For the second year, I’ve put together an annual review. It was, on the whole, a wonderful and memorable year. Sure, there were setbacks and disappointments, but there were joyful moments and all kinds of learnings. Once again, taking the time to reflect on the year was in itself a great reward.
Watching the Boys Grow Up
Grant is almost 4 and Teddy will be 2 in March. It was the first full year of having two kids as parents. It’s been an absolute joy seeing these two evolve, develop their distinctive characters, and interact with each other.
During the school year, the mornings are my responsibility–mainly making sure they eat their breakfast, wear proper clothing, and get dropped off on time. The mornings have also been some of my happiest moments, where I have the boys all to myself and we have a little bit of time to goof around and play. I might set up a ramp for them to roll their cars or let them ride me like a horse while I do push-ups. It’s a lot of laughs, hugs, and tickles.
I know these years are going to zoom by in a blink, and I already feel a bit of sadness knowing that my two little ones won’t stay this way forever. Best to enjoy as much as we can, love them dearly, and spend a lot of quality time together.
Barrel Holdings Starts to Take Shape
We launched Barrel Holdings in 2021 with the spin-out of some legacy accounts from Barrel that seeded Vaulted Oak, our website support & maintenance agency. Since then, Vaulted Oak has gone on to add several new client accounts and become a trusted product development partner specializing in Shopify and WordPress for companies that like the quarterly retainer model. Jason Fan, co-founder and Head of Vaulted Oak, has done an incredible job of establishing a solid business in his first full year. The challenge ahead is to ensure that we can scale in a smart and effective manner.
In January 2022, we launched BX Studio, a Webflow development agency, with Jacob Sussman as co-founder and CEO. In a relatively short period of time, BX quickly put itself on the map thanks to Jacob’s relentless hustle. By year’s end, BX was able to launch over 40 websites for clients while working with over 25 talented team members and freelancers around the world. What’s more, BX was able to easily surpass the revenue goal we set for it at the start of the year. The challenge for BX, since it lands mostly on one-off projects at the moment, will be to keep the inflow of new business coming and to find ways to increase recurring revenue.
With three agencies – Barrel, Vaulted Oak, and BX Studio – now operating under the Barrel Holdings umbrella, things are starting to take shape. The “platform” we envisioned in 2021 is more of a reality. We’ve been exploring different growth paths. We’re incubating ideas for another agency at the moment that would complement the existing set. We’re also interested in helping agency owners who may be looking to wind down their business and sell their book of business (if you know of anyone, intros welcomed!). In the future, we may also pursue more traditional M&A paths.
Garden, Gym, and Other Home Projects
Our place in Rhinebeck, which we purchased in 2021, came together nicely throughout 2022 as the remaining furniture finally arrived (some took as long as 6 months!). All credit to Mel for finding and sourcing everything to make our place comfortable for the family and visiting guests. Throughout the year, we hosted friends and relatives as they came over for long weekends, holidays, and pool parties.
In late April and early May, I began the process of clearing out the small garden area next to the driveway. I bought a bunch of soil and tried my best to create a garden bed for planting. My Dad would later tell me that I did a poor job of mixing the soil and laying out the garden, but I was just happy to get the experience. I ended up planting several varieties of tomatoes, some peppers, eggplants, strawberries, rhubarb, and purple cabbage. I also planted basil, marigolds, lavender, and sunflowers.
Most of the plants flourished, even though it was a fairly dry summer, but most of the strawberries and tomatoes were quickly snapped up by animals, most likely deer. My Dad came up one weekend and helped make a makeshift fence around the garden which helped keep the plants safe for several weeks, but they eventually figured out how to get in and wiped out my tomato harvest again.
I didn’t feel too bad about having little to show for the garden, though. The very act of watering, weeding, and taking care of the plants and to see them grow was worth it. When the marigolds and the sunflowers were in full bloom, the garden added a nice pop of color that was pleasant to look at.
Towards the end of summer, I decided to take the plunge and invest in building out a home gym. We have a shed with a garage door that I felt was spacious enough for gym equipment. I purchased a Rogue Monster Lite Squat Stand to be the centerpiece and ordered a bunch of weights and accessories as well. I later added a Concept2 rower. I was also able to use an extender to get stronger Wifi in the shed, which then inspired me to set up a spare TV in there so I could watch football while working out. I’ve spent some quality time in there, usually after the kids are asleep, doing various barbell lifts and other movements that I’m not able to do at home in Brooklyn. The best combination was during the tail end of summer, when I would end a strength workout with a dip in the pool afterwards.
I also asked my Dad to help create a hiking trail on our property. We have a steeply sloping wooded area that, on first glance, looked pretty unusable. My Dad, who’s spent the past few years hiking all kinds of trails near Harriman State Park nearly every weekend, found some creative ways to forge winding paths that mitigated some of the steepness. He chopped down trees and cleared out fallen tree trunks to make way for the path. My sister also came up and helped, laying down wood pieces along the sides as guardrails and clearing away dead leaves. The result is a short but beautiful trail that takes you down to the bottom end of our property to a little creek and then loops around back uphill. Walking through it is one of my favorite things to do whenever I’m up here, and it looks vastly different in each of the seasons.
