Tuesday, January 03, 2023

2023 Annual Letter: Exciting!

2023 Annual Letter

2022 was a good year for us. Jessi felt more comfortable in her job, and both kids are in school (Elinor is in second grade, and Samson is in kindergarten). And I reduced my business' biggest bottleneck from 4-6 hours a month to 30 minutes. So, if 2021 was all about significant change, 2022 was about learning to thrive in our new normal.

It was also a year of experimenting, learning, and traveling.

Experimenting and Learning

Going into the year, I felt like I needed a new challenge. Life was great, but I also felt like I was coasting. So, I set out to find that challenge. I couldn't articulate it so clearly at the beginning of the year, but that's what was happening.

It reminds me of the advice from Angela Duckworth in her book Grit: "interests are not discovered through introspection. Instead, interests are triggered by interactions with the outside world. The process of interest discovery can be messy, serendipitous, and inefficient." (Grit, p. 104). With that in mind, in addition to reading 25 books, I tried some new things.

Love INC Board Member

Love INC mobilizes local churches to transform lives and communities in the name of Christ. It's a wonderful non-profit, so I started volunteering there twice a month at reception. And then, I was invited to join the board of directors. Now THAT'S been a learning experience! It's teaching me to slow down, look at decisions from all angles, and much more. I'm working with intelligent, dedicated, and faithful servants.

MyBodyTutor Health Coach

Going into 2022, I weighed 25 lbs more than my ideal weight. And more disturbingly, I would extreme diet for a few weeks and then yo-yo back to a higher weight! I wasn't obese, but I was not too fond of the trend. I had a classic "dad bod" and felt myself starting to struggle physically to do things I knew should be effortless.

So, I hired a health coach at MyBodyTutor. I log my meals, water, exercise, and daily thoughts. It's all about sustainability, which is what I needed to learn. Interestingly, I was told not to change my eating habits during my first week. My coach got a baseline and then suggested one small change: pay attention to my hunger level. When I hit a 3 (out of 5) stop. Then, a couple of weeks later, he suggested eating a salad with dinner. And so on. The talks transitioned to body composition (i.e., getting stronger) as I got closer to my goal weight. There was nothing extreme, which is what makes it sustainable.

As the company's name suggests, it's about teaching me how to eat well and change my relationship with food. It's been more successful than I imagined. And yes, like a normal person, my weight went up after all the travel (see below) and the holiday season. But, unlike previous times, it wasn't nearly as much, and I have a doable plan to get back and a coach to encourage and redirect me each day.

And now, when my kids see me eating a treat, they sometimes harass me: "Are you going to tell your coach about that one?" Yes. I will. You little stinkers.

It's also made me a believer in coaching again. I forgot how powerful it is to have someone encouraging and holding you accountable to a higher standard. I also l like having someone who's been there and can answer my specific questions. It isn't cheap, but it works. I'm grateful to be in a place where I can afford to get expert help to achieve my goals.

React Web Development

At the end of 2021, I was frustrated with my accounting software. So, I designed my own and started coding it with my brother. Then, about midway through the year, I discovered DoorLoop, which had 85% of the features I wanted - close enough. So, I put my project on the self and switched to DoorLoop. My time spent on accounting dropped from 4-6 hours a month to 30 minutes. Woohoo!

I suppose I could feel upset about "wasting" 6 months on coding, but I figured out exactly what features I wanted, and I learned a new skill - React - in the process. I'm not hirable, but I learned enough to update my furlo.com website. It's built using Next.js, with Tailwind CSS for styling, Sanity for the CMS, and it's hosted on Netlify (with GitHub managing all the files).

furlo.com homepage

With this challenge winding down, I moved on.


There are two types of learning: just-in-time and just-in-case. Just-in-time is when you have a specific reason for learning something. For example, I learned React because I needed it to make a website. Just-in-case is when you don't have a particular need... yet. It's incredible how often I learn a skill "just because" and then quickly find I "need" it later. I like to think that happens because I now have the willingness to tackle new types of problems because, in the back of my head, I know I have the skills.

Welding is a just-in-case skill. I bought the equipment, learned the basics, and made a couple of items, like a stand for my chair (pictured below). It's fun. Time-consuming! But fun. I wouldn't be surprised if I find myself needing to fix something metal in the future. Or, maybe I'll make a bench for the front yard. 🤷‍♂️

Welded chair stand

Two other just-in-case skills on my wishlist list that also sound like fun:

  1. 3D CAD design/printing. Then I'd be able to work with wood, metal, and plastic. Who knows what crazy projects I could take on!
  2. The other skill is drone flying. I don't own or require a drone, but that seems like a good skill to have... just in case...

Video Making

Being a YouTube Star sounds cool. Maybe I could become one? Plus, I like the idea of building a digital asset. So, I took an online course, set up a simple studio in my garage, and made some videos. Here's the before and after of my studio.

New studio compared to old

Pretty cool, right? It's much better, but I still need to work on my color grading.

I want to keep making videos, but I don't see myself getting into the weekly content-creation game. In the class, I learned about the importance of titles + thumbnails. I also learned about creating hooks and holding attention. Oh yeah. And I learned it takes around ~100 videos of practice to get good at it. So... if you want to get good at it fast, publish as many videos as possible.

I also learned most (not all, but most) weekly creators don't edit their own videos, which frees them up to focus on the content. For me, a 5-ish minute video takes an hour of brainstorming/outlining. Then, an hour to set up, practice, and record the video. Then 2.5 hours to edit it and 30 minutes to create the thumbnail.

Here's the business case: It would cost me ~$100 to pay someone to edit that 5-minute video (though, to be honest, they can do it better and faster than I can, but we'll roll with the number for now). Plus, I want to make at least $100 per video myself. At first, I wouldn't make anything because Youtube has minimum requirements to join their Partner Program, but once I qualify, it's estimated I'd make $3-$5 per 1,000 video views. Assuming it's $3, the breakeven point is 67K views per video. That's a lot, but not impossible. I made a video about a garden fence (of all things) that has 232K views. That would be a $700 video if I was in the Partner Program.

Good Mythical Morning averages 1M views per video. That's $3,000-$5,000 per video. And they seem to upload ~15 videos a month. That's $45K-$75K a month and doesn't include sponsorships, subscriptions, or store sales. No wonder they can afford a team of 28 people.

It seems like every kid wants to become a YouTube or TikTok star, and I get it, given the potential revenue. Not only does the distribution channel - via the algorithm - already exist, but the logistics of product fulfillment and creation are much easier than a traditional product. Plus, being "famous" sounds attractive - at least, according to the curated/edited version of life we see online. In a culture where being genuinely known is harder - no thanks to said platforms - I get the misguided attraction. I don't love the trajectory of a society where most young people pursue a career on TikTok instead of math or science, but I get the logic.

Yikes! That went dark fast. Let's pull back to the business of finding monetary success on Youtube.

So... how many videos do you need to make to start breaking even (assuming it's a normal niche topic)? The rule of thumb is still 100 videos. It's mainly for practice and finding your voice/style/niche, but Youtube also values fresh content. So if you're regularly uploading new videos, Youtube's algorithm rewards that.

But wait! You say. Making 100 videos that cost $100 each is $10,000, plus my own time! Yep. That's why most people suggest you start from a place of passion and edit your own videos first. See if you'll stick to it and see if you can reach the minimum Partner Program requirements. Then hire someone.

Another objection is that you don't have 100 video ideas on a single topic. Me neither. But here's what I've learned: start with the ideas you do have and commit to a schedule. You'll find that you'll start viewing your ordinary everyday experiences through a creator's lens and develop more content ideas than you can create. For example, when someone else only sees a beautiful flower, you also see a metaphor for making your rental ad listing stand out in a crowded market.

Oh, man! I'm getting myself excited to make another video!


After experimenting with web development, welding, and video making, I returned to my first love: real estate. I thought about pursuing the BRRRR strategy (Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat) but ultimately landed on syndications. It fits my skills and interests, plus I think it'll be the best investment on the planet in 2023.

So, this year, I'll bring together a group of people to pool our resources to purchase apartment buildings that would otherwise be difficult or impossible for any of us to buy on our own. My team will find the property, secure financing, and manage the property. The other investors will provide the cash and receive an equity share along with cash flow distributions and profits in returns for their investment.

Like my health, I hired a coach to help me learn the ins and outs of syndications. I learned about finding deals, raising capital, the legal side of private placement memorandums, and managing larger projects. It's what I love doing at a higher level. It's great!

It reminds me of another finding in Grit: "novelty for the beginner comes in one form, and novelty for the expert in another. For the beginner, novelty is anything that hasn't been encountered before. For the expert, novelty is nuance." (Grit, p. 114). 

One new skill I'm learning is raising capital. I used my own money on all my previous projects, so I never had the need. But, again, larger multifamilies require much more capital. And I want to buy 200 additional units, which is a little over $24M worth of real estate (using Oregon values). Assuming I finance 70% of each purchase, that's still $7.3M for down payments!

So, I'm learning how to structure the purchase so that it's attractive for other people to invest with me. And I'm learning how to ask people to join me. I'm enjoying the process and am attending a conference in Kentucky later in January to learn even more.

This is my main focus in 2023. It feels right. And I get to do other fun things, like making videos and building a React website in the process. 

Additional Learning in 2023

Compared to last year, this might sound non-ambitious, but I want to learn how to solve a Rubik's Cube. When other Cubers (I just learned the term "Cuber") solve one, it looks like magic, and I want to be part of that magical club. Combine this with juggling and Sudoku, and who knows what I can accomplish! I don't have a specific completion time, but under a minute feels possible.

Three other fun skills on my future wishlist are:

  1. Improving my chess game. I know the basic rules but know zero strategies.
  2. Taking better photos. Specifically, I want to improve my composition & editing skills.
  3. I want to learn a handful of close-up magic tricks (see what I did there? 😂).

I know it sounds goofy, but each of them sounds like so much fun!

But seriously, I spent 2022 experimenting, which was what I needed to do. This year feels like a year of effortful, deliberate practice to raise capital and syndicate multifamily properties. This comes from another piece of advice from Grit:

"First, they set a stretch goal, zeroing in on just one narrow aspect of their overall performance. Rather than focus on what they already do well, experts strive to improve specific weaknesses. They intentionally seek out challenges they can't yet meet." (Grit, p. 121)

"Then, with undivided attention and great effort, experts strive to reach their stretch goal. Interestingly, many choose to do so while nobody's watching." (Grit, p. 121)

"As soon as possible, experts hungrily seek feedback on how they did. Necessarily, much of that feedback is negative. This means that experts are more interested in what they did wrong—so they can fix it—than what they did right." (Grit, p. 122)

"And after feedback, then what? Then experts do it all over again, and again, and again. Until they have finally mastered what they set out to do. Until what was a struggle before is now fluent and flawless. Until conscious incompetence becomes unconscious competence." (Grit, p. 123)

2022 Travel

In 2021 we canceled all our travel while Jessi started her new job. It feels like we made up for it this year.

St Thomas

We planned to go somewhere in January but canceled at the last minute (2 hours before going to the airport). Since we already had childcare and work covered, we decided to get away with a couple of friends. So, that same morning we booked a flight to St Thomas, which was warm and beautiful. We swam, snorkeled, paddle-boarded, and drove on the "wrong" side of the street. It was great getting away.

Train Ride To Portland

For my birthday, we rode the train to Portland, spent the night, and rode the train back. Trains are super fun, and the kids loved it. We mostly hung out in the dome car, watching the world go by. Two hours of travel seemed about right for the kids. Trains still don't run on time, but that's part of the experience.

Walt Disney World

After pushing this trip out a few times, we made it to the Happiest Place On Earth (TM) in November with my extended family - 13 in all. Our kids were the perfect age, and I couldn't have imagined it going better. Also, it turns out that Elinor is my rollercoaster buddy - she loved Space Mountain and Everest. Samson loved Hollywood Studios, especially the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.

Saudi Arabia

Jessi and I ditched the kids and visited Saudi with a couple of friends in November (yeah, you read that right: two big trips in November. We're crazy, I know). We had a couple of safety concerns at first, but they quickly faded. In fact, we felt safer walking around in Riyadh than we did in Portland! Saudi's goal is to create a new trade income to reduce its dependence on oil (which is smart). So, they're getting into tourism, which means making it more comfortable for tourists, like us, to visit. It was hot, dry, and oh-so-nice. I highly recommend visiting.

Family Christmas Party

To round out a year of travel, I drove the kids down to California for a family Christmas party. It was great seeing my mom's extended family.

Motorcycle Training

Next year Jessi and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. For some reason, Jessi keeps agreeing to my crazy travel ideas, like running a marathon on the Great Wall. To prepare for our 15-year trip, we're learning how to ride motorcycles. It's been a lot of fun so far, and we'll kick off the year practicing longer off-road riding. I like trips that require preparation because it helps me get excited about them, and this fits perfectly. I'll share more as our plans come together.

Looking Ahead to 2023

One of my favorite questions from Tim Ferriss' book The 4-Hour Workweek is, "The question you should be asking isn't, "What do I want?" or "What are my goals?" but "What would excite me?" There's a lot I'm excited about. I'm excited to continue developing as a board member, improve my body composition, become a Cuber, and syndicate an apartment building. It's going to be a wild ride.

I also want to share more of what I'm doing and learning. I purposely shared less online last few years. But a book I read last year called Oversubscribed challenged me:

"Maybe you don't think of yourself as a media or technology business with a daily focus on content creation, media distribution, software, data and automation. However, that's a foolish position to take these days. No matter what your business is, you are also a media and technology business." (Oversubscribed p. 171)

Plus, I listened to a podcast episode about writing a book that suggested writing (or making videos/podcasts/art/etc.) was a way to share myself with future generations. Man. That got me. To think that there's a chance my kids, or grandkids, will read this someday... That's pretty cool. That's worth taking the time to write or record a video. And if it also helps me grow my business, that's a bonus.

I wish you an exciting year!