You can tell I’m not optimizing this post for SEO by the amazing title. ? Instead this is more of a life update. At the beginning of this year (and every year) I decided to set a few goals and themes for 2021. This is an update on how these are going and everything else I’ve been up to lately.
One of the reasons I write these is to share what a FIRE lifestyle can look like. If you’re new here, we’re an upper-middle class couple (no kids) who retired early at 36 spending roughly $80k a year. We live in an apartment with a lovable pup that just turned 13 years old last month.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at what I’ve been up to!
Minafi Summer Break
Let’s start with the big one. You may have noticed I haven’t exactly been actively posting lately. Back in late April I decided to take 3 months off from Minafi, planning to come back in August.
Because I just can’t help but work on something, this pause was so I could put 100% of my mental energy into a new problem. In this case it was starting a new startup – one that I’d been thinking about for more than a decade.
The startup? Hardcover. An alternative to Goodreads that allows you to track and discover new books that’s not related to Amazon. I read or listen to over 100 books a year (ok, mostly listen), and Goodreads has been essential in tracking, understanding my habits and helping me learn my own preferences. There’s something to looking back and seeing what books I’ve loved that help me more accurately find new favorites.
So in April I posted on Reddit looking for a UI/UX designer to work on this idea with. We formed a team and started researching out the idea! The progress of the site has gone something like this:
- Form a team. We started with a team of 5, went down to 4 and are now up to 6 people.
- Create a hypothesis. Decide what type of user we’re attempting to connect with.
- Talk to those users. We talked to about 15 users to understand how they’re using Goodreads, and if they have issues with it (which most did).
- Create a prototype. Based on the common problems users brought up, create a prototype that solves those while taking into account their most common use cases.
- Discuss the prototype with users. Go through this prototype with users! This is one of the most fun steps to be honest. It’s sooo nice doing this with a prototype because I’m not attached to the solution. If it doesn’t work, we can still change things before programming it.
- Build it. This can be started at the beginning – creating a login system, loading in books, etc – but the building of the individual pages can’t happen until we understand how users interact and respond to our prototype.
This is the process that I followed for years in some way or another as a developer, but then much more dogmatically as a product manager in the last 5 years of my career.
In high school and middle school I was always the quiet, introverted kid. I wasn’t one to start conversations and honestly didn’t have much to say. It was only when I switched to Product Management that I realized I love to talk! It just depends on what we’re talking about. Talking to someone about something I’m passionate about? I can go all day. Books are one topic like that for me, while FIRE and investing are others I can go all day about.
In talking to potential users initially, we found that people tend to use Goodreads foremost for two things – looking up books when someone mentions them and tracking what they want to read. Other features like reading reviews, seeing what their friends are reading and tracking what they read were up there as well. That left about 8,355 other features on Goodreads that weren’t mentioned once.
Not all ideas we had were gems from the start. We had an idea for an upvote/downvote system for each book if you liked it – similar to Netflix and Youtube. This makes algorithms easier. When we showed this to potential users they hated it.
We quickly realized we’d need something more for people to be able to represent how much they enjoy a book (and why it all comes back to rating systems). We’re getting ready to test a new idea that uses both. Something that allows readers to communicate a lot more information about how they feel about this book and have it impact future recommendations in a way different from the traditional approach.
An example I’ve been using for this is “The Diary of Anne Frank”. I still remember how emotional and impactful that book was even though I read it in high school. I’d no doubt rate it 5 stars. But do I really want my recommendations to have more books like that? Probably not. I’d rather seek out those emotional journeys on my own. In that case I’d say I don’t want more books like it.
We’re still experimenting with this idea, but I’m seriously excited about it.
This project is still in the early stages, but I’ve been programming away on it most days when I’m not doing user interviews (side note: thanks to A Purple Life for being the very first user interviewed both for the voice of customer and the prototype chats!). There’s a lot more we want to do, but I’ve been blogging over on the Hardcover blog with progress along the way.
If you’re a reader or audiobook listener interested in book tracking or discovery, I’d love to talk to you! Whenever we’re looking for people to talk to we first reach out on the Hardcover mailing list. Or if you’d rather reach out I’m adam at hardcover.app.
Vaccinations & Trips!
I can barely believe that it’s only been in the last 3 months that we got vaccinated and began traveling again. We got our shots as soon as we could schedule them here in Utah – even though that meant driving 45 minutes away to a more rural Fresh Market.
Both shots were uneventful. We sat in the very tiny pharmacy section of a grocery store, got our jabs and then headed home. The second Moderna shot was the exception. I developed a fever, aches and pains for a few days and didn’t want to do much of anything. It resolved as quickly as it came on.