My Dad is also currently helping to restore and upgrade the treehouse on our property, but there’s a lot more work to be done there, so I’ll share the finished product next year.
Getting to Know Hudson Valley
Spending most weekends up in Rhinebeck meant getting to know the area a lot more. We hit up a lot of great attractions nearby and developed some favorites that we returned to over and over again.
Here’s a sampling of spots that we enjoyed:
- Forsyth Nature Center in Kingston, NY: This cute spot features a collection of birds, reptiles, and farm animals that our kids became familiar with on a first-name basis. We’ll bring a bag of veggies and let the kids feed the animals. There’s a nice playground right there as well, so it ends up being a great combo that can easily fill up the entire morning. We would typically hit up a place in the nearby Stockade District in Kingston for lunch afterwards.
- Montgomery Place Historic Estate at Bard College: This is a beautiful spot near Bard’s campus that features great views of the Hudson River. I personally love the magnificent oak trees on the property and the trails that take you down close to the river.
- Lasting Joy Brewery: This brewery opened up earlier this year and has been a great spot to go with friends and family for beer and food (they have a rotating cast of food vendors, the pizza one is great). There’s space for the kids to run around, the building itself looks modern and cool, and the scenery around it is classic Hudson Valley–idyllic and rolling hills.
- Greig Farm: I love this spot because it offers a lot for families. You can pick all kinds fruits depending on the season (we did strawberries in the late spring), you can feed and pet the barnyard animals, do a cider tasting, shop at their market, or eat a lunch while looking out onto their gorgeous property. It’s a great place to go especially when the weather is nice.
Other mentions: Staatsburgh State Historic Site (Mill’s Mansion), Wilderstein Historic Site, Ferncliff Forest, Drayton Grant Park at Burger Hill, Vlei Marsh Trail, Rose Hill Farm, Dutch Spirits, Kesike Farm, Hearty Roots Farm, and Wilcox Memorial Park.
These spots are all less than 20-minute drive for us. As the kids get older, I’m looking forward to expanding our radius and hitting up more spots further west (towards the Catskills) and east (towards Massachusetts & Connecticut) where countless charming towns, nature trails, parks, and other attractions await us.
Summer Reunion with Friends
I invited my closest buddies for a weekend of hanging out in Rhinebeck centered around a round of golf nearby. Mel kindly took the kids back to Brooklyn, allowing me to play carefree for a few days. We had a blast–the weather was perfect for golf and hanging outdoors.
We ate well, played competitive basketball in the pool, and chatted away for hours around the campfire while sipping on Irish whiskey. I hope this is the start of a tradition for us–an annual get-together where we can spend quality time while taking a break from our hectic lives.
Learned to Fly a Drone
I bought a DJI Mini Pro 3 and taught myself to fly a drone. It took some getting used to, but I feel comfortable enough to control it and get it back safely to the starting spot. The key was to watch a handful of YouTube videos and see someone actually using it. This was much more helpful than any of the instructions that came with the drone and also better than the videos made by DJI.
Once I got comfortable, I began using it first to check out our Rhinebeck property and what was around us. Flying around gave me a good sense of the terrain and how far apart we were from neighbors. I then began to use the drone as a way of taking large group shots. The photos came out pretty great and allowed for angles you couldn’t get with a phone camera.
At this point, I probably end up using it once or twice a month at most. I’ll look to get more use out of it in the coming years as we take the kids camping or hiking. In the meantime, I’ll have to remind myself to use it just enough to not forget how it works.
Overcoming Business Difficulties at Barrel
I’ve written about Barrel’s business challenges at length in Agency Journey, but I’ll briefly summarize here: a lot of poor decisions and bad habits–many of it directly attributable to my failures as a leader–led to a disastrous Q4 2021 and Q1 2022 that put us in a financial crunch. It was a wake-up call that forced us to re-examine how we ran the business and spurred us into “focusing on the basics”, which became an oft-repeated mantra throughout the year. Through layoffs, natural attrition, and performance-based firings, we were able to right-size the team and get back to positive cash flow. We also triaged several accounts in critical condition and got most of our client relationships on to stable footing while establishing new systems to help avoid unnecessary fires in the future.
A few days ago, as I wrote our End of Year Letter to the Barrel team, I realized that the “focus on the basics” campaign yielded a lot of much-needed foundational behaviors to ensure quality service and accountability throughout the company. From this perspective, the year was an emotional roller coaster, but one that made us stronger, wiser, and more confident about our capabilities.
Seeing Investment Portfolio Get Destroyed
As I noted in My Personal Finance Snapshot (August 2022), it’s been a brutal year for my stock portfolio. Some of my growth tech stock positions have lost 80% or more of their value since the peak in 2021. I’ve opted to do little. I dutifully put away dollars for my kids’ 529 plans and have some index fund and REIT investments on auto-buy at small amounts, but I’ve put most savings into cash, where, as of this writing, the interest rate for our savings account is 3.75% and probably going up soon.
