an editorial decision by the New York Times. And making it on the list doesn’t necessarily mean the book is a success overall.
But I’ve chosen to keep it, because it reminds us that part of our mission is to popularize and democratize the concept of a “Second Brain.” We want to bring it to new audiences and professions that wouldn’t otherwise have exposure to it. A big part of achieving that is receiving the approval of gatekeepers, who still play a major role in deeming what is credible, what is popular, and what people should pay attention to.
That said, the variable we can control is the number of pre-orders. We’re 2 months into our 8-month pre-order window, and currently hovering at about 2,000 pre-orders, which is 20% of our goal. As of Feb. 2, we have 6 months to close the gap, and need about 1,333 pre-orders per month on average to do so.
60k YouTube subscribers
Last year, I set a goal to reach 100k YouTube subscribers. With that in mind, we launched multiple major investments to create a full-scale video production pipeline, including:
- Hiring our first Director of Content
- Remodeling our garage into a home studio
- Working with a consultant on purchasing and installing new gear
- Hiring a local production coordinator to help us on set
- Recruiting a remote video editor in Germany for post-production
Those things took all year, and as a result we published no new videos! In revisiting this goal for this year, we decided to make it a much more realistic 60k subscribers, a 188% increase from our current 20,800. Starting in February, we should be able to publish approximately one new video per week, which we think is enough to put that number within reach.
YouTube is the most promising new channel for our teaching and our course to reach a much broader audience in ways that are easier to engage with. I can’t wait to see what the year brings.
63k email subscribers by Cohort 14 and 91k by Cohort 15
I also set a goal to reach 100k email subscribers last year, and instead my growth rate slowed way down. We revisited this goal too, and decided to make it more specific and time-bound.
The most direct consequence of email list growth is sales of our course, so we tied subscriber growth to cohort launches throughout the year, settling on 63k subscribers by cohort 14 in May and 91k by cohort 15 in October. Our current subscriber base is 56k, and with the recent hiring of our first Marketing Manager focused on improving this number, I’m confident these goals are well within reach.
Hire a Social Media Specialist
After reviewing dozens of investment opportunities as a team, one of the most important and promising that emerged was the hiring of our first Social Media Specialist.
Forte Labs has over 60,000 followers across Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, plus over 15,000 members of our community groups on Facebook, Slack, and Circle. Remarkably, these accounts go largely unmanaged, besides briefly sharing new content I’ve created on my blog and removing spam posts.
We’ve just published a job description for the role we’re seeking, which includes leading all our social efforts under the direction of our Director of Content. That includes planning and producing social content, repurposing content already published elsewhere, managing engagement and replies, the design and branding of our accounts, and other responsibilities.
We are looking for a part-time contractor to join our team for the next few months, especially someone interested in eventually moving to a full-time contractor or employment position.
Find out the details and apply here:
$1.2M Revenue FOR COHORT 14
Our cohort launches drive about 85% of our revenue, so the performance of these launches is the biggest variable in the overall growth of the company.
Cohort 13 last fall was our first ever decrease in revenue compared to the previous cohort. Between the end of strict lockdowns and people emerging back into normal life, me being extremely occupied with finishing my book, and onboarding multiple new hires, we weren’t able to give the launch our full attention.
We definitely plan on changing that going forward. Cohort 14 will likely take place in April and May, and we are bringing every resource, idea, improvement, and person that we have available into action. Stay tuned for a cornucopia of announcements and improvements we have planned.
100K TWITTER FOLLOWERS
This is a bonus goal that we didn’t discuss, but that I’m adding for myself. My Twitter follower growth stagnated in the past couple years, as every ounce of writing energy I had available went into the book manuscript, and anything left over went to the weekly email newsletter.
It’s not just writing time that’s been scarce, but the specific kind of writing that Twitter demands: easy to understand, frictionless, distilled down to its most palatable essence. Specifically, I’ve watched in amazement as Twitter “threads” (also known as “tweetstorms”) have taken off as a true alternative to blogs, leading to people like David Perell and Dickie Bush creating astonishingly large audiences in the blink of an eye.
Ironically, I was early to tweet threads from 2015-2018, and I plan on returning to the format as one of the best ways of reaching new people with quick, bite-sized insights.
I’m sharing our goals publicly and in detail because all of them depend on the trust and generosity of you, our audience. I want you to feel like you are part of our mission and share both the joy and the responsibility of manifesting it into reality.
Together I believe we can make 2022 the year that the possibility of a Second Brain – of extending and amplifying our cognitive abilities using technology – truly enters the mainstream conversation and becomes a part of people’s everyday lives around the world.
Let the game begin…
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