Now that we were finally vaccinated, we realized we can actually go out in public again and feel (mostly) safe. We continue to use our masks if we’re in communal indoor places. We ate inside at a restaurant for the first time in mid-May for my birthday. It felt fun but I was exhausted by the overwhelming noise and activity. That’ll take some getting used to.
We ended up taking 3 trips (!) during this time. None of them are what I’d call “high risk”.
Park City Birthday Trip
The first was a 3-night birthday getaway to Montage Deer Valley near Park City for my birthday. Imagine the place from The Shining, but not creepy. It’s a beautiful mountain getaway. We enjoyed delicious meals there, local hikes, room service and even snorkeling in a hot springs inside a crater! Since it was close by and most of our activities were outside, we felt like this was the perfect reintroduction to travel.
Friends Backpacking Trip
The second outing was a 3-person overnight backpacking trip to Grove Creek and Battle Creek. This is the 3rd time I’ve done this loop with friends, and it remains my favorite backpacking trail on the Wasatch front. As an added bonus, you can even get cell service for most of the hike!
For this hike I was able to try out a new tent (The Two from Gossamer Gear) and a new pack (their Gorilla 50L Ultralight). I’ve been trying to cut weight to make backpacking more fun. I can confirm – the hike is a LOT more fun when carrying 15 lbs compared to carrying 30 lbs.
The first day was beautiful! 70 degree weather, clouds to block out some of the sun and a clear day. This trip was on May 22, 2021. Then we woke up to this. It had
Let’s just say it was a cold night. I was completely warm in my tent and even managed to stay dry. Throughout the night the tent was covered in snow and I needed to shove it off. That left a bunch of extra snow at the edges of my tent weighing it down. Next time I’d like to create some kind of a shovel or have a rock for clearing it out that I can use to clear that area in the middle of the night and prevent it from piling up too high.
The hike back down was magical though.
The Art and Science of Love Couples Retreat
The 3rd trip was an unexpected one. A former coworker of mine invite Mrs. Minafi and I out to Colorado for a couples retreat. We would stay in the mountains outside the city and go through The Art and Science of Love training with an instructor. With only 4 couples there, it would be an intimate environment where we could also focus on our relationships and make them even stronger. Honestly, being able to do this with other friends and couples was one of the best gifts I can think of. I mean, just look at the view from this place.
Mrs. Minafi and I haven’t previously done any couples training, but this felt like an excellent foundation. It gave us language and structure for approaching a bunch of different conversations that are hard to have, but essential for a strong relationship. It also was a good reminder to not skimp on continuing to build our friendship deeper and make intentional time to do just that.
I hadn’t heard of the Gottman method for this before, but after learning the basics, I’m a fan.
Being able to do this with friends, hanging out in a hot tub, playing Card Against Humanity and Concept at night and watching deer through the dining room window is something I’ll never forget.
A lined up a bunch of goals at the beginning of this year, annndddd I kind of dropped off on a lot of this this quarter.
A few of these are subjective. There’s no measure of what a “values based life” means – and that’s OK. It’s more of a feeling on if I’m trying too hard or just letting life happen (which I’m trying to do more of).
The “local first” one is a measure of how much I’m spending locally. I haven’t run the numbers on this, or on Minafi’s income during the last few months. Since switching over to Hardcover I really haven’t been looking at my finances at all. That’s been a welcomed respite! It feels nice to know those parts of my life are on track from the systems I’ve set up, even if I’m not constantly tracking them. I’ll likely fill these in eventually, but I’m not in any rush to keep them up to date.
“Avoid big tech” went in an unexpected direction: instead of just switching off Goodreads, trying to create a full replacement for it. I didn’t expect this when I set this goal, but it felt like the natural next step.
Running – I’ve struggled to run lately since the temperature has been exceeding 100 degree lately. I want to run more in the mornings, but that means actually setting an alarm and waking up. I’m still aiming to run a marathon in July, so I’m trying to train more to make that goal. After that I’ll probably ease off running for a bit.
Learn Japanese – This one has been on pause lately. I still love the idea and the language, but I’ve switched to learning other things lately (more on that later).
Skiing – My last ski trip of this year was April 14th at Snowbird. There was so much snow that I couldn’t see anything at times. On one or two runs the I saw nothing but white in all directions. Following someone down was one of the only ways I knew where to go. I quickly realized I don’t enjoy that type of skiing.
Create an iOS Application – This one has some movement! Hardcover is being developed using React with the intention to use React Native to build an iOS and Android application for it later. Although I’m not actively working on an iOS application yet, the APIs I’m building for the website can be used for the iOS app later.