It’s been a humbling experience to see a huge chunk of our family net worth disappear on paper. It’s laughable to think that I knew anything about investing–the supposed conviction I had in some of my positions started to go away as soon as prices dipped to pre-Covid levels, an unthinkable drop just months ago (e.g. Google, Meta, and Shopify, valued the same nearly 3 years later, after how much revenue growth and profits?). I still love to read about businesses and will continue my hand at investing, but you bet I’ll be a much bigger skeptic the next time a bull market comes around.
I keep a spreadsheet of certain activities to help me keep myself accountable. I’ve used it for the past 4 years (with slight modifications each year) and have a fresh one ready to go for 2023. Here are some stats I’m happy to report on:
- Sent 52 newsletters
- Published 31 blog posts (29 on this site and 2 on the Barrel blog)
- 52 yoga sessions
- 73 strength workouts
- 18 swim sessions
Most Impactful Books
One book that was surprisingly very enjoyable was Capital Allocation: The Financials of a New England Textile Mill 1955 – 1985 by Jacob McDonough, a year-by-year telling of Warren Buffett’s moves during the first 30 years of his involvement in Berkshire Hathaway. The slow motion, frame-by-frame transformation of Berkshire Hathaway from a failing textile mill to a diversified conglomerate is fascinating. The book goes into detail about certain transactions, the hits and misses, and the compounding nature of the investments over time. I still think about this book from time to time and as we build Barrel Holdings up in the coming years, I’m excited to see our own little version of compounding play out.
Another book, or rather series, that stands out for me is the James Reese Navy SEAL thriller series by former Navy SEAL Jack Carr. I listened to all four books in the series– The Terminal List, True Believer, Savage Son, and The Devil’s Hand–as audiobooks and they were fantastic. It’s clear Carr is right-leaning and his politics may infuriate some, but I listened for the entertainment value and mostly while on long walks with my dog. But plot, character, and writing aside, the one thing I remember most from the books is a line that the main character James Reese says to himself during the heat of battle on several occasions: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” I absolutely love this line which can be applied to so many different life situations. Not rushing into things, taking the time to get things setup correctly, pausing to get a handle on the situation, approaching something with the right technique even if it’ll take more time, etc. – there’s so much there. Even for that single nugget, it was worth engaging with the series.
And one more: On the Shortness of Life by Seneca–a powerful reminder to make the most of our brief time alive.
“Everyone hurries his life on and suffers from a yearning for the future and a weariness of the present. But he who bestows all of his time on his own needs, who plans out every day as if it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the morrow.”
I’m inspired by the essay to live with deliberate intentions, to value how I spend my time, and to slow down to enjoy being in the moment.
My Intentions for 2023
I’ve picked a couple of themes for 2023 that I’ll be actively working on to improve my quality of life throughout the year.
Go to Sleep Earlier Consistently
My intention is to be in bed by no later than 11PM every night. I’ve been inconsistent over the past year, and it’s reflected in my Whoop sleep stats and HRV scores (they’re lower during periods when I stay up too late).
Much like I track my workouts, mobility sessions, and a handful of other activities, I’ll be tallying days when I’m able to get to bed by 11PM. My measurable goal is to get to 330 days, about 90% of the time. I figure that events, travel, and unanticipated situations will require me to stay up later every now and then.
The key to making this intention work will be to design a routine where I’m basically shutting it down and getting ready for bed by no later than 10:30PM. The main thing will be giving myself a hard cut-off from things like social media, TV (later football games!), and work by 10PM. I can use 30 or so minutes to do some reading and writing (by hand, no computer/phone) before washing up. I like the idea of this constraint, and the key will be to keep it up during weekends as well.
Enjoy Travel Abroad
I haven’t been out of the country since 2019, so I’m looking forward to taking a few trips abroad in 2023. I’ve got trips to London and Spain on the books and potentially a couple more. My intention is to seek opportunities to travel abroad, make the most of the trip by taking in sights and cultures, and have a good time. I’m sure there will be inconveniences and stresses along the way, but that shouldn’t deter me from checking out new places outside of the United States.
Grateful For It All
There was a period early in 2022, when Barrel was going through some of our difficulties, when I would feel emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted in the evenings. It felt like there was bad news coming in some shape or form every single day. I sought refuge some evenings in quiet YouTube videos of guys going canoeing and camping in remote parts of Canada.
But the next morning, I’d dutifully open up my journal and write about how I was grateful for it all–the setbacks, the crises, the fire drills. On a long enough timeline, I knew these would just be blips that made us stronger as a company. The key was to stay the course, be resilient, and keep pushing ahead. And sure enough, as the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, things improved and got a bit easier.
In my journal, I also came back often to all the things that were going great in my life–my health and the health of my loved ones, my relationships with family and friends, all the comforts in life, and the opportunities I have to work on things I care about and enjoy doing. When put into perspective, 2022 was another blessing of a year and one I’ll look back on fondly.