Minafi to $1,000 a month – I had this idea at the beginning of the year to try to turn Minafi into a business. I launched the Platforms directory as a way to move towards this while providing real value to people who are trying to figure out where to invest. At this point Minafi is making enough money to cover all it’s expenses with some room to spare, which is good enough for me. For the last 3 months it made roughly $200 a month. Not too bad considering it was making $0 last year. I’m most excited that this means that keeping Minafi running doesn’t eat into our savings. I don’t think it’ll reach the level where it’s funding my lifestyle, but I’m OK with that. For now I like the idea that Minafi is a place to write, learn and share more than anything else.
Monthly journaling – I’ve dropped the ball on this. For a while I was doing a weekly journaling exercise. This helped set an intention for the next week and keep me focused. You can see from the chart above that as soon as I stopped doing this I also stopped a bunch of other things (Japanese, tracking spending, etc).
One other way of journaling that I enjoy is writing up detailed reports of trips I’ve been on. I enjoy being able to look back at these and revisit the trip again. I published one for our first trip to Japan a few years ago here on Minafi. I wrote this years ago, but wanted to make sure it lived on.
Happiness >= 8 – June has been a rough month. Lily ended up in the doctors office once and the emergency room once (while we were traveling no less). The rest of the month has been great. The only downside is me being down on myself for not doing more.
There’s a lot happening in July. I initially set a goal of 3-months of work on Hardcover and would evaluate how it’s going after that. I’m two months in now and have been absolutely loving it. The downside? It’s going to take a lot more than 3-months. After writing a Hardcover roadmap, it looks like it’ll be closer to 7 months (so 5 more months) to get to a solid release.
One of the big things for me to figure out is how I split my time between Hardcover and Minafi. I no longer plan to write on here every week like I used to, but I do want to keep writing here. That’ll mean finding a new cadence for writing. I’m leaning towards writing once a month – but trying to make it something more impactful and thought out. Let’s face it: a bunch of posts are more filler. I’d rather post less frequently, but better.
We also have two trips planned for the next 3 months – one to Napa Valley/SF to see family (and try some wine) and another one to Las Vegas in September. I’m still concerned about that one if I’m honest. Either way we’ll be mask-on for these trips. It’ll also be the first flight since COVID. More than anything I’m excited to see family and spend more time with friends again.
What about you? Are you open to traveling again? Is there a limit to where you’d feel safe?
9 CommentsWhy not add to the conversation below? Your voice is welcome!
July 9, 2021
We’ve done 5 road trips over the last year. It has been much easier to social distance while on the road and we have opened our minds to a new way of traveling. We just completed a 5 state trip to Colorado to visit family and in the fall we are probably going to head to the east coast to visit more family. We take our time on the road and try to stop at parks and nature places. I have really grown to appreciate state parks. There are a lot of off the beaten path things to see at state parks! I think we are content to wait until 2022 before we attempt to go international again.
July 10, 2021
Thank you for this update, always a pleasure to read!
July 26, 2021
Hi Adam.. enjoy website .. did you have an app “min” –
I think I downloaded something but uninstalled it when I had some issues but then couldn’t locate it again..
Not yours? Did you end it? Thanks
August 20, 2021
Nope! Doesn’t seem like my app.
August 26, 2021
Wow, your running goals are majorly impressive, especially with the heat.
I personally get overheated very quickly with cardio – is there any tips or tricks you use to combat the heat in that 100 degree whether when you do go out for a run, or mostly just tough it out?
September 2, 2021
Mostly just drinking a LOT of water, and limiting your running length. I can’t run very long in that kind of heat. Instead I tried to run more hills – that way I’d be properly tired quickly, and I could go back inside sooner. ?
September 12, 2021
Adam – I’ve been running a scale up business for a couple of years now.
One thing that I noticed was missing from your discussion of your start up was a customer that will pay you for the app. How do you plan to monetize it? And, more importantly has anyone paid you for the work yet?
One thing a lot of start ups don’t have is product market fit. You need that to make the business a going concern.
September 14, 2021
Great point James, product market fit is what’s going to keep the project around long term. Luckily our expenses are super-low, so it shouldn’t take too much revenue to pay our expenses.
No one has paid for me to work on this, or given any money so far. Our validation has been around the problem space and the user experience side – not on the revenue side. In fact, our first idea for revenue (pro, paid accounts), hasn’t gone over that well. We have a series of other approaches in the pipeline to research as well – focusing more on the author/publisher side.
This could go a few different ways: 1) We build it and no one joins, disproving our research. 2) We build it and people join, but our early paid model fails. 3) We build it, the early paid model fails, but so many people join that our server costs grow to a point where we fail. 4) We build it, we grow, we focus on the author/publisher side to cover the costs.
I’m most concerned with #3. We have a research phase lined up soon talking with authors where we plan to validate that concept – but if that fails we’ll try the next idea!
September 20, 2021
Adam – add me your mailing list if you get your start up going.
james.c.hendrickson @ gmail